Monday, August 29, 2016

The Media is Really bad When the Topic is Racism

The media headlines from Thursday and Friday last week are basically: Clinton and Trump exchange accusations of racism.

At best they sniff, 'It sure is a shame that this is where our public debate has descended to. Presidential candidates calling each other racists.'

But as to the charge of racism itself, the media feels like it has no room to try to disentangle fact from fiction. An extreme version of such false equivalence was shown by the AP.

"The AP's top editor, Kathleen Carroll, says the newswire's much-scrutinized Clinton Foundation investigation was "rock solid," but the inaccurate promotional tweet about it was "sloppy."

"We're a lot better at breaking stories and covering news and gathering video and taking photographs than we are on tweets," she told me on this morning's show. However, Carroll stood by the AP's decision not to delete the tweet. "Maybe, going forward, we need to work more on our precision on the tweets." Alex Koppelman has a full summary of the interview here... And you can watch it here...

-- Another recent tweet from the AP, saying "Dwyane Wade and Donald Trump speak out on Twitter in wake of the NBA star's cousin's fatal shooting," was "clumsy," Carroll acknowledged. She said execs will be talking with the social media team about the recent misfires..."

It was perhaps the most grotesque example of false equivalence yet, where the AP refuses to differentiate even between a man grieving for the death of his cousin and a racist huckster like Trump clumsily trying to exploit a tragedy for political gain. To the AP, though, 'both Dwayne Wade and Donald Trump spoke out.'

As for the debate between Hillary and Trump we have someone who is a racist carnival barker, who won the primary based on a purely racist appeal to crackdown on Hispanics powered by a deportation force, an unconstitutional ban of Muslims, the Chinese, and to bring back 'law and order to our inner cities'-a clear racist appeal.

Trump got his start in politics via birtherism against the first Black President. You contrast Hillary's long history fighting racism and inequality, her long ties in the Black community and her strong platform in 2016 which calls for the end of voter suppression, fighting structural racism, and strong criminal justice reform.

Yet all the media could say was: 'Both called each other racists.' Even that wasn't true as only Trump did that explicitly.

The press may act like a passive stenographer on racism, but imagine if the subject if giving press conferences. Imagine if Hillary answered this criticism by saying 'Donald Trump doesn't give press conferences, He should give press conferences.'

Would the media say, 'Both candidates accuse the other of not giving pressers. Isn't it terrible how degraded our public debates are?'

Ed Kilgore talks about how false equivalence is Trump's best friend in the debate over racism:

Media False Equivalence Is Trump’s Best Friend in the Debate Over Racism

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton offered a reasonably detailed indictment of Donald Trump’s racially offensive utterances and associations. You don’t have to agree with every characterization she made, or with the underlying innuendo that Trump is himself a racist, to acknowledge she made a decent prosecutor’s prima facie case.

In response, Trump repeated his latest claim, offered with zero supporting evidence (unless you call assertions that she knows her policies will hurt African-Americans “evidence”), that Clinton is herself “a bigot.”

Here’s how the two candidates’ comments were covered at the WashingtonPost by John Wagner and Jenna Johnson:

“Clinton, Trump exchange racially charged accusations”

Was the treatment of Clinton’s and Trump’s comments as an “exchange” just a headline convenience? No. Here’s the lede:
A series of racially charged accusations dominated the presidential campaign Thursday, with Democrat Hillary Clinton accusing Donald Trump of “taking hate groups mainstream,” while the Republican nominee repeatedly claimed that Clinton is a “bigot” toward African Americans.

And on and on it went, with she said, he said, she said, he said. The only breaks from the scrupulously even-handed treatment were (1) an aside suggesting that Clinton’s talk about racism was an effort to distract attention from her email and Clinton Foundation problems, and (2) an account of Anderson Cooper’s efforts to get Trump to explain exactly how and why Clinton is a bigot. But if you were assessing the day on the campaign trail based strictly on the Post account, you’d judge it as a draw.

But the Post wasn’t alone. Here’s the headline for Politico’s “racism” story:

“Trump and Clinton throw more blows in bigotry fight”

In my own piece about Clinton’s Reno speech yesterday, I suggested one of the risks she ran was the perception that she was getting down in the gutter with Trump in a negative slug fest, a meme that could overwhelm the actual substance of what she is saying. But if major media organizations treat everything Trump says as equivalent in gravity and proximity to the truth as everything Clinton says, it could get even worse. After all, Trump throws out insults all the time, at nearly everybody. If insults equal fact-based attacks, the sheer volume of insults could win in the end.

Again proving you never go broke underestimating the Beltway pundits.

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