Commentary: Despite Declaration, Doubting Deadline’s Diversity Apology

If you have any interest in the subject of diversity in entertainment, no doubt you’re aware of the firestorm kicked off last week by TV editor and co-editor-in-chief of the entertainment website Deadline, Nellie Andreeva. An article/op-ed under the headline “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much Of A Good Thing” was taken by many (myself included) as an insensitive response to a greater commitment by TV networks to casting new shows with actors representing a wide swath of racial diversity.

What you may have missed was Deadline’s apology for the article, and most specifically the headline, which was altered the next day in response to the criticism leveled at the site. In his weekly colloquy with his former Variety colleague Peter Bart on the site, Andreeva’s co-editor-in-chief Mike Fleming Jr. stated the following:

“I wanted to say a few things to our core readers who felt betrayed. That original headline does not reflect the collective sensibility here at Deadline. The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.”

That’s a clear statement, and admirable, but I have lingering questions, about both the form and the content of the apology itself.

1. If Andreeva and Fleming recognized the problems quickly, why did they wait five days before apologizing, and only then via comments in a piece headlined, “Bart & Fleming: A Mea Culpa; Frank Sinatra Re-Cast; Tent Pole Assembly Line”? If they feel so strongly, why wasn’t this a standalone statement signed by both editors-in-chief, clearly marked as such, rather than included in a tete-a-tete that discussed other, irrelevant matters?

2. If Andreeva apologizes for the handling of the subject, why hasn’t she linked to the Bart & Fleming piece with the apology from her Twitter feed (for a start), where a link to the original piece, under its original headline remains if you scroll back a few days? Why hasn’t she taken any ownership of “her” apology? By not doing so, it’s easy to wonder about the sincerity, and even the source, of the apology.

3. Fleming responds to a question from Bart about why the piece wasn’t taken down, saying:

“It was 12 hours before I awoke to numerous e-mails, some by people of color who are sources, who trust us, who were rightfully incensed. At that point, the damage was done. I don’t believe you can make an unwise story disappear and pretend it didn’t happen.”

However, while Fleming acknowledges the change of headline, he fails to comment on internal edits to the piece, which included moving the third and fourth paragraphs much deeper in the article, perhaps putting them in better context. I also noted the addition of a phrase about “a young Latina juggling her dreams and her heritage” which I hadn’t spotted in the original. Why aren’t those changes made clear in the note on the bottom of the original piece? It seems an effort to say that all that was wrong was the original headline.

4. While it’s commendable of Fleming to not pretend that the original article never happened, I’m surprised that if you read the piece online now, there’s no evident link to the apology. To leave the article standing without that context, given how it is supposedly perceived internally at the site per Fleming’s own account, once again suggests that the apology is something less than thorough.

I have no doubt that people will be scrutinizing Deadline’s coverage of diversity, especially when Andreeva writes about it, for some time to come. Giving Fleming the benefit of the doubt as to his intentions, he needs to take a few more steps to demonstrate the depth of his commitment – and Andreeva needs to stand up and take responsibility for what she wrote and acknowledge the flaws. Otherwise, she’s left her partner to clean up her mess, and we’re all still wondering where her heart really lies.

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