The media manufactured spectacle that is and was the Shirley Sherrod incident tells us all we need to know about Andrew Brietbart, Fox “News” and the dangers of extremist hack media– unregulated, irresponsible and unethical– run amok.
Of course, I speak of the firing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture official based on a heavily edited video of a speech she gave at an NAACP event in Georgia. Ms. Sherrod is the wife of a SNCC cofounder, and she became a civil rights activist after her father, a black farmer, was lynched by a white farmer. Ms. Sherrod described how she overcame her reluctance to give her all in helping a white farmer who acted superior towards her. In the end, she helped him. She realized that the issue was not as much about race as it was about poor whites and poor blacks finding themselves in the same situation. And good for her.
But the doctored up video, brought to us by conservative blogger and hatchet man Andrew Breitbart, made Sherrod appear as if she denied assistance to the white farmer, end of story. And Breitbart has lots of practice at this sort of thing, fraud, that is, as the “person” who introduced to us via Fox News the fabricated ACORN pimp video that brought down the nonprofit organization.
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It’s not as if we should have been surprised this time around, yet some people were. Many reporters were snookered. The NAACP was hoodwinked. And most of all, the seemingly invertebrate Obama administration was so fooled, or scared, or both, that they fired the woman without due process. I’m sorry, even worse, they forced Ms. Sherrod to pull over the car and type her resignation on her blackberry. And as a wise man once said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
To watch the lambasting of Shirley Sherrod on Fox News before the facts were known was unbearable. At the same time, one should not depend on Fox for actual news. You could conceivably drink a tall glass of soy sauce with dinner and pretend it is a beverage, but it wasn’t intended for that purpose.
It is safe to say that Fox News, like its movie and television divisions, is pure entertainment, that is, if you get your entertainment from a lynchmob.
And lynchings in this country once were considered a form of entertainment by some, believe it or not. Often the victim– typically a black man accused of insulting a white woman, or perhaps a black man having the nerve to wear his army uniform, or just any black man walking–was beaten, burned, stabbed or hanged. Often, torture and castration was involved, and various unspeakable body parts were cut off as souvenirs. White women and young children were on hand with picnic baskets to observe in the family-like atmosphere. Railroad agents even sold tickets to the events. And frequently among the instigators and participants were not only lowlife good ol’ boys, but the community’s business and political leadership.
In today’s polarizing political climate with declining journalistic standards, sloppy fact checking and faltering government oversight, Fox News serves as the ticket agent to the lynching. They even handle the promotion and advertising. They participate in a high-tech media lynching of sorts, somewhat akin to what Justice Clarence Thomas described at his confirmation hearings, except that he was (and still is) full of it.
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Like the politicized Bush Justice Department under the guidance of Karl Rove, Fox News and other conservative media decide on a narrative beforehand, and lie and fabricate to fit that narrative. The Bush DOJ, stacked with an army of televangelist law school graduates, pursued imaginary cases of voter fraud, anti-white voter intimidation and discrimination against Christians. Those prosecutors who did not comply were fired.
Similarly, Fox is filled with vacuous news models who dutifully read the scripts prepared for them. The hot topic these days among the conservative movement is the myth of rampant black racism against whites, and the truth be damned. This narrative serves an important purpose for Republicans, which is to energize the Tea Party base, and kick out the Democrats in the midterms and in 2012. Then once they impeach Obama, they’ll finish off the job of ruining the country through a supply-side nightmare that Bush came close to fulfilling. It’s that deep, and yet that simple.
Don’t get me wrong, freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. As a writer, I appreciate the ability to speak and write freely about this or any other issue. But inciting a lynchmob is quite another matter. What we’re witnessing is the use of the media specifically to spread lies, defame, and hurt groups of people, in this case based on race, solely for political gain. And that’s downright dangerous and antidemocratic. Why, that’s the type of thing you would expect from one of those fascist and communist governments that the ultra-conservatives so vocally decry, guilty as they are of psychological projection.
Propagandists without shame, the folks at Fox and others of their ilk would have done well for themselves under the employ of a repressive regime. Surely they would have used their media manipulation skills to publicly dehumanize unpopular groups. Certainly they would have shaped public opinion by scapegoating defenseless minorities, thereby paving the way for laws to make them disappear. And I can’t help but think that someone such as Glenn Beck, or the troubled, attention-craving, perpetually angry Breitbart, would have felt at home in a Rwandan radio station in 1994, inciting violence by encouraging Hutus to exterminate the Tutsi “cockroaches”.
Harsh words? No, harsh people. There’s no telling what they’d do if given half the chance.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor David A. Love, JD is a writer based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Huffington Post, theGrio, the Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service, among others. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson. His blog is davidalove.com.