To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jussie Smollett Hate-Hoax 'Whitewash' Is A Black Day For Justice In Chicago

Justice isn’t blind in Chicago. It’s just black, as in invincibly racialized, with dark implications for fair and equal application of the law. So while you're pondering today's news about Chicago dropping all charges against racial scam artist Jussie Smollett,  meet Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx. Hailed as Chicago’s first black female district attorney, Foxx recused herself from the Jussie Smollet hate-hoax case a full month ago, not long after she consulted with former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen and declared that she had a personal conflict of interest, which Foxx left unspecified. In the last few days however, Foxx seems to have came back into the case, and her office decided to drop charges against Smollett. The decision has ignited a furor, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fuming that nothing about his decision is “on the level,” implying official corruption in a variety of forms for which Chicago is famous. Rubbing salt in the wound, Foxx declared that the Smollett case file is sealed and that his record has been cleared. Like nothing ever happened. 

Read Foxx’s bio, below. I’ve added bold in places that deserve particular derision. The bottom line is that Foxx is a politician who thinks she’s going to go places politically by refusing to put black men in jail, no matter what their crimes have done to tear at our mutiracial & multicultural social compact. Calling Kamala Harris: Maybe you should call Foxx about becoming your running mate? So much in common, especially in terms of social justice, at least the racialized variant of it. 

Kimberly M. Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country. Kim took office on December 1, 2016 with a vision for transforming the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office into a fairer, more forward-thinking agency focused on rebuilding the public trust, promoting transparency, and being proactive in making all communities safe. 

More than two years into her term, Kim has undertaken substantial reform. She has revamped the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, resulting in overturned convictions in over 60 cases, including the first-ever mass exoneration in Cook County for 15 men whose convictions stemmed from misconduct by a Chicago Police Officer.She has been a leader in bond reform, instructing prosecutors to agree to recognizance bonds where appropriate, and reviewing bond decisions in cases where people are detained because they are unable to pay bonds of $1,000 or less. Kim has taken the lead on prioritizing resources away from low-level offenses to focus on violent crime, including raising the threshold for approving felony charges for retail theft to $1,000, and declining to prosecute misdemeanor traffic offenses for failure to pay tickets and fines. 

Kim is the first and only prosecutor in the country to make felony case-level data available to the public.The open data portal provides unprecedented access and transparency into the work of a prosecutor’s office. Her goal is to make the Cook County the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country. 

Kim served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for 12 years, and was also a guardian ad litem, where she worked as an attorney advocating for children navigating the child welfare system. Prior to being elected State’s Attorney, Kim served as Chief of Staff for the Cook County Board President, where she was the lead architect of the county’s criminal justice reform agenda to address racial disparities in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. 

Born and raised on Chicago’s Near North Side, Kim is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where she earned a B.A. in Political Science and a J.D. from the SIU School of Law.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Some Of Us Saw The Russia Collusion Hoax For What It Actually Was --- Fully Two Years Ago

Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi has the best dissection of just what a debacle the Russia collusion hoax represents for the media, calling it “this generation's WMD." The reference was to the faulty reporting about the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was said to have possessed, which propelled the US-led invasion. That Iraq War "faceplant," as Taibbi calls what many consider the worst journalistic failures of all time, damaged the media's reputation. "Russiagate just destroyed it."  

Meanwhile, it should be noted that some of us actually saw the Russia collusion narrative for what it was from the get-go---a last-ditch, evidence-free effort launched just before the Trump Inauguration to nullify the 2016 election. The collusion narrative surfaced at a time when emotions were on overdrive after the Trump victory, Joshua Phillip of the Epoch Times noted in April 2017. As Phillip writes: 

The 2016 elections were hard on most Americans, to say the least, but they were especially difficult for Democrats, who were told up to Election Day that Trump stood no chance against Clinton—only to watch this fade away on election night. And they were told again that the electoral college could flip its vote and Clinton would still have a shot, only to again be disappointed.

Many major news outlets, meanwhile, have hunkered down on the idea that the Trump presidency is not legitimate, and the Russia probe has become their last bastion against Trump.
This has led to a style of reporting that has blown many findings out of proportion, and that has failed to put information into its accurate context. At the same time, many of the ongoing controversies are based not on new evidence, but instead on new comments about old evidence.

