Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Murdoch Non-Apology

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The day the New York Post sleazed its op-ed section with the vile, vicious, and veiled urge to violence cartoon against President Barack Obama this writer demanded that Post boss Rupert Murdoch issue this statement.
“The News Corporation pledges that the Post’s offensive cartoon will not be circulated, or reprinted, or syndicated. Further, we have zero tolerance toward racially insensitive and inflammatory cartoons or editorial depictions of African-Americans and other ethnic groups. Finally, we apologize for the Obama cartoon and pledge in the future that the Post and other Murdoch entities will hold to the highest standard of editorial sensitivity in our cartoons.”
Though it took a firestorm week of massive demonstrations, threats of a boycott, and an FCC license challenge (the Murdoch owned Fox Network), and a Mt. Everest sized stack of emails, letters, and faxes demanding the firing of Post management, Murdoch pretty much issued a statement that came close to what this writer demanded.
But that by no means closes the book on the sorry Post-Murdoch-Fox saga. It can, and probably will happen again. Start with Murdoch’s apology. There were three escape clauses buried in it. One is the self-serving, lame Post defense that the cartoon was just fun and games spoofery of Obama’s stimulus plan. The other is a rehash of the other Post editor’s fall back line that the cartoon was not meant to be racist. Murdoch’s final give the paper a pass defense was his declaration that the cartoon was “interpreted” as racist by “others.”
That’s not a whole heck of a lot better than the non-apology, apology Post editors issued a day after their public shellacking.

But even if Murdoch had made a sincere bare-the-chest heartfelt apology it wouldn’t amount to much. That’s the standard ploy that shock jocks, GOP big wigs, and assorted public personalities employ when they get caught with their racial pants down.
On a few occasions the offenders have been reprimanded, suspended, and even dumped. That won’t happen with the Post editors, or the offending cartoonist, and Murdoch gave absolutely no hint that anyone would be disciplined for the racial slander. There are two reasons why. They tell much about why the Post, Murdoch’s media empire, and shock jocks can get away with demeaning gays, blacks, Latinos Asians, Muslims, and women and skip away with a caressing hand slap.
One is that these guys ramp up ratings and that make media syndicates such as Fox and the Post’s cash registers jingle.

The other reason is that it’s virtually impossible to effectively muzzle cartoonists such as Sean Delonas and others that draw or talk race trash is the sphinx like silence of top politicians, broadcast industry leaders, and corporate sponsors.
Sharpton, Spike Lee, and a handful of local New York politicians led the charge against the Post, but that’s pretty much where it ended. The problem of the silence or perfunctory belated criticism by higher ups to racial taunts surfaced a few years ago following then Senate Majority leader designate Trent Lott’s veiled tout of segregation. It touched off a furor, and ultimately Lott stepped down from the post, but it took nearly a week for Bush to make a stumbling, and weak sounding disavowal of him. The silence from top politicians and industry leaders to public racism was even more deafening a few of years ago when former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett made his weird taunt that aborting black babies could reduce crime. Even as calls were made from the usual circles almost always blacks and liberal Democrats for an apology, or his firing from his syndicated national radio show, neither Bush or any other top GOP leader said a mumbling word about Bennett.

There’s another reason for their silence. The last two decades many Americans have become much too comfortable using code language to bash and denigrate blacks. In the 1970s, the vocabulary of covert racially loaded terms included terms such as "law and order," “crime in the streets," "permissive society," "welfare cheats," "subculture of violence," "subculture of poverty," "culturally deprived" and "lack of family values" seeped into the American lexicon about blacks. Some politicians seeking to exploit white racial fears routinely tossed about these terms.
In the 1980s new terms such as "crime prone," "war zone," "gang infested," "crack plagued," "drug turfs," "drug zombies," "violence scarred," "ghetto outcasts" and "ghetto poverty syndrome” were shoved into public discourse. These were covert racial code terms for blacks and they further reinforced the negative image of young black males as dope dealers, drive by shooters, and educational cripples. And the image of young black women as a dysfunctional collection of B’s and “hos,” welfare queens, and baby makers.
Obama is hardly exempt from this irresponsible race tinged character assault. The non-stop whisper and slander campaign against President Obama by packs of bloggers, talk jocks, and even a senator on the legitimacy of his US citizenship is a case in point.
The loud demands will continue that Murdoch back up his kind of sort of apology with real action. But he won’t. There’s simply too much money in racial trash talk (and cartooning), and too much silence from the higher ups that send a tacit signal condoning it. That silence is Murdoch’s ultimate trump card.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mr. Murdoch Is Obama Really a Chimp?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Mr. Rupert Murdoch it’s certainly no surprise to you that New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan would hotly defend the racist Post cartoon comparing President Obama to a chimp. That’s what your shock and smut dealing Post is in the business of doing and it does it well. The idea of course is to get the tongues furiously wagging, get enraged emails, letters and phone calls pouring in, and then put forth the predictable defense calling this and other inflammatory cartoons a parody, a free speech right, and harmless spoofery. Allan didn’t stop there. He couldn’t resist the urge to take a swipe at Al Sharpton, branding him with the standard tag of race baiter and media hound for daring to call out the Post on the vile cartoon.

