The Oregonian on Thursday updated a headline that used the words “racially-charged” to describe a college athlete’s use of the N-word following considerable online blowback.
An Oregon State freshman named Rocco Carley lost his position on the football team after audio of him using the n-word and saying he hates black people surfaced on Twitter Wednesday night. The Oregonian’s original headline on the story called his comments “racially-charged.”
Journalists called the publication out on Twitter Thursday. Just before the headline was changed, Oregonian Media Group editor and vice president of content Therese Bottomly told TheWrap the paper usually follows Associated Press style, “which says to avoid ‘racially charged.’”
“My sports editor says he has fixed the headline,” she added. Sure enough, the headline was altered mid-day to read, “Oregon State freshman booted from football team after racist audio recording appears on social media.”
The headline change came after multiple journalists called out the paper. “This person used a slur. It wasn’t ‘racially-charged.’ It was racist. And AP Style says shouldn’t even be using ‘racially-charged’ when things are flat out racist, which this is,” NBC News’ Kalhan Rosenblatt tweeted of the original headline, citing the Associated Press style guide followed by many outlets, including the Oregonian.
The New York Times’ Jamal Jordan also cited the AP’s guide, writing, “Dear Journalists, please remember this guidance from @APStylebook: ‘Do not use “racially charged” or similar terms as euphemisms for “racist” or “racism” when the latter terms are truly applicable.’ He said, ‘I hate the goddamn n*ggers,’ so this shouldn’t be a hard one.”
Astead Herndon, also of the Times, dug deeper, pointing out the article’s content, too: “A rare two-fer: ‘racially charged’ in the headline and ‘racially laced’ in the lede.”
“Look, I respect and value the work of the Oregonian’s journalists, but ‘racially charged’ is a meaningless weasel phrase, and readers deserve better here,” wrote Rachel Alexander, also a reporter in Oregon. “There is no description of the audio in the article or headline. He uses the n-word & says he hated black people.”
Carley, the student in question, released a statement on his Twitter account apologizing to his family and community: “This video was taken about 3 years ago in a groupchat where me and my friends were saying stupid things. This does not condone anything of what I have said, but I promise you all that this video does not represent me.”
He added he hopes teammates and people of color know him “well enough” to know he is “in no way shape or form a racist.”