Katie Nolan appeared on Viceland’s Desus & Mero this week, and the free-flowing conversation turned to racist hand signals, which led to Katie Nolan saying that Donald Trump was a “f—ing stupid person.” (You can see the relevant segment starting in the below video at about 5:30 in).
But before she “backed it up” to correct her phrasing to call him a stupid person, she said something else that was bleeped entirely. But you can see her lips even if the sound is removed. The first word was the expletive, and the second one was also a two-syllable word. Now, it’s possible that she was referring to a steel rod in concrete, but then it would make no sense for the show to edit out the word “rebar” before airing. Taking context clues, it was something that was deemed worse than “stupid person.”
Here is Katie Nolan from her past on Guyism.
Nolan’s calling the President a stupid person will raise the ire of a segment of people. It is an opinion about Trump, though not an outlier of one. The recent Wolff book questions his mental capacity and basically implies that he barely reads, and Wolff said “senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office.”
Using a slur, though, would be an even further step. So the question is whether it counts if it is bleeped out and corrected (by merely rephrasing to call him a “f—ing stupid person). Obviously, people can say things in private and they never become public. This was a thing said in public but edited, and so in this sense we saw it, but didn’t hear it.
It should also be noted that, by the strict letter, this is not a violation of the new ESPN social media policy laid out in November after the Jemele Hill tweets about the President, because, well, it did not take place initially on social media. It was on an informal, edgy talk show format. In such a format, certainly, conversational comfort can lead to saying things extemporaneously that would not be said in a different venue. The guidelines do say the following:
All social media activity by our journalists comes under these guidelines. Everything we post or comment on in social media is public. And everything we do in public is associated with ESPN.
From an intellectual level, it seems disingenuous to distinguish a statement made on a Twitter account from a statement made on a late night talk show (depending on the platform, the broadcast may have more impact than on social media). We are getting far afield if we police both, but that’s a path that ESPN has embarked upon. Nolan’s statements reflect on ESPN by association, but she is also an individual who has her own thoughts, ideas, and phrasings.
But it seems that the question of the slur is one that comes down to this: does it count if it’s bleeped out and we didn’t actually hear it? Because using the slur publicly goes way beyond simply referring to a President and is the kind of thing that should not be used by a front-facing talent, even in jest or a joking venue, about anyone. Where you fall on whether this merits a response in line with what Jemele Hill received may depend on whether you believe that as long as you heard no evil, it’s okay to not see.
ESPN has declined comment when asked about Katie Nolan’s appearance on Desus & Mero and statements about Donald Trump.
UPDATE: ESPN provided TBL with the following statement: “We have looked into the totality of Nolan’s comments, they were inappropriate and we have addressed it with her.”