Fox News and right-wing talking heads like Rush Limbaugh have not hesitated to inject harmful and unnecessary racial overtones into their coverage of an Australian teen shot and killed at random in Oklahoma. Fox and Rush are feeding into a well-worn script of biased media coverage of violent crimes that academic research has shown favors white people and disparages black people with seriously ill effects on racial comity and equal justice in America.
On August 16, three teens -- one white, two black -- shot and killed Christopher Lane, an Australian attending school in Oklahoma, while he was out for a jog.
Conservative media figures pounced on the story with a racial lens. On his radio show, Limbaugh called the murder, "Trayvon Martin in reverse, only worse," and speculated that the teenagers "got bored and said, 'Let's go shoot a white guy!'"
Over at Fox News, guest Pat Buchanan appeared on the set of On the Record With Greta Van Susteren to predict that the shooting was "racial" while running through a list of dubious statistics on interracial crime that he used to claim that "racial hate crimes [are] 40 times more prevalent in the black community than the white community, and nobody talks about it."
On the morning side, Fox & Friends wondered why civil rights activists Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson hadn't responded to the murder, while Fox News' White House correspondent Ed Henry asked Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest if the White House had any reaction to Lane's murder "apparently by three African-American young men."
Unfortunately, Fox News' coverage of this tragedy fits a long pattern of racially-biased media coverage of crime stories -- a pattern that has demonstrably harmful effects. Professor of media & public affairs at George Washington University Robert Entman highlighted a few of the subtle media trends recorded in various studies. They include:
1. Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to appear as lawbreakers in the news - particularly when the news is focusing on violent crime. [...]
2. [W]hites are overrepresented as victims of violence and as law-enforcers, while blacks are underrepresented in these sympathetic roles.
3. [B]lacks in criminal roles tend to outnumber blacks in socially positive roles in newscasts and daily newspapers. [...]
4. [D]epictions of black suspects...tend to be more symbolically threatening than those of whites accused of similar crimes...In the ubiquitous "perp walks," blacks were twice as likely as whites to be shown under some form of physical restraint by police - although all were accused of scary and generally violent crimes.
7. [B]lack victims are less likely to be covered than white victims in newspaper coverage of crime.
Pat Buchanan continued his long history of racially controversial statements by using the murder of an Australian student in Oklahoma to engage in a discussion of interracial violence that appeared to serve no purpose other than to perpetuate stereotypes of African Americans.
Last week, an Australian baseball player jogging in an Oklahoma neighborhood was shot and killed "by three 'bored' teenagers who decided to kill someone for fun."
On the August 21 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, guest Pat Buchanan speculated that the shooting was "racial" (even though one of the alleged perpetrators is white). He blamed hip-hop, rap, and cable television for engendering a culture of violence among young African-Americans before claiming that "racial hate crimes" are "40 times more prevalent in the black community than the white community, and nobody talks about it." He argued that African-Americans are disproportionately violent and pointed out that "interracial rape is almost exclusively black-on-white," comments that echo century-old stereotypes of African-American men as innately brutish predators.
The co-hosts of Fox News' The Five struggled to grasp the facts surrounding the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) use of a law enforcement tool known as stop-and-frisk. In their rush to attack a federal court decision finding the NYPD tactics violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, the Fox figures bungled even the most basic stop-and-frisk facts.
Federal judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on August 12 that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk violated the constitutional rights of minorities in New York City. According to the New York Times, Scheindlin determined that "the Police Department resorted to a 'policy of indirect racial profiling' as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers' routinely stopping 'blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.'" Indeed, between 2011 and 2012, nearly nine out of ten people stopped by NYPD for a stop-and-frisk were black or Hispanic.
Fox's The Five responded by attacking the decision with a litany of falsehoods about stop-and-frisk, mangling even the most basic aspects of the practice.
Various co-hosts claimed the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy was behind the reduction in murder rates and firearms confiscations in New York City.
While New York's violent crime rates are indeed falling, statistics indicate this is not due to the NYPD's accelerated stop-and-frisk program. New York's murder rate began dropping before stop-and-frisk was ramped up. According to Forbes contributor Naomi Robbins, the "astronomical increase in stop-and-frisk came well after the significant decrease in number of murders, and thus cannot be the cause of the drop." As for guns, fewer than 0.5 percent of stop-and-frisk stops produce one, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union:
Tellingly, the hosts ignored the fact that multiple cities without similar stop-and-frisk policies have had greater reductions in violent crime than New York.