“There is a huge disparity between the amount of evidence that is cited in news stories and the charges—they’re overcharging, if there is any evidence at all,” said William McGowan, author of the books “Coloring the News” and “Gray Lady Down” and a former editor at Washington Monthly who has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other national news organizations.

McGowan said that while he’s not a fan of Trump’s antagonistic style, he has found the coverage and commentary on Trump to be “strikingly biased, and much more successful at expressing fear and loathing than in encouraging an understanding of the man and his movement.”
He noted that in their coverage, many news outlets take the road of misquoting Trump, then using the misquotes to denounce him. As an example, McGowan cited a video in which Trump allegedly—as The New York Times put it in their headline—”calls on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.”
The press conference video is widely cited by major news outlets as evidence that Trump was tied to WikiLeaks’ releasing of stolen emails from the Clinton campaign.

Taken in context, however, Trump’s statement was very different from how it has been framed. At the time of the press conference on July 27, 2016, WikiLeaks had already started releasing the stolen emails, and news outlets were already trying to accuse Trump of being tied to the leaks. Trump condemned Russia’s actions, saying, “Russia has no respect for our country,” and said that if a foreign government was behind the leaks, it was a “total sign of disrespect for our country.”

Reporters continued to press Trump about the leaks, however, and continued to accuse him of being involved—without evidence. Trump then responded, “What do I have to get involved with Putin for?”, and then accused the reporters of bias and double standards, asking them why they weren’t similarly holding Clinton accountable for her missing emails. He then stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

News outlets then began widely circulating clips of Trump’s ending statement to allege he called on Russia to hack Clinton.

McGowan said, “What you have is a shred of a statement or utterance, and the media takes a huge leap from that.”

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Magic Of My Father's City: St. Patrick's Day Memories Of Danny Boy's

FOR MOSTof my life, my father owned a saloon on the East Side of Manhattan, which I had the chance to publish something about shortly after it closed in the mid-1980's. Unlike many of the establishments catering to men of my own generation, Danny Boy’s would never have been confused with a failing art gallery that applied for a liquor license as an afterthought. Art was in the conversation, not on the walls. Class and taste were demonstrated in the way that you treated people, not in the priciness of the menu or the trendiness of the decor. 

The place was stout, plain and resolutely unhip, a public house in the old style: simple yet idiosyncratic. Years of tobacco smoke had yellowed the whitewashed walls and clouded the waxed beams stretching overhead. Beery shadows spread past scuffed wooden paneling into deep brick alcoves. The place always wore the musty perfume of yesterday’s spilled whiskey. “Cut flowers are for funeral parlors, not barrooms,” my father once explained to a floral salesman who stressed their deodorizing qualities. “Thank you all the same. “ I remember coming back from college one time and thinking that a hanging plant might brighten the front window. The regulars eyed it suspiciously and waited until I left before taking a cigarette lighter to it. 

A Runyonesque array of rogues and rough guys, gentlemen and jewels made up the clientele, people of night and city, drawn from the same mythic dimension of New York that bred my father, a retired captain of detectives. There were priests and prizefighters, judges and professors, lawyers and stockbrokers, cops and carpenters. Sudanese diplomats joined floozy actresses and artists along with greengrocers, seedy newsmen (from UPI mainly) bookies (just don’t let them sit near the phone, that’s all) and famed southern writers (Capote was a Sunday- evening regular dissolving a Sunday-evening sadness). Some were well off; others weren’t. And there was also a clutch of moth-eaten guys of completely indeterminate livelihood and residence - antic and jovial men of goodwill who were always ready with a song, a gag or a story.  

Just as the place itself nestled in the cold shadows of office towers behind it in a leaning, peeled-paint building, misfits in the outside world always fit snugly. Most of the patrons shared the very simple desire to lose themselves in the company of each other, regardless of position or pedigree. They all had a solidity of character that went beyond class and social convention, and shared a curiosity and fondness for each other as well as a reverence for the idea of equality. A militant decency was the standard for behavior. However different their backgrounds, the customers in my father’s place had a way of finding common ground, no doubt a function of the humility learned in the Depression and an appreciation of broadly diverse people attained through service in World War II. Bonds, however momentary and liquor-born, were forged. Being completely unsnobbish, the clientele had a greater capacity for spontaneity and for living bigger in the moment than my own peers, which left a lasting impression on me. 

I wasn’t always such an enthusiast, though. As a self-conscious teenager, I became impatient with some of the patrons, particularly the ones I thought maudlin or foolish. Balky village lad, I was embarrassed when ordered to walk one of them home to their furnished rooms, or to hail them a taxi, their glazed eyes weak with overindulgence. I began to feel that my attachment to the place was of questionable social cachet and that I was too sophisticated to have old guys with jellyflab arms and stinky-breath faces singing into my ear as I escorted them down Second Avenue. Sometimes on a date, I’d go right by the place with the same discomfiture a groom might feel as he steers his bride away from a table of loud uncles at their wedding - the ones he’s conveniently left unintroduced. Everyone goes through a time of feeling awkward about where they fit in; but it’s only later that you realize that the anxiety is not just your own. During my disenchanted phase, I couldn’t see why my father had such an attachment to the place or why he chose to spend his evening hours in the company of such dubious fellows. When I asked him one time, he simply gave me a cryptic look that said, “If you have to ask such a question, you’d never grasp the answer. 

I can’t say what it was exactly that turned my head around. It might have had something to do with the writer’s block I suffered for a while, which left me with lots of time on my hands and not a lot of money in my pocket. Free drinks at Dad’s bar took on new appeal. There was no dramatic breakthrough moment, though, just a quiet revelation. Something that Eugene O’Neill said about the men he used to drink with on the old West Side waterfront seemed to click inside me. “I lived with them, got to know them. In some queer way they carried on, I learned not to sit in judgment on other people." 

After that I found myself wandering down there at cocktail time, soaking up the bar banter, which always flew back and forth with such zest and timbre, punctuated only by the clankings of the rusty cash register, not by traded business cards and dropped names. Politics and religion, topics usually taboo in most bars, always led the conversational agenda. The syntax may have been rough at times with double negatives and malapropisms, but the talk always brimmed with lyricism, wit and the idiom of old New York, surely the dialect of a lost Atlantis. I’d sit there sometimes and scribble notes on coasters and napkins, barely keeping up. The place became a touchstone for me, a way to reconnect after a frustrating day wrestling with phrasing and loneliness. 

To brisk passersby, the place may have seemed strange and slightly unwholesome, merely a dark place to get drunk in. But it was really just like a small town, with its own distinctive characters, customs and sense of community. It was one of those eddies that humanize the city. We regularly fed the neighborhood "bagmen" and "bagladies" (“Hey, Irish, put a little more ketchup on that burger this time, will ya?”) and overpaid local unfortunates for window washing and the like. Christmas Eve one year, we set up a bar outside in the falling snow and served surprised strollers as we sang carols. Once, my father brought George the Turk and Blind Andy - customers with nowhere else to go - home to our holiday dinner table, where they sat as stiff and formal as my mother’s starched lace curtains - until George put us all in stitches with his tales of the aging dowagers trying to corner him into marriage. 

My father cashed checks and lent money when it was needed, and was both confidante and confessor to a variety of the heartsick and rueful: once-attractive girls wrinkling into spinsters; good-time Charlies turned into miss-outs; delinquent fathers hoping to win back an alienated child. Sure, he was concerned about feeding his family, but the place was really like a midtown living room for him; patrons were house guests, not dollar signs. He was religious about “buy-backs,” usually giving a customer one free drink for every three bought, sometimes going one for two. 

Bartenders were instructed to refuse overly generous tips from the inebriated. Lost wallets and forgotten raincoats were routinely returned, a rarity in New York. Such integrity paid itself back. When our last bartender, the late Eddie Verdun, took sick with cancer, the benefit we threw to defray his hospitalization netted nearly $20,000. A couple of his longtime customers wrote $1,000 checks right at the door. Later, during the witching hours, my father would go on a pub crawl around the block to size up the competition, all winks and whispers as he traded hearsay and quips with the other owners. Pauli, our grizzled Chinese porter, would accompany him, cracking jokes, guarding his flank: Fool to his Lear on the hearth of East Side gin mills. Meanwhile, back at our place, Danny O, the crank, would have everybody riled to blow up the Bank of England. 

