September 21, 2009

(h/t Heather)

Why is it so hard for the media to discuss the obvious racial overtones of so much of President Obama's opposition? The right-wing fanatics are not even trying to cover it up and still the media try to avoid the obvious by framing it as a pundit problem.

Howard Kurtz wonders why the media is having problems these days with Americans in terms of perceptions about their accuracy. (Pew: Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low)

I understand that calling someone a racist is no small thing, but facts are facts, and I can't deny what I see with my own two eyes. Can you? Can the media? (John Aravosis had a great post last week with plenty of visual examples.)

Instead of Howard Kurtz really taking a look at the racist underbelly that has risen to new heights at the town halls, he frames it like this:

Kurtz: So are the pundits and the press inflaming this debate about race?

To the media, the debate isn't about the racism that is actually happening on the ground and in front of our eyes, but whether it's the media's fault for actually covering the racist a-holes that have taken over the Republican Party.

When a Michael Steele tries to say that it's only one in a hundred who carry around racist signs about Obama at the psycho town halls, that's a LIE. All you had to do is look at the teabagger protests in DC. Even Andrea Mitchell was stunned.

CNN's Reliable Sources:

Kurtz: Eric Deggans, should the media be devoting all of this time and energy to explaining or examining or exploring whether some of Obama's critics are, in fact, motivated by racism?

ERIC DEGGANS, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: I think it's an appropriate subject just because for a long time people who have been covering these rallies, covering these protests, have an sense that there's an undercurrent of something that goes beyond just opposing the president politically.

And there's been an effort to try and explain that. Why is there such visceral hatred for what Obama's trying to do among the certain core, a certain percentage of people who are at these rallies and then we found that these weird e-mails pop up of photos of Obama looking like a tribesman, you know, weird racial jokes that seem to be passed along by e-mail by some people who oppose him. So we're trying to explain that, and I think it makes sense to try.

KURTZ: Some of that, of course, may come from the fringes. Amy Holmes, is there a danger that journalists are perhaps insinuating or suggesting or implying that many of Obama's critics must be motivated by racism?

We know some of the racism is coming from the fringes, but now it's bubbling up and overflowing from the fringes to the mainstream. Even CNN's Jon Spellman reported that a dark undercurrent has overtaken the tea-baggers: CNN's Jim Spellman on the teabaggers: There really is a dark undercurrent running through them

Spellman:...we saw handguns from time to time, but running through this subculture that's developed around these tea parties is a bit of a dark undercurrent. The bulk of the people are for lower taxes and less government control, but there really is an element that's got these kind of outlandish conspiracy theories about death camps and about this take over, people comparing President Obama to Hitler. It really is a sizable...It's not just a couple of people around the edges. One of the big questions will be if this movement go forward while maintaining this kind of element on the edges...

Obviously reporting done by CNN's own network on the race issue is ignored and instead we are treated to an idiotic Amy Holmes defending the "fringer" idea.

AMY HOLMES, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's the key word, isn't it, Howie? It's many or an overwhelming portion. Of course there will be fringers. There will be people who have ugly motivations, who say and think ugly things. I mean you can talk about George Bush and jug ears and all of the cartoons about that. I think though where it becomes problematic is when it goes from liberal columnists and bloggers into the news pages. And for example, the "Washington Post" had a front page story talking about is race to play in the opposition to President Obama and with very little evidence frankly. And his numbers went down among Independents who went for him, to vote for him. So do these people all of a sudden become racists?

President Bush faced nothing that could compare to the treatment that President Obama is receiving and we should remember that he was treated with respect for much of his first term. Even when we knew he lied us into a war, Americans never said he hated America. WTF is she babbling about? But that how the media debates race. With talking heads either for or against the idea.

KURTZ: Chris, I want to play for you some of what the president had to say this morning on several networks as he made the rounds. And he wanted to talk about health care and Afghanistan. This question of race came up in each interview. Let's roll that tape.


KING: Former President Carter says he sees racism in some of this. Do you?

OBAMA: You know, as I've said in the past, are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Does it frustrate you when your own supporters see racism when you don't think it exists?

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that race is such a volatile issue.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you agree with that?

