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Isaiah Washington: T.R. Knight should have been canned

Lord, some people just don’t know when to zip it.

“They fired the wrong guy,” Isaiah Washington told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday.

The Grey’s Anatomy star, fired this month after creating a furor earlier this year with his use of an anti- gay slur, was speaking out at length for the first time about his dismissal.

He told the Chronicle, his hometown newspaper, that T.R. Knight should have been the one fired from the show.

“I’m telling everything. So here’s the truth,” he told the paper.

According to Washington it was Knight who fueled the controversy. Washington claims in the interview that he believes it was part of a plan by Knight to get a raise.

The “he made me do it” explanation. Sigh. He really shouldn’t have floated this insanity. Washington’s considering a lawsuit, but hasn’t indicated whether he’s going to go after ABC or Knight.

This drama has just gone on too long…* Washington got into an altercation with co-star Patrick Dempsey and used the word “faggot” in reference to T.R. Knight.

A set source says that when Knight, 33, was late to film a scene, a debate ensued between Dempsey and Washington, with Dempsey insisting on waiting for Knight before starting the scene. The argument quickly intensified, and the source says that yes, the alleged slur was used, but Knight was not present at the time.

“Isaiah was running his mouth off,” says the source. “Isaiah verbally attacked Patrick ? he tore into him. Patrick’s voice escalated and he did tell Isaiah to ‘f? off, (but) that was as heated as Patrick got.”

* It was reported that Washington throttled Dempsey.

Dempsey and Washington were standing around waiting to film a scene, when Washington grew aggravated and lashed out at co-star T.R. Knight (Dr. George O?Malley).

“That’s when Patrick told Isaiah, ‘Pick on somebody your own size,'” a source told The National Enquirer. “Isaiah became enraged and grabbed Patrick by the throat and shoved him back a few feet.”

* At the Golden Globes, he then denied calling Knight a faggot.

Backstage at the Globes, Washington answered a question from reporters about the a heated on-set incident from last October regarding Knight.

Washington said, “No, I did not call T.R. a faggot. Never happened. Never happened.”

* He entered a residential treatment facility to deal with anger management and homophobia.

* He taped a PSA against homophobia after meeting with Neil Giuliano of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and apologized again.

* He was fired, or rather, ABC took the passive route and didn’t renew his contract.

A pretty balanced view of the whole mess can be found at Keith Boykin’s blog. He treads rationally into both the Washington situation specifically and ABC’s trend of black actors/characters being dropped from its programming generally.

I’ve noticed it myself but didn’t put all the pieces together until after the Washington firing. Two of my favorite ABC TV shows, “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” have each lost all their black characters. “Lost,” in particular, had a very diverse cast of characters stranded on the island. A young black boy named Walt was a central figure to the story for an entire season, and his father’s search for him defined the season. In addition, there was a black woman married to a white man, a black Nigerian former drug dealer, and a black woman member of the “others.” Now, as far as I can tell, they are all gone, dead or left the island.

The same thing happened with “Desperate Housewives.” After the first season featured no blacks, the producers brought on Alfred Woodard and Mehcad Brooks to play a mother and son with a secret past. It looked like a promising story line at first but quickly devolved into something completely out of place for the show and never allowed the black characters to really interact with the white ones. The black family moved out in the middle of the night and Wisteria Lane was (virtually) all-white again.

And of course who can forget Star Jones-Reynolds’s infamous removal from “The View,” now suffering after the loss of out lesbian co-host Rosie O’Donnell. Add to the mix the loss of other black characters on “Grey’s Anatomy” who played Washington’s family members (Diahann Carroll and Richard Roundtree), and you see a disturbing trend at the network. All the black folk are disappearing.

As many who have been following this blogosphere soap opera may know, Jasmyne Cannick has defended Washington (she knows him personally), and has raised a ruckus with both a petition effort to take ABC to task for firing him, and stern admonishment for the network’s programming “blackout.” She also declared that the “white gay mafia” was responsible for Washington’s fate.

Yes, the gay MSM (for what that’s worth) often misses the boat on context and coverage of black gay issues, but I can’t get on this particular train, hitching it to Washington in the same breath, since his behavior on the Grey’s Anatomy set is hardly worth defending regardless of color. When I heard about the original altercation with Dempsey and the rest of the nonsense, my first reaction was “obnoxious diva behavior.”

I have no patience for people who cannot control themselves in the workplace. I don’t care how many charitable organization they belong to or admirable public efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS issues you have under your belt, abusing your co-workers is BS, and it’s tolerated way too often, particularly with artsy creative types, or in the corporate arena, the folks who are gifted in some way that pleases stockholders even as they terrorize their support staff. As I said in my recent post about the firing:

I really don’t understand the controversy — in most workplaces you can be canned for repeated disruptive behavior, and certainly for outbursts for harassing language toward a colleague. The harassment policy of Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC (the show is produced by ABC Studios):

The Walt Disney Company’s policy prohibits employees from harassing any other employee, guest or other person in the course of the company’s business for any reason prohibited by law, including, but not limited to, race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status, covered veteran status, mental or physical disability, pregnancy, or any other basis prohibited by state or federal law.

The fact that abusive language is tolerated in many workplaces, even those with harassment policies, is another matter. That has to do with politics and power differential  between the parties involved. Sorry to say, egregious behavior is often tolerated when the party is considered too talented and productive to lose, critical to the operation, or is backed by powerful forces within the organization.

Washington’s critical mistake was thinking he had the mojo with the folks in charge to get away with this stunt — and he didn’t. Did race play a part? I have no idea, but when actors play diva and toss the dice, sometimes they lose.

Take Suzanne Somers for instance. When she was playing Chrissy on Three’s Company back in the 70s, she played a role in making the show a massive hit, but she eventually decided to cash in for more money by missing taping for several days. The producers limped through the season and minimized her appearances until her contract ran out, and like Washington they didn’t renew it, replacing her. More recently, a similar thing occurred with the supporting actors on CSI. Jorja Fox and George Eads thought they had more mojo than they had and decided to not report to work for the 2004 season. The producers said they were ready to put out a casting call to replace them and fired them. They ended up skulking back to the set to keep their jobs without the pay raise they desired.

However, none of these people throttled a co-worker or yelled slurs on the set, and they still had their jobs on the chopping block. Washington’s just another in a series of actors who mistakenly thought they were indispensible and didn’t think before acting out. Sometimes those are the breaks in that business — and no one ever said that show business was fair.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding