Funnybook Babylon

May 5, 2008

Benjamin Ong Pang Kean: A Straight Up Buster?

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , — Jonathan Bernhardt @ 9:45 pm

That’s a Fox News question, by the way. The answer is “Yeah, he is.”

Kean is in hot water right now in our little corner of the blogalaxy, and it’s all because of this (by way of Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters):

Not Pictured: The Internet Cringing

The above is from the original version of this interview that he conducted with Marvel writer Paul Cornell about the upcoming Captain Britain and MI:13 book over at Newsarama, before either he or his bosses realized exactly what asking a question like that second one — let alone publishing it — said about them as a media outlet. To be fair, Newsarama has always needed a copy editing filter to go between their collective brain and mouth, but this isn’t some grammatical or syntactical miscue that someone should have caught before hitting the Post button — and Newsarama appears to recognize this on some level, because they’ve not only purged the above passage from the published interview, but also made a half-hearted attempted to get rid of the discussion about it in the following forum posts attached to the article. Unfortunately, as I’m sure they’re well aware, this is the Internet. It ain’t that easy.

To understand why this is such a big deal, you first have to understand what Newsarama is really about. They’re a news outlet in a sector of journalism with remarkably little hard news. They report on exclusives and signings and mergers and bankruptcies, to be sure, but that’s a very small part of their output. Due to the nature of the industry they work in and serve, Newsarama is much more geared towards promotional reportage, and like all other media outlets, lives and dies on how comprehensive and attractive their content package is, and since it’s a website, access is free. So Newsarama positions itself as the industry’s premier net news/advertisement hybrid (Wizard Magazine, of course, being the premier one in print): the majority of their content depends on having access to writers, editors, artists, and companies that see Newsarama as an ideal way of disseminating those things that they want readers to know. And this is done through press releases, previews, and interviews, for the most part. DC and Marvel and Image and all the rest don’t have to choose Newsarama as a privileged content provider; even before this most recent gaffe, Marvel was turning their focus away from Newsarama and was more and more doing business with CBR. And if the access dries up, then the community starts to go with it — and once the community’s gone, there’s not much left at all.

All of which brings us back to Benjamin Ong Pang Kean and his Captain Britain and MI:13 interview and his question about Faiza and jihad, which constituted a momentary but breathtaking lapse in judgment, especially considering the above. Kean’s job — and I say this in the nicest way possible — is to lob writers and editors softballs that let them comfortably explain their plans, on both the business and creative sides, in an uncontested environment where they shape the narrative and, if they so choose, interact with fans who want to see more (or less) of them. Let’s be honest: the closest Newsarama has ever come to hard-hitting journalism was when Matt Brady responded to every other thing Mike Carlin said in Counting Down with ellipses. And if Brady could hold his tongue when it came to Countdown, Kean should have been more than capable of showing the same reserve here. Make no mistake, Newsarama should give Kean his walking papers for the jihad comment, and they can take their pick of reasons why — because he asked a stupid, bigoted question to a Marvel writer in a relatively high-profile promotional piece; because he displayed the atrociously poor judgment of publishing that question and Cornell’s response to it, or because he actually thought that his casual slurring of British Muslims was funny in the first place — but the fact remains that he’s embarrassed Newsarama, Paul Cornell, Marvel, and most of all himself over something that could have oh-so-easily been avoided literally every step of the way.

So the best Kean can do is come out, apologize, and move on. Covering it up doesn’t help, and ignoring it doesn’t help, and the longer you do both, the stronger the stink it leaves. His bosses at Newsarama need to step up and shoulder this too, even if that just means Matt Brady puts out an apology in between spotlights on books like Helen Killer and blurbs about superhero movie trailers. It doesn’t say good things about the site’s usefulness as a promotional vendor if they can’t keep their writers from offending their major benefactors and a not-insubstantial portion of their reading audience.

Oh, and blogalaxy: I swear to God, if you ignore this in favor of another week bitching about how Brian Michael Bendis hates women, I will never speak to you again.

23 Comments »

  1. As an American Muslim, all I can really say is: FUCK NEWSARAMA! Fucking assholes. I’m soooo sick of everyone having a collective anger orgasm because Bendis has Dr. Doom say the word, “whore,” but a peon Newsarama writer can disrespect my religion, my faith, my belief in God and the universe and it will all be swept under the rug.

    I’m going to e-mail Matt Brady after I’ve had a night of sleep after a *long* day today, but I already figure it’s going to be ignored, because my religion is mostly just made fun of by people. If it was an anti-Semitic or anti-Christian comment, I’m sure it would set the comic world ablaze, but Islam? That’s something people make fun of and never think twice about. We’re just terrorists to most people. This really upsets me because I’m white and I’m not a terrorist.

    Anyway, thank you, Jonathan. Thank you *very* much for posting this. I can’t express how deep my gratitude is. I bet you’re the only one who’s going to care, though….

