You might've missed this over the holidays, but Steve Martin -- The Steve Martin -- was caught up in a racism scandal involving Twitter, Salon.com and TMZ.
The rest of the story is familiar and predictable.
So, just before Christmas, Martin and his followers were riffing on Twitter. He often engages in "grammar games" during which his followers hit him with various spelling and grammar questions, and he fires back with a joke. After a few rounds, someone asked him, "Is this how you spell 'lasonia?'" Martin replied, "It depends if you are in an African American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant."
Risky territory, I know, but it's a fact that "Lasonia" is an African American forename, and "Lasagna" is served in Italian restaurants. In African-American neighborhoods, Lasonia is the correct spelling of someone's name, but in an Italian restaurant, it's a misspelled version of "lasagna."
Again, risky. But only because it could be so easily misunderstood, and, worse, misquoted.
That's precisely what Salon.com did. In its haste to blurt out new content and feed the outrage-porn industry, Salon (byline: "Salon Staff") badly misquoted Martin's tweet.
The Salon.com version: "It depends if you are in an African American restaurant or an Italian restaurant." The shitty, bastardized meaning of the Salon.com version is obvious: African-Americans can't spell "lasagna." So Salon turned a, perhaps, ill-advised joke into an entirely racist one.
And what happened next was all too familiar. Say it with me now: A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. TMZ picked up the falsely-quoted version of the story and BLAM! Internet scandal, media outrage, apology tours and so forth.
Salon.com eventually corrected the quote, but the misquote had already scorched the earth.
Even today, with the correction added to the Salon.com story at the very bottom of the page, the headline of the story still reads: "Steve Martin apologizes for racist joke, deletes tweet." And the article's lede still reads: "Steve Martin apologized for a racist joke on Twitter Friday night, then quickly deleted the tweet and continued saying he was sorry."
"Racist joke," of course, refers to the misquoted tweet -- not the actual tweet. Nevertheless, Steve Martin's heretofore good name will always, in some way, be falsely linked to a so-called "racist" tweet.
I can't believe we have to actually write this but, no, everything we know about Steve Martin indicates that he's absolutely not a racist. And neither was his actual tweet, quite frankly.
What's clear in this matter is that this was a massive blunder that besmirched an otherwise rock solid reputation. And the content of both the headline and lede of the article itself continues to be libelously wrong -- two weeks after the fact. But here we are again. This is absolutely indicative of what's become of online journalism. The mad scramble for both content and clicks has overtaken integrity, reality and the truth.
That's not to say print and television journalism is much better. Print and TV have their own sullied pasts, but nothing quite compares to what we've witnessed online, and especially in the last year or so. The consequences include a misinformed outrage-addicted viewership, feverishly ratings-driven content and the further erosion of the American news media.
And if you're waiting for Salon.com to fully retract its horrendous article, don't hold your breath.