SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The significance of the Shirley Sherrod affair is clear: an employee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lost her job and was painted as a racist due to the release of an edited, highly misleading video of a speech she made a quarter-century ago. In any rational world, the headline for a story about the case is pretty obvious: “African American woman fired due to bogus charge of racism; victim smeared by video snippet released by conservative group.”
Needless to say, this was not the headline above the idiotic piece that ran in today’s Washington Post by Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson: “New front in racism battle: USDA official’s words provide fodder to those who call Obama biased.”
This was a classic piece of spineless “he said, she said” Washington journalism that was desperately afraid to take a position or state the obvious:
For some on the right, Sherrod’s comments as initially reported reinforced a larger, more sinister narrative: that the administration of the first African American to occupy the White House practices its own brand of racism.
Suspicions on the right that Obama has a hidden agenda — theories stoked in part by conservative media and sometimes involving race — have been a subplot of his rise, beginning almost as soon as he announced his campaign. They lie beneath many of the questions that conservatives on the political fringes have raised about his motives, his legitimacy and even his citizenship…
On the other hand, some of the president’s allies on the left have at times reflexively seen racism as the real force behind the vehemence of the opposition against Obama’s policies and decisions.
So basically both sides are guilty here and questions about Obama’s “motives, his legitimacy and even his citizenship” stem from “[s]uspicions on the right that Obama has a hidden agenda.”
Where does one even begin detailing what’s wrong with all that?
First, there are lots of grounds to criticize the Obama Administration, as I do all the time, but the observation that it is “racist” is moronic and not an idea that should be taken seriously, even in a newspaper that’s afraid of its own shadow.
Second, some liberals no doubt see racism behind opposition to Obama, but it’s also true that some notable percentage of opposition to him stems from racism. Voicing “suspicion” that the president has a secret agenda can be a safer way of expressing racism.
Third, I have no idea what percentage of Tea Party members are racist; presumably it’s a relatively small number. But anyone who has spent any time at rallies of the Tea Party or visited their websites or read their literature can discover that racism very quickly. That doesn’t mean the entire Tea Party is racist, but let’s not ignore the obvious either.
But the Post apparently sees the responsible role of a newspaper as being to take every side of an argument seriously, no matter how inane and politically calculated.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”