    Comment by Kenny — May 5, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

  2. […] Is an apology forthcoming? I doubt it. Funnybook Babylon let their mad dog off the chain. Jon disassembles it here. […]

    Pingback by 4thletter! » Blog Archive » Yallah, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! — May 6, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  3. …what was the point of that question, Newsarama? How fucking stupid and racist. And just after Cornell discussed those very stereotypes.

    Comment by lilacsigil — May 6, 2008 @ 9:10 am

  4. Well, as of this morning, nobody seems to have noticed. Maybe if Tigra were somehow involved?

    Comment by moses — May 6, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  5. I sent Matt Brady a very nice, polite e-mail asking him to not ignore what his writer did and apologize for it on his site. There was no profanity, anger, or anything. Just a nice, “Will you please apologize?”

    Comment by Kenny — May 6, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  6. If it was an anti-Semitic or anti-Christian comment, I’m sure it would set the comic world ablaze, but Islam? That’s something people make fun of and never think twice about.

    The question in the NRama interview was certainly unnecessary and unprofessional, but given the murder of Theo van Gogh, the European riots that followed the Mohammed cartoons, and the deadly violence that followed the Pope’s impolitic comment on Islam in 2006, perhaps “setting the world ablaze” isn’t the best possible metaphor to use.

    Comment by Bubba — May 6, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  7. Bubba,

    Excuse me for my poor use of words during my state of anger.

    Comment by Kenny — May 6, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  8. Wow, what an inane thing to ask. Cornell at least outfoxed him with his answer.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — May 6, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  9. Jon,

    I agree with the thrust of your article, but after giving it some thought, I disagree with your recommendation. Kean doesn’t need to apologize. I think that public apologies are desirable (and necessary) when a person has unwittingly caused offense, made a mistake, or said something that is contrary to their beliefs. The question that Kean asked was premeditated (I believe that this was an e-mail interview), and was not immediately withdrawn in the interview as a misstatement or error. He hasn’t said that the comment was contrary in any way to his beliefs, or his thoughts.

    If he thought that the question was appropriate, then he has nothing to apologize for. I find the question (and it’s assumptions about people of the Muslim faith) detestable, but I think it’s important to encourage free discussion of thoughts and beliefs, even if they are wrong. I don’t think that there’s anything to be gained from a disingenuous apology made by a bigot. If that’s really what he believes, then he should stand behind it, and take whatever criticism/judgment that he has coming.

    As far as Newsarama goes, I doubt that it would be in their interest (either as a news or promotional outfit) to align themselves with those comments, and they should make some kind of statement that makes that clear.

    Bubba,

    I don’t think that ‘setting the comics world ablaze’ is a poor metaphor at all, or one that people should shy away from using unless that person’s intent is to foment violent action. Using strong language is not synonymous with violent protest, murder, or riots, and I don’t think that anyone would interpret the comment in that way, especially since Kenny was referring to the ‘comics world’.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — May 6, 2008 @ 7:04 pm

  10. Jamaal —

    Perhaps. I was giving Kean the benefit of the doubt: that he made an inappropriate comment as a poor attempt at humor in the wrong venue, and that it slipped through due to an editorial blunder on his or Newsarama’s parts. If he actually believes that when someone’s a British Muslim, that part of that identity is violent jihadism, then that’s a whole other thing entirely. He’s free to hold that viewpoint if that’s what he believes, and we’re free to theoretically call him a bigot for it. I’d think, though, that if that’s not how he feels on the issue, he should make that clear and put out some kind of apology.

    Comment by Jonathan Bernhardt — May 6, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  11. I’m all for people holding whatever beliefs they like – if someone wants to believe all Muslims are terrorists just waiting for a chance to suicide bomb a bus or whatever, that’s their business. I think the line is crossed when they express that sort of belief in a public forum because then someone who is a Muslim is perfectly within bounds to say, “You’re an asshole,” or whatever. When it’s posted by a staff member of a website trying to represent itself to the public, then I think the website *needs* to say, “Hey, sorry for that one slipping through the cracks. It certainly doesn’t represent our company’s opinion.” That hasn’t been said here. Matt Brady simply wiped it under the rug.

    Comment by Kenny — May 6, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  12. […] This just in from Funnybook Babylon, via Rich Johnston: apropos of nothing, Newsarama “journalist” asks Marvel writer if a new female British Muslim character intends to engage in holy war. […]

    Pingback by Girls read comics » Blog Archive » From The Guys Who Brought You Heroes For Hentai: Those Silly Girls Reading Semen Into Everything. — May 6, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

  13. Folks…

    Benjamin Ong Pang Kean asked a stupid question. I believe he asked it without any intended malice. It was a colossally stupid question…a question that had its stupidity dwarfed by the decision to include it in the final article he sent out to Newsarama.

    But he is a long-time contractor of Newsarama. One they generally haven’t had any problems with that I’m aware of. So it got posted without taking a long, hard look at it first.

    When the mistake was found, it was fixed.