At one point, my father reversed a long-standing order and I got a chance to bartend. “You lack love for your fellow man and have the kind of face that anybody’d love to punch in the nose,” he scolded, “but I’m short a barman tonight. “ (I only got slugged once, and that was by a waitress, perhaps deservedly, after an unintended insult. ) As all good things, I began to appreciate the place just as it had to end, but for a few months, I tended whenever the regular man wanted off, happy to be spared another night of young urban ennui. 

Experience taught me that handling bar patrons is not romantic or thrilling. However fascinating a story was the first time, it rarely held up to a fifth telling. Excitement when it did come took the form of wondering whether the two smart alecks remaining at 4 o’clock in the morning were readying to rob me and whether the baseball bat I had behind the bar as back-up would take them both down in one swing if they rushed. There were also the times I had to break up fights between guys with hair-trigger tempers by vaulting over the bar like a doughboy going over the top. Another swell scene was when I warned an out-of-towner that the woman he was with was a known professional we usually didn’t let in. To get back at me, she convinced the guy that I had mortally insulted her honor, and Galahad waited outside until I closed and chased me for 30 madcap blocks in a taxicab. 

Bad jokes and bromides, bruisers and blowhards may have lengthened the night sometimes, but I came away with a lesson from all this. The range of human feeling was somehow wider in these people than in a lot of my contemporaries, allowing for greater joy and greater sorrow. Why? Who knows, but it might have been because they weren’t as distracted by continually looking over their shoulders to see where they stood in relation to the other guy. In their often messy, profane, whiskey-rank presence, something of a mystery was uncovered, and I began to see that even the most ordinary life held amazing secrets and a density of experience worth absorbing. Even small change could be coined in solid gold. 

Occasionally, there were especially high-proof nights when a fine flash of heart and brain would burst from the gab and goodwill. These were times when the most banal scrap of conversation would glow sacramentally and when the sensation of existence was sharper, pure and shared. There were instants in that bar when I thought all the joy in the world spun from that very spot, and even upon waking the next afternoon I felt the aftereffects of an untypical transit. The euphoria wasn’t simply a function of boozy bonhomie, though, but came from a feeling of deep human connectedness rooted in mutual respect and compassion. 

“Here we are,” Himself would be saying, nursing a scotch at 4 a.m. while we closed. Pauli, who had to be up early to open up for the lunch trade, would be chasing out the stragglers in his screechy broken English (“Letsee go! Letsee go!”) while sweeping the floor in search of loose change. Second Avenue would be quiet except for street people and stray taxis, whose taillights traced red arcs downtown. “Here we are. “ A normally articulate fellow, these were the only words that seemed to fit. 

In May, 1984, my father sold the place to an outfit that paid handsomely to turn it into a fancy French wine bar. He was tired of the hours, and many of his favorite customers were getting on in years. On the last night we had a final party to drink the place dry, as tradition holds a place should be dry when it changes ownership. People came from all over the city: 20 years of ha-has and growly how-are-yas. Choruses of “Danny Boy” circled round the tap as a New Yorker reporter duly took notes. Everything was free. High spirits were general, except in the last knot of regulars who took the closing as some kind of greater dispossession and faced diaspora sullenly. I myself, the penitent snob, was about as happy as a librarian at a book burning. 

Closing for the last time, my father and I locked the door behind us, standing minutely in the morning sunlight that knifed between the high-rises. Pauli shuffled away to his Chinatown, a little faster than he’d normally go and a little more hunched, unconvinced, perhaps, that the skyline would be as sturdy having lost a part of its footings. “It’ll all be so sterile after this,” I intoned, clumsy with feeling. “Sure it will,” my father snapped, lip aquiver, an old believer to a new acolyte. “Sure it will. Do you think I don’t know that. Do you think you’re telling me something?"

Having grown up in this atmosphere where snobbery and manliness were mutually exclusive, I’m uncomfortable with the increased status consciousness of watering holes frequented by men my own age, shooting at 30 from either side. They all seem too predictable and prepackaged, dull even if the brass is shiny, full of the tepid, the tight-tongued and the oh-so-tasteful. Drinking establishments used to be places that brought people from different backgrounds and generations together, permitting them to appreciate their common lot. Now they’ve been ferned, feminized and stratified, with the accent on the upscale, not on the broad-based. 

Bars of the so-called “new man” have become extensions of office life - clean, well- lit places where the hustle and the get-ahead leave no room for grit, color and spontaneity. Everyone’s about the same age, doing about the same thing. What passes for social diversity is being with people who don’t have a law degree or an MBA. Blah! Executive daybooks don’t seem to come with slots to pencil in reckless good cheer, a sudden, sodden cry or a deserved punch in the nose.Sometimes I feel I’m in an eerily animated fashion spread with the models all too preoccupied with posing to enjoy the aimless grace of plain camaraderie. For their part, I’m sure they find my regard for the common touch vaguely loser-like, but that’s to be expected from their sensibilities, shaped by TV commercials and men’s magazines that counsel how to drink in a style that’ll boost your career. Status anxiety has imposed a grim conformity of upward mobililty and a desire to cut the other guy down. What they are in danger of becoming are guys who get straight A’s and still fail Life - lost in “the suck of the self,” as Walker Percy phrases it, slighter for their self-absorption. 

Nowadays, I tend to do most of my drinking in “old man” bars, generationally dislocated but more at home with the prevailing values, however arcane. I find something in these places that I don’t around my peers: simple pleasure within the gruff democracy of other guys. I draw a lot from this well of informal and seemingly unimportant attachments. There is a natural sociability there, a richness of contact and an authenticity that sharkey “new man” bars just don’t have. Some of my friends worry about my preference for such obviously declasse places, often dark as caves. They don’t seem to view my bar buddies in the proper light, seeing only the smudgy shadows. Occasionally, I’ll run into one of the old crowd and drink too much. To the days back when, salute, honor bright! Once in a while, I’ll muster the nerve to walk by the old place, each time met by a twinge of phantom pain and a longing that follows me home. Many lives, that place. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Too 'Woke' To Work: Why 'Black & Gay' Journalists Choked on the Jussie Smollett Hoax

As jarring as it was to hear that the Jussie Smollett racial attack in Chicago was a hoax, it was also upsetting to learn that some in the media were not journalistically brave enough to ask the hard questions that might have challenged Smollett’s account.   

On CNN’s Reliable Sources, podcaster Kmele Foster explained that some journalists he had spoken off-camera and presumably off-record had questions about Smollett’s story. But they “were afraid to raise the questions because of the intersectional nature of this particular accusation.” Said Foster: 

When there are stories that involve very sensitive issues of race and sexuality and there are accusations and allegations that are being made, when you raise questions about those allegations, it is often the case that people will raise questions about your motivations. 

Foster wasn’t asked to name any names. But in the time since the hoax was revealed, it has become clear that some very prominent people in the media, who like Smollett were both black and gay, had the access to press Smollett for answers on hard questions but were essentially “too woke to work.” They failed to get to the truth because they were reluctant to take a hard look at narrative that had a lot of holes in it from the get-go and which, in the end, turned out to be a blatant, flagrant hoax, almost on par with the Tawana Brawley scam of the late 1980’s. A couple had even made cameo appearances on Smollett’s TV show, Empire, and networked in the same celebrity-media-activist circles.

Minority columnists and high-profile broadcast figures also took the lead in in minimizing the significance of the fraud once it was unmasked. They expressed contempt for Trump supporters who seemed to them too gleeful about the fraud’s unmasking. They also refused to acknowledge the smear that was inherent in Smollett insisting that the alleged attackers had been MAGA fanatics, which had led many in the media to view the incident as just another example of “racism in Trump’s America.” And like the media as a whole, these figures were very quick to shift focus from this one fraudulent hate crime to the larger problem of hate crime in general, which they insisted was rising when in fact a significant percentage of alleged hate-related crimes cited in reports have turned out to be fabrications or greatly exaggerated. Smollett may have misused the anti-Trump “Bigotry Narrative,” these hate-haunted media figures explained. But that narrative was still a controlling one, important to support as America continues to debate how much "white supremacy" defines who were are as a nation and how much this victimizes "intersectional" minorities.    

Posing a rhetorical question, Tucker Carlson asked his FOX News audience:

How could reporters who are literally paid to be skeptical have fallen for such an obvious lie? It's not an easy question to answer. It's far easier just to pretend the whole thing never happened and that's what some are doing.

