Go fish

Barry Saunders, a columnist for The News & Observer, is being accused of anti-Catholic bias. At issue is a sentence in a piece about the Duke lacrosse case. Here’s what Saunders said about the three players who were falsely accused of rape and are now apparently seeking a lot of money for their trouble:

How about a compromise figure? Instead of $30 million, how about a fish sandwich, a Yoo-hoo and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket?

The reference to a fish sandwich and the fact that two of the three players are Catholic has set off an angry reaction from the lacrosse crowd. Here’s an example:

Does the News & Observer endorse anti-Catholic remarks? “Fish sandwiches” sounds an awful lot like “fish eaters”!

Linda Williams, an assistant managing editor at the paper, says it’s a cultural misunderstanding. Perhaps, but selecting a main course without religious connotations may have avoided the whole issue and kept the focus on Saunders’ message.

UPDATE: Here’s what one of my colleagues, a Catholic from Wisconsin, told me after I mentioned the column to her:

I am absolutely positively sure that I never ever ever would have read the reference to a fish sandwich as anti-Catholic (macaroni and cheese, maybe; fish sandwich, never). Seems to me that some folks have way too little to think about and do.

The more I think about this, the more I think the outrage is a convenient contrivance, picked up and spread by those who are still miffed at the media coverage of the lacrosse case.

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3 thoughts on “Go fish

  1. I must respectfully disagree with your thoughts on this “issue” which to me is a non-issue being used to bring about attention to a select group.

    I am not insensitive to the effect words have on others, but I am loathe to find offense with the words used. Perhaps I am one of the few uninformed, but until your post here, I had no idea that two of the Duke players were Catholic, so would never have picked up on the “slight.”

  2. L.L.,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you more than I disagree.

    In this case, maybe Saunders or a copy editor could have anticipated the reaction, although I agree that they would be hard-pressed to do so.

    It’s always a good idea to think about how a phrase can be interpreted, even erroneously. In my experience, if readers can take something the wrong way, they will — some quite willfully.

  3. How do the editor’s justifications look, though, if we draw a veil of ignorance over the whole thing — if we don’t know anything about the speakers or the nature of the comment?

    1) We had no idea that could be considered an insult.
    2) In my culture, it’s a compliment.
    3) You know, the original speaker is oppressed too.

    I agree that some folks seem excessively eager to find offense in this (and wish the paper had spent more time discussing the obvious class-baiting, rather than the hint of implicit Catholic-bashing). Still, given the nature of the original justifications, you half-expect the editor to conclude with

    4) And some of my best friends are Catholic.

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