Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fox and the Hounding

Here we go again.

There's a headline over at the Huffington Post right now that made me do a double take and immediately check to see if it was something that had been filed under the site's comedy banner; it just felt -- and feels -- too much like the kind of dead-on satire I'd expect from Andy Borowitz. Or maybe the staff of The Onion.

It reads: "Bob Scheiffer Defends Himself Against Fox News on New Black Panthers Story."

See what I mean?

I missed CNN's Reliable Sources over the weekend, mostly because I reached my yearly recommended dosage of Howie Kurtz somewhere back around mid-February, but apparently Scheiffer felt as if he needed to address accusations being hurled at him in the wake of a sit-down he did with Attorney General Eric Holder. At issue is the fact that at no point during that interview did he hammer Holder about a 2008 case in which a couple of members of the so-called New Black Panther Party, one carrying a nightstick, reportedly stood around a polling place in a predominantly black area of Philadelphia and eventually had to be escorted off the property by police. The DOJ went on to file a federal injunction against one of the two -- the guy with the stick -- but wound up dropping it because it determined that there wasn't enough to the case to make it worth pursuing.

And that's where things get sticky. And by sticky, I mean predictably dumb.

Conservative media, particularly Fox News, have finally picked up on the item and are trumpeting it as another example of President Obama's Machiavellian hand silently pulling strings behind the scenes to protect those groups who might have helped steer votes in his direction during the 2008 race for the White House. If this sounds familiar, that's because you've heard it before -- back when it was known as "The ACORN Scandal." If you can't immediately see what the members of the New Black Panther Party and the people who were generally helped out by ACORN have in common, you need to have your eyes checked.

For the record, the New Black Panther Party is a fringe group that's actually been denounced by the original Black Panthers. Its leader, the artist formerly known as Paris Lewis who now goes by the amusingly generic hyper-African moniker "Dr. Malik Zulu Shabazz," is the kind of clownish caricature Fox News loves to trot out at regular intervals. This is because he's guaranteed to say something mindlessly inflammatory that will scare the hell out of the network's demographic of lily-white, middle-American doofs, confirming all their worst fears about the encroaching negro threat. As former Washington Post columnist Dave Weigel beautifully put it, Shabazz is to Bill O'Reilly what the KKK or GG Allin was to Donahue: Somebody who makes for great TV and whom your core audience can feel comfortable disliking intensely.

If you haven't been watching Fox News lately -- and I can't in good conscience suggest that you do -- the Panthers "story" has been obsessively, breathlessly beaten into the ground by one network personality in particular: Megyn Kelly. She's taken it upon herself, bless her little heart, to be the avatar for every freaked-the-fuck-out white Christian soul convinced that he or she is losing this great country to minorities or illegal immigrants or whatever, and that it all started with the election of the Great Kenyan Socialist Usurper. She's like Elisabeth Hasselbeck with an actual associate's degree and a shit-ton more professional ambition. Kelly is Fox's rising star du jour, even going so far as to get an official canonization from none other than Sarah Palin via her overworked Twitter feed -- and the reason for this is that she knows exactly when to crinkle her face into that lemon-sucking look of smug skepticism, and just what buttons to press and what open-ended questions to ask of her viewers.

And so she's harped on the New Black Panthers meme with stalker-like intensity -- and with the full understanding that it's good for the network and therefore good for her career. Which is what caused her to "call out" Bob Scheiffer for supposedly shirking his journalistic duty by not asking the tough questions about the New Black Panthers bombshell when he had the chance.

Pay attention to enough partisan media these days -- particularly on the conservative side, only because it has the largest megaphone in Fox News and the most impressive bullpen of bullies -- and the patterns among the chaos really begin to stand out. As with ACORN, which was always a mostly bullshit story, the right created a controversy out of thin air, amplified and advanced that contrived controversy, and now is engaging in indignant political theater by pretending to give a damn that no one outside the echo chamber cares about the controversy it's made deafening inside the echo chamber. The problem, of course, is that thanks to its typical spinelessness in the face of any accusation of a liberal bias, the rest of the press is more than happy to let itself be suckered into the right's vortex of largely fact-free crazy. The mainstream media allow themselves to be talked into seeing the same ghosts that Fox News is trying to scare the hell out of its audience with.

That's what makes it so painful to watch Bob Scheiffer (a titan of the network news business whose reputation is just about bulletproof) feel like he has to answer to allegations made by Megyn Kelly (a yapping chihuahua who wouldn't know journalism if it came in a bottle of peroxide).

The New Black Panthers Party "story" isn't a story at all -- certainly not as Fox News is selling it. It's a Southern Strategy dog whistle designed to rile up more fear in an already angry and frightened white America. It's one racist tool with a nightstick being used to confirm the inflexibly entrenched suspicions of a good number of other racist tools.

But as long as credible guys like Bob Scheiffer allow Fox News and Megyn Kelly to set the narrative -- to browbeat them into submission, into having to defend their own news judgment -- this kind of thing is going to happen again and again. Kelly isn't pushing the Panthers meme because she believes it's an important story; she's doing it because she knows it's exactly what her viewers want to hear, believe anyway, and will never be convinced otherwise of.

Which means that any attempt by the media to indulge it will not only play directly into Fox and Kelly's hand, furthering each's goal, it won't win them one convert from the audience it's unnecessarily attempting to defer to.


Anonymous said...

Have you been following the curious case of Shirley Sherrod? Yesterday your bud Brietbart posted a video which he claimed proved that the NAACP is the real racist organization. It was Ms. Sherrod telling a story about not helping a white farmer. But any idiot watching the tape could tell that it was the wind up to a heartwarming conclusion. Of course, Brietbart, in that way he has of editing video to make black people look bad, cut off the end of the story. So we're left with a tale of minor racism. Of course, the rest of the media doesn't apply their Brietbart bullshit filter and ask for the whole tape right away, they report it at face value.

It wasn't until this morning, after she was hastily forced to resign, does the Atlanta paper have this -

“But Tuesday morning, Sherrod said what online viewers weren’t told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago — before she got the USDA job — when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with the farmer and his wife.

“And I went on to work with many more white farmers,” she said. “The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.”

What Brietbart is engaged in is truly high tech lynching. Will the media let him get away with it again?

Tuba Terry said...

"Will the media let him get away with it again?"

That's a silly question, of course they will! There's a systemic failure here - the entire industry is set up in a way that creates incentive to tend towards bullshit of one sort or another. Brietbart and friends get off on the dog-whistle stuff. At the same time, the so-called serious journalists just "report the controversy" and convince themselves that they're above the noise they're helping perpetuate.

The Bacon said...

A well respected, career attorney at the DOJ resigns in protest. He then testifies before the civil rights commission that Holder's DOJ has mandated that prosecutors will not prosecute voting rights violations where the victim is white and the perpetrator(sp?) is black. Furthermore, a slam-dunk case a voter intimidation against a black man is dropped.

In light of those facts, how could a journalist not ask Holder about the situation?

You motherfuck Fox News, and that is your prerogative, but they seem to be right here.

Imagine it reversed. John Ashcroft drops charges against skin-heads acting just as these morons did. Then a well respected, career attorney resigns in protests and charges that Ashcroft is refusing to prosecute whites for voter intimidation where the victim is black.

And Scheiffer doesn't ask about it?

VOTAR said...

I came in a bottle of peroxide once.

It's not nearly as gratifying as I had expected.


Chez said...

Actually, very much to its credit, CNN just had Sherrod on live and took a call from the wife of the white farmer she was talking about in that supposedly racist story she told years ago. The woman essentially said that Sherrod was a good person who had helped save her family's farm. In other words, CNN just bitch-slapped Breitbart.

toastie said...

Megyn Kelly scares the shit out of me. This clip of her from last week is freakier than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. (h/t Cesca) The woman boils neighbors' puppies.

Anonymous said...

It's great that CNN had her on to defend herself, but the fact is Sherrod is still out of a job, which means that our government is now in the "how high" business when Brietbart says "jump." I'd like to think she has a good civil case against him, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

drater said...

Great post...."like a hot knife through bullshit" indeed.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same civil rights commission that had two republicans flip to independent so the Bush White House could fudge the number of hardline conservatives on it?

Riles said...

I read/heard somewhere (Olbermann?) that the New Black Panther case was dropped before Obama took office, by the Bush Admin. Is that true? If so, how can it be made to be Obama's admin that dropped it? Wouldn't simply pointing that out kill the story? (I ask these questions rhetorically, of course.)

B8ovin said...

Dear The Bacon,
Are you describing Adams as "A well respected, career attorney at the DOJ"? He a political hack who was a political hire in the Bush DOJ to the Civil Rights division, who has a long history of being anti-affirmative action. He has provided NO substantive evidence of his charges. Kelly uses his testimony as God's Truth, despite the fact that other Republican appointees in the DOJ refute him.

As for Holder, he is Obama's AG. What you don't hear from Kelly is that the case was dropped by Bush's DOJ. Why ask Holder about the actions of Bush's AG? What you also may not know is that the Bush DOJ had a similar case of Minutemen at polling places in Arizona who were also armed, and didn't even file an injunction in that case (I believe this answers your last rhetorical scenario, substitute black for hispanic). Not to belabor the point, but not a single person reported being intimidated by the NBP.

Finally, you have the sound and fury over ACORN, which included possible illegal action by the U.S. Congress legislating a "no business" rule against them on the basis of FOX News hysteria. No substantive charges against ACORN have ever been filed, and every single charge resulting from the "ACORN-gate" videos have been dropped.

Why then, given this information, would a serious journalist pursue a story hyped by FOX news? It is simply not a story at all.

Anon said...

Oh, what brave new world that has such yutzes in it.

Ref said...

Thanks, B8ovin. I was just going to tell Bacon that he was a gullible shithead for believing anything on Faux News.

Tracer Bullet said...

Man, I live in Philadelphia. The only question in Philadelphia before the election was whether Obama would would win 90% of the vote or 91%. Intimidating voters in a predominantly black precinct in Philadelphia WOULD BE THE DUMBEST GODDAMN THING IN THE HISTORY OF DUMB GODDAMN THINGS if these goofs were trying to help Obama.