Hannity and Colmesand Malik Shabazz: Did the Justice Department mishandle a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party? Race was all over the news last week. This story was one of the vehicles.
Before we recommend a new column, lets sing some words of praise for this report by Tom Allison of Media Matters.
The New Black Panther Party has never been an especially influential groupunless you were watching the Fox News Channel during parts of the last decade. In particular, the now-defunct program Hannity & Colmes interviewed New Black Panther leaders with great regularity, offering silly, ginned-up examples of High Racial Tension and Peril. For an example of the kind of nonsense this program routinely offered, heres the start of an interview in 2003the first appearance by Malik Shabazz since becoming the partys national chairman:
COLMES (7/9/03): Welcome back to Hannity & Colmes.
The New Black Panther Party is making headlines again. Just last week during a press conference held in Morristown, New Jersey, their national chairman announced they would demand $20,000 from the mayor and town council to support a Million Youth March they plan to hold in September. So what's their agenda and why should tax dollars be expected to pay for it? Joining with us an answer, we hope, the national chairman of the New Black Panther Party, Malik Shabazz.
Welcome back to Hannity & Colmes, Malik. Why should the city give you $20,000? For what?
SHABAZZ: Because there is gang violence, there are underprivileged, uneducated black youth in Morristown, throughout the cities of America, but specifically in Morristown. And city council members and administrators of project homes in Morristown have asked us come help. So we're demanding that the major and city council are asking that they release funds to help black youth get to New York
HANNITY: You're saying demanding. You know, demanding has a certain ring to it. When you make a demand, what if the demand is not met? Isn't demand a little different than ask, and what happens if your demand is not met?
Shabazz was demanding a big bag of money! This sort of nonsense was routinely churned on Hannity & Colmes during the last decade. In his report at Media Matters, Allison listed the dozens of times New Black Panther leaders were featured on Fox programs, most often on Hannity & Colmes. Indeed, Shabazz appeared on this program so much, it almost could have received a face lift. At times, we thought the program might change its name to Hannity and Colmesnow, with Malik Shabazz!
These appearances were silly, clownish Cable Race Theater. Just consider the actual context surrounding this particular case:
According to a Nexis survey, there had been exactly zero headlines about this demand for $20,000 from Morristown. Well assume that Shabazz actually held the press conference Colmes described. But according to Nexis, no one other than Hannity & Colmes ever bothered to mention it. On July 2, two newspapers (Newsday and the New York Daily News) had done short news reports about the fact that the Panthers were going to do another Million Youth March. But each report was 300 words longand each stressed the troubled history of this event. The most recent, in Harlem in 2000, drew only a few hundred people, the Daily News reported.
That was the full extent of the news coverage preceding this Hannity & Colmes gong-show. But so what? The boys were soon debating Shabazz about who caused 9/11. (You want to put that blame on the mantle of George W. Bush? a troubled Alan Colmes gasped.)
This interview was a ludicrous cable con; Colmes opening statement was a lie. In this way, this gruesome program tried to gin up racial excitement among its millions of viewers. Very few liberals have mentioned this history in the discussions of the past few weeksbut then, very few liberals ever watch actual programs on Fox. We send our compliments to Allison for recording this pitiful history.
For an intriguing column about another part of Americas racial fabric, we recommend this New York Times column by Ross Douthat, which we hope to discuss at a later date. Also, this fascinating review of the new book, Freedom Summer, also from todays Times.
THE ROAD NOT IMAGINED (permalink): In his basic assessment, wed have to say that Andrew Alexander was right: the Washington Post should have reported the New Black Panther story sooner than it did. (Alexander is the Posts ombudsman. To read his assessment, click here.)
Point of comparison: The New York Times did a full news report on the New Black Panther flap on Wednesday, July 7. The Post didnt publish a comparable effort until Thursday, July 15. On that day, Krissah Thompsons report was clear and well-writtenthough it did have at least one major shortcoming, as was true with the Times report. But this story had become a major flap long before Thompsons report appeared. The Post was slow off the mark in reporting this topic, just as Alexander says.
Joan Walshs claims to the side (see below), Alexander doesnt hugely take sides in this dispute, which has boiled up from conservative sources. But we were struck by one key passage in Alexanders report.
In the passage posted below, Alexander imagines who might turn out to be at fault if the Post would just get off its duff and report this complex affair. For our money, Alexander is reasonably fair-and-balanced in his presentationas far as hes willing to go.
