An apology needed, not a media spectacle

In an open letter addressed to St. Paul police Chief William Finney printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ron Rosenbaum attempted to end the more than two-week-long squabble about an on-air comment he made. Rosenbaum’s controversial quip, although not intended to be a racial gibe, could be taken as offensive and therefore deserved an apology. However, the firestorm surrounding Rosenbaum’s remark was overblown.

On the Oct. 28 KSTP-AM 1500 morning show, Rosenbaum asked current St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly what he thought of Finney’s electoral potential for mayor. Kelly said “Many are called, few are chosen.” Rosenbaum quipped back, “That’s another way of saying ‘Get your shine box,’ Chief Finney.”

The “shine box” statement, a common Rosenbaum wisecrack that comes from the movie “Good Fellas,” might not be offensive in most situations. However, when leveled at a minority, it can be.

Stereotypes dictate that shoe shiners are minorities. Those who heard Rosenbaum’s comments directed at a respectful, successful black man could understandably interpret them as insinuating a shoe shiner’s position is minorities’ place in society.

Once a person puts such a remark in the flow of information, his or her control of the situation ends. The speaker does not decide how people react. In short, offense is in the heart of the offended.

Rosenbaum has no history of racial insensitivity and said he has actually spent much of his life fighting racism. Although what Rosenbaum wrote in his letter might not be conceived as an official apology, he did write that he regrets the misunderstanding and that he never meant to offend Finney.

Some have argued that Rosenbaum, as a talk-show host and an attorney, owed no apology for an innocently made comment. We disagree. Rosenbaum, like any public figure, should be above reproach.

However, perhaps Rosenbaum’s letter was not needed in the first place. This was a situation that could have been cleared up before it became a public debacle.

Instead of people directly contacting him to discuss the matter, which Rosenbaum said didn’t happen, the offended went screaming to the press. And although Rosenbaum wanted to personally speak with Finney about the matter, he said Finney, who was available to the press, wouldn’t speak with him.

Rosenbaum ended his letter by telling Finney how much he respects him and the job he has done for St. Paul. We wish the chief would make his own conciliatory remarks to Rosenbaum.