Here are a couple passages from two reviews of audiobooks in the New York Times Review of Books, under the heading, “Two New Audiobooks Inspire Teenagers to Make Real Change.”
“Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at Emory — working with a capable assist from the children’s nonfiction writer Tonya Bolden — elaborates on the premise of her previous book “White Rage.” There she argued that while the fires and protests that characterized cities like Ferguson and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015 were seen as an explosion of black rage, quite the opposite was true. The murders of unarmed citizens and the subsequent acquittals of police officers charged in their deaths were just the latest expressions of a white rage that had terrorized the entire country since Reconstruction, making victims of blacks and poor whites alike.”
“Such a simple but profound shift of perspective — the changing from an ahistoric lens to a historical one — is where “We Are Not Yet Equal” excels. By meticulously tracing a path from the fateful deals white abolitionists cut with the Confederacy during Reconstruction right up to the contemporary efforts to roll back voter protections as a response to Obama’s ascendancy, Anderson paints a dire picture of a country that not only combats equal citizenship for black people, but prioritizes that combat over governmental responsibilities including national security, liberty and democracy.”
“Anderson’s book is a story of obsession, of a country’s obsession with denying rights to a people.”
The reviewer is Carvell Wallace, who, like all of us, has a right to his own opinion, as does Carol Anderson, the professor whose work he favorably reviews. Neither has a right to their own facts, however. Michael Brown was not “murdered.” Neither was Freddie Gray. Someone can opine that there was a cover-up in either case, or simply state a belief in contravention of all known evidence, but one cannot state, as fact, that these deaths were “murders of unarmed citizens” and that the acquittals, which were legally mandated by the lack of evidence sufficient to support convictions of murder, were “the latest expressions of a white rage.” They were both, in fact, the only possible expressions of the law regarding guilt and innocence of criminal offenses. Both statements are factually false. Similarly, the statement that the United States has an “obsession with denying rights to a people”—that is, black people, is a Big Lie, a propaganda falsehood so audacious and beyond reality that it warps public perception by being repeated and debated.
These Big Lies and similar ones are being dropped into our cultural background soundtrack constantly and subtly. This was an audiobook review for teens. A responsible news media has an ethical obligation to clearly distinguish between opinion and settled fact. Later in his review, Wallace writes that ““We Are Not Yet Equal” makes clear that this country’s collective history is nothing short of heinous.” OK, he’s convinced: that statement flags itself as an opinion. That is not how I would characterize, for example, “The murders of unarmed citizens and the subsequent acquittals of police officers charged in their deaths were just the latest expressions of a white rage that had terrorized the entire country since Reconstruction, making victims of blacks and poor whites alike.” A fair statement that clearly indicates that we are discussing a point of view rather than historical fact would be, “The deaths of unarmed blacks in confrontations with police and the subsequent acquittals of the officers charged in their deaths are presented as the latest expressions of a white rage that had terrorized the entire country since Reconstruction, making victims of blacks and poor whites alike.”
By allowing this kind of agitprop activism to worm its way into all corners of its publication, the Times, and certainly not only the Times, is either deliberately or negligently poisoning society, seeding hate and distrust, promoting racial division, and blurring the lines between opinion and fact.
Somebody needs to be priming Big Lie alarms, because this useful fascist tool of disinformation and division has fallen into fashion among our partisan warriors. If the news media not only refuses to point out Big Lies, but chooses to spread them, I don’t know where we are supposed to turn.
CORRECTION: In the original version of the post, the author was identified as Sharif Hamza, don’t ask me how. It’s fixed. My apologizes to Mr. Wallace and Mr. Hamza.