EYES OFF THE PRIZE: Where in the world was the so-called press?


Part 3—Ostracizing the blowhard: In this morning’s Washington Post, E. J. Dionne—a very careful person—offers some pleasing pabulum.

Dionne offers some pleasing pap about the recent conduct of NBA players. As he closes, he ladles this spoonload of porridge:
DIONNE (5/1/14): The NBA players showed how possessing real power can bring about change within a few media cycles. Their voices would be welcomed by those trying to stop efforts to rob rank-and-file African Americans and others with low incomes of democracy’s most fundamental right.

It’s nice that Obama, Cruz and almost all of the rest of us want to ostracize an 80-year-old racist blowhard. But how do we act when the playoffs are over and the people who are protesting are not the heroes whose numbers we proudly wear on our backs?
Trust us! NBA players will not be discussing voter ID laws, the issue to which Dionne refers. They won’t be discussing “efforts to rob rank-and-file African Americans and others with low incomes of democracy’s most fundamental right.”

Dionne himself will not likely discuss the larger issue involved in the recent Wisconsin court decision—the fact that a federal judge found that 9 percent of Wisconsin residents don’t possess a photo ID because they are too poor to drive a car, to use a bank or to think about buying plane tickets. (For background, just click here.)

NBA players will not be discussing the lives of the children who are growing up in those households (nor is it really their job to). Dionne won’t fight to force that discussion, or to look for ways to explain this matter in a way centrist voters will buy.

NBA players won’t be discussing the lives of the children who grow up that way. But then, neither will the useless experts Don Lemon featured last night.

Is it “nice” that our ranking elites are “ostracizing an 80-year-old racist blowhard” this week? On balance, we would suggest that it isn’t all that great—that this is another way in which we’re all helped to keep our eyes off the prize.

To his credit, Dionne was rather plainly suggesting that it’s very easy to ostracize someone like Sterling. In our view, Lemon and his panel of experts helped prove that point last night.

At the start of the hour, Lemon got some sound commentary from Bomani Jones, an engaging ESPN analyst/host who was writing about Donald Sterling before writing about Sterling was cool. (At 5 PM, we often watch Jones on ESPN’s Around the Horn.)

In 2006, Jones wrote this column about Sterling’s apparent housing practices. Last night, Lemon asked him what he thought about the Sterling audiotape:
LEMON (4/30/14): Bomani, you have been writing about this and speaking about this very passionately. Donald Sterling has been on your radar for some time now for a very long time and you have been covering him for years. Tell us what you thought when you heard these tapes this weekend.

JONES: Well, the tape itself, I think a lot of people were outraged by it, but if you were aware of the stuff that was in the court paperwork on the housing discrimination suits, the tape was just like, “Oh, what do you know, Donald Sterling is still the same person even though his basketball team is good?” Because I think a lot of people ignored that stuff because the team got good and they wanted to enjoy the fact that the team was good.

The tape itself was just really kind of bizarre. I thought it was actually fairly insightful to give you an idea of what somebody at that level thinks and how he's embarrassed by the idea that his arm piece could be with black people and then his friends would then pick on him about that.

It was almost like high school stuff. But I wasn’t outraged by it in the way that a lot of other people were because there was a lot more outrageous stuff in his past.
For the full transcript, click this.

In one way, Jones’ statement didn’t exactly make sense. In fact, “a lot of people ignored that stuff” long before Sterling’s team got good.

That said, we’re glad that Jones “wasn’t outraged by the tape in the way that a lot of other people were.” On balance, we think it’s a waste of time for journalists to be outraged by the tape, or to pretend to be.

(Make no mistake—most of them are pretending. They are reciting the latest script, something they constantly do.)

Outrage about that audiotape is easy to state or to feign. At its heart, we think it’s an easy way for journalists to hide the fact that they don’t care a whit about larger issues of justice.

It’s an easy way for journalists and other “intellectual leaders” to hide the fact that they have been keeping their eyes off the prize for a very long time now.

Jones noted the fact that nobody cared about Sterling’s record of apparent housing discrimination. But uh-oh! As Lemon continued, he and Jones each buried the key question here.

