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Eric Deggans

Eric Deggans

Posted: July 30, 2009 10:18 AM

Why Hasn't the Media Cut Through the Gates Nonsense?


As media outlets keep chewing over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, a few things are readily apparent.

Gates overreacted to a cop who was trying to make sure his home was safe. And the police officer, Sgt. James Crowley, overreacted by arresting a guy just for yelling at him.

So why are we still talking about this, nearly two weeks after the arrest and charges against Gates have been dropped?

As the world watches Gates and Crowley convene with the President (?!) for reconciliation over a cold beer today, I'd name three reasons the circus continues: The president, the media and the reaction each person has emotionally to the circumstances, regardless of the facts.

President Obama has already acknowledged he acted clumsily by attaching the word "stupidly" to Crowley's decision to arrest Gates. I agree that the president's words had a high political cost -- distracting the media and the public while he was trying to draw attention to revolutionizing health care.

But Obama was also right. There was no reason to arrest Gates for his shouting, beyond a cop trying to teach a guy he didn't like a lesson. And the police department's failure to admit that -- along with Gates' insistence that Crowley mistreated him because of his race, without much proof -- keeps this controversy aflame.

Another spark, unfortunately, has been media coverage. Cable news outlets and morning network news shows especially like cases like this -- incendiary stories they know viewers will be talking about all day that are relatively easy to report and build interview segments around.

On Wednesday morning, the Today show featured conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, unchallenged by an opposing view, saying Obama was a "race opportunist." This, despite the fact that Malkin is the one with a book to hawk and all Obama has earned from this dustup is the derailment of his health care reform agenda in media coverage.

That couldn't top Fox News' resident hysteric Glenn Beck, who had already called Obama a racist by Tuesday morning, earning national headlines. Besides making you wonder who the real racial opportunist is here, I wondered -- as somebody who has faced folks who wanted to physically harm me for the color of my skin -- whether the wealthy white guys like Beck and Rush Limbaugh now slinging the r-word have any idea what they are talking about.

In their world, it seems, a racist is defined mostly as someone who disagrees with their view on race issues.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson boiled the issue down to the point which divided many; whether police were justified in arresting Gates for yelling at them. This is a question which has made even moderates on race issues like Obama and Colin Powell take notice -- asking why police felt the need to handcuff a small guy who walks with a cane when they knew he lived in the house and he wasn't physically threatening them.

Of course, when the New York Daily News reported on the interview with CNN's Larry King where Powell talked about Gates' arrest, the focus was Powell's admonishment that "I was taught that as a child. You don't argue with a police officer."

And, once again, the circus keeps on spinning.

For more essays of this sort, check out my own blog, The Feed by clicking here.

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