That said, he fails to mention one obvious possible miscreant. He leaves this one party alone.
Theres a road Alexander refused to imagine. Who might turn out to be wrong in this case? A rather obvious possibility doesnt seem to have entered his head:
ALEXANDER (7/18/10): The Post should never base coverage decisions on ideology, nor should it feel obligated to order stories simply because of blogosphere chatter from the right or the left.
But in this case, coverage is justified because it's a controversy that screams for clarity that The Post should provide. If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his department are not colorblind in enforcing civil rights laws, they should be nailed. If the Commission on Civil Rights' investigation is purely partisan, that should be revealed. If [Christian] Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed.
National Editor Kevin Merida, who termed the controversy "significant," said he wished The Post had written about it sooner. The delay was a result of limited staffing and a heavy volume of other news on the Justice Department beat, he said.
We agree with Alexanders basic framework. This story has become a major controversy, one which screams for clarification. But Alexander imagines three possible villains emerging from future Post reporting. In fairness, two of the three are conservative villains. (The current Commission on Civil Rights is dominated by conservatives.) But he fails to imagine a fourth.
Who might turn out to be wrong in this matter? Do you mind if we rewrite that passage, giving Alexander a backbonereminding him of the possible villain he chose to ignore?
ALEXANDER, REWRITTEN: In this case, coverage is justified because it's a controversy that screams for clarity that The Post should provide. If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his department are not colorblind in enforcing civil rights laws, they should be nailed. If the Commission on Civil Rights' investigation is purely partisan, that should be revealed. If Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed.
If Fox News has been misinforming, confusing or deceiving its viewers, that should be brought to light too.
There! Do you see how easy it was to mention that fourth possible villain?
Might we share a dirty secret? In its endless reports on this matter, Fox News has been rather aggressively misinforming millions of viewers. On the OReilly Factor, for instance, the initial complaint involved a flat misstatement, as we noted last week. (The decision not to bring criminal charges was made under the Bush Administration. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/10.) Meanwhile, how absurd was OReillys work by the end of last week? On Thursday night, he complained that the Obama Administration decided not to pursue legal action against New Black Panther chairman Malik Shabazz, even though Shabazz has admitted that he ordered the action at the Philadelphia poll. Sadly, this is the kind of consummate nonsense which passes for proof on Fox:
O'REILLY (7/15/10): Okay. Now, as far as Mr. Holder is concerned, his failure to prosecute is simply a dereliction of his sworn duty. I mean, come on, Mr. Shabazz admitted to Megyn Kelly that he ordered the intimidation.
KELLY: Didn't you order the New Black Panthers to go to the polling stations, sir? Didn't you order them to go saying they needed to stop angry whites and use all means at your disposal?
SHABAZZ: Our intelligence indicated that prior to this election, that there was serious threats against blacks who would be voting for what is now a black president.
O'REILLY: The guy admits it! And it's not like the Black Panther party is misunderstood or anything. Listen to this garbage about Osama bin Laden.
Really? That constitutes an admission? But this is the sort of logic which constitutes proof on Fox.
As Alexander noted, Fox has been stirring up a great deal of fury about this controversy. But when he listed his possible villains, it didnt even enter his head that Fox might turn out to be at fault, if the Post would just do its reporting. In this manner, Alexander took the route of professional courtesya route which mainstream journalists often take in matters like this.
Alas! Life is much easier when mainstream journalists dont challenge the work of news orgs like Fox. For another example of this spineless deference, consider Nicolas Kristofs warmed-over column on climate change in yesterdays New York Times.
Kristof discussed a significant story: NASA says that the January-through-June period this year was the hottest globally since measurements began in 1880. (On Friday, USA Today reported this story on its front page, sourcing it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) Kristof offered a thoroughly familiar rumination about the possible long-term consequences of this matter. He offered the standard, hackneyed old stuff about the frog in the boiling water; he asked the standard, hackneyed old questions about whether we humans will react to this news in time. Surely, Kristofs readers have encountered these frameworks a hundred times beforefor example, in the Oscar-winning 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. But there was a much more recent matter which Kristof avoided mentioningthe stupid clowning which went on display in the wake of Washingtons snowstorm this year. To the extent that we humans get conned by the clowns who staged that world-class nonsense, then nowe wont react in time. But Kristof failed to mention this ludicrous conduct, which was widely presented on Fox.