In the past, why didn’t mainstream journalists, including sports journalists, seem to care about Sterling’s behavior? You’ll note that Lemon and Jones kept this rather obvious question on a more general plane.

The obvious question involves the silence of journalists, our supposed eyes and ears. Note who Lemon and Jones end up discussing instead:
LEMON (continuing directly): Yes. Back in 2006, you wrote about Donald Sterling and you called him out on charges of housing discrimination which we’re learning about now. Why didn't that get more attention at the time, do you think?

JONES: That's a good question. I think part of it is that housing discrimination lawsuits, you see the numbers within the millions of dollars. That doesn't really resonate and splash with people.

What happened with the TMZ thing, that got people instantly. It was pretty overt language. It was clear and it didn't require any interpretation or a deeper understand of any sort of system.

People could hear that and they could jump on it and say, “Oh, my gosh, Donald Sterling is such an awful man.” When you're talking about housing discrimination, you're talking about something that has step after step after step and is such a big problem that I think a lot of people don't realize that they saw that lawsuit and I think a lot of people just kind of charged it up to, “Hey, what's the big deal,” even though that's one of the biggest deals in the country.
Step after step after step, Jones discussed the way “a lot of people” reacted, or failed to react, to Sterling’s past conduct.

He stayed away from the more salient question: Why did journalists respond, or fail to respond, in the ways they did?

According to Jones, “a lot of people” really don’t understand the resonance of a housing discrimination suit. That is probably true.

But in theory, journalists are paid to understand such things better than “a lot of people.” According to our civics textbooks, that is a journalist’s job.

That said, Lemon and Jones kept this discussion on the more general level. They discussed the way “a lot of people” responded. They moved the spotlight away from their own lazy, uncaring guild—away from the people who have failed us time after time after time.

We’re not suggesting that Jones did this on purpose. But it’s second nature for people like these to work this familiar sleight of hand—to keep us from wondering why the press corps failed to act.

Speaking somewhat ironically, Dionne says this in his column: “It’s nice that Obama, Cruz and almost all of the rest of us want to ostracize an 80-year-old racist blowhard.”

Can we talk? On balance, we’d have to say it isn’t real nice. On balance, it’s the simplest thing in the world for journalists and other elites to do. On balance, it’s a case of upper-class hacks reciting an easy script.

As the hour proceeded, Lemon conducted a string of pseudo-discussions with a largely worthless panel. We’ll isolate a few of those pseudo-discussions in our next post.

For now, we can tell you this:

NBA players will not be leading the fight on voter ID. More problematically, journalists won’t be trying to force a discussion of the fact that nine percent of Wisconsin residents are too poor to use a bank or to need a driver’s license.

Your press corps won’t be talking about the children growing up in those homes. Your press corps won’t be conducting a sane or factual discussion about our nation’s low-income schools and the deserving children within them.

Your press corps doesn’t care about that! Nothing on earth could be more clear. And we include Our Own Joan Walshes when we offer that judgment.

What will the press do in the weeks ahead? The press corps will continue to do what Jones discusses here:
LEMON (continuing directly): What do you think is worse, though? Was it the housing discrimination charges or was it the comments that were caught on tape?

JONES: Well, I think if we're talking effectively about what happens in the world, the housing discrimination. The tape itself, the tape stuff is candy. Some of that stuff you heard was a bit strange. And the way he talked about giving players stuff as opposed to paying them wages was I guess a bit disturbing.

But ultimately, that was a crazy conversation between a crazy man and his mistress and their bizarre interactions. The stuff with the housing suit and saying that blacks stink and attract vermin, saying that Mexicans just want to sit around and drink all day, and oh, by the way, inhibiting the livelihoods of people in this country— What happened on that tape is what it was. It was a TMZ story.
Again and again, your press corps will be looking for candy to discuss—candy and TMZ stories. The Sterling tape provides one form of that candy.

Your press corps will be seeking out the craziest people in the society. Staging the safest discussion on earth, your press corps will continue to ostracize our 80-year-old blowhards.

No one will ask them to explain their own endless sins in the past. No one will ask them to discuss their ongoing sloth and disinterest.

Last night, Lemon spent the bulk of the hour pretending to discuss race, a leading form of ratings candy. But over the past seven weeks, he has spent night after night pretending to be leading a search for a missing airplane.

