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“Consistently Stirring Up Racial Animus”: Right Wing Media And Their “Racialized Political Fodder”

In what is purported to be Dylann Roof’s “manifesto,” he writes that this is where it all began:

The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Reading that reminded me of how Ta-Nehisi Coates meticulously laid out the process by which the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman became “racialized political fodder” for right wing media.

The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood watch patroller seemed uncontroversial…

The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled. Rush Limbaugh denounced Obama’s claim of empathy. The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, broadcast all of Martin’s tweets, the most loutish of which revealed him to have committed the unpardonable sin of speaking like a 17-year-old boy. A white supremacist site called Stormfront produced a photo of Martin with pants sagging, flipping the bird. Business Insider posted the photograph and took it down without apology when it was revealed to be a fake.

Newt Gingrich pounced on Obama’s comments: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?” Reverting to form, National Review decided the real problem was that we were interested in the deaths of black youths only when nonblacks pulled the trigger. John Derbyshire, writing for Taki’s Magazine, an iconoclastic libertarian publication, composed a racist advice column for his children inspired by the Martin affair. (Among Derbyshire’s tips: never help black people in any kind of distress; avoid large gatherings of black people; cultivate black friends to shield yourself from charges of racism.)

The notion that Zimmerman might be the real victim began seeping out into the country, aided by PR efforts by his family and legal team…In April, when Zimmerman set up a Web site to collect donations for his defense, he raised more than $200,000 in two weeks, before his lawyer asked that he close the site and launched a new, independently managed legal-defense fund…

…Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles… Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.

There you have it, folks. Because President Obama simply said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the right wing media in this country went into a frenzy. That’s when they got Roof’s attention. The rest was up to the white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Dylann Storm Roof is certainly responsible for his own horrific actions this past week. But we can’t ignore the way the right wing media has consistently stirred up racial animus amongst their viewers/listeners at every turn over the last seven years.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 20, 2015

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Council of Conservative Citizens, Racism, Right Wing Media, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Frenzy Of Ignorance And Indignation”: Scandal? Knowing Zero About Clinton Foundation, Indignant Pundits Blather

A very strange thing has happened to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Suddenly, journalists who never paid the least attention to the foundation’s work over the past decade or so — and seemed content to let the Clintons and their associates try to do some good in the world — proclaim their concern about its finances, transparency and efficiency. Commentators with very little knowledge of any of the foundation’s programs, who are indeed unable to distinguish the Clinton Global Initiative from the Clinton Health Access Initiative, confidently denounce the entire operation as suspect.

What provoked this frenzy of ignorance and indignation, of course, is the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States. Partisan adversaries of the former Secretary of State have been working overtime, subsidized by millions of dollars in Republican “dark money,” to construct a conspiratorial narrative that transforms her husband’s good works into dirty deals. (Transparency is evidently required of the Clintons, but not of their critics.)

The main product of that effort, delivered by media mogul Rupert Murdoch amid a din of promotion in mainstream and right-wing media, is of course Clinton Cash, authored by a former Bush speechwriter named Peter Schweizer.

Compressing lengthy timelines, blurring important distinctions, and sometimes simply inventing false “facts,” Schweizer has attempted to transform the Clinton Foundation from an innovative, successful humanitarian organization into a sham institution that sells public favors for private gain.

While many of Schweizer’s most glaring accusations have been thoroughly debunked already — notably concerning the uranium-mining firm once partly owned by a major foundation donor — amplified echoes of his “corruption” meme are damaging nevertheless. Various media figures who have long hated the Clintons, from Rush Limbaugh to David Frum, feel liberated to utter any outrageous accusation, however distorted or dishonest.

But as so often has proved true when such individuals start screaming “scandal” and “Clinton” in the same breath, the sane response is to take a deep breath, suspend judgment and examine relevant facts.

Appearing on a recent National Public Radio broadcast with me, Frum asserted that the foundation spends far too much on air travel and other expenses. The same philanthropic impact could have been achieved, said Frum, if Bill Clinton had merely “joined the International Red Cross” after leaving the White House.

While Frum doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that won’t stop him chattering for a second. Among the significant achievements of the Clinton Foundation was to build a system that has drastically reduced the cost of providing treatment for AIDS and other diseases across Africa, the Caribbean and in other less-developed countries, saving and improving millions of lives. Bringing together major donors, including wealthy nations like Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the leaders of poor nations to create these programs, he helped turn back a disease that once threatened to infect 100 million people globally. That effort required many hours of air travel by him and his aides — and many visits to extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, places in which Frum will never set an expensively shod foot.

Like Limbaugh, Frum has claimed that the Clinton Foundation wastes enormous resources while concealing its donors and expenditures from a gullible public. The truth, attested by expert authorities on nonprofit and charitable organizations, is that the foundation spends (and raises) its funds with commendable efficiency — and it has posted far more detailed information, including the names of 300,000-plus donors, than federal tax law requires.

Did the foundation’s staff commit errors during the past 15 years or so? Undoubtedly. Could its operations be more efficient, more effective, more transparent? Of course — but its record is outstanding and its activities have done more good for more people than Frum, Limbaugh, Schweizer, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch would achieve in 10,000 lifetimes.

Why don’t these furious critics care about basic facts? It may be unfair to assume that in pursuit of their political agenda, they are indifferent to millions of Africans dying of HIV or malaria. Yet they do seem perfectly willing to hinder an important and useful effort against human suffering.

When you hear loud braying about the Clinton Foundation, pause to remember that two decades ago, these same pundits (and newspapers) insisted that Whitewater was a huge and terrible scandal. Indeed, Limbaugh even insinuated on the radio that Hillary Clinton had murdered Vince Foster, a friend and White House staffer who tragically committed suicide. Politicians and prosecutors spent more than $70 million on official investigations of that ill-fated real estate investment, loudly proclaiming the Clintons guilty of something, before we finally discovered there was no scandal at all. Talk about waste!

So perhaps this time, with all due respect for the vital work of the Clinton Foundation, we should assume innocence until someone produces credible evidence of wrongdoing.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, May 13, 2015

May 14, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Journalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Defense Of ‘Uppity-ism'”: Michelle Obama, “Rise Above The Noise”; All Black Americans Should Take Her Advice

It became clear during the 2008 presidential campaign that America was going to have some real trouble handling the prospect of a black president of the United States and a black first lady. Despite hip-hop having defined much of pop culture since the 1980s, a fist bump was all of a sudden unfamiliar: Is it a salute or a “terrorist fist jab?” Cue the disingenuous shrugs.

Coded and blatant racial insults were everywhere during that election season and haven’t abated in the seven years since. Michelle Malkin, herself a woman of color, called Michelle Obama one of her husband Barack’s “cronies of color” in her 2009 book Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies. A Fox News Channel graphic colloquially insulted the married mother of two daughters, calling her “Obama’s baby mama.” Another slur came from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh in 2011, when in the course of lying about the public paying for presidential vacations, he charged the first lady and family with “a little bit of uppity-ism.” There are, of course, many more vitriolic examples.

“Uppity,” translated from thinly-veiled racial code, is meant to describe a black person who doesn’t know her or his place. It is as paternalistic as it is racist, meant to convey that a black person is somehow lower, in need of guidance back to the subjugated existence that makes the dominant caste more comfortable. Heaven forbid one even consider her or himself an equal. Or superior!

It’s a word I’ve been called once to my face, a few times online, and likely more behind my back. Unlike “nigger,” I’ve always felt oddly affirmed by it. It’s a term of hatred, no doubt, but someone who thinks me “uppity” considers my very existence a threat. That’s a good thing. We are threats to them and their detestable worldview, and Michelle Obama’s life, perhaps even more so than Barack’s, is a testament to this.

The first lady reminded us of these insults and slights in a commencement speech on Saturday, all in the context of facing “pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others”—a fitting message for the new graduates of the historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama, where the Tuskegee Airmen, famed black military pilots of World War II, were educated while they trained at nearby Moton Field.

“As potentially the first African American first lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others,” she said during her speech. “Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”

These sorts of questions are regularly hurled at women in America, of which the first lady is an avatar of sorts. They have a special appeal to sexists seeking to challenge the manhood of the president, a job that required the kind of fortitude and strength our culture has misguidedly sought to find in a pair of testicles. But given the entirety of Michelle Obama’s experience, we have to consider these narrowing notions in the context of race.

