Saturday, March 23, 2002

Don't Mind That News Story Behind the Curtain

National Public Radio broadcast a painfully myopic story this morning about a series of bloody assaults by local kids in Charlottesville against students at the University of Virginia.

The motivation was clearly racial. The victims were all beaten severely but not robbed. In each case the attackers were of one race and the victims of another. Heck, the attackers themselves said they chose their victims because of their race.

Hate crime, you say? Not according to NPR. The town (and the broadcaster) are “struggling to understand the motives of the attackers.” That’s because the attackers were black and the victims were white and Asian.

Says NPR, “the motives for the attacks are unclear, but race may have been a factor.” But by their own reporting, race is the only factor.

What follows is an excruciating exercise in journalistic contortion as Adam Hochberg does all he can to ignore the obvious – that bigotry is an equal opportunity offender.

The mayor of Charlottesville says the town’s response to the violence must do “more than simply punish the attackers” and include an examination of the town’s “racial climate and social structure.” Hey, I could save them the effort . . . the racial climate sucks and the “social structure” appears to allow for acts of vicious violence against neighbors.

Like any objective heir to the Murrow tradition, Hochberg reports on both sides of the story. On one side is UVA’s Dean of African American Affairs who says “I don’t condone these acts BUT. . . (everyone together this time) “I can understand their anger.” This, of course, is the
same sort of thinking echoed by those apologists who "understand" the resentment of disadvantaged terrorists who they believe deserve a get-out-of-Gitmo-free card because they are citizens of an impoverished kleptocracy.

Apparently, these Charlottesville thugs are angry about having been left out of the better schools and clubs and, on top of everything, are poor. Of course, the same can probably be said for their white trash neighbors. Yet I doubt the UVA Dean would devote more than a nanosecond to the search for root causes had the victims been black and the attackers white.

And articulating the alternative side of the story? That would be, of course, the local Ku Klux Klan. Joining the clan today is a special guest, the Anti-Defamation League . . . a “Jewish organization” our reporter helpfully supplies.

Here’s a good rule of thumb -- while the Klan is unlikely to add anything useful to real discussion, they are wonderfully useful for shutting down debate altogether.

Let’s say you are undecided about the Charlottesville story. You hear what Hochberg is reporting but deep down inside you harbor a twinge of sympathy for the poor kids who got beaten to a pulp by bigots. Well, that would position you over here on the political spectrum, way over here, with your friends, the Klan. There, that simplifies things considerably, doesn’t it?

One gets the feeling that if public broadcasting didn't have the KKK for "balance" they would have to invent it.

Why go to all the trouble of reporting the mirror image of an actual hate crime story so that it becomes news free? Wouldn’t it more interesting journalism to report on how differently hate crime is treated when the commonly assumed roles are reversed and what does that say about our attitude toward race. Are there people who believe African-American bigotry is qualitatively different than white bigotry? Of course there are. Hell, this story revolves around that assumption like a journalistic Callisto orbiting an unmentionable Jupiter. Why not just confront it, dissect it, debate it and possibly turn over some new ground. Or perhaps it's just too hot to handle.

Any thoughts?

No comments: