Bear with me: I’ll get to Don Lemon eventually.
In a mature, rational, respectful democracy with an objective and competent news media, difficult and contentious issues would be thoughtfully debated with open minds and fearless honesty, without the toxic influence of rigid ideologies, partisan loyalties, group identification, or biases. The objectives: reach the truth, identify problems, begin solving them.
This process is difficult under the best of circumstances, and in the United States, circa 2013, it is nearly impossible on any issue, and dangerous on the issue of race, with both the media and elected officials actively seeking to exacerbate racial divisions and misconceptions. A recent poll suggests that the perception of racial divisions in America has worsened by 25% since Barack Obama was elected President, following decades of steady improvement. Why is this? There are many reasons, but the cynical pandering to misconceptions in the black community is one major suspect.
President Obama, had he been fair and responsible, might have used his remarks about the George Zimmerman trial to point out that neither the incident itself nor the verdict of the jury were relevant to race issues, or created by a “stand your ground” law that has been a lightning rod for accusations of racism in the justice system. Instead, he talked about how he “understood,” and apparently agreed with, an interpretation of the events based on past African-American experiences with racism. This was irresponsible and wrong. It was as much an endorsement of irrationality, ignorance and bias as it would be to explain that current day racists see blacks through the prism, “those sets of experiences” in Obama’s words, of their region’s history of culturally acceptable slavery, and we have to respect their views as a result. The President has not, as would be a far more justifiable statement, explained that opponents of same-sex marriage are not bigots, but see the issue through the ” sets of experiences” of their religious upbringing. Serial rapists may also see women through the prism of their childhood abuse—those are rather damaging “sets of experiences”— at the hands of their mothers.
There are always powerful reasons why people have hatreds and biases, and reasons why hatreds and biases cripple their ability to interpret reality and act responsibly. We can all understand that, but it doesn’t justify distorting the facts. Blacks are not inferior to any other race, no matter what the “prism” says. Gay marriage poses no harm to society, and gays deserve the same rights as anyone else, and the Bible doesn’t change those facts. Rape victims are not responsible for the misogyny of rapists, no matter how their distorted thinking came to be.
And the acquittal of George Zimmerman was not evidence of rampant white racism, regardless of the African-American experience. The President had a duty to say that. He had a duty to say, “I understand, but you are wrong on the facts.” He did not. Instead, he encouraged and supported a distorted and biased narrative that is harming race relations and respect for the justice system, and far too many in the news media—which is to say, anyone in the media who is stooping to this—are trying to continue the process. For example, Abbe Smith, in the Washington Post this weekend, had an article on a topic I have discussed here more than once: the challenge of a defense attorney representing a guilty and heinous client. It was an excellent piece, but the Post headline writers and editors unconscionably and unethically decided to pander to the city’s predominantly black population’s bias by publishing it under this:
“What motivates a lawyer to defend
a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?” Continue reading