Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Who is Otis Burke?

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about ABC’s cancellation of Roseanne, after Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s former senior advisor.

Today, a lot of internet ink will be spilled about ABC’s swift and decisive reaction to cut the head off any potential controversy, how private-sector employees lack free speech rights at work, and why Roseanne’s after-the-fact excuse that she was Ambien-tweeting is irrelevant.

I’d like to come at this from a different angle—all of the individuals who are now unemployed because Roseanne Barr said something racist and offensive and stupid.

Including Otis Burke.

Yesterday, her show employed hundreds of people—actors, and writers, and directors, and editors, and other crew members, and craft services, and the list goes on. Today, all of those folks are unemployed.

John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf don’t have to worry about paying their mortgages; they’ll be just fine. Otis Burke (the key grip on two episodes this past season), and Robert Young (the transportation coordinator), and Tiffany Soliah (a production coordinator) present a very different story.

Hundreds of people are now unemployed because of Roseanne Barr’s mouth (or fingers). Employers (and I’m putting Roseanne into that category because it was her show) have a responsibility to their employees to keep the lights on. We all need to understand that, as corporate citizens, our responsibility extends to avoiding controversy that could impact our ability to do so. 

No matter your political views, no one should feel badly for Roseanne. But we should feel very badly for Otis Burke, who, through no fault of his own, is now unemployed. All employers should take this story as a cautionary tale about their responsibility to those whose paychecks they sign.