CNN’s Will Cain and Ron Brownstein, appearing on a panel during Soledad O’Brien‘s Starting Point, managed to drudge up centuries of Italian buffoon stereotypes in just 30 seconds, by implying that Francesco Schettino, the Italian captain of the Costa Concordia, eschewed the use of GPS because he was Italian.
Captain Jim Staples, a Master Mariner in the U.S. Merchant Marines, and, lately, a frequent guest on the show, was offering his opinion on a report that Schettino was navigating by sight. Cain, bringing up Malcolm Gladwell‘s idea of “outliers” and a study on plane crashes, asked Captain Staples for some insight:
“I’m curious… Is there anything — this guy was an Italian, this was an Italian cruise ship. Is there anything we’re imposing upon this, you know, through our own lens, that maybe needs to be viewed through the Italian culture? Is there some contribution here that this guy was not you, Captain Jim, that he was an Italian captain?”
“Do Italians dislike GPS, for example?” Brownstein interjected.
Staples fumbled with his words for a moment, blew off the question, and instead offered insight about how a junior officer should have stepped in.
There is little question that Schettino made some incredibly poor decisions in his navigating of the Costa Concordia, but to suggest that Italians, as whole, don’t like GPS, or operate tremendously large cruise ships differently as captains because they are Italians — after the small sample size of one cruise liner crash — is a bit irresponsible, and likely will not go over well with the Italian community. Cain’s intent with the question likely wasn’t to mock Italians, but he could have given more context and explained it was a question of “authority” and not — as it appeared — as part of their Italianness. Brownstein’s comment was just stupid and ill-timed (one would argue that it nullified the intent Cain was aiming for). For proof, watch O’Brien’s expressions as Cain asks his question, and her “I’m not sure this was a good idea” face she makes after Brownstein’s comment (and a subsequent Cain/Brownstein giggle-fest), perhaps not liking where the duo was going with it.
Video of the exchange appears below, courtesy of CNN:
UPDATE: We have edited some of the original language in this post to better reflect Cain’s point that he was trying to make. He has clarified on Twitter that, “I was talking about relation to authority. The Captain knew and answered directly about junior officers, etc.”
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