Golfweek fires editor responsible for 'noose' imagery

Updated: January 20, 2008, 11:16 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Ten days after a Golf Channel anchor was suspended for her use of "lynch" in commentary on Tiger Woods, an editor was fired Friday for illustrating the controversy with a noose on the cover of Golfweek magazine.

Dave Seanor, vice president and editor who took responsibility for the noose cover of the Jan. 19 issue, was replaced by Jeff Babineau.

Golfweek cover
Golf WeeklyGolfweek's controversial cover for its Jan. 19 issue. The magazine has removed it from its Web site.

"We apologize for creating this graphic cover that received extreme negative reaction from consumers, subscribers and advertisers across the country," Turnstile Publishing Co. president William J. Kupper Jr. said. "We were trying to convey the controversial issue with a strong and provocative graphic image. It is now obvious that the overall reaction to our cover deeply offended many people. For that, we are deeply apologetic."

Turnstile is the parent company of Golfweek, which has a circulation of about 160,000.

Golfweek removed its Jan. 19 issue from its booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., while Babineau made the rounds on news talk shows to offer more apologies. The magazine also removed the cover from its Web site.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called the Golfweek cover "outrageous and irresponsible" and accused the magazine of tabloid journalism. He distanced himself from the firing of Seanor with a statement from the PGA Tour that Finchem merely was responding to an inquiry, and that his comments were not a "call to action."

Woods, out of public view for the last month, makes his 2008 debut on the PGA Tour next week at the Buick Invitational, where Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman returns from a two-week suspension.

Woods has not spoken publicly, although his agent said in a statement through Golf Channel last week that Woods and Tilghman are friends, and "we know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments."

The episode began Jan. 4 during the second round of the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship when Tilghman and analyst Nick Faldo were discussing possible challengers to Woods.

Faldo suggested that "to take Tiger on, maybe they should just gang up [on him] for a while."

"Lynch him in a back alley," Tilghman said, laughing.

Golf Channel issued a statement four days later to say it regretted the comment and that Tilghman had apologized to Woods. But when the Rev. Al Sharpton demanded on CNN that she be fired, Golf Channel suspended Tilghman for two weeks.

The Golfweek cover shows a noose against a purple sky with the title, "Caught in a Noose." The subtitle said, "Tilghman slips up, and Golf Channel can't wriggle free." For many, the noose is symbol of lynchings in the Old South. According to Tuskeege University, 3,466 blacks were lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968.

The magazine devoted four pages of news and commentary on the topic, including a column on the back page supporting Tilghman and asking that the controversy be kept in context.

In an editorial, the magazine explained why it felt the Tilghman story deserved so much attention. It was accompanied by a cartoon that showed Sharpton holding a noose and offering it to a pair of Golf Channel employees staring into a hole of thin ice, presumably where Tilghman had been standing.

"One [potential] cover we had this week was on the young Australian phenom Jason Day," Babineau said Friday in an interview on the Dan Patrick radio program, "and had we had to do it over again, certainly we wish we could go back to Monday and put that one on the cover."

Babineau said he will write a story in the next issue of Golfweek to address the controversy.

"Our job is to say we're sorry, and we're going to do it with a front cover letter that I'm going to write, and we'll go on and cover the business of golf as we always did."

The harshest criticism came from Finchem. The PGA Tour is in the second year of an unprecedented 15-year contract with Golf Channel to broadcast its weekday coverage and full coverage of 14 tournaments.

"Clearly, what Kelly said was inappropriate and unfortunate, and she obviously regrets her choice of words," Finchem said in a statement. "But we consider Golfweek's imagery of a swinging noose on its cover to be outrageous and irresponsible. It smacks of tabloid journalism. It was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion."

The tour issued a statement Friday that said Finchem's comments were "a response to an inquiry and an expression of the tour's dissatisfaction with Golfweek's choice of a cover image." The tour said Golfweek's decision on its editorial leadership was an internal matter.

Jim Thorpe, 58, is one of two black players on the Champions Tour. He sharply criticized Seanor.

"That was absolutely stupid. That was just throwing fuel on the fire," Thorpe said.

"Why would you do that? He knew better."

Thorpe has won three times on the PGA Tour and 13 times on the Champions Tour.

"It's a shame we live in a world today stuff like that still occurs," he said.

Thorpe defended Tilghman, whom he knows personally. He said her comments weren't intended as a malicious statement. He said the anchor could have used many different words instead, but chose the wrong one.

"We know there was no racist intent. It was just a bad choice of words," he said. "But the guy from Golfweek? Let him get barbecued. That's just a major mistake on his part."

Meanwhile, CBSSports.com reported Thursday that Jack Peter, chief operating officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame, said tour officials had told the magazine it might withdraw $50,000 in advertisements for the World Golf Village.

"Jack was not speaking on behalf of the PGA Tour," spokesman Ty Votaw said Friday. "I can categorically tell you the PGA Tour has not threatened any advertising pull."

Among the tour's corporate marketing partners is Golf Digest Publications, which publishes the weekly magazine Golf World, a competitor of Golfweek. Golf World has an editorial relationship with ESPN.com.

"We have partnerships with a lot of media companies," Votaw said. "This was an editorial decision that Tim was expressing an opinion about. I don't think anyone should read anything else into it. It was simply a reaction to the image on the cover."

Babineau has worked for Golfweek the last nine years as editor, deputy editor and senior writer.

"We know we have a job ahead of us to re-earn the trust and confidence of many loyal readers," he said. "Our staff is very passionate about the game. Our wish is that one regretful error does not erase more than 30 years of service we've dedicated to this industry."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report

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