Friday, April 25, 2014

This Post Will Not Be Popular. Media Bullshit Outrage 101

I certainly hope I don't lose my few readers and web friends by writing this.  If you are an intellectually honest and open-minded bunch, I don't think I will.  But those are the risks, I guess.  Maybe I should have titled this piece "Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as Liberal Bias".  

So, you're sitting there asking yourself what the new media outrage of the day is, and then here comes anti-federal government, free-grazing, armed stand-off performance artist and loudmouth Cliven Bundy to liven up your weekend!

While addressing his supporters about general standoff news, he took a segue into other general topics that small government advocates sometimes talk about.  Here's the relevant quote, the longest quote I could find:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said in comments quoted by the New York Times. He recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”

 “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

OK....I am not going to defend racism or Bundy's lack of tact, his behind-the-times lingo,or his bizarre need to take the conversation in that direction.  He may well be racist scum, like everyone thinks.  But the point is, none of us really know...but we're all ready to believe the worst the media can swill out for us.  Let's take a more skeptical look, hmmmm?    

I can't help but notice that some of the reports I've seen on the web have been edited down to just the two sentences containing "abort" and "slavery", sometimes with the "negro" sentence tacked on.  Or blog posts will mention the words but won't do a full quote.  In that context, and with the normal "good liberal" assumptions properly made, it looks very much like he is just an old racist fool a full century or more behind the rest of us.  But if you look at the actual content of his words, instead of the buzzwords, you might notice that he is not actually blaming black people for anything, and not defending slavery at all.  He's using slavery as a "bad thing" to compare to modern welfare dependence, and blaming the poverty of blacks on welfare dependence brought on by failed policies. 

In fact, he's pretty much doing a clumsy paraphrase of the same arguments made by conservative journalist and activist Star Parker,  and PhD economist Thomas Sowell, who also believe that welfare dependence and bad government programs have done more damage to the black community and all poor Americans than most anything else in the last century.  
Of course, since they are both black, educated, and successful, they will never be called out for their horrible terrible "racism", even though they make a living studying and publishing books and giving talks about those very issues and often saying essentially the same things. And if they are criticized, it certainly won't be just so it can be used as a tool paint them as barbaric throwbacks and silence them on a totally unrelated matter.

But painting Bundy as a crazy racist (while getting a great media attention bump in the process), and by association drowning out other issues he's involved with, is just about the only real reason for Bundy's statements to be considered "news".  Thomas Sowell and Star Parker have been singing this tune for decades, and moderate to left-wing media not only do not cover it at all, ever, but do their absolute best to ignore their very existence.   Even if click-bait is the only goal, and not silencing him on other issues, it is still a dishonest presentation, not any kind of reasonable journalism.   

Now, as a skeptical person, there are other matters of context.  The LDS church (of which Bundy is a member) has had a bad history with race relations in the past.  

From wikipedia:

From the mid-1800s until 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) had a policy which prevented most men of black African descent from being ordained to the church's lay priesthood. This resulted in these members being unable to participate in some temple ordinances. Though the church had an open membership policy for all races, relatively few black people who joined the church retained active membership, despite reassurance that the ban would one day be lifted when "all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the priesthood and the keys thereof"
Even here, the relationship was complicated by time and circumstance.  In the early days of the LDS, at least two black men became Mormon Priests, and the Church was officially anti-slavery.   Apparently Brigham Young, the second great leader of the church, was a racists bastard and promoted it in the church, a policy which to some degree stood until 1978.  However, now, there are over half a million black Mormons.  I can't count how many times I've seen the tropes about LDS and racism on liberal or atheist-oriented websites, but it's not really so simple, is it?  And even if most Mormons really are racist, what does that tell us about a specific Mormon?  Not much.  Bad skepticism and bad thinking could lead one to believe that every Mormon ever might as well be in the KKK.

Mormons and other conservatives, particularly white conservatives, are accused of blatant racism all across the media anytime they open their mouths about anything to do with race, no matter what they say.  And if a racial issue comes up and they are silent in order to avoid accusations, then accusations of promoting racism by not speaking out are leveled, and racism is still assumed no matter what they do.  The only way conservatives can avoid these accusations in the media is by immediately forgetting their principles and turning into a progressive liberal, or by being black themselves, in which case they will simply be ignored.

The whole media process that we see every day when it comes to race issues, and the assumptions made of whole classes of (white) people, and the ignoring of black conservative voices....well.... all that seems kind of racist to me.   But hey, I'm just a guy who pays attention and thinks about things, rather than just reacting to what I want to hear.  

Being a fairly liberal guy myself, I can imagine someone thinking...why are you even bothering to write about this crazy asshole?  The answer is:  Of the many things that get under my skin, one of the worst is other well-meaning, generally honest, open-minded, liberal people making media noise by lying or distorting appearances in order to give the screaming monkey idiots on the internet something else to cry about.  There's still racism in the world, we don't need to invent any for political purposes, career advancement, or ambitions of censorship.  

But that's just my Buck-oh-five on the matter.