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WVU alumnus's teachable moment for all

There are times, even in the workplace, when I have the mouth of a sailor.

Let's just say my language lapses are "areas of potential personal growth."  

And they are also self-induced hazards for someone in the business of broadcasting to the public.

So when I saw the video of TV rookie A.J. Clemente dropping the F-bomb and the S-bomb on live television the other night, I cringed.  

How many broadcasters saw the infamous blunder and muttered under their breath, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Clemente, a recent WVU Journalism School graduate, got fired over the flub, but he has accepted his fate with grace and good humor.

"It's inexcusable, first, to even say those words," Clemente said on the Today Show on Wednesday.  He added that he fully expected to be fired and holds "no animosity at all" toward the station.

So now we have a teachable moment.

Broadcasters are instructed from day one to assume that a microphone is always "live."

That reduces the chances of something getting on the air accidentally. Journalism schools everywhere will be showing the Clemente tape in class for years to come as a classic example of what can happen.

Also, we're reminded yet again that people make mistakes, and while some blunders are more public than others, the best remedy is always the same. Rather than parsing out a crafted and conditional apology as so many politicians have perfected, it's best to own up.

America is generous with do overs. NBC reports that "In a survey on TODAY.com Tuesday, 83.6 percent of voters believe he (Clemente) should be given a second chance; 16.4 percent said he should have been fired."

WVU Journalism School Dean Maryanne Reed says the Clemente incident is also a lesson in the power of new media.

Twitter caused the video to go viral around the world.  

That surge of publicity likely contributed to his firing, but the sensation created by the Internet ultimately led him to appearances on the Today Show and David Letterman, that helped generate sympathy.

"There has been a huge outpouring of support on social media," Reed told me Wednesday on MetroNews Talkline. "The irony of this is he's probably going to get a really good job at the end of today."

Over 35 years in broadcasting I've managed to avoid an "A.J. Moment," (knock on wood), but I've made a file full of mistakes and said a lot of things I wish I had not.  

Often those missteps trigger an email or phone call from someone taking exception or correcting me.

That feedback is a valuable reminder that people are listening, that words do matter, and that the built-in editor that broadcasters develop over the years serves as a vital buffer between the brain and the mouth or the keyboard.

Pretty soon now the buzz over Clemente will die down, and the fickle spotlight of momentary fame will shift elsewhere, but I'm going to try to remember A.J.'s meltdown.

After all, I'm a radio announcer, not a sailor.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.

 


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