In some places not far from Idaho it’s open season on journalists. Last week’s attack on a reporter in Montana may bring forth a revolution in media relations. I’m not recommending the new approach. Judging by what I’m reading on Facebook and Twitter a great many Americans approve of violence against news media. It’s why I expect we’ll see more body slamming and more broken glasses. The fellow from the Guardian newspaper didn’t do himself any favors when he’s heard in a Caspar Milquetoast voice announcing his glasses are damaged. The smack down does underscore how difficult it can be to try and get a story. Much of the social media response is along the line of, “He got what was coming!”
Let’s stand back for a moment and point out most media criticism is centered on national news. Much of which is based on the coasts. Local reporters are chasing stories about parking ordinances, sewage treatment plants and downtown rehabilitation. These are the stories covered by local newspapers, TV and radio reporters. At the local level to a lesser extent by stand-alone websites. The people staffing local newsrooms are not part of the coastal groupthink. In big city newsrooms and at the old alphabet networks and most of what we quaintly called cable news we’ve seen a revolution of a different sort. Bill Keller served as executive editor at the New York Times for the better part of a decade before stepping aside six years ago. He refused to call his paper liberal. Instead he used the euphemistic “urban” as his description. His public editor pointed out the two were synonymous. The “urban” ethos among practitioners of journalism at coastal newspapers and television counterparts is at odds with huge geographical swaths of the United States. The idea readers, listeners and viewers can make up their own minds from basic facts is shelved in exchange for urban evangelism. The coastal elites view themselves as hip, enlightened and on a mission to tame the savages in fly-over country. The hipster’s candidate called the savages “deplorables.”
I should note the people who squeal the loudest when it comes to protecting the First Amendment would gut number two. Of the five liberties guaranteed in the First Amendment there doesn’t appear any media respect for freedom of religion. I’ll note the courts (not yet, anyway) have not found for any faith practicing human sacrifice. Because at the time of the founding of the United States tossing babies into the flames to appease Baal wasn’t a cultural norm (a more modern court found for Baal in 1973 by the argument there were “penumbras, formed by emanations”). From an originalist perspective freedom of the press never involved trench coats, swilling of whiskey and the boys on the back of the bus. The journalism of the 20th century wasn’t an institution recognized by James Madison. The men who ratified the Constitution knew well the tale of John Peter Zenger. He had been tried half a century earlier for criticizing the colonial governor of New York. Zenger wasn’t scribbling away at council meetings. He published opinions. We’ve now come full circle.
While local journalists generally still play by rules promulgated over the last century, coastal media more resembles the opinion journals of the 18th century. This is an evolution. It began during the first Nixon administration. While reading Pat Buchanan’s latest book about his time advising the president, the author explains newspapers created op-ed pages en masse to address charges of liberal editorial bias. Buchanan wrote speeches for the vice president and president attacking news for its political drift. Papers, still a dominant daily presence in 1971, adjusted to blunt the allegations. A decade later we saw the rise of 24-hour-a-day television news. There simply weren’t enough stories to fill the clock. Opinion shows filled the void. Hosted by men like Buchanan and by opinion columnists from large coastal papers. Then the political hacks were invited into the arena. People along the lines of Chris Matthews, Mike Huckabee and Lawrence O’Donnell. These people aren’t journalists and, yet, to a large extent, they set the agenda for news media in America. Last month I saw some startling figures. Between the coasts there has been a severe contraction of newsrooms and newsmen and women. Meanwhile, in Washington, New York and San Francisco the number of news jobs has exploded. The internet revolution hasn’t been kind to media between Lake Tahoe and Teaneck. Web news is mainly a national presence and it’s dominated by Bill Keller’s “urban” ethos.
These urbanites despise people like me. I go to church. I vote conservative. I believe a boy born a boy is always a boy. The editor of this newspaper calls my traditional outlook shocking! Why? Because a quarter century ago there were people in Manchester, England, singing the praises of welcoming cities and diversity. I daily point to the folly of the “urban” enlightened now permeating our own communities with their pap. The editor of this paper claims local Republican state legislators are more moderate than the people doing most of the daily sweating in the Magic Valley. So much, then, for representative government. I’ll wager editors and publishers at small-town papers are more liberal than their reporters. Because it’s cool to be “urban.” Then who best represents the values of this valley? I look at him every morning in the bathroom mirror.
While I don’t recommend the body slamming of reporters I understand the public’s reaction. Much of what I’m seeing on Facebook reminds me of a crowd cheering on their team. Greg Gianforte just caught the long ball and did an end zone dance. What he did was wrong, but if media refuses to examine its own collective conscience a great many journalists are going to be shopping for new glasses.