In an essay for The Root last September about the New York Times Arts review, historian Blair L.M. Kelley reminded how deeply rooted the stereotype of the angry, emasculating black woman is:

Beginning in the early 1830s, the first ‘black women’ American audiences saw on the American stage were minstrel ‘Negro wenches.’ Using burned cork and greasepaint to blacken their skin, white men in their performances as black men and women became wildly popular in the mid-19th century. White men used crude drag along with the burned cork to mark black women as grotesque, loudmouthed, masculine and undeserving of the protections afforded to white ‘ladies’ in American society.

Michelle Obama told the graduates how out here in the world that this sort of framing may seem small in the face of those denied a house or a job because of their race, and she’s right. But I’m glad she brought them up. (Frankly, I’m always happy to see a black person in the public sphere reflect black reality, as opposed to the white stories we’ve been forced to tell and celebrate for so long.) Microaggressions like this feed the systemic, more obvious incarnations of racial discrimination. And in that light, “uppity-ism,” as Limbaugh termed it, is worth claiming for our own and defending.

“Eventually,” she told the graduates, “I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself—and the rest would work itself out. So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.” The First Lady closed by urging the graduates to “rise above the noise,” a fitting metaphor for the Tuskegee crowd.

Being deemed “uppity” signifies a specific kind of arrogance to a predominantly white power structure. For that, I embrace the term. Not as how oppressors seek to define it, but for what it literally represents: a desire to prove yourself superior to an inherently racist society and above the category they would otherwise assign you.

I’m hardly the first to do so; former National League president and baseball player Bill White used the word as a title for his frank memoir four years ago. “It’s a person, especially someone of a different color, who says, ‘Hell no’ and stands his ground,” he told the Times. It’s a crude declaration of the power of black ambition and steadfastness. Those are things I’ll never look down upon.

 

By: Jamil Smith, The New Republic, May 11, 2015

May 12, 2015 Posted by | Black Americans, FLOTUS, Michelle Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Poison In Which Conservatives Marinate”: The Rancid Stew Of Fantasy, Hatred, And Yes, Racism

If you look at poll results saying that most Republicans think Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim enacting a secret plan to destroy America and think, “What the hell is wrong with these people?”, you have to understand that it gets reinforced day after day after day by media sources they believe to be lonely islands of truth amid a sea of lies. Yes, they hear it from politicians like Rudy Giuliani, who seems to be on some kind of mission to prove himself to be America’s most despicable cretin. But that only reinforces the river of political sewage that flows into their ears each and every day.

To wit, here’s Republican uber-pundit Erick Erickson, filling in for Rush Limbaugh and telling his millions of listeners what they want to hear:

“Barack Obama believes that for the world to be more safe the United States must be less safe. For the world to be more stable the United States must be less stable. Barack Obama believes the United States of America is a destabilizing, arrogant force in the world, we need our comeuppance and we need to be humbled. And so everything Barack Obama does domestically and in foreign policy is designed to humble the arrogant crackers who have always run the United States.”

Yes, that’s right, “arrogant crackers.” How on earth anyone could get the idea that the attacks on Obama by people like Erickson are meant to stoke their audience’s racial resentments, I have no idea.

As a general rule, whenever you hear a conservative pundit start a sentence with “Barack Obama believes…” you’re about to hear something that not only bears no plausible relationship to reality but is also meant to play on the worst instincts of his or her audience. And it is simply impossible to overstate the ubiquity of this particular theme in conservative media: Barack Obama hates not just America but white people in general, and all of his policies are meant to exact racial vengeance upon them. This is the rancid stew of fantasy, hatred, and yes, racism in which millions upon millions of conservatives have spent the last six years marinating.

To my conservative friends: I know that you are obsessed with the idea that conservatives are constantly being unfairly accused of racism. And there are certainly times when some liberals are too quick to see racist intent in a comment that may be innocuous or at worst unintentionally provocative. But you make heroes out of people like Giuliani, Limbaugh, and Erickson. You applaud them, honor them, extol them, and when other people occasionally notice the caustic hairballs of bile they spit onto waiting microphones, the most you can say is, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” So you have nothing to complain about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Media Already Bungled Hillary’s ‘Emailgate’: This Is Why The Former Secretary Of State Can’t Stand The Press

Hillary Clinton found herself in a familiar place on Tuesday: amid a gaggle of excited reporters eagerly shouting questions at her about a matter they thought was of the highest importance and she thought was absurdly trivial. If this is the first Clinton controversy of the 2016 campaign, it has a meta quality about it: since no one knows if there’s anything problematic (let alone incriminating) of substance in her emails themselves, we’re left talking about how we talk about it.