The furor might have drawn little more than a public yawn and shrug except for two two small points. One is the long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro a Beast, The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization, and the Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day.

Yes, Mr. Murdoch, it’s true that was a long time ago, and as Allan intimated in his lame defense of the Post cartoon, no sober person could seriously believe that anyone would liken the President or for that matter any black to a chimp. Unfortunately, a lot still do.

That’s the second small point about the Post cartoon. Post Cartoonist Sean Delonas could so casually and easily depict Obama as a monkey because that image didn’t die a century, half century, decade, or even a year ago. In fact, exactly a year ago, Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young, and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.

Please keep in mind Mr. Murdoch that the overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled probably as undoubtedly you would at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants, and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images, were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.

This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as "barbaric," "beast," "brute," "savage" and "wild." And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial, and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.

The Post cartoon, Mr. Murdoch, was the complete package. It depicted violence, death, brutality, incitement, and animal like imagery. The topper was the not so subtle inference that the target of the chimp depiction and more was an African-American male, namely President Obama.

In recent days, Mr Murcdoch you’ve dropped a hint or two that you want to put the word balance back into the vocabulary of those who run your media empire. You can start by issuing this statement.

“News Corporation pledges that the Post’s offensive cartoon will not be circulated, or reprinted, or syndicated. Further, we have zero tolerance toward racially insensitive and inflammatory cartoons or editorial depictions of African-Americans and other ethnic groups. Finally, we apologize for the Obama cartoon and pledge in the future that the Post and other Murdoch entities will hold to the highest standard of editorial sensitivity in our cartoons.”

You’ll issue that statement Mr. Murdoch if you are personally repelled by the comparison of President Obama to a chimp. That is so, right Mr. Murdoch?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Obama The One Term President?

President Barack Obama had barely finished uttering the oath of office when the talk started that he would be a one term president. This political doomsday talk was chalked up to a few bored reporters looking for something contrarian to say about Obama, the deluded hopes of hard bitten, spoil sport conservatives for a failed Obama presidency, and a few naysayers among economists who repeatedly warned that economic collapse would do in a young, inexperienced president. The first two reasons to think Obama would get a quick boot can be easily shrugged off.

Tying Obama’s White House fate to public jitters over a hemorrhaging economy can’t be so easily brushed aside. Obama pretty much said as much in an interview on NBC’s Today Show two weeks after he was sworn in that if he didn’t deliver he’d be “a one term proposition.” This may not be a totally accurate prediction since in four years a foreign blow up, terrorist attack, cataclysmic natural disaster, a squabbling, headless, and discredited GOP and any of a number of other unforeseen things could make him shine. Any of them could just as easily be his ticket back to the White House. Still, the rise or fall of the economy is the only thing for now that anyone seems to think matters.

Obama has smartly hedged his bets on judging his presidency on the speed of an economic turnaround by repeatedly damping down expectations that economic recovery is just around the bend, and that he can wave a magic wand and make the economic pain instantly disappear. Obama’s pleadings, warnings, and cautionary notes are his back door admission that Americans want and demand that he do something, and do it now to reverse the economic slide, and that there’s little margin for error, and none for failure, if he doesn’t.

Recent presidential history amply shows that the public is brutally unforgiving when the man in the White House doesn’t immediately turn things around. In a look at how six of eight presidents fared since 1948 when the economy hit the skids or appeared to skid, the scorecard for presidents winning and losing because of economic woes is a draw. Three were beaten and three beat back their challengers. It came down to whether voters really perceived that their economic plight, or rather pain, would show no sign of a cure if they kept the incumbent in office. But even more important presidents had to do one crucial thing in the face of rising unemployment, recession, inflation, and public grumbles if they wanted to stay on the job. They had to assure a majority of voters that things would and could get better for the voters if they stayed in the White House and that any likely opponent couldn't do any better.

Presidents also had to have a lot of luck. W. Bush had that in 2004. He won reelection in part because memories were still fresh of the 9/11 terror attack. Bush adroitly played the terror card and convinced enough voters that he could beat back any new terrorist threat. But hard times, plant closures, farm foreclosures, and high unemployment even then had gripped big sections of the Midwest and as Democrats gleefully noted, growth was much slower during Bush’s first term than during Clinton's second term.

Yet Bush also won in big part because overall unemployment and economic growth had slightly improved in the run up to the 2004 election. Bush used this to spin the news, even bad economic news, into a gain. He solemnly pledged there would be more economic improvement for voters if he was reelected. That didn’t work for Republican rival John McCain in the make or break wind down months to the 2008 campaign. The financial plunge in September virtually sealed his loss.