OBAMA: No. Look, I said during the campaign, are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: This president, this White House clearly do not want to engage on this subject. But if that's any indication that journalists are not willing to let the subject drop.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: You know, Howie, I think that the White House in some ways made a deal with the devil. Of course that paints people like us as the devil, but they made a deal with the devil with these five sitdowns on Sunday because they had to know that in the battle between race and healthcare, that is not a fair fight when it comes to the media.

The media is absolutely entranced with the story of race. It is so much a part of the nation's history. It is such an issue that drives ratings, that drives interest, that drives readers that it is going to get more attention than health care.

I think their hope was that health care eventually, that that message would also get out there. But worth noting, on Friday the networks were allowed to release one clip from the interviews. What is that one clip for all five? Race.

KURTZ: It was about race. That's what they found was most newsworthy or more novel than repeating the same message on healthcare. But come back to Eric Deggans, you wrote the other day about a classic strategy here of painting people of color as exotic, dangerous outsiders. So are you as a journalist hurling this charge against some, I emphasize some, of the president's critics? DEGGANS: I think it's obvious in the way that some of the arguments have evolved, but I wanted to talk about a couple of things. First, I really think that some people are upset whenever race is discussed because it becomes this blowtorch that obliterates debate. And I think one of the things that journalists have struggled with is trying to put some perspective on this. How do we talk about the idea that racism may motivate a portion of people who are opposed to Obama?

Even President Carter said the most vehement opponents of Obama are the people who he thinks are motivated by race. And then all of a sudden it becomes everybody who opposes Obama which is not even what President Carter said.


DEGGANS: And one of the things -- and one of the other points I want to make is I think people of color have to deal with race a lot in their lives, but because President Obama is our first black president, now white people have to think about color a lot more often than they are used to and I think that makes people uncomfortable as well. We're seeing all of these dynamics come out in coverage and how people are reacting to the coverage.

HOLMES: As a matter of fact, President Carter said that he thought an extraordinary amount of this was motivated by race, but again, we look at the polling data with the president and people who supported him initially now are starting to fall away. And I don't think necessarily racism can explain that.

KURTZ: So are the media over-emphasizing this --

HOLMES: That's exactly my point.

KURTZ: It is not just about Barack Obama. Look, Rush Limbaugh the other day took this incident on a bus in St. Louis, where a bunch of black kids beat up a white kid and said, this is what happens in Obama's America. A lot of people are throwing around this race question.

HOLMES: As Chris mentioned and we've discussed a lot that the media loves the race story. It's easy. It's a way to paint some people as victims and some people as predators. But when we look at the issue of Obama's agenda, I think it is a lot more complicated. I sent you a blog I wrote for CNN when Obama signs a stimulus bill. He was by himself. He personalized the issue. So it's not necessarily surprising that the opposition to the agenda has becomes personal.

CILLIZZA: Just quickly, this is to Eric's point. I think that covering race is so difficult especially on television but in print as well because it is such a complex issue. There is so much going on there, it's hard to contextualize what we struggle with some time. Let's say you have 30 column inches or you have a five-minute show. It is tough to say let's deal with race in America and how it relates to the first African-American president. That's a very tough topic to cover in a short period of time. It necessarily gets drilled down.

HOLMES: But it is one that is like candlelight to the media flies who want to buzz all around.

CILLIZZA: Very true.

KURTZ: Well my two cents is the president told NBC the media loved to have a conversation about race and I agree with that. You take any story, it could be Jeremiah Wright, it could be Henry Louis Gates, it could be the Duke rape case. And once you inject race into that as the media sometimes have no choice to do, but sometimes love to do, it's like pumping steroids into an ordinary story and it makes it live on for weeks and weeks and months and months.

A white Harvard professor gets arrested in a dust up with a police or a misunderstanding with a police officer in Cambridge, it's a two-paragraph story. It happens to a black professor, particularly a prominent one like Gates, and we all jump on it.

If a story is about race then th emedia has no choice in reporting on it. They are not shooting it in the ass with steroids. This is why we'll never hear an honest take on racism. The pundits are afraid to really engage because they rather not offend a large segment of the population. And instead just play games with the notion that there is a serious block of people that hate the president because he is black.

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