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.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.”
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?
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.For the full transcript, click this.
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.
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?Step after step after step, Jones discussed the way “a lot of people” reacted, or failed to react, to Sterling’s past conduct.
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.
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?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.
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.
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.Is John S. Koppel allowed to say that? On balance, we think he’s right.
JOHN S. KOPPEL
Bethesda, Md., April 30, 2014