The Trump Era Continues to Expose the Failure of Liberal Media
NPR’s Failed Coverage of the One-Year Anniversary of the Deadly “Unite the Right” March in Charlottesville
Something is gravely amiss in certain liberal American newsrooms, and the coverage of the one-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia has put this failure in sharp relief. There are more than a few examples to choose from, but how badly things were botched at NPR encapsulates matters best, because it is seen as such a crunchy granola liberal institution.
While many were remembering Heather Heyer’s murder at the hands of a neo-Nazi who plowed his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protestors, NPR aired an interview with Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the White supremacist march. NPR also posted an article that made it seem like Heyer had been killed by a sentient automobile — that the car just up and decided on its own to drive itself into human beings. Remember, in the immediate aftermath of Heyer’s killing, Kessler called it “payback” and derided her for being overweight. This is the calibre of person NPR brought on their airwaves and allowed to rank the races by intelligence with virtually no pushback. The article about Heyer’s murder followed the same passive excusing of neo-Nazism. It was White liberal both-siderism at its most poisonous. NPR didn’t go so far as calling Kessler and his fellow White supremacist instigators “very fine people,” but it all but absolved them of any responsibility for the violence they incited and the murder one of them perpetrated in Charlottesville last year.
This isn’t the only thing NPR got wrong over the past few days, though. It also shared an article with the headline, “NFL Players Renew Anthem Protests As Preseason Starts.” Readers tersely corrected them, rightly pointing out that the players aren’t protesting the anthem; they’re protesting racialized police violence. This misstatement is particularly widespread and has taken root nearly everywhere. It drives home how poorly most media is reporting on these issues. Even ardent supporters of the players and their protest are using this language, spreading the propaganda they’re trying to fight. We’re not talking about bringing a butter knife to a gun fight — these commentators are punching themselves and the protesting players in the face.
The messaging in NPR and other liberal outlets’ programming accepts the right-wing framing of these issues and presents it as neutral. The discussion with Kessler demonstrates why: the people in charge at these outlets don’t feel threatened by “Unite the Right” or any of the other racist horrors they’re reporting on. They are fascinated by the ugly violence the way zoologists are by the habits of the animals they study. This all seems to be academic to them, but their reports read like those of students who haven’t done the reading — there’s no depth to their analysis. How else could anyone think giving a neo-Nazi an unchallenged platform to “expose” their hateful ideology is any kind of strategy? How can anyone whose job it is to manage a newsroom not understand that this only legitimizes them and helps spread their propaganda? We are two years into this. Why are they still unable to grasp what’s happening and how to perform their duties properly?
The longer this all goes on, the clearer it becomes that many of the people bringing Americans their news are compromised. This isn’t to say that they’re mired in anything like the Russian Conspiracy that’s eating up so much airtime. But they genuinely believe this paroxysm of White supremacist violence is an anomaly. This shows they have no real grasp on the facts of the history of their country. They are compromised because they’ve swallowed whole the catechism of the White moderates Martin Luther King, Jr. warned about from his cell in Birmingham. An unjust peace is perfectly fine with them. What is unsettling them about this moment isn’t its oppressiveness, it’s how messy things have gotten and the realization the mess might affect them.
The “If Hillary had won, I’d be at brunch right now,” quips McResistance liberals pop of with on Twitter really get to the heart of matters. Mass incarceration via racist drug laws, housing segregation, mass deportations, a collapsing middle class, a soaring student debt crisis, a drone assassination program, and too many other moral outrages to list are just white noise, static that can be cleared up by being in the right zip code, away from the people who have to look at the mess every day. Part of the lesson that must be learned, especially by Black Americans, is that these people aren’t allies to progressive causes, and they’re not to be trusted, not now, and certainly not post-Trump.
Donald Trump is a terrible person, a truly odious con man whose grift has made America worse off. And he’s being scapegoated. He’s not responsible for all of America’s sins. He didn’t build the apparatus he’s using to oppress and abuse. Blaming Trump for everything is a red flag — a sign that whoever is speaking can’t or won’t tell the truth about America and its injustices. When someone professing to support liberal causes excuses White supremacists out of the other side of their mouth and writes sympathetic profiles about how misunderstood and fundamentally decent Klansmen probably are, you know you’re dealing with a collaborator. They’re collaborating to protect Whiteness and the status and benefits it brings. That’s what all this wishy-washiness and hand-wringing is about: an unwillingness to confront the social construct of Whiteness and dismantle it. The people running liberal newsrooms may amplify issues affecting marginalized groups, but they present no real challenge to a nearly all-White power structure that is the result of systemic racial injustice. So, cars that kill anti-fascists are something out of Knight Rider, NFL players who’ve explained countless times why they’re protesting keep being misrepresented, and neo-Nazis keep getting the benefit of the doubt.
Trump and his henchmen must be gotten rid of. Organizers of all stripes should do everything in their power to create the “blue wave” that will wash them out of power, but that is only the beginning. The status quo isn’t good enough. The status quo created the conditions that made Donald Trump’s presidency possible. The belief that this status quo is waiting in the wings to be called out onstage to rapturous applause is why NPR and others are so complacent. They think they can afford to wait this out. They refuse to acknowledge that not everyone else has that luxury, and even if they did, the status quo wasn’t mimosa brunches and aloof academic musings about life in a police state for them. Some American communities live under fascistic conditions no matter who is in power. Continuing to soft-pedal these injustices in service to electing Democrats won’t help in the long run. Donald Trump is only a symptom. American racism and its partner in crime — predatory capitalism — are the diseases that must be confronted once and for all.