Kristof loves to pose as a moral exemplar. But alas! Life for such giants is much easier when they dont challenge Fox.
(USA Today mentioned last winters snow in its front-page report, citing the NOAA report: Heavy snow, like the record snows that crippled Baltimore and Washington last winter, is likely to increase because storms are moving north. This offered a perfect chance to tell the world about the silly clowns who distort the climate debate.)
We cant go inside Kristofs head to find the cause of his omission. We cant say why Alexander failed to imagine the possibility that Fox has been at fault. We can tell you thiscareful, self-dealing mainstream journalists constantly take this cowardly path. And hurrah! Today, were able to hail Dana Milbank for taking a different approach.
Some scorn Milbank as Dowdinpants, a fatuous inside player. But in Sundays Post, Milbank hammered the ludicrous people who have been comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin. In the process, he was willing to go where the rubbers been meeting the road:
MILBANK (7/18/10): These sentiments have long existed on the fringe and always will. The problem is that conservative leaders and Republican politicians, in their blind rage against Obama.these last 18 months, invited the epithets of the fringe into the mainstream. Godwin's Law has spread from the chat rooms and now applies to cable news and even to the floor of the House of Representatives.
Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck's show on Fox News since Obamas inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obamaas were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck's nightly "report.
Milbank could have taken the safer route. Like Kristof, he could have pretended that Fox News doesnt exist. To his credit, Milbank went where the lunacy has been most frequent. He went to Becks widely-viewed program.
Alexander was right in his basic assessmentthe Post should have started reporting the New Panther story sooner. Kristof was right in his canned report about the frog and the jar. But each of these men showed a standard old strain of mainstream press corps deference. These powdered fellows agreed to pretend that Fox News barely exists.
One way or another, will we boil in a jar? If mainstream journalists keep acting this way, the chances are good that we will.
Walsh may have been worse: Meanwhile, if its pseudo-liberal cant you enjoy, just drink in Joan Walshs absurd account of Alexanders piece. In paragraph 2, the perfect nonsense commences:
WALSH (7/17/10): But right on time, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander chimes in to keep the specious [New Black Panther] story alive, chiding his paper for ignoring it while valiant journalists like Fox's Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh fought to bring light to the darkness. The Post's "silence," Alexander complains, "prompted many readers to accuse The Post of a double standard. Royal S. Dellinger of Olney said that if the controversy had involved Bush administration Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, 'Lord, there'd have been editorials and stories, and it would go on for months.'"
Did Alexander chide his paper for ignoring this story while valiant journalists like Fox's Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh fought to bring light to the darkness? Good God. Limbaugh and Hannity arent mentioned by Alexander; Kelly is only mentioned when Alexander quotes a statement by Sarah Palin. (According to Alexander, Palins statement shows that ideology and party politics are at play in the Panther dispute.)
Throughout her piece, Walsh seems offended because Alexander has chided his paper for ignoring the Panther story. At the same time, Walsh chides herself for failing to have Salon cover the story more. Walsh is certainly right on that point. Like other liberal publications (Media Matters valiantly excluded), Salon sat around and twiddled its thumbs while this story picked up steam via Fox. Maybe Joan ought to take a look in the mirror, instead of making up silly claims about what Alexander has said.
Walsh includes some important information which Alexander might have included in his piece. Specifically, Alexander might have referred to this debunking piece in the National Review by Abigail Thernstrom, one of six conservatives on the eight-member Civil Rights Commission. (Almost surely, Alexander had written his piece before Politico reported its later interview with Thernstrom. But Thernstroms piece in the Review appeared on July 6.) That said, might we offer a bit of advice? It isnt smart to make liberals dumb by misstating facts in so blatant a fashion. And if were trying to affect the mainstream press corps, the mainstream press will simply stop reading when we offer ludicrous claims like that claim in Walshs second paragraph.
By the way, Alexander isnt the only major player who has failed to mention Thernstroms piece. According to a Nexis search, Thernstroms name has never been mentioned on Fox News in all its wailing about the Panthers! That is just another example of the malpractice conducted at that channel.
Fox viewers have been played again, kept from hearing Thernstroms objections. But alas! As with Kristof, so with Alexander: Mentioning this obvious, ongoing problem was a road too far.