What people in the news business want to know is: How did the "Why I hate blacks" column by Kenneth Eng that ran in AsianWeek on Feb. 23 ever make it by the paper's editors?
AsianWeek announced yesterday that Eng had been dismissed and editor-at-large Ted Fang acknowledged a "failing of our editorial process" at a press conference with the NAACP.
I still want to know: Did editors think that running a racist column would be cutting edge? That an Asian Ann Coulter wannabe would create buzz? That they could get away with running racist copy because it is a publication serving an Asian-American audience?
Presumably, AsianWeek management will provide an explanation at a Friday town meeting in San Francisco billed as an open discussion on "the media's role and responsibility in fostering dialogue that leads to a greater understanding between Asian and African-American communities."
That's high-minded language from a paper that published a column that listed among "reasons we should discriminate against blacks" the assertion that blacks are "weak-willed" and "the only race that has been enslaved for 300 years."
No AsianWeek manager can claim surprise at the column. Eng is a self-described "Asian supremacist," who wrote a "Why I hate Asians" column in January. In November, he wrote, "White people hate us and will always hate us." Unlike the anti-black column, those columns sparked no San Francisco Chronicle story and no City Hall resolution against AsianWeek.
"It's kind of shocking that those two other articles did not bring the level of attention" to AsianWeek as the anti-black article, San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew, who is an Asian-American, told me. Jew believes the anti-Asian and anti-white columns should have received the same scrutiny as the anti-black screed.
Except the Special City has a way of making excuses for bigotry and intolerance -- when they percolate from the left or ethnic groups. Imagine if a white columnist or conservative politician had made the same remarks about African-Americans. You wouldn't see NAACP dons flocking to a post-slur town meeting.
It doesn't hurt that AsianWeek is published by the politically wired Fang family. How can it be racist for Joe Biden to say Barack Obama is "articulate," but an opportunity when an AsianWeek columnist calls blacks "easy to coerce"? Yet that was the response to Delaware Sen. Biden's comments -- while here in San Francisco, African-American leaders' response to Eng's writings was that this was an opportunity for dialogue about race.
On the bright side, at least the purveyors of this ethnic slur are not trying to hide behind the First Amendment. Be it noted, Eng has the First Amendment right to express his low opinion of black people. As San Francisco State journalism professor Yumi Wilson explained over the phone, bloggers post this sort of racist rhetoric every day.
But it's also important to note that AsianWeek has the First Amendment right to refuse to print Eng's copy, as well as a responsibility not to print fact-free racist rants. If the Eng column were not a collection of ignorant generalizations without qualifiers, Wilson noted, if it had been based on research and interviews, if Eng had addressed how some Asians feel about some blacks, that would be "a whole different story." Instead, Eng treated readers to sweeping and inaccurate stereotypes -- even as he bemoaned what he perceived as unacceptable Asian stereotypes.
"Blacks hate us," Eng wrote. "Every Asian who has ever come across them knows that they take almost every opportunity to hurl racist remarks at us." Wilson, who noted that Eng "did touch a chord with some Asian-Americans," also remarked on how inaccurate that unqualified statement about hatred was. She knows: Her father is African-American and her late mother, Japanese-American.
News organizations have a responsibility to print copy that withstands vetting. As for Eng's work, Wilson noted, "It's not journalism, and it's not acceptable."