Awards shows are meaningless, backslapping exercises that allow rich and famous people to become even more rich and famous.
Their target audience is young women who also mindlessly watch The Bachelorette and read US Weekly, and they made me grumpy because I was complicit in the insanity by covering them. So it’s poetic that I got fired in the summer of 2011 for writing about one of the worst of the bunch. (Keep reading to savor the delicious update.)
The BET Awards, which honor black entertainers, are an unintentional parody of awards shows. Denzel Washington was once given an honorary prize for his humanitarian works and didn’t show up to collect it. Each year the organizers were so afraid that thuggish Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight and his entourage would tear up the place that they gave him tickets as guests of billionaire BET founder Bob Johnson so that it was easier to keep them corralled.
Anyway, I watched the 2011 version unfold on a television in Reuters’ Los Angeles bureau on a Sunday afternoon. Chris Brown and Lil Wayne picked up a bunch of prizes, and I also noticed that Michael Vick was named best sportsman. I don’t follow American sport but I know that Vick did prison time for abusing dogs, and was briefly the most hated man in America until Bernie Madoff or Jesse James or Dominique Strauss-Kahn stole the crown. Chris Brown beat up his girlfriend Rihanna, and Lil Wayne spent much of 2010 in jail on drugs charges. That was my angle: BET Awards honor winners with criminal pasts.
I kept the story very matter-of-fact, and included lots of background on their transgressions. There was a parallel angle when a fan was brought onstage to announce the winner of a category, but the organizers screwed up by giving the poor girl the wrong information to read (see photo at left). I also noted that Rick Ross—a rapper who used to be a prison guard—had man boobs, and quoted a presenter as saying that he should wear a sports bra next time. Pretty funny story overall, certainly not one of my worst. An editor signed off on it, and I went home.
A few days later my immediate boss told me that the some people had complained via Twitter, but we shrugged it off. About a week after that, though, I was hauled into a conference room for a teleconference with my boss and union rep on hand. An East Coast-based editorial honcho, new to the job after a dubious gig in PR, said on speakerphone that he considered my article to be biased, though he stopped short of saying “racist.”
“Why didn’t you write about the other winners?” he asked. I said I was looking for a trend, a common thread, and all the winners were listed in a separate story. “No one else took that angle,” he said. “Exactly,” I replied, feeling smug. And I launched into a tirade about how showbiz reporting was all generic fluff, and I was trying to differentiate myself from the pack by adding some value.
He said we would reconvene the next day for his verdict, but I could tell from his grim tone that my fate had been sealed. I thought I might be suspended, and looked forward to the prospect of a relaxing summer by the pool. But I also considered firing to be a real possibility, and cleared my cubicle that evening just in case. The union rep told me not to be paranoid.
Sure enough the next day, the editorial honcho informed me that I was to be terminated immediately because my story contravened a company policy pertaining to “integrity, independence and freedom from bias.” An ethics guru—another new hire, from that bastion of editorial integrity, People—seconded his claims.
I was texting a friend at the time, not really paying attention to what was going on. But I did smile as the verdict was relayed, because I was right and my ashen-faced union rep was wrong. I continued texting, and declined to take the termination letter that was held out to me.
And thus ended my 23 years at Reuters at the ripe old age of 42: escorted out of the building by a security guard. Lawyers got involved, and Reuters grew terrified that I might win reinstatement through arbitration. That would have been funny, but I didn’t really want my job back. Two decades is a long time to be married to a dysfunctional partner. Best to move on with a nice severance package.
The offending story was never corrected—there was nothing wrong with it—and it is still on the Reuters Web site as my epitaph. It has dozens of Facebook “likes.” See below.
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES, June 26 (Reuters) – R&B star Chris Brown, fully rehabilitated in the public eye after beating up ex-girlfriend Rihanna two years ago, led the list of winners with criminal pasts at the BET Awards on Sunday.
Brown took home four awards, including the viewers’ choice prize, amid some confusion at the 11th annual celebration of black musicians, actors and sports people. He led the contenders with six nominations.
In an unfortunate turn, Brown was announced as the winner of the viewers’ choice award, and then Rihanna. Canadian rapper Drake awkwardly appeared on stage at the Shrine Auditorium to accept on her behalf.
But at the end of the show, it was revealed that Brown was the rightful winner even though Rihanna’s name was on the teleprompter. Alas, that was too late to save the lucky fan who announced the winner from being savaged worldwide on Twitter for her perceived error.
Brown’s music career stalled after he pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in February 2009, setting off a national debate on young, abusive relationships.
He publicly apologized, underwent court-ordered domestic violence counseling, and spent six months performing community service. Earlier this year he topped the U.S. pop album chart, a sign that his career was back on track.
“I know it’s been a long road, so I just appreciate every blessing that’s been in front of me,” said Brown, dressed casually in white T-shirt, denim shorts and a silver kerchief.
He shared BET’s best collaboration prize with Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. The latter spent spent most of 2010 behind bars on a weapons charge. Brown’s other awards included best male R&B artist and best video.
MICHAEL VICK HONORED
Other winners included professional football player Michael Vick, on the comeback trail after serving 19 months in federal prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. He was named best sportsman, but was not on hand to accept the award.
Representing the other side of the law was prison guard-turned-rapper Rick Ross, who was a frequent performer on stage. At one point, the portly star unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a notable pair of breasts.
“I feel like you should put a sports bra on,” host Kevin Hart said afterward.
Soul star Cee Lo Green used his expansive girth to better effect during a tribute to Patti LaBelle. He dressed as the flamboyant R&B icon as he belted out her signature tune “Somebody Loves You Baby.”
“You scared me,” LaBelle said afterwards.
In a decision that averted a family feud, singer/actors Willow and Jaden Smith shared the Young Star award, while their father Will Smith looked on with tears welling in his eyes. Willow, who had a novelty hit last year with “Whip My Hair,” thanked her parents for “letting us push harder and keeping us on track with our music and stuff.”
Jaden Smith’s 17-year-old friend Justin Bieber, ubiquitous on the awards circuit recently, appeared on stage to present an award and engage in some scripted salacious banter with female hip-hop artist winner Nicki Minaj, almost 10 years his senior. (Editing by Todd Eastham)
NOTE: An edited version of the above story appears in my sardonic rock bio, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING