NPR adopted white supremacist Jason Kessler's false equivalence frame
Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.
NPR’s Morning Edition gave a gift to white supremacists, in the manner in which the show paired an interview with the white supremacist organizer of the Unite the Right rally alongside an interview with a Black Lives Matter activist.
On its August 10 edition, NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the upcoming second edition of the Unite the Right rally -- the gathering of racists that, on its first edition last year in Charlottesville, VA, resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd. While NPR’s Noel King effectively highlighted the bigotry of Kessler’s views and pushed back on his baseless claims of censorship and underrepresentation, the show adopted Kessler’s absurd frame as it immediately followed up his interview by bringing on Hawk Newsome, the president of Black Lives Matter New York, to comment on the rally.
The bizarre juxtaposition is particularly evident from NPR's segment titles:
During his appearance on NPR, Kessler -- who has secured permits from the National Park Service for the rally in Washington, D.C., this Sunday -- asserted he was “not a white supremacist” and that he was a “human and civil rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.” For the past year, Kessler and other white supremacists have been entangled in a debate about the best way to present their bigoted views, focusing on whitewashing their racism by asserting themselves as a “positive, mainstream movement” which “primarily focus[es] on whites, who are uniquely denied the right to guard their survival and advocate their interests.” Kessler pushed this narrative on the show, seeking legitimacy by claiming white people aren’t “allowed to organize into political organizations” to push their interests and then drew a false equivalence of Unite the Right to Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, and what he seeks to accomplish by organizing his rally.
JASON KESSLER: I’m not a white supremacist, I’m not even a white nationalist. I consider myself a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.
NOEL KING (HOST): The underrepresented Caucasian demographic. In what ways are white people in America underrepresented?
KESSLER: Well, because they’re the only group that is not allowed to organize into political organizations and lobbies and talk explicitly about what interests are important to them as a people. You have Blacks, who are able to organize with Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, you have Jews who have the ADL, Muslims have CAIR.
Immediately after airing Kessler’s interview, NPR brought on Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter, and asked him why he declined Kessler’s invitation to speak at the racist rally. Newsome condemned Kessler and underscored his refusal to be tokenized by white supremacists.
NPR played into the white supremacist tactics of false equivalence by featuring Newsome’s interview right after Kessler’s. While it’s crucial to include voices of color, seek the perspectives of those affected directly by white supremacy, and provide coverage to the activists protesting the Unite the Right rally, NPR failed to offer forceful pushback to Kessler’s absurd claim that white supremacists are equivalent to groups legitimately fighting for equality, seemingly delegating that responsibility to Newsome. It’s also debatable whether audiences benefited from listening to Kessler citing Charles Murray’s debunked writings as scientific evidence of some races being superior to others, or whether white supremacists deserve a mainstream platform in the first place.
What’s undeniable is that NPR committed “journalistic malpractice” by presenting Black Lives Matter as the “other side” of white supremacy.