Regardless of how we might feel about the future of refugee resettlement, one reality we share is actual refugees are here, now, at present. That’s our reality. Looking at this current reality, there seems to be a relational divide between locals and refugees. This divide expresses itself, I believe, as some form of opposition (“leave”), or minimizing (“I will continue living as though you do not exist”). Nonetheless, I remain as hopeful as ever about the future of Twin Falls and the US.
I’m optimistic that progress is possible, and I wonder if interaction is a small, but important, step forward. At least for me, as I look back at my life, hearing people’s stories has been a meaningful way to connect. So I sat down recently with a man named Navid, who has resettled from Afghanistan to Twin Falls, for a conversation to hear his story. I wanted to share this conversation with anyone who is interested, so I’ve posted it in podcast-form at the link here. I felt very grateful for this opportunity.https://soundcloud.com/smalltownbigdreamspodcast. If you’d like to hear more conversations like this, please let me know.
Richard Collins III, fatally stabbed last weekend on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, was as innocent as the 22 victims slain in the Manchester suicide bombing on Monday. Collins, an African-American, newly commissioned U.S. Army officer from Maryland, was, like the victims of the Manchester, England, massacre, not bothering anybody. Slated to graduate from Bowie State University this week, Collins was simply out with friends enjoying himself. So, too, were those killed and wounded in Manchester.
Authorities are investigating Collins’ death, allegedly at the hands of a knife-wielding University of Maryland student, Sean Urbanski, as a possible hate crime. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaking on the House floor, called the killing of his constituent a “vicious crime probably motivated by hate.” The cause has not been pinned down.
In Manchester, there’s certainty.
That attack is deemed an act of terrorism spurred by an aim to intimidate and make a statement about the presumed religion, nationality and cultural values of the victims. The Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the murders has not been substantiated.
But the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, reportedly was radicalized recently. Flirtation with the dark side may have also attracted Urbanski.
According to University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell, Urbanski belonged to a Facebook group where members post racist and other offensive statements. Mitchell described the postings as “despicable” and said they showed “extreme bias against women, Latinos, persons of the Jewish faith and especially African-Americans.”
What’s striking about these unprovoked attacks is how much is known about motivators of extremists abroad and how little is known, or at least discussed, about instigators of extremism here at home.
On Sunday, President Trump denounced those who practice terrorism and spread its “vile creed.” And he urged his listeners to “stand in uniform condemnation” of terrorism and “barbaric attacks.”
Trump’s message, however, was delivered to an international audience in Saudi Arabia.
Would that the president’s voice could be heard on threats posed here at home.
It would be good to hear a presidential condemnation of the kind of hate being investigated as behind Collins’ death.
Or hear Trump express outrage at the March stabbing of an African-American manin New York, allegedly by a white supremacist from Maryland who police say admitted traveling to the Big Apple to indulge his long- harbored hatred of black men. He wanted to trigger a killing spree against African-Americans, police said.
Those individual hate crimes apparently don’t rise to presidential attention, at least not like Manchester’s multiple deaths, which tend to focus the mind. But solitary attacks add up.
As the Anti-Defamation League noted in a new report, “A Dark & Constant Rage: 25 Years of Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States,” the United States has experienced a long string of terrorist incidents, with many connected not to Islamist terrorists but to right-wing extremists.
The findings were startling.
The ADL analyzed 150 terrorist acts in the United States that were committed, attempted or plotted by right-wing extremists. “More than 800 people were killed or injured in these attacks,” the ADL said, noting that the attacks “surged during the mid-to-late 1990s and again starting in 2009”—the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The also looked at other acts of violence and determined that “from 2007 to 2016, a range of domestic extremists of all kinds were responsible for the deaths of at least 372 people across the country. Seventy-four percent of these murders came at the hands of right-wing extremists such as white supremacists, sovereign citizens and militia adherents.”
And, reported the ADL, the hate and terror mongers choose their marks carefully: Jews, Muslims and—the most common racial target—African-Americans.
According to The Post, a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino showed an overall increase of 13 percent in hate crimes reported, with 1,812 incidents reported in 2016—the year of our nasty, hate-filled presidential race.
So how about pivoting from Saudi Arabia to turn White House attention to our own homegrown terrorist problem? After all, right-wing extremism may be the predicate that led a hate-filled white student to pick up a knife in the middle of spring commencement celebrations and stab an innocent and promising young man of color to death.
Surely that is worth a presidential thought or two.
Manchester has prompted elevation of Britain’s threat level to its highest.
In light of Richard Collins’ murder, the discovery of a noose in a fraternity house this month, as well as white supremacist fliers posted on campus earlier this year, where is the University of Maryland’s threat level? How about America’s?
After all, haters seem emboldened as never before.