I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Race plays proxy role in health care debate
I got goosebumps when I saw it – an Associated Press picture of a swastika painted on the office sign of U.S. Rep. David Scott, a black Georgia congressman who dared express support of a health care reform initiative that would commit increased public funds to health care reform.
That happened on Aug. 11, and it was just the beginning of a wave of hate directed against the president of the United States and members of Congress who dared to show support for a proposed health care plan that would insure tens of millions of Americans who aren’t covered now.
Swastikas and posters with the president or other elected officials depicted as Hitler have become the pointless but disturbing currency of health care protestors who say the proposed plan amounts to “socialism.”
One blank-eyed woman showed up at a town hall Tuesday hosted by Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, holding a picture of President Barack Obama she had defaced to look like Hitler.
She asked Frank, who happens to be Jewish, why he supports a “Nazi” health care plan.
After asking her what planet she was from, Frank made short work of her.
In New Mexico, so far we have been spared that kind of spectacle. Rep. Ben Lujan Jr.’s town hall in Santa Fe was reportedly free of hateful rhetoric and images, as was Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s recent town hall in Clovis.
But as I look at the sea of angry people at town halls across America holding their signs and screaming and I can’t help but think that what they are so angry about isn’t health care at all.
At the meetings, people revel in the chance to berate their local elected representatives but seem to save their greatest fury for President Obama. Some, in signs or shouts, have even called for his death and the death of his wife and children.
What does any of this have to do with health care?
Many in the media have been reluctant to call out the protestors for the deeply disturbing nature of the signs and chants that have emerged against Obama in recent days.
Not Sherrilyn A. Ifill, writing at the African-American-oriented site TheRoot.com.
“There is a legitimate debate to be had about health care reform. Without question, some town hall participants legitimately want to engage in this debate. But the use of swastikas, racist imagery and death threats against the president have nothing to do with single-payer, public option or end-of-life counseling. It has everything to do with racism.”
Certainly, not everyone at the rallies has a problem with race, said Ifill.
“But the fact that attendees brandishing these images and sentiments are not loudly denounced, or otherwise vilified, by the other participants in the meetings speaks volumes,” she writes.
Ifill’s spot-on analysis got me thinking about something else I read this week. A journalism professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia wrote a piece suggesting that media outlets cover racism as a “beat,” just as they cover schools or crime.
The major media outlets used to do that back in the 1960’s, building story upon story and ultimately playing a large role in uncovering racial practices and behaviors that repelled much of the country and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, writes Prof. Charles Davis.
Maybe, now that “hate is back, larger and nastier than ever,” it’s time for journalists to start doing that again, Davis writes.
“As a near-absolutist First Amendment advocate, my prescription for hate speech is always more speech: Give the bigot a microphone as big as the hatred, I say, and watch as the marketplace of ideas works its magic. Perhaps that’s why I worry, as I watch an emboldened mob grow more irresponsible with each passing day, that the mainstream media fails to give hate the coverage it deserves today. My proposition is simple: Major news organizations need to cover hate the way they once did — as a standalone beat.”
It’s a worthy idea – and something no other journalistic outlet has dedicated serious resources to thus far. The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate groups and hate-related incidents and does a great job with periodic reports that keep the media informed.
But I’d love to see more resources devoted to the “hate beat” as an investigative journalistic enterprise.
Unfortunately, whoever tackles a beat like that is going to be busy for a long, long time.