Last time I checked, Stephen A. Smith, a man who epitomizes the “embrace really loud debate” and who, just this week, had a man sniffing a female colleague’s shoe on his show, has decided to speak for journalism.
Only Jets fans thought Aaron Rodgers was coming back
I’ll be frank — I’ve never been a big Stephen A. fan. It goes back, I think, to his ignorant and misogynistic comments about women needing to take responsibility for their own abuse in 2014. Since then, he’s given me plenty of sexist fodder to work with, and while I don’t begrudge him his success, his show — where Smith shouts down anyone who dares challenge him with a level of indignation usually reserved for medieval monarchs — isn’t really my thing.
Smith has been very open about wanting to be the highest-paid host at the Worldwide Leader, and you don’t get there by criticizing the other talent — just ask Michelle Beadle. You get there by being a team player. So a day after multiple media outlets rightly called out Pat McAfee for allowing Aaron Rodgers to spew baseless allegations that Jimmy Kimmel is a pedophile, of course, Smith showed up to defend McAfee, who issued an apology for Rodgers’ comments.
“I can applaud Pat McAfee for apologizing, but let me be the first to say, he didn’t need to,” Smith said on his podcast Thursday morning. “He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s his show, the show is live, he didn’t know what Aaron Rodgers was going to say.”
First, apologizing when someone maliciously spews lies and intentionally defames another person is what media outlets are supposed to do. Second, while McAfee didn’t know that Rodgers was going to take a shot at Kimmel, which is obvious from his reaction, he certainly does know that Rodgers is a loose cannon who has been reeling off misinformation about vaccinations, Dr. Anthony Fauci and all manner of other conspiracy theories for months. While McAfee might not have known the form Rodgers’ Kimmel comment would take, it’s ridiculous to claim that McAfee had no idea that his regular guest, whom he pays to be on the show, has a bad habit of spouting off baseless allegations. Not only did McAfee know what Rodgers was, he’s paying for the “privilege” of hosting him every Tuesday.
I found McAfee’s apology to be thin and vague, almost as if he knew something had gone wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what. And, it has to be noted, that in all the clips I’ve viewed of Rodgers’ brain-dead statements on public health, epidemiology, and vaccinations, I have never once seen McAfee push back. On the contrary, he’s given Rodgers more and more of a leash every time he brings up a topic outside of sports, knowing damn well that too many people fall for Rodgers’ galaxy-brained garbage. Proof? Just moments after Rodgers’ statements, Twitter was blowing up with people stating as a fact that Jimmy Kimmel was on the newly-released Jeffrey Epstein documents — an accusation which turned out to be extremely not true.
You might think that, after someone has brought down a world of embarrassment and possible legal woes to your doorstep, you’d not want to have them on your show again. Some might even say you have an ethical obligation not to have them back. But, in his “apology,” McAfee said, “I can’t wait to hear what (Rodgers) has to say about it.” Meaning Rodgers will be back on McAfee’s show, probably blaming the whole thing on his words being taken out of context. And now everyone at ESPN is a winner, because the whole world is going to tune in to see Rodgers try to wiggle his way out of that one. It’s compelling TV, but it’s terrible journalism.
I realized that, after so many years of yelling at Skip Bayless and everyone else under the sun, Stephen A. may not recognize what journalism is supposed to look like, but that doesn’t change the fact that media outlets have an obligation to not knowingly put out false information to their viewers. That is exactly what has been happening on McAfee’s show for a while.
It’s the natural product of what happens when we swap out journalists for pro athletes and replace journalism with a bunch of guys sitting around a table screaming at each other. Of course, ESPN has the right to put on whatever kind of shows they want and allow whoever they want to host them. But they also need to recognize that many people get their news, and their worldview, from shows like First Take and the Pat McAfee show. What’s worse, those beliefs, which Rodgers so cavalierly smirks out, have real-world consequences, for all of us, like spreading infectious disease because Kyle from Kenosha heard a pro athlete tell him it was OK not to get vaccinated.
If ESPN doesn’t feel an obligation to provide their viewers with the truth, that’s a choice they have the right to make, but then they can’t be surprised when public figures threaten lawsuits and the journalism community condemns their decisions. And we certainly don’t need Stephen A. Smith to gaslight us into believing that this is just how the media works.