Ethics Alarm: In Memphis, Facts Are Now Racist

Infamy. I hope.

Infamy. I hope.

This truly upsetting story is in part about headlines, and I had a hard time deciding on one for the post. It makes my head explode—I am trying out a new Swiffer now—but it really shouldn’t have exploded, considering recent developments. I could name Commercial Appeal’s editor Louis Graham (left) an Ethics Dunce, which he certainly is (in addition to being a fool, a coward, and a disgrace to journalism), but that doesn’t do him justice. I thought about making his editorial apologizing for stating facts in a headline as an Unethical Quote of the Month, but this was worse than a bad quote. This was surrender.

The Memphis, Tennessee newspaper the Commercial Appeal, a Gannett publication, headlined its front page story about the attack on police in Dallas “Gunman targeted whites.” Here it is:

memphiscom headline

Indeed, African-American gunman Micah Xavier Johnson specifically said that his objective was to  kill white police officers. Nonetheless, protestors attacking the paper for publishing a “racist’ headline gathered outside the paper’s office in downtown Memphis last week. Black Lives Matter signs were in evidence.

Commercial Appeal editor Louis Graham met with protesters, and apologized with a front page editorial titled “We got it wrong.” He wrote in part…

Simply put, we got it wrong.

Those three big words in headline type stretched across Saturday’s front page — Gunman Targeted Whites — were true according to police accounts in Dallas at the time but they badly oversimplified a very complex, rapidly evolving story, and angered many of our readers and many more in the broader community.

In my view the headline was so lacking in context as to be tone deaf, particularly in a city with a 65 percent African American population. That front page minimized the broader refrain of what’s happening in our country with anguish over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police. It has been viewed as suggesting that this newspaper values the lives of white police officers more than young black men who have died in incident after incident.

The checks and balances in place to avoid just this type of disconnect didn’t work that night for a variety of reasons. Too few people looked at the front page before it rolled off our presses. We’ve taken steps to correct that. But the larger challenge is recruiting a diverse enough staff to better reflect the city we cover. We continue to work on that and will be more introspective about how we do our jobs.

In an environment so fraught with anger and anxiety we added unnecessary fuel. That’s not our role. Ours is to explore and explain. The headline required restraint and we didn’t provide it.

Of all the criticism I’ve read, and it is considerable, this stuck with me most from an angry reader:

“CA has really good reporters who try to include equity of voice + this cover doesn’t portray that …”

…There was a very similar reaction inside the newsroom. I was particularly disturbed by a comment I received from an African American editor who said she was disgusted by the page and threw the newspaper in the trash without reading it.

This newspaper, just like this city, has work to do. This column will raise the ire of some readers who believe the headline spoke the truth; that I’m kow-towing.

Please know I have more skin in the game than my paycheck. My wife and I raised our children here. They’re raising theirs here, too

Several of you have already requested I go back to June 2015 and look at the headline — also stretched across the top of the newspaper — when  Dylann Roof was accused of killing nine African-Americans inside their beloved church in Charleston, S.C.

Did it say ‘Gunman targets blacks,’ I’ve been asked over and over.

No, it simply said ‘Suspect Caught.’

Like I said, we have work to do.

If this is typical of how editors now think, it is fair to pronounce ethics journalism dead. Virtually every sentence in Graham’s pathetic and nauseating capitulation to race-bullying and political correctness is an implicit rejection of the vital role of journalists in a democracy, as well as the ethical principles that allow them to fulfill that role.

To begin with the headline of an editorial about a headline: “We Got It Wrong” is a masterpiece of irony and self-contradiction. The original headline was 100% correct and responsible. The headline about the headline is a lie. It’s pure Orwell—I know that I’ve been alluding to “1984” a lot recently, but don’t blame me“Right is Wrong.”

Let me go through this muck in sequence…

Simply put, we got it wrong.

No, the paper got it right. There is literally no way that highlighting the fact that a mass shooter targeted whites in a police massacre can fairly be called “wrong”–it is not mistaken, misleading, irrelevant or untrue. Sure, there could be other legitimate headlines, but this one was not “wrong.”