Obama relentlessly painted a stark, grim and scary picture for workers and the middle class that the crash was Bush’s doing and by extension McCain’s doing. He masterfully sold the idea that things would only get worse if McCain was elected. He directly linked the perceived failure of Bush to right the nation’s economic ship to McCain. And that McCain’s policies would result in still bigger deficits, the prospect of even greater inflation and a more intense recession. Obama made voters believe that Republican economic policy would not promote recovery and economic security but increase economic pain for millions of wage earners; put bluntly economic collapse.

Obama has literally bet the bank that that the economic stimulus will turn the economic tide. Packs of Republicans and not a few economists warn that it won’t. A few such as Rush Limbaugh even hope that it won’t.
Economic failure alone may not spell a one term presidency for Obama. But economic success, even the perception of success, will help insure that Obama won’t be another Jimmy Carter.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Friday, February 06, 2009

Octuplet Mom Reinforced Single Mother Stigma

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In her NBC interview Octuplet mom Nadya Suleman was irked at getting pounded for being a single mother with fourteen kids. Or in her words, "it's not as controversial because they're couples so its more acceptable." She had good reason to be irked, but she should be irked at herself too for doing much to reinforce that stigma. For the past half century single mothers have been ritually dumped on by everyone from liberal sociologists to Christian fundamentalists and even self-promoting gabber Ann Coulter. They are the fall women for every real and perceived malady in society; poverty, crime, drug use, personal profligacy, welfare dependency, bad acting, and even worse performing students, and of course, family breakdown.

As for Coulter, she got hammered for beating up on single mothers in her new book while letting the guys who shove the women into single motherhood skip away scot free. This was more a hit against Coulter than a real defense of single mothers. The perception is just too deeply ingrained that single mothers create babies and problems for a momentary attack on Coulter to change that perception.

Suleman is naive, in denial, or blind to the power of the negative single mom image to think that her pleading for the bashers to knock it off will fall on anything but the tinnest of tin ears. If anything, having eight babies, on top of six, and then hinting that her over the top baby making is a good thing without a prospective father sighting anywhere, fuels public wrath over the folly of babies and single mothers even more. But leaving aside questions of moral right, ethical propriety or even Suleman’s legal responsibility, all have been hotly debated, the truth is that single mothers do not cause a terrible society, but do fare terribly in society.
And there are a lot of single mothers. At last count nearly 40 percent of children are born out of marriage. In the majority of those cases the mothers will stay that way. The figures for lower income black and Hispanic women almost all Suleman’s age or a decade or even decades younger than her are far greater than for unmarried white mothers. The number of single mothers are inching up after a decade long drop from the mid 1990s to 2005.

The demographic of who gets pregnant and is single is predictable They’re young, have multiple births, are non college educated, or even high school educated, and invariably poor. In their, Child Wellbeing Study, Princeton University researchers tracked 5,000 single mothers in who are charitably called Fragile Families. The women gave birth between 1998 and 2000 and all claimed that they wanted to get married.

The wish didn’t get any further than a wish. In a follow-up survey, most did not get married and a fair share of them had more babies by multiple partners. They had done little to improve themselves educationally or boosted their income. The Princteon findings are not unique. This reinforces the belief that single mothers are inherently doomed to wallow in poverty and want, and that their children are doomed to be congenital gang bangers, drive by shooters, and drug peddlers and jail and early cemetery fodder.

Many single mothers swear as Suleman has that they will be good, devoted and loving mothers and that they will be able to foot the bill for their children’s care and upbringing. That’s not a small point in the furor over single mothers. The prospect that Suleman who’s not only a single mother but an unemployed single mother who filed workers compensation claims, bankruptcy, and had a mountain of debt, might put the state (taxpayers) in hock for the medical care and treatment of the octuplets drew loud howls of protest.

This is not a totally unfair concern. Kaiser Hospital shelled out a reported cool million for delivery, treatment, and care costs for the octuplets. Few single mothers, and that certainly includes Suleman, have a prayer of paying this cost out of pocket. Suleman gave no indication that she had a clue that someone else will have to pay the staggering cost of their ongoing care.

This is not to pass moral judgment on Suleman’s act, legions have already done plenty of that. Suleman may well prove her scoffers, bashers, and revilers all wrong. She may find a way to pay the freight for all 14 children, provide them with a warm, stable and loving home, and even stroll down the aisle with a mate. This would transform her from the poster single mom for irresponsible induced baby making to a true American motherhood success story. She would hardly be the first single mother to become a productive, paragon of achievement. Anything is posssible.
Whatever happens, Suleman was right that single mother’s do unfairly get beat up on for creating societal’s ills. Unfortunately Suleman insured that the beating will continue.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).