A New York Times profile of Georgia anti-immigration activist D.A. King left out important context about King's white nationalist ties and the similarly racist background of NumbersUSA, a nationally prominent nativist organization cited in the article.
On August 7, The New York Times published an article detailing efforts by King and his organization, the Dustin Inman Society -- a group named after a boy killed in a car accident by a driver who was an undocumented immigrant -- to pressure Congressional Republicans to oppose efforts at immigration policy reform. The Times interviewed King and described some of his anti-immigrant policy stances while also highlighting his influence with NumbersUSA:
D. A. King, who quit his job as an insurance agent a decade ago to wage a full-time campaign against illegal immigration in Georgia, is one reason this state rivals Arizona for the toughest legal crackdown in the country. With his Southern manners and seersucker jackets, he works the halls of the gold-domed statehouse, familiar to all, polite and uncompromising.
Now, like other local activists around the country, he is looking beyond Georgia to stop the House of Representatives from following the Senate and passing legislation that would open a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
As lawmakers return to their home districts for the August recess, advocates like Mr. King are joining forces with national groups that oppose legalization and favor reduced immigration for an all-out populist push.
"These local people live in the middle of these places, they know how to be effective in their districts," said Roy Beck, executive director of one of the largest national groups, NumbersUSA, who is now holding regular strategy calls with Mr. King and more than 50 other state advocates.
The Times' profile of King made note of some of the activist's inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric -- for example, King's depiction of Latino groups as "tribalists" and his description of immigration from Mexico to the U.S. as "an invasion" -- but omitted ties to white nationalist figures that permeate both King's and NumbersUSA's past.
NBC Entertainment's plans to produce and air a miniseries about Hillary Clinton just ahead of the 2016 presidential election raises serious questions about NBC News coverage of the former U.S. Senator and secretary of state and whether it will be slanted or tainted by the parent company's commercial interests.
On July 27, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt announced plans for a Clinton-based miniseries timed to precede the 2016 presidential race as part of a new NBC effort "to create 'event' programming that will draw viewers to the shrinking world of broadcast network TV."
NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd acknowledged the complication this will create in a series of posts on his Twitter account, surmising that "Clinton lovers or haters will assume some sort of NBC News involvement" and assuring his followers that NBC News "has nothing to do" with the miniseries.
NBC News, via Todd, appears to be publicly quarantining itself from NBC Entertainment, though the network itself has yet to address the thorny ethical issues raised by the close nexus between NBC News and NBC Entertainment and the financial interests at stake in NBC producing a miniseries connected to Clinton's potential political future. It remains to be seen whether American media consumers will accept the distinction and whether NBC's reputation for objective journalism will be tarnished by NBC's pursuit of ratings gold.
Right-wing media have responded to a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with a barrage of false attacks and overheated rhetoric. The rule, which attempts to increase minority access to community resources like public transportation and education, has been called an act of "tyranny" designed to "encourage diversity, for diversity's sake."
In a press briefing July 19, President Obama responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago...the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn't go away." Right-wing media figures responded to the president's remarks with attacks.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly sent his producer Jesse Watters to interview participants at Brooklyn, NY's historic Mermaid Parade. The resulting video package mocked the appearance and demeanor of the interviewees -- many of whom were dressed in drag -- in order to imply the subjects were disgusting, deviant, and unfit to be around children.
The July 11 video package, part of a recurring segment on The O'Reilly Factor dubbed "Watters' World," featured clips of the Fox contributor conducting interviews with attendants and participants of Brooklyn's Mermaid Parade, a large art parade founded in 1983 with the goal of promoting self-esteem and self-expression in the Coney Island neighborhood.
The package featured Watters asking parade-goers dressed in drag and in costumes a variety of questions, followed by derisive reactions from either Watters or from inserted film clips that depicted famous actors and actresses in moments exuding disgust or disdain. One clip of an attendee dancing near Watters was spliced together with a clip of Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura character puking into a toilet. At one point, Watters asked a parade-goer -- who revealed he was a teacher -- whether he was "setting a good example" for children:
After the package played, O'Reilly opined, "I'm not being a wiseguy or being offensive. It seems like there are a lot of gays attracted to this ... Why is that?'':
WATTERS: I think a lot of the transvestite community descends on Coney Island during this parade. I have no idea why. But they're very flamboyant and set the tone for the rest of the parade.