Those three big words in headline type stretched across Saturday’s front page — Gunman Targeted Whites — were true according to police accounts in Dallas at the time but they badly oversimplified a very complex, rapidly evolving story…

Of course these word simplified the story…it was a headline! Headlines by definition simplify news stories—that’s why there is a news report under the headline, that is there to be read. There are certainly unethical headlines designed to mislead: many were perplexed that the New York Times, in its headline about the Nice terrorist attack, termed it a “Truck Attack.” Whether that’s an unethical headline is debatable. This isn’t debatable. The editor, having said that his headline was “wrong,” followed his statement by admitting it was true in every respect. What is a “very complex, rapidly evolving story”? It wasn’t the attack itself. What is complex and evolving is that the politicizing of police shootings, the rhetoric of activist groups and the demonizing of police across the country is causing a dangerous racial divide. “Gunman Targeted Whites” encapsulates that as well as any three words could.

In my view the headline was so lacking in context as to be tone deaf…

The context of a headline is the story that follows it. The context was right there, to be read. An editor doesn’t understand this?

…particularly in a city with a 65 percent African American population.

What is this supposed to mean? Does it mean that this white editor doesn’t think black readers can handle factual headlines? Does it mean that he thinks a newspaper has to pander to the sensitivities of its readership’s demographics? Does it mean that the paper has a duty to sanitize the news so reality doesn’t impose on the preferred world view of  African Americans?

Does it mean he’s intimidated?

That front page minimized the broader refrain of what’s happening in our country with anguish over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police. It has been viewed as suggesting that this newspaper values the lives of white police officers more than young black men who have died in incident after incident.

This gets my vote for the most outrageous sentence in the whole, stomach-turning editorial. What would have been better, Gunman Targeted White police Officers, And How Can You Blame Him”? Anyone who “viewed” the headline as “suggesting that this newspaper values the lives of white police officers more than young black men who have died in incident after incident” was wrong. Now newspapers are supposed to tailor their reporting of facts to avoid emotional and irrational misreadings?

…But the larger challenge is recruiting a diverse enough staff to better reflect the city we cover. We continue to work on that and will be more introspective about how we do our jobs.

Ugh. So the editor believes that more black reporters would ensure that facts that make many black readers uncomfortable won’t make it to print. If a black reporter’s biases are that pervasive, he or she isn’t qualified to be a journalist, or at least what we used to call journalists….objective, trustworthy reporters.

In an environment so fraught with anger and anxiety we added unnecessary fuel.

Facts are never “unnecessary.” Once more, we see  the creeping censorship and totalitarian philosophy of the New Left. Manipulate the truth. Spin the truth. Hide the truth. The end  justifies the means. If an accurate news report  angers people, so what? This weak, fatuous, terrified man is arguing that journalists have an obligation to avoid stating the truth in the interest of fake peace and harmony. It is a rationalization for lying.

That’s not our role. Ours is to explore and explain. The headline required restraint and we didn’t provide it.

1. That IS your role: tell the truth. 2. You don’t have the integrity or intelligence to “explore” or “explain.” This  editorial proves it. This paper, above all others, should stick to the facts. It isn’t capable of any more than that. 3. “Restraint”= censorship.

Of all the criticism I’ve read, and it is considerable, this stuck with me most from an angry reader: “CA has really good reporters who try to include equity of voice + this cover doesn’t portray that …”

Here is another useful equation: “Equity of Voice”= advancing specific political agendas. An angry black racist, in the wake of two politicized police shootings that have yet to be fully investigated but which were reported as race-related shootings anyway, ambushed and murdered five white police officers. A headline didn’t need to say “Gunman targeted police” because that was res ipsa loquitur: it spoke for itself. That he targeted white officers was not clear from the incident alone, however, and the fact that he admitted this was his purpose was news that needed to be reported to all readers, directly and clearly, regardless of their color.

…There was a very similar reaction inside the newsroom. I was particularly disturbed by a comment I received from an African American editor who said she was disgusted by the page and threw the newspaper in the trash without reading it.

Yes, I would be disturbed too. An editor judged a news story on the headline alone? This is what lazy, ignorant readers do.  I’d fire such an editor.

This newspaper, just like this city, has work to do. This column will raise the ire of some readers who believe the headline spoke the truth; that I’m kow-towing.

You just said yourself that the headline was true, and you ARE kow-towing!

Please know I have more skin in the game than my paycheck. My wife and I raised our children here. They’re raising theirs here, too.

This wins second place in the Worst Part of This Horrible Editorial contest. If you don’t have the integrity, courage and fortitude to do your job correctly and endure the consequences, Mr. Graham, do everyone in Memphis a favor and choose another career.

We could dismiss this as an isolated incident, but that would be whistling past the graveyard. We know it isn’t. We’ve seen how college administrators are behaving in response to race-based demands that they abandon core educational and democratic principles. We have watched with increasing alarm the gradual complicity of major news organizations with the agendas political movements and organizations. Once again, the mainstream news media is not reporting this story—the story being a mob forcing a newspaper to retract the truth, because that truth interferes with a racist political narrative.  That’s part of the story too.

[This post will be assigned to the new This Will Help Elect Donald Trump Ethics Alarms category.]

______________________

Pointer: Instapundit

Sources: Commerical AppealFox NewsWashington Times

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Ethics Alarm: In Memphis, Facts Are Now Racist

  1. Back in the late ’70’s, early ’80’s, a University Of Texas Professor was participating in some sort of forum/panel on the Main Campus in Austin (you’ll have to bear with me. I’m relating all of this from memory, which is notoriously poor in old people)…don’t remember his name. As part of his presentation, he mentioned, casually, that 73% of black freshmen fail to graduate from UT. Over the course of the next two weeks, his job was threatened, officially. Unofficially, he was labeled a racist, his family and his life were threatened, and a brick was thrown through his front window. He was required to issue an apology for his “racist remark” and grovel before the black and “academic” community. This, then, has been going on for some time.

  2. “Does it mean he’s intimidated?”
    Only to the extent that he fears coming to work on Monday morning and finding his former newspaper building to be a smoking hole in the ground.
    I have no doubt that Graham also received more than a few chiding calls from local politicos hoping to gain traction with local activists who were mau-mauing the paper for this egregious, truth-telling breach of political correctness. (These days I am frequently reminded of Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic and Mau-mauing the Flack Catchers.)
    Numerous times in the past forty years, Memphis has seemed poised to overcome its troubled racial history and set the stage for a cultural and political renaissance, but the process seems to always get derailed by those with something to gain by perpetuating racial division and mutual mistrust. For decades, I have heard many here in Tennessee express a desire to wash our hands of Memphis, wishing that the Mississippi River would change course and leave the city on the Arkansas side of the river, making it easier to arrange a transfer of state jurisdiction. I am beginning to gain a better understanding of this position.

  3. One of my essential predicates is the supposition that ‘we do not know how to interpret our world any longer’. I think it is a fascinating and interesting idea and is also a dramatic problem. It is true that I arrived at this through odd means: Shakespeare studies and an attempt to understand the Elizabethan worldview of the 17th century. Getting a sense of that world view, an understanding of which is necessary to understand Shakesepare in greater depth, led me to see that a given Worldview is a system of agreements, or a system of coinciding perceptions, or the channeling and organization of perception along lines that are determined socially (what could not be ‘social’ though?) There is a tension between ‘organic perception’ and ‘coerced perception’ which is, obviously, at the heart of many things going on in the present.

    And as I began to understand the Elizabethan worldview, and the tail end of a general Mediaval worldview in a fading-away process, I realized that ‘our present’ and all the ideas that function in our present are based in similar ‘sets of agreements’ which have an arbitrary aspect.

