Sportscaster Mark Giangreco gave his two cents on Twitter over the weekend. The final bill will be far more costly.
Although the popular ABC-7 sportscaster is in for a multiweek suspension without pay, others may pay a price as well.
In the space of 137 characters, Giangreco responded to a Toronto sports columnist's tweet about Republican support for President Donald Trump by calling Trump a "cartoon lunatic," casting aspersions on Trump's Electoral College victory and referring to the United States as "a country full of simpletons."
If his bosses at Disney-owned WLS were impressed by his economy of language, they gave no indication of it.
All they saw was that one of their top stars had potentially alienated a segment of the ABC station's audience and advertisers.
Even allowing that others in these sharply divided times might welcome Giangreco's broadside as merely being candid rather than insulting and out of line, Giangreco is paid handsomely both for his work and to boost ABC-7's brand, not color it.
Management saw Giangreco's tweet as providing ammunition for increasingly agitated factions who insist there's less objectivity in the mainstream media business than defense in the NBA All-Star Game.
In other words, not only is what Giangreco tweeted bad for him and ABC-7, it's not good for anyone else in the besieged news business either.
Efforts to reach Giangreco have been unsuccessful. Channel 7 brass will only acknowledge what has happened in a formal statement that "Giangreco's Twitter comments are not in line with ABC-7 Chicago's non-partisan editorial standards," and "appropriate action" was taken.
That action might have seemed harsher had Giangreco been pulled off the air immediately after the punishment was meted out.
Instead, even after news of the suspension broke Thursday, Giangreco remained on the air and his unpaid time off was not expected to begin until Monday.
It probably didn't help that, according to sources, ABC-7 executives apparently didn't learn of Giangreco's Sunday tweet until Wednesday, when the Adweek-affiliated blog TV Spy posted a report.
TV Spy cited a post by ChicagoCityWire.com — a website connected to WIND-AM 560 talk-show host Dan Proft, a 2010 Republican candidate for governor — which posted a screen shot of the deleted missive and kept it from going unnoticed.
Perhaps a case can be made that the political views of a sportscaster shouldn't matter, despite the fact sports news and politics do intersect from time to time.
But there are any number of reasons why someone chooses to watch a newscast, and some are visceral. It doesn't take much to send a hard-won viewer elsewhere.
If your political views are closer to those Giangreco expressed than not, imagine if a local news personality during Barack Obama's administration had posted something on Facebook that called his supporters idiots and put quotes around "birth certificate" the way Giangreco put the word "elected" in his Trump tweet.
See the problem now?
Giangreco, a popular Chicago sportscaster since 1982, has built up a reputation as a knowledgeable, funny and incisive broadcaster. Resentments take less time to accrue and can last much longer.
Some people, fair or not, still hold against Giangreco his casually flip 1999 on-air crack about Walter Payton's "shriveled up" appearance before the world knew the Bears great had a liver condition that eventually would kill him.
If this latest incident has in any way changed someone's opinion, no sanction is going to remedy that. It's impossible to unring the bell.
That's why most media organizations have guidelines for conduct that explicitly cover social media interactions. Nevertheless the industry needs to acknowledge the push and pull of audience engagement through these platforms remains a minefield for many.
A goal is to better engage the audience by exposing viewers (as well as listeners and readers) to the real person who gives them information. But, as Giangreco obviously discovered, there are limits to just how much sharing there's should to be.
If they're not careful, a penny for their thoughts may not come close to covering expenses.
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