O'REILLY: Just a week ago there was a gay pride parade. How many parades do you want?
WATTERS: Well they like parades! They're into pageantry, they like to show off their wares.
O'REILLY: Well was that the prevailing theme here? Crossing dressing, transvestite people?
O'Reilly has a history of promoting damaging depictions of people who don't conform to strict gender norms, including advising parents to punish boys who like the color pink and warning that watching transgender people on television might cause kids to experiment with homosexuality.
A day after Rush Limbaugh walked back his criticism of Fox News and declared they were "on the same team," Fox hosted the conservative radio host and allowed him to opine on the subject of immigration reform -- a subject the network had previously avoided with Limbaugh.
On July 2, Limbaugh complained on his radio show that during an earlier interview on Fox & Friends, Fox had not allowed him to talk about immigration reform or the state of the Republican Party. Limbaugh said he requested to discuss the topic "three or four times" but the network was "not interested in bringing this subject up," which Limbaugh sniped was "quite telling."
The following week Limbaugh criticized the network again. When a radio caller complained about a liberal Fox contributor, Limbaugh told him to "stop watching these people"
On July 9, Limbaugh walked back his complaints of Fox, asserting, "I did not tell anybody to stop watching Fox" and stressing that there is no Fox News policy in place that censors him from discussing immigration. Limbaugh said that "this whole drummed-up thing between Fox and me" is "all B.S." He emphasized that he and Fox are "on the same team."
The next day, Fox's The Five hosted Rush Limbaugh via telephone to discuss immigration reform efforts, among other topics. The Five, which rarely features guests, allowed Limbaugh to discuss his opposition to immigration reform for nearly ten minutes.
The nexus between Fox and Limbaugh is well-established. Fox News hosted Limbaugh a day after he thanked the network for defending his 2012 tirade against Sandra Fluke.
Glenn Beck launched a sordid smear campaign against Teresa Heinz Kerry, the hospitalized wife of Secretary of State John Kerry, accusing her and the State Department of orchestrating her medical scare to divert public attention away from reports about the whereabouts of her husband during Egypt's most recent transition of power. In a pair of cheap shots on his radio program and web show, Beck speculated that Heinz Kerry is lying and drew an institutional connection between what he baselessly suggests is Heinz Kerry's fake injury and the 2012 concussion suffered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which Beck referred to at the time as a "scam."
On July 3, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by the country's military leaders amidst popular protests. That same day, CBS reported that one of its producers had spotted Secretary Kerry aboard a yacht in the Nantucket Boat Basin. The State Department denied the allegations, and noted that Kerry was "working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt."
Four days later on July 7, 74-year-old Heinz Kerry, Kerry's wife, was hospitalized with symptoms of a seizure that left her in critical condition. Doctors upgraded her condition to "fair" on Monday morning.
On his radio show, Beck compared Heinz Kerry's hospitalization to that of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a blood clot, which he suggested was orchestrated to distract the press from the Benghazi attacks. Beck called the State Department's denial of Kerry's whereabouts a "huge scandal" and wondered if Heinz Kerry's injury -- which took place four days after Morsi's ouster -- was also orchestrated as a distraction, asking "You expect me to believe that Mrs. Ketchup is in critical condition? I mean, no offense, maybe she is." Beck then compared Heinz Kerry's medical scare to Clinton's in 2012, wondering of Clinton's treatment, "Was that just a scam?"
Beck repeated his accusation on his web show, saying of Clinton's hospitalization and treatment, "I didn't believe that. That was to get out of Benghazi." He equated this with Heinz Kerry, adding:
BECK: I mean, I wish Teresa Heinz Kerry the best. But I find it fascinating that she is in critical condition this weekend after the State Department was caught in a lie. The same day the State Department is caught in a massive, massive lie, the same the press is no longer asking anybody about that, because Teresa Heinz is now in the hospital. So, you can't ask any tough questions. This government has zero credibility.
Beck has a history of capitalizing on his media presence to lob attacks against powerful women during their most vulnerable moments. In December, when Clinton first sustained a concussion, Beck ridiculed her and asked whether Clinton's injury was a "scam," claiming, "She shouldn't be President of the United States if she's going into the hospital for some sort of heart condition or brain condition or whatever she was in the hospital for."
Other right-wing media figures joined in mocking Clinton's injury. Several pundits on Fox News Channel accused Clinton of faking her injury in order to avoid testifying before Congress about the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.