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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Asian Groups Attack Msnbc Headline Referring To Kwan -- News Web Site Apologizes For Controversial Wording

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The news Web site MSNBC is apologizing for a headline that seemed to suggest figure skater Michelle Kwan was not an American.

Asian-American groups were taken aback by the headline, "American Beats Out Kwan," saying it suggests a reluctance to acknowledge that they are United States citizens.

"It's simply an indication of how far we still have to go in this country to understand that we are a diverse society," said Herbert Yamanishi, national director of the Japanese American Citizens League.

"Maybe there's a little progress in that they don't see (figure skater Tara) Lipinski as a foreign name any more, as they used to," he added, tongue in cheek.

"It's an error for which they apologize," said Sandra Michioku, executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association, "but it still showed an insensitivity and encourages the stereotype of Asian Americans as foreigners. Anyone who knows Michelle Kwan knows she is an American."

That includes MSNBC, insisted Merrill Brown, editor in chief of the Redmond-based joint venture between Microsoft and NBC.

"This is a basic headline error, and we are sorry and we will be sure this doesn't happen again," he said yesterday.

MSNBC Executive Sports Editor Edmundo Macedo said the headline was one of two, the first of which said something to the effect that Tara Lipinski had won the gold medal in the women's figure-skating final. A sports producer chose "American Beats Kwan" for the second headline to avoid repeating Lipinski's name.

"Obviously, it was not a good headline," Macedo said.

The headlines ran as a marquee, scrolling across the site's main page shortly after Lipinski clinched the medal around 4 or 5 a.m. Pacific Time Feb. 20. The headline ran for no more than 15 minutes but went out to 85,000 subscribers of the site's News Alert service.

MSNBC has since taken steps to make sure headlines are checked by a second staffer before being posted, the editors said. The site also posted an apology for the headline, which it said "may have been interpreted" to say Kwan, who is of Chinese descent, is not American.

Yamanishi said he is satisfied with MSNBC's apology.

Kwan could not be reached for comment.

Eric Sorensen's phone message number is 206-464-8253. His e-mail address is: esorensen@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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