Something dark, dank and disturbingly familiar has saturated the airways, clogging reason and exacerbating racial anxiety and paranoia. And, as it was during the beginning of the 20th Century, mainstream actively spreads the pollutants.
Recently, I received an e-blast from the watchdog group, ColorOfChange.org, calling for a massive letter writing campaign to urge CNN to cease following the lead of FOX News which according to the group, stoops to "race-baiting" in its coverage of President Barack Obama. As evidence, it cited a recent FOX News segment (which CNN repeated) claiming that Obama's Justice Department refuses to prosecute members of a black Philadelphia organization that allegedly intimidated white voters in the 2008 election. The voting district was predominately black, only two men were involved and the incident occurred under President George W. Bush's Administration. Never-the-less, the stories gave the not-so-subtly impression that Obama allowed blacks to trample on white rights.
ColorOfChange aims to hold CNN accountable for not vetting a story primarily based on the accusations of J. Christian Adams, a conservative activist and former Justice Department official under Bush. CNN "mainstreamed" FOX's story without addressing its partisan distortions, ColorOf Change officials wrote. Further, they argue that the network allowed Adams to "air his twisted views without allowing opposing perspectives or telling the full story of Adams' past." As a result, CNN became "complicit in a right wing effort to smear President Obama and Attorney General Holder as racists," the agency said.
In an era of condensed, fast-paced, entertainment and opinion-based news delivery, the FOX/CNN story could be dismissed as another case of sloppy journalism. Unfortunately, it follows a consistent theme of other racially charged, media-fed accounts that eagerly paint Obama as either incompetent or prejudiced against whites. Last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator, arch-conservative Charles Krauthammer, lashed out at Obama's pick to head NASA, Charles Bolden, the second astronaut and first black man to head the agency.
During an interview with Aljazeera news network, Bolden said Obama asked him to reach out to Muslim Nations and engage them in the international space program. The effort is the "worst kind of group therapy, psycho-babble, imperial condescension and adolescent diplomacy," Krauthammer said on FOX News. It should be noted that the international space program draws upon the scientific and technological resources of Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil and about 10 other nations. Without rebuttal, Krauthammer reinforced the irrational idea that Obama had turned NASA over to radical Muslims.
These news stories would be benign if they weren't reported in an environment where popular media pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck fan flames of fear, ludicrously portraying Obama as a socialist, racist or an undercover Muslim. Both men have continuously discounted Obama's qualifications. Limbaugh recently attributed Obama and Oprah Winfrey's success to their skin color and claimed Michelle Obama's "pure slave blood" kept her away from Sen. Robert Byrd's funeral. Beck made an assertion that was more inflammatory when he claimed Obama has "deep-seated hatred of white people."
The steady rise in popularity of Limbaugh, Beck and others who use race to fan anti-Obama sentiments reflect the rise of racial anxiety in America. What must be dissected are the factors that caused Don Imus to lose stature and support due to racist comments in 2007, while Limbaugh's ugly racial rhetoric in 2010 is not only tolerated but celebrated. In context, it is no surprise that Limbaugh represents the de facto leader of the GOP.
Merely mentioning the verbal assaults of Media Land extremists promotes the lunacy. Ordinarily, ignoring race-baiting commentators and news stories would be the sane retort. History, however, demonstrates the folly of tolerating the combustible mix of fear, hate and powerful media messaging.
America's pump had been primed for confrontation by the time D. W. Griffith's film, Birth of a Nation, hit the screens in 1915. Its release came at a time when the South and the North were still grappling with the ramifications of a lost war, fear of emancipated slaves, amplified by exaggerated media accounts of crimes committed by migrating blacks. The movie depicted blacks as buffoonish, monkey-like legislators and murderous ex-slaves intent on raping white women. Birth of a Nation, which was the highest-grossing movie of the silent film era, reinforced the notion of white supremacy and romanticized the Klan to the point that its membership jumped from 5,000 to 100,000, within months of its release.
Between the spring and summer months of 1919, murderous race riots exploded in 22 American cities, with Chicago experiencing one of the most severe eruptions. In describing the causes of the riots, then assistant executive secretary of the NAACP, Walter White, listed incendiary newspaper articles as top contributors. Chicago newspapers, White wrote, "played up in prominent style with glaring, prejudice-breeding headlines every crime or suspected crime committed by Negroes." The long period of race-based negativity in the press "inflamed the minds of many people against Negroes," White wrote.
Since Obama's inauguration, polls and studies indicate that racial animosity, white supremacist membership, fears of socialism, Muslim infiltration and feelings that the government has gone in treasonous directions are all on the rise. It is in this environment that obliging, irresponsible media exploits a dangerous and vulnerable mindset.
As a strong defender of the 1st Amendment, suggestions of censorship make me somewhat uneasy. In this light, the call from ColorOfChange.org to use social media as a new media vs. old style, race-baiting media retaliatory tool makes perfect sense.
There have always been contingents of brave individuals who have boldly confronted racism and sacrificed for true equality and justice. Unfortunately, the media-propagated "post-racial" illusion has retired many of these voices.
Once again, the country is soaked in the flammable mixture of liquid fear and race-based ignorance. We have to use every tool available to confront and douse the rhetoric of media pundits who profit from the notion of white superiority and anti-Obama paranoia.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said; "sometimes silence is betrayal." We've been here before. And, as history has taught us, this is no time for silence.