At this early stage, that can be an important conversation to have. I’ve written some very critical things about Clinton, both in the past and with regard to this issue; most particularly, on Monday I wrote this piece arguing that she owes her liberal supporters a campaign worthy of all she and her husband asked of them over the years. And since the presidential race is just beginning, this is a good opportunity for the reporters who will be covering her to do some reflection as well, about where they and their colleagues went wrong in the past and how they can serve their audiences better in the next year and a half.

You can’t understand Hillary Clinton’s perspective without understanding what happened in the 1990s, and the media transformation that was going on while Bill Clinton was president. From the first moments of that presidency, Clinton’s opponents were convinced he was corrupt to the core. They assumed that if they mounted enough investigations and tossed around enough charges, something would stick and Clinton would be brought down. If you think the endless Benghazi investigations are ridiculous, you should have been around then; if Bill Clinton wore the same tie two days in a row, Republicans would hold a week’s worth of hearings to investigate what he was covering up.

The media atmosphere in which this all occurred was profoundly different than it had been just a few years before. Conservative talk radio came into its own in the 1990s, providing Republicans both an outlet for their most outrageous charges and a goad to produce more of them. (When they won control of Congress in 1994, Republicans literally made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of their freshman class). Fox News debuted in 1996, in time for the impeachment crisis of 1998. The previously leisurely news cycle accelerated rapidly, and nothing fed it like scandal.

While the Clintons bear responsibility for getting many of those scandals going with questionable decision-making or behavior, it’s also true that the mainstream media made huge mistakes during that period by treating every Republican charge, no matter how ludicrous, as though it was worthy of a full-scale investigation splashed across the front page. Again and again, they reacted to the most thinly justified accusations as though the next Watergate or Iran-Contra was at hand, and when it turned out that there was no corruption or illegality to be found, they simply moved on to the next faux-scandal, presented no less breathlessly.

That past — and journalists’ failures to reckon with it — are still affecting coverage today. When this email story broke, how many journalists said it was important because it “plays into a narrative” of Hillary Clinton as scandal-tainted? I must have heard it a dozen times just in the past week.

Here’s a tip for my fellow scribes and opinionators: If you find yourself justifying blanket coverage of an issue because it “plays into a narrative,” stop right there. That’s a way of saying that you can’t come up with an actual, substantive reason this is important or newsworthy, just that it bears some superficial but probably meaningless similarity to something that happened at some point in the past. It’s the updated version of “out there” — during the Clinton years, reporters would say they had no choice but to devote attention to some scurrilous charge, whether there was evidence for it or not, because someone had made the charge and therefore it was “out there.”

“Narratives,” furthermore, aren’t delivered from Mt. Sinai on stone tablets. They’re created and maintained by journalists making decisions about what’s important and how different issues should be understood. If you’re going to tell us that a new issue “plays into a narrative,” you ought to be able to say why there’s something essentially true or significant about that narrative.

To be clear, I’m not saying reporters shouldn’t aggressively investigate Hillary Clinton, when it comes to her tenure at the State Department, her time in the Senate, her activities as a private citizen, or anything else. They absolutely should, just as they should look into all candidates — that’s their job. She wants to be president, and the public needs to know as much as possible about who she is and what she would do if she gets to sit in the Oval Office.

But as they do that, they should exercise their considered news judgment, just as they do every day on every other topic. They should apply similar standards to all the candidates; if it’s important that Clinton used a private email account while at State, then it must be equally important that other candidates have used private emails for work, and they should be subject to as much scrutiny as she is. When a new revelation or accusation emerges, the questions reporters should ask themselves include: Is there evidence for this? What’s the context in which it took place? How does it bear on the presidency? How can I present it to my audience in a way that makes them smarter and better informed?

Any reporter could come up with a dozen others. But “Does this play into a narrative?” ought to be the last question they ask. As I wrote about Hillary Clinton, there are ways in which she owes her supporters better than what they’ve gotten from her in the past. But that’s only half the story. The news media owes their readers, listeners, and viewers better than what they got, too.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Week, March 11, 2015

March 12, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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