    Kean isn’t Newsarama and Newsarama isn’t Kean. Don’t blame Newsarama for Kean’s stupid action. If you want to ask that they print an apology from Kean or suggest that they not let him work for the site any longer, that’s your prerogative. As a somewhat-practicing muslim for the last 16 years, I’d kinda like the apology…but, at the same time, I recognize that it will serve no real purpose.

    The net positive of the whole thing? I have a healthy amount of respect for a writer (Cornell) that I practically didn’t know existed until this interview.

    Comment by Kevin Huxford — May 7, 2008 @ 12:36 am

  14. Jon,

    If you’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, that’s cool. I’m all for that. I just don’t think that anyone should apologize solely b/c other people were offended.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — May 7, 2008 @ 7:38 am

  15. This isn’t just a matter of wouldn’t it give everyone the warm fuzzies if Newsarama apologized. What Kean did was *wrong*. You can have all the racist, prejudiced opinions you like, but voicing them is hate speech and crosses the line.

    Kevin,

    I respectfully disagree with you. In my job, I have contractors working for me everyday. I know comics isn’t the real world, big kid business, but people drawing a paycheck from comics should still have a modicum of professional integrity. I keep an eye on my contractors every day and review their work to make sure it meets the expectations of the company I work for. I don’t think it’s asking a Hurculean task of Brady to make sure his contractors aren’t inserting hate speech into their work for his site.

    What bothers me more is the attempt to wipe it under the carpet. That says to me Newsrama, as a company, agrees that all Muslims are jihad-bent terrorists, and Newsarama is embarrassed that opinion was made public.

    To me, the bigger shame is how Muslims seem to think being painted as terrorists is ok because it’s just to be expected. I feel like my religion is one of peace and deserves the same respect Christianity and Judaism get everyday. The Klu Klux Klan are racist, violent people, yet no one jokes that every Christian is looking to lynch black people or have a cook-out over a burning cross.

    Comment by Kenny — May 7, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  16. What bothers me is that these people are getting paid for this. We’ve known for quite a while that the copy editing at Newsarama has been a problem, they even admitted as such on their panel at NYCC. But when an interviewer can’t even be bothered to pay attention to what his interview subject is saying?

    I know all too well that the web is an instantaneous place, and we here at FBB are amateurs at this web thing, but get someone to read your copy and your interview before you put it up, for pete’s sake. That’s what so shocking about all this. That interview would not have gone up on most people’s blogs let alone a site that has more that one person *ON STAFF* that is doing this, or at least freelance writing for a living.

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — May 7, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

  17. A wrong-headed joke is one thing, and hate speech is quite anoter. Clearly, Kean’s comments were intended as sarcasm, but it’s just as clear that his sarcasm was misplaced. Nothing about his comment suggests genuine bigotry, although everything about it suggests insensitivity and juvenility. Asking for his dismissal is going too far, but requesting an apology seems fitting to me.

    My two cents, anyway.

    Comment by Paul — May 8, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  18. At first upon reading this I was appauled, and had written out a lengthly reply here. HOWEVER after a few moments thought and a re-read I have changed my mind, it appears (to me at least) to be an attempt at a joke (a very poor one) not towards muslims or Islam but rather at stereotypes, as the writer has said he is staying away from stereotypes……..

    Comment by johnny — May 9, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  19. […] but quite another for one of it’s journalists to spout the kind of nonsense quoted in this link. Jon, over at Funnybook Babylon, suggests that Kean should be sacked, a position I have some […]

    Pingback by We don’t do news, but… « Mindless Ones — May 13, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  20. Kean isn’t Newsarama and Newsarama isn’t Kean. Don’t blame Newsarama for Kean’s stupid action.

    I don’t think Newsarama is blameless here. The lack of editorial oversight is the thing that troubles me most. Newsarama’s editors should have read the transcript of the interview before it was posted, seen that there was a remark that offended the interviewee (and could possibly offend members of its audience) and removed it before it even went up on the web. That’s a responsible best practice.

    And then there’s the ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ school of damage control whereby any criticism of the piece gets obliterated. I think that’s pretty classless too.

    Comment by Graeme Burk — May 16, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

  21. […] number of people are understandably upset by the second question and the circumstances under which it disappeared. Rather than do an […]

    Pingback by Blog@Newsarama » Just Past the Horizon: Late Edition — May 23, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

  22. ON YA Cornell.
    You should have noticed after the first question, but this bloke asking you the questions was OBVIOUSLY baiting for some “controversy”. I say good move on have realistic characters.
    I say, good move on avoiding the guys questions.

    Comment by DanielW — June 2, 2008 @ 2:57 am

  23. […] are: Captain Britain & MI:13 #2 by Paul Cornell & Leonard Kirk: I confess, I was too busy thinking about externalities to pick this up, but I liked Cornell’s Wisdom and heard nice things about the first […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon · Archives · Pull List Analysis & Reviews for June 11, 2008 — June 13, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

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