    Vast portions of what we think about the world, of what we think is true and right and even good, are founded on structures which are, I assert, just as arbitrary as those of the preceding and fading era. Obviously, I am attempting through my questioning of ‘metaphysical assumptions’ to put together a critical position of the present, and with a special emphasis on ‘progressivism’ and the liberal trends which have morphed into truly bizarre forms of thought and perception.

    It is my opinion that ‘Conservatism’ can no longer be called as such and has been infected with hyper-liberalism and progressivism. What I have noticed — and I notice this here on this blog (among numerous places where I hang out and write) — is that any challenging of the reigning tenets of perception and understanding, and I mean either that of the hard-bitten conservative right or the progressive left, provokes a violent and even hateful reaction. By bringing up discomfiting ideas one provokes a surprising and virulent anger. It is interesting to me that both he right and the left feel divinely-endowed to critique their antilogue, but when you assume a critical position that places both of them under the microscope, each of them feels justified in destroying you: your personal integrity, your value as a person, your sanity, the very structures of your mind and thinking. I find this so strange and weird: the attack on the self of the Other which is ruthless and overt. Naturally, the questions I have of it are ethical ones (moral and ethical). My positions may fairly be critiqued, but the integrity of my desire to see and understand and to define truth cannot.

    But the interesting thing is how when we are defending our ‘metaphysical assumptions’ (that is, our felt and non-reasoned sense of ‘how things are’ and what is ‘right and wrong’ we see ourselves as self-justified, as long as the cause is pure, of destroying the apparent ‘enemy’).

    I liken this editor’s view of things, to his interpretation of himself and his world (his being in his world) as a diseased platform vis-a-vis the self (his own self).

    That he turns against himself — his identity, his racial identification, his cultural identification — and becomes the servant of a social punishment-enactment process, is of endless fascination to me. It is ‘the European grammar of self-intolerance’ that Jonathan Bowden succinctly outlines. And we have been taught, and we have voluntarily taken on this self-intolerant grammar. It is very complex; it has a long history that can be looked into and analyzed; and it will have to be turned against and reversed. This turning-against process will be long, painful and difficult. Ideas have consequences and the ideas being debated in our present, as we all know, are momentous.

    This project of self-intolerance has become a central mode for white people in the postwar era. Just writing this sentence, just thinking and forming this thought, will catch me a great deal of flak. Just as the headline, which expresses truth (but is not ‘the truth’), must be attacked as embodying some level of evil, and because I resolve (I mean people like me) to countermand the grammar of self intolerance as it intrudes in what I think and see, and because this is understood as a venturing into thoughtcrime (just had to bring in 1984 and I was sort of planning how it would be done!), it is inevitable and necessary that I be attacked at the most fundamental level, the level of the integrity of my own self.

    But I suggest that a similar thing happens when BLM and its hyper-liberal thought-formulators and monitors (thought police) come raging down on what they understand, rightfully, as an attack on the moral structure of their position. Those that cooperate with them give evidence I think of a will to voluntary subservience and yet of a sort which occurs on an emotional plane. I mean, it is not enforced through violence (though I suggest that violence is there in the backdrop) but rather through a very curious moral infliction. Guilt, self-intolerance, internalization of certain narratives, etc. Just by mentioning a few terms (racist, intolerant, oppressive, etc.) one faction manages to hold another faction nearly completely in check. Because it is ‘artificial’ the restraint will fail eventually, and the chaos that will ensue will be significant.

    It is true that Trump has become the electrical catalyst and transmitter for a whole range of suppressed feelings, henids, and partially-formed ideas, and it is also true that there is a great deal of ‘water’ behind a dam that has been constructed, ideologically, within the spirit of people. That is, they have been trained over time not to see certain things, not to think many things, and to suppress themselves on many different levels.

    But the dam is cracking. I’d suggest that this ‘cracking’ has significant historical roots and did not arise in a mere moment. I’d also suggest that its origination and its presence does not depend on ‘Trump’ nor will it end when he disappears or recedes or is destroyed. Thus I would say it is not really about Trump but about turning against a tide or a current which is a vast construct within people. That construct is an interesting topic in and of itself.

