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 found the silver linings in segregation, claiming that segregated schools were "the transmission belts of patriotism and traditional values rooted in biblical truths" and noting that segregated schools today would be deemed unconstitutional, despite having "graduated hardworking, law-abiding and productive citizens."
From Buchanan's August 23 syndicated column:
If we go back to the end of World War II, 90 percent of black families consisted of a mother and father and children raised and disciplined by their parents. The churches to which these families went on Sundays were stronger. Black schools may have been largely segregated, but they were also the transmission belts of patriotism and traditional values rooted in biblical truths and a Christian faith.
Though such schools graduated hardworking, law-abiding and productive citizens, today they would be closed as unconstitutional.
Indeed, all of those character- and conscience-forming institutions of yesterday are in an advanced state of decline today.
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.
Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan added his voice to the chorus of right-wing defenders of Russia's crackdown on gays and their supporters, writing that international criticism of Russia shows people can no longer distinguish between "good and evil."
In his August 13 syndicated column, Buchanan took America's "moral and cultural elites" to task for their opposition to Russian laws banning the positive depiction of homosexuality and the adoption of Russian children by any foreign couples from countries with marriage equality. Buchanan pined for the days when society ostracized gays, while lauding Russian President Vladimir Putin for seeking to restore a "moral compass" to Russia by implementing its anti-gay policies:
Our moral and cultural elites have put Putin on notice: Get in step with us on homosexual rights -- or we may just boycott your Sochi games.
What this reveals is the distance America has traveled, morally and culturally, in a few short years, and our amnesia about who we Americans once were, and what it is we once believed.
Putin is trying to re-establish the Orthodox Church as the moral compass of the nation it had been for 1,000 years before Russia fell captive to the atheistic and pagan ideology of Marxism.
"The adoption of Christianity," declared Putin, "became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped turn it into one of the largest world powers."
Anyone ever heard anything like that from the Post, the Times or Barack Hussein Obama?
Buchanan is fond of mourning "who we Americans once were." He's made a career of predicting the imminent collapse of American civilization as a result of Latino immigration, cozied up to white supremacists, and traced the decline of a once-great America to the historical moment when Americans started to affirm "[t]hat women and men are equal ... and that all races, religions, and ethnic groups are equal." It's no surprise, then, that he finds a kindred spirit in the retrograde Putin.
President Obama noted that analysis of the George Zimmerman trial has led to a misguided focus on black crime rates. Indeed, the right-wing media have repeatedly hyped black crime statistics in the wake of the trial, often without acknowledging factors contributing to the problem and perception of black men as criminals.
House Republicans reportedly plan to remove food stamp funding from the federal farm bill, a move that stands to further jeopardize the survival of the critical anti-poverty program. This move comes after years of right-wing media figures demonizing food stamp recipients as lazy or dependent, with Rush Limbaugh going so far as to propose dumpster diving as an alternative.
Here's a look back at some of the most egregious right-wing attacks on food stamps:
In his May 14 syndicated column, Pat Buchanan wrote that former Heritage Foundation researcher Jason Richwine "scandalized the Potomac priesthood" with his doctoral dissertation arguing that Hispanic immigrants may never "reach IQ parity with whites." Buchanan then bolstered Richwine's work by citing examples of what he called "underclass behavior" by Hispanics:
The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, which measures the academic ability of 15-year-olds worldwide, found the U.S.A. falling to 17th in reading, 23rd in science, 31st in math.
Yet, Spain aside, not one Hispanic nation, from which a plurality of our immigrants come, was among the top 40 in reading, science or math.
But these folks are going to come here and make us No. 1 again?
Is there greater "underclass behavior" among Hispanics?
The crime rate among Hispanics is about three times that of white Americans, while the Asian crime rate is about a third that of whites.
Among white folks, the recent illegitimacy rate was 28 percent; among Hispanics, 53 percent. According to one study a few years back, Hispanics were 19 times as likely as whites to join gangs.
If our huge bloc of Hispanics, already America's largest minority at 53 million, is fed by constant new immigration, but fails for a couple of generations to reach the middle-class status that Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and Poles attained after two generations, what becomes of our "indivisible" nation?
Rather than face this question, better to purge and silence the Harvard extremist who dared to raise it.
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
From the September 18 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta van Susteren:
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Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney debunked the theory that rounding up and deporting immigrants is a solution to economic problems -- a notion that is widespread throughout the conservative media.
During an appearance on Fox & Friends to discuss Greece's efforts to round up and deport undocumented immigrants, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Varney if deporting immigrants would help Greece's economy and whether America should "follow suit."
Varney said that rounding up and deporting immigrants wouldn't help Greece with its economic problems and denied that they were taking jobs from Greek citizens. He also said that we shouldn't round up immigrants in the United States either:
VARNEY: Should America follow suit, a round up of illegals here? I would say absolutely not. We're not in financial crisis, and we're a very different country. We have a very strong tradition of acceptance of people from all over the world, legal or illegal, we don't round them up and throw them out. We don't do that, thank heavens.
Economists agree that immigration is beneficial to the American economy and that immigrants don't have a negative impact on the jobs of American-born workers. And studies have shown that comprehensive immigration reform could lead to a boost to the economy.
But the myth that undocumented immigrants harm the economy is very common in the right-wing media.
From the August 5 edition of The McLaughlin Group:
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On the July 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, anchor Bret Baier welcomed Pat Buchanan to his "all-star panel" with Fox News contributors Juan Williams and Charles Krauthammer. Buchanan's appearance with Krauthammer comes with an acrimonious history -- Krauthammer has long been one of Buchanan's harshest critics, having charged that he holds a "fascist world view"; appeals to prejudice and bigotry; "fan[s] hatred for Jews"; and has been "getting away" with his repugnant views.
Buchanan famously left MSNBC in the midst of controversy surrounding his book Suicide Of A Superpower and his lengthy history of racially insensitive, anti-Semitic, and homophobic remarks. Following his departure, Buchanan has found a platform on Fox News, where he's regularly appeared on Fox News' Hannity. Yesterday was his first appearance on Special Report, Fox's flagship political program, since his departure.
The appearance may not have been a welcome sight for Krauthammer, the show's most frequent panelist and a Buchanan critic for decades. More recently, in a December appearance on Special Report, Krauthammer suggested he agreed with William Buckley's critique that Buchanan's rhetoric was unacceptable in the conservative movement.
From the July 8 edition of The McLaughlin Group:
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From the May 17 edition of Fox Business' Stossel:
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From the May 14 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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