“To put it bluntly: They were 16-year-olds subjected to verbal racist assault by grown men; and then the kids were accused of being bigots. It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face. How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? That’s the somewhat terrifying question.”
—Andrew Sullivan, in “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate” in New York Magazine.
He goes on…
Ruth Graham on Slate saw a 16-year-old she’d seen on a tape for a couple of minutes and immediately knew that he was indistinguishable from the “white young men crowding around a single black man at a lunch counter sit-in in Virginia in the 1960s” or other white “high school boys flashing Nazi salutes.” Even after the full context was clear, Graham refused to apologize to the kid, or retract her condemnation: The context didn’t “change the larger story” which, she explained, was bigotry toward Native Americans. She cited Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren as evidence. But using a bullhorn to call Native Americans “savages” and “drunkards at the casino” to their faces a few minutes earlier on the same tape was not worth a mention?
Graham was just one media voice among countless others, and I don’t mean to single her out. The reason I do is because her argument about the fuller context is now the norm in elite media, and it’s the underlying reason for the instant judgment. “Racism” now only means “prejudice plus power,” so what the adult Black Israelites yelled was nowhere near as bad as what a white teenager didn’t say. No empirical evidence could ever deny that underlying truth, as a piece at Deadspin insisted, after admitting that, well yes, there were “four black men who seem to belong to the Black Israelites … yelling insults.” No mention of the content of those insults, of course.
Across most of the national media, led by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the narrative had been set. “I’m willing to bet that fifty years from now, a defining image of this political era will be that smug white MAGA teen disrespecting a Native elder and veteran. It just captures so much,” Jessica Valenti tweeted. “And let’s please not forget that this group of teens … were there for the March for Life: There is an inextricable link between control over women’s bodies, white supremacy & young white male entitlement.” This is the orthodoxy of elite media, and it is increasingly the job of journalists to fit the facts to the narrative and to avoid any facts that undermine it.
There’s a reason why, in the crucial battle for the legitimacy of a free press, Trump is still on the offensive. Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.
I sometimes don’t agree with Andrew Sullivan, but I give him this: he tries to be a truth-teller, and often succeeds, as he does here. So many others are facilitating more Big Lie propaganda. I’m a bit behind in my newspaper reviewing, and just discovered that as late as the January 24 edition, two days ago, the New York Times was writing in its Business section about a “video of a group of teenagers taunting a Native American protester.” This is The New York Times. The full video was available three days earlier; Ethics Alarms had the story right by the 20th. How is this possible? Sullivan’s diagnosis is correct, if not exactly difficult if one has both eyes and integrity.
More of Sullivan’s essay:
What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of “white men” in general. Here is Kara Swisher, a sane and kind person, reacting to the first video: “To all you aggrieved folks who thought this Gillette ad was too much bad-men-shaming, after we just saw it come to life with those awful kids and their fetid smirking harassing that elderly man on the Mall: Go fuck yourselves.” Judging — indeed demonizing — an individual on the basis of the racial or gender group he belongs to is the core element of racism, and yet it is now routine on the left as well as the right. To her great credit, Kara apologized profusely for the outburst. The point here is that tribal hatred can consume even the best of us.
Well, as I began, I don’t always agree with Andrew: I know Kara Swisher too, and to call her a sane and kind person is Sullivan’s bias: sane and kind people don’t write things like that, and my past experiences with Swisher did not lead me to be shocked that she did. And no, tribal hatred does not consume “the best of us.” It does consume a lot of people who pretend to be better than they are, and it would have been helpful if Andrew had the courage to upset his friends on the Left and say so.
Still, it is an excellent essay, and Sullivan’s a lovely writer.