News and Commentary

FAIL: Reuters Runs Headline Claiming ESPN Dropped ‘Confederate General Doppelganger’ Robert Lee

International news organization Reuters may be in the market for a dictionary very soon.

Faced with having to report on ESPN’s bizarre decision to drop a sportscaster named Robert Lee from a University of Virgnia football broadcast because his name too closely resembled that of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Reuters, apparently, tried to take ESPN’s side.

At least, that’s what it looks like from their headline, which may be the single weirdest thing written about the whole affair.

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A “doppleganger” is, of course, a near-perfect copy. With people, it usually means an almost identical, yet unrelated person who could be someone else’s twin.

For those who may be unaware, Robert Lee (the one from ESPN) looks absolutely nothing like Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General. For starters, Robert Lee is clean shaven and is not dead. Also, he’s Asian.

On the left is the Robert E. Lee who led the Confederate Army. On the right is Robert Lee, the sportscaster. The resemblance is not uncanny. In fact, they don’t even have the same haircut. Or facial structure. Or, really, anything other than the same name.

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After the Internet pointed out their obvious failure, Reuters tried again.

Again, they got it wrong.

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Just because the two Robert Lees share a name, it does not make the living Robert Lee the namesake of the dead one. In order to be a “namesake” you have to have been named after the other person, and there’s absolutely nothing to indicate, in Reuters’s story or elsewhere, that Robert Lee, the ESPN football announcer, is named after Robert E. Lee the general.

In fact, it’s likely a pure coincidence: Lee (or Li) is one of the single most common surnames among Asian-Americans.

Reuters’s story fares little better, claiming that ESPN switched Lee from one game to another, lesser game, because they were afraid of causing controversy among their viewers and stoking the flames of discontent. According to earlier statements, though, ESPN pulled Lee because they were afraid that, if the internet discovered the connection between their broadcaster and the general, ESPN would get “memed.”

Things turned out a bit worse for them than they expected, clearly.

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