CNN’s moronic search for Flight 370 has been a parody of news. As people like Lemon suck that sweet, real discussion disappears.

Last night’s pseudo-discussion was candy. That’s what your press corps has long been about. That’s why Jones’ column in 2006 produced no further journalistic discussion.

We like to see Jones state this fact, right there on our screen.

Tomorrow: More of the same

From this morning’s New York Times: On balance, we agree with this letter:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (5/1/14): As the cases of Donald Sterling and the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy illustrate, it is very easy for ostensibly “enlightened” and “progressive” privileged people to pile on in ritual condemnation of reprehensible, superannuated racists, and then to congratulate themselves on their virtue. But these cheap, easy and smug displays of righteousness do nothing to eliminate or even reduce the systemic injustice, inequality and discrimination that continue to characterize American society—and from which those same elites benefit.

Bethesda, Md., April 30, 2014
Is John S. Koppel allowed to say that? On balance, we think he’s right.


  1. Blogger Apr 30

    "On balance, we’re glad to see Sterling getting the boot."

    Blogger May 1

    Is it “nice” that our ranking elites are “ostracizing an 80-year-old racist blowhard” this week? On balance, we would suggest that it isn’t all that great—that this is another way in which we’re all helped to keep our eyes off the prize.


    1. You imply a contradiction, but these statements concern two distinct actions. The first is about Sterling being fined and barred from games by the NBA. The second is about the hue and cry being raised publically over Sterling's remarks. Someone can like one and dislike the other because they are not the same thing.

    2. Only a Bob fan could rationalize that there is absolutely no connection between the hue and cry and the NBA's action.

    3. Only a troll would read TDH and conclude that he's denying a connection between the fuss over Sterling's remarks and the consequences of making them.

    4. Wouldn't it have been better if the NBA had acted without being forced into it by public outcry?

    5. Yes. They should have banned him for life, fined him $2.5 million and begun the process to take away his team before he said anything.

    6. How about before being forced into it by a public clamoring for action, pulling endorsements, boycotting games?

  2. Your press corps won’t be talking about the children growing up in those homes. Your press corps won’t be conducting a sane or factual discussion about our nation’s low-income schools and the deserving children within them.

    Because then the conversation could shift toward something other than hurling the R bomb. The conversation could lead to inquiry as to causes, and the fact might emerge that their families and white "progressives" are failing them more than Bundy and Sterling and the GOP combined. It could be revealed that throwing money at their problems has failed and doomed them because it has replaced cultural values and expectations. Cultural values and expectations, morals, and ethics repel modern "progressives."

    1. Just to clue you and Somerby in, that very conversaition that you pretend is not happening is in fact happening over the minimum wage debate.

      But I guess Bob is too busy dragging out the Sterling case for whatever it is worth to him and for however long he can.

    2. Anonymous at 12:03 PM,
      Throwing money at elections isn't solving anything. Now, what are you going to do about it?


    3. When did they throw money at low income schools? I must have missed that.

      Somerby keeps pointing out that scores are improving for disadvantaged students. Wouldn't they have to be going down for someone to claim educational interventions aren't working?

  3. On balance, I can see why Somerby agrees with Koppel. In fact, I can see how Koppel wrote his epistle right out of the Somerby stylebook.

    ". . . cheap, easy and smug displays . . ."

    It's never enough to make your point, is it? Got to throw in gratuitous insults against the people who "display(ed)" their outrage over Sterling's and Bundy's remarks, to accuse them of the worst possible motives.

    After all, nobody can honestly disagree with Somerby, the champion of the nation's discourse.

    1. Reading comprehension doesn't seem to be your strong point.

    2. Ah yes.The classic "reading comprehension" insult.

      Well, nanny, nanny, boo-boo to you too!

    3. What are the good motives for kicking an 81-year old man when he is down?

    4. Yes. Poor Donald Sterling. He's the real victim here.

    5. He seems to have lost the most of anyone involved.

  4. The book Quiet (about introverts) says that we have changed from a society that valued character to one that values personality and image. As children we were taught that "sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me." Now it seems like the names a person is called matter more than actions taken against someone. Is that because image has become everything? Do deeds no longer count in forming one's image?

    That famous saying of MLK about being judged by the content of one's character instead of the color of one's skin seems further away today than in past years because people only care about appearances, image, reputation, and not about how they conduct themselves, what they do and how actions define them.

    I think that is why no one cares about Sterling's housing lawsuits and everyone cares about the slurs in his private conversation. Maybe people think those slurs are more damaging than being barred from participation in the housing market by a slumlord.

    1. Adam Silver answered the "private conversation" part quite well when he said, "It became public."

      That was the set of facts he was confronted with.

    2. He may have said that, but that doesn't make him right. I think he answered that part poorly. In a trial, for example, illegally obtained evidence is inadmissable. Fruit of the tainted tree. A statement never intended for public consumption should not be treated the same as a public statement. A statement taken out of context, without verification should be treated even more cautiously.

      That passive sentence construction evades responsibility. Someone made that conversation public. THAT was a fact he apparently didn't think much about. What if it was leaked by someone hoping to purchase the franchise? What if they also paid the girlfriend to lead him into racist remarks? That makes Silver a co-conspirator colluding in perpetrating a fraud.

    3. This wasn't and isn't a trial. What would you have done as Adam Silver, 5:00pm? Dismiss the tape because it doesn't follow the "rules of evidence"? Have players boycott playoff games? Have fans boycott? Have huge p.r. disaster that tars the NBA for many years as the league that defends racist scumbag billionaire owners?

    4. What do you usually do when someone throws a hissy fit? Ignore it until they calm down. How does this tar the NBA? They didn't say anyting.

      What is wrong with pointing out that even racists have a right to free speech, or saying that he doesn't speak for anyone but himself.

      Doesn't it bother anyone that a person can be harmed financially like this without any fair examination of what happened? Just public pressure?

  5. If Joan Walsh doesn't care about the schools and their students, you wouldn't know it from all the articles on the subject she lets into Salon. As Editor, she presumably could ask her writers to move onto a different subject.

    1. As Somerby has stated before, talking about the schools in general is not the same as concern for the often different needs of underclass students within our schools systems. Here today he asks about the students living with the 9% of families who do not have voter IDs. That is relevant given the number of poor students being raised by grandparents, for example. Addressing questions of education is not the same as addressing the persistent and difficult problems of students who are poor. That has been a recurring point here.

    2. Who ARE you? No other blogger on the web has sycophants like you.

      When you are talking about urban public schools, for the most part you are talking about low income kids. What exactly is the journalistic slant you would like to see? How would you do it except as a one-off with minimal impact?

    3. WHO are YOU? You picked this fight by defending Joan Walsh. She doesn't talk about the things Somerby mentioned in this article, so your defense is inappropriate.

      I'm not Somerby and I don't necessarily want to see the same focus as he does. I DO want to see his concerns discussed accurately instead of distorted in order to beat him with a stick he didn't raise.

      If you are concerned about an issue, you don't do a one-off. You repeat your concerns over and over. As Al Gore did when he made repeated public appearances promoting his film. As Somerby does here, as he raises his points over and over. People who don't care do one-offs. People who care engage in campaigns and don't stop until they make progress.

    4. "As Somerby has stated before, talking about the schools in general is not the same as concern for the often different needs of underclass students within our schools systems."

      Here's a newsflash for you. Somerby routinely dismisses the best evidence of low-income within a school -- the free and reduced lunch program.

      You can't say these kids are poor because some of them may be 1 to 30 percent above the poverty line.

      Which makes discussing the education of low-income children rather difficult, since Somerby doesn't seem to want to believe there are that many.

    5. Again, you are not reading well. He says it is not an indicator of poverty -- poverty and low income are not the same things. You can't say these kids are poor because they constitute 50% of the student body. It is meaningless to conflate such kids with truly poor kids whose life circumstances, expectations, outcomes are so different that they may need very different kinds of interventions than the larger student population. You insist on a focus on defining more extreme poverty because the needs of those kids may be different and are NOT being addressed to the same extent as those of the larger group you insist on talking about.

      The point of defining poverty more restrictively is that the group defined may be qualitatively different, may need different teaching approaches, than the broader group defined when you use the school lunch criterion.

    6. "The point of defining poverty more restrictively..."

      I don't care about that, I'm just here to troll.

      [/truth telling]

  6. A lawsuit involves accusations that are not resolved for many months. Carrying on about them while still unresolved would be deeply irresponsible. When a suit is settled, by definition, almost, the facts are unresolved for the public.

    1. In the case of Sterling, none of the allegations raised in the lawsuits were proven. The case brought by Baylor dropped the racial allegations and then was decided in favor of Sterling. The housing lawsuits contain allegations of what Sterling said but were settled without any admission of wrongdoing. That means they are not evidence of anything. He may be a racist landlord who doesn't fix things, but he has denied those charges and there isn't any finding against him. Characterizing him as a long time racist then is tenuous if that is the evidence. I don't know him. I only see what is being presented and the conclusions drawn from that. It seems like a rush to judgment on the basis of too little, to me.

  7. I have heard nobody congratulating themselves on their virtue.

    1. When JC asked the first among us without sin to cast that first stone, he made it clear that accusing others implies an absence of guilt on the part of the accuser. That is where the self-congratulation and sense of smugness comes from. Anyone stating how bad Sterling is automatically becomes spotless themselves. As Somerby stated, that is the payoff for playing this game.

    2. So what if the accuser isn''t Christian? Does casting the first stone still "implies an absence of guilt on the pat of the accuser"?

      To me, the "payoff" is that finally, we've drawn a line concerning racism that won't be tolerated.

      Yeah, sad in some ways that it has to be so blatant as Bundy and Sterling. But at least we as a society do have a line somewhere.

      And that is progress.

    3. But here is the problem again. Are we going to punish people for their thoughts and beliefs instead of actions? Until you define racism in terms of specific behaviors, how does anyone know what is and is not racist? There is a big confusion about that because we are supposed to celebrate diversity on the one hand but cannot talk about it on the other hand without being condemned as racist for noticing a difference. That means there is no way to stay out of trouble if someone wants to accuse.

      Then there is the matter of what it means to be a free society. Are we going to tell citizens that free speech and freedom of thought end when it comes to statements, beliefs and thoughts about race? Sterling's situation is a good example, since he thought he was talking to a trusted associate and not for public consumption and yet his private words became public and were the basis for punishment. So where exactly is the line in terms of freedom of speech and the right to hold opinions, even unpopular ones (as when the ACLU defended the American Nazis)?

      Are we now becoming the kind of society where groupthink enforces vaguely defined norms by punishing targets using social stigma, shunning, to the point that economic entities (such as employers) cannot tolerate any association with the accused person and they then are destroyed financially?

      I would rather tolerate Sterling than live in that kind of society.

    4. Yes. Poor Donald Sterling.

      Sterling has every right to be a vile, contemptible asshole.

      The other NBA owners also have the right not to associate any longer with a vile, contemptible asshole -- for both very good personal and business reasons.

      Tell you what. Go into your boss's office and say the same sort of things Sterling said. Just say them. Don't act out on them.

      Then, after you get fired, run to the court with a lawsuit. See how far you get.

    5. Wrongful termination if the words had nothing to do with the job -- or were said on private as Sterling's were.

      Who says the other owners are any different?

    6. So you can walk into the boss's office, shut the door, go into a racist rant, and the boss can't do anything about it. First Amendment, you know.

      Yep, that's exactly the kind of brilliant analysis we get from Internet constitutional experts.

      Freedom of speech means freedom from and and all consequences because of your speech. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

  8. Who talks about a female human being as "an arm piece"?

    Why is there not as big a fuss when a public figure says sexist things about women? Why is this guy not being hounded off the air and fined? Why is there not as much outrage about the wrongs most women suffer in their lives as there is concern over racism?

    1. A good point 5:02. It is telling as well that nobody here responded.

  9. OMB (Bungling in Good Faith With BOB)

    Eyes on the Parts: Just for counting purposes, this is Part 6 of "obvious pseudo-discussion than the current pseudo-discussion, the enthralling pseudo-discussion about the weird, incoherent and pitiful things Donald Sterling apparently said."


    FYI: 3 Game 7's Saturday! Maybe 3 Game 7's Sunday.