    This is a dangerous time because it is a time of shifting ‘metaphysical assumption’. I stress that word — knowing that it inspires pure contempt — because these shifts are very deep-rooted and the shifts (IMV) are larger than they seem.

  4. I suspect an acceptable headline would have read something long the lines of “Justifiable Homicide in Dallas” or “Finally!”

  5. There is a distinct odor of extortion in the Memphis air; this gutless capitulation to the likes of BLM is a sign of things to come.

    We have clearly turned an absurdity corner and now we’re heading down Main Street in a area which we call the Twilight Zone.

  6. At the end of the day BLM is just another leftist front.

    And hardcore activistists typically don’t care about means. Just ends. Hence the reason to espouse the “desperate times call for desperate measures” rationalization. In this case, truth, objectivity, honesty and integrity are thrown out the window for the ’cause’.

    • texagg04 said, “At the end of the day BLM is just another leftist front.”

      Didn’t you know that the political left and the media are fronts for the underlying racism supporting BLM. The political left and the media are simply the willing bull horns projecting the voices of black racism.

  7. Since ethical analysis and decision is and must be one of the most important and demanding activities, superficiality in analysis or superficial decisiveness must obviously be avoided. Analysis must be cool, somewhat abstracted from immediacy, not tinged by bias, non-emotional insofar as this is possible, and fairly conducted. If not, one’s ethical analysis is not really ethical but is a sort of false-ethics.

    With this in mind, and after having watched and read interviews by African American ‘civilians’ as well as AA police (YouTube) and many other AAs who express themselves on the issue of unfair police practices, it seems fair to me to conclude that their concerns and their issues have a basis in fact and reality. Therefor, if someone speaks out about it (a disproportianate response by police to situations, etc.) I doubt that it is an invented issue. It stands to reason that the problem exists and is real.

    If this is so, then the media are not necessarily and in all cases or generally adopting a ‘reverse-racist’ bias. The same might be said even for the present administration. Or, do we assume that these people are so infected by bias that they cannot *see their world* accurately? (But yet we can?)

    I suggest that what one encounters is a terribly complex situation which does not lend itself to easy analysis or easy solution. It is in the complexity of the situation that the profundity of the issues make themselves known. Yet we live in an environment and time where, overall and increasingly, the media can only frame issues in simple and binary ways. Overall, and increasingly, the audience cannot deal with complexity in their analysis and so they *ask for* simple reductions. The audience is actually part of the problem!

    But no part of this, and no part of what is going on in our present — the shifts in opinion, the political turmoil, the uncertainty and the break-down in order, the return of racial issues and considerations, the increase of effect of 15 solid years of war-making (back-splash as it were), and so many other effects coming to be felt — no part of this is amenable to simplistic analysis. If ever there were complex events and issues, this is certainly such a time.

    Is it too simplistic to say and to understand that it is a ‘left-leaning media’ that is, somehow, doing something to us, or framing issues in a way that we are rendered unable as a result of that framing, to see things *as they are*? Is that what the issue is? Is it as simple as a simple and binary battle between a ‘liberal’ and a ‘conservative’ perspective? I am not saying that this could not be an aspect of the problem, but I do not imagine that it is all of the problem.

    I’d suggest that it is the binary perspective, the limited perspective, even perhaps the *time-tested* perspective, or the habitual perspective, that is part of the problem. If this is so, then the entire situation – and so many situations, and so many aspects of our present and of ‘reality’ — require a sort of revisualization.

    Revisualization opens up a Pandora’s box. We grow accustomed, do we not, to simple, comforting narratives that explain things in terms we can understand. To open up to other, more complex, more problematic analysis and perspectives, is a discomfiting territory.

    • This is a very illuminating nugget. There are black drug addicts, gang bangers and welfare queens. There are also black CEOs, Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys General, Secretaries of State, Governors, Mayors, Senators and Congressmen. Progressives want to deny any of these exist. Oh, I forgot, there’s also a black President of the United States.

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