Entertainment | Technology

How A Tweet On CBS' Mandela Misstep Sparked A Social Media Flare-Up

NPR | Dec. 11, 2013 8:43 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 11, 2013 10:23 a.m.

Contributed By:

Eric Deggans

One more lesson on the power of social media:

On Tuesday, while watching a panel of experts dissect the memorial service for Nelson Mandela on CBS This Morning, I noticed the program chose Toto’s “Africa” as the song to play over a montage of photos showing the rain-drenched ceremony.

Sure, there’s a line in the song about “the rains of Africa,” but I wondered why they didn’t just use an African song about rain? So I sent this tweet:

That message (and an earlier one with a few misspellings — sorry, it’s Twitter) was retweeted over 150 times. Notables such as Al-Jazeera America’s Bill Wyman and NPR’s own Peter Sagal weighed in. (Peter reminded me it was raining in Africa; but the clip CBS aired didn’t even include the line about the rains, so you had to really know the song to get it.)

A YouTube video clip of the montage, from an account for BuzzFeed reporter Dorsey Shaw, has racked up more than 55,000 pageviews.

Gawker did this story. And Talking Points Memo did this story. Mediaite did this story. And The Huffington Post did this story.

Obviously, it struck a chord. At a time when news outlets were scrambling to put Mandela’s death in perspective, the music misstep felt like a quick reminder of how little U.S. media really knows about Africa.

CBS did a great job covering the actual memorial service in Johannesburg, presenting a wonderful story from celebrity musician-turned-cultural correspondent Wynton Marsalis about the influence of music on Mandela’s fight for civil rights in South Africa. But that story also made the Toto selection feel even clunkier.

As my tweet was spreading across the Twitterverse, I went to YouTube, entered the search terms “Africa,” “rains” and “song,” and found this song from Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 30 seconds. Rights issues notwithstanding, a tune from South Africa’s best-known vocal group might have been a better choice for CBS.

Still, it was surprising when Toto co-founder David Paich, who co-wrote “Africa,” released a statement late Tuesday saying he didn’t think CBS should have used the song, either.

Paich said, in part: “As the co-writer of the song, if I had been asked for sync approval, the answer would have been a decline with a recommendation they honor the musicians of South Africa setting their sights on indigenous repertoire. This is an important day, and both I and Toto, have always held a commitment towards supporting initiatives that benefit the populace of South Africa, the continent of Africa, and the entire Southern Hemisphere.”

For this TV critic, it was another reminder of the amazing power social media can bring to a single statement that resonates with other people, even when that thought is just about a few seconds of music played on a national television program.

Eric Deggans joined NPR this fall as its new TV critic. He has been a journalist for 23 years and a TV critic for 15. Subject him to enough tough questions, and he’ll admit he can’t stop watching Law & Order: SVU and old Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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