Actually Carlson’s question is not at all that hard to answer. Reporters did not fall for an obvious lie. They just let the lie sit there, uneasy to challenge Smollett’s wobbly story because they let concerns for the black and gay communities (conjoined and overlapping) get the better of their neutral professional detachment. Some of them even admitted to that out loud.  


ABC NEWS' Robin Roberts was one of the more prominent media figures whose work came under scrutiny on this front. Roberts interviewed Smollett on Good Morning America the night before the news broke that Chicago police were now thinking that there was in fact no hate crime and that Jussie Smollett had staged it all. The GMA interview was Smollett’s first detailed public account of the attack. Roberts would later disclose that Smollett had reached out to Roberts; she’d once had a cameo on an episode of Smollett’s TV show, “Empire.”

In hindsight the interview is as cringe worthy, as some of the interviews that OJ Simpson did, hard not to see in terms other than pathological. Smollett told Robin Roberts that he was “pissed off” following the racist and homophobic attack, and it had left behind lasting damage. He would “never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed.” Wiping tears from his face, he complained to Roberts that he was angry about the assault and about people not believing his story. It wasn’t just that people didn’t believe the truth of his story, it was that they “did not even want to see the truth.” 

Smollett told Roberts that he believes some have doubted his story because he said his attackers referenced Make America Great Again, which the Washington Post, in its account of the interview, explained was Trump’s “enduring campaign slogan.” When asked why he may have been targeted, Smollett explained “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.” 

He also maintained that if the attackers had been non-white, the public would have had more credence. “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me ... a lot more, and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.” 

Smollett addressed reports that he initially hesitated to go to the police about his alleged assault.  “We live in a society where, as a gay man, you are considered somehow to be weak. And I’m not weak,” he said. “We, as a people, are not weak." 

In fact, Smollett told Roberts that he had fought back, throwing a punch at the assailant who’s been the one who had said “This is MAGA country.” He wanted police to find any video that would show this.

“I want them to see that I fought back,” Smollett continued, his voice breaking. “And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought the f--- back." 

“I didn’t run off. They did,” Smollett declared, as Roberts nodded.  

In the most skeptical question she posed, Roberts asked Smollett how he “would be able to heal,” if his attackers were never found. As his eyes filled with tears, Smollett replied:

I don’t know. Let’s just hope that they are. Let’s not go there yet. I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we got to. I still want to believe with everything that has happened that there’s something called justice. 

“Beautiful,” Roberts answered, “Thank you Jussie."

Asked to comment on the Roberts interview as part of the Reliable Sources panel, Bill Carter, former media reporter at the Times told Stelter that he thought Roberts had been too easy on Smollett and had ignored obvious red flags. Instead of getting to the facts of the attack and the police follow up, the GMA interview was more about Smollett and the effects of the attack on him. Smollett is an actor Carter maintained; Roberts had conducted a celebrity interview not a news interview.   
ABC staffers who spoke to BuzzFeed News  defended Roberts’ handling of the interview and stressed that at the time she met with Smollett police were still publicly calling him a victim and not a suspect. “There’s not really a spirit of regret about the Jussie interview,” insisted one GMA source. “And no one feels that Robin got duped. Taken advantage of, yes, but not duped.” Another acknowledged the interviews bad “optics” but that was about it. Although she did say that the Smollett hoax was a “setback for race relations,” she had little else publicly to say. 

Three weeks later though she told a New York magazine panelthat although she was trying to be as “neutral” as possible in the interview, she nevertheless felt “inherent pressure” to represent the LGBT community.

“I’m a black gay woman, he’s a black gay man,” she explained. 

He’s saying that there’s a hate crime, so if I’m too hard, then my LGBT community is going to say, ‘You don’t believe a brother,’ if I’m too light on him, it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass….It was a no-win situation for me.

Because Smolllett was still being considered a victim at the time of their interview, she carefully selected her questions. “There’s so many people who do not come forward because others are not believed,” Roberts maintained. 

CNN’s Don Lemon was another gay and black media figure who didn’t seem to be in a rush to ask tough questions even though he had a direct pipeline to Smollett beginning the very night Smollett was “attacked.” CNN reported that Lemon spoke to Smollett on the phone belonging to a mutual friend at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where Smollett was being treated. Lemon said that Smollett told him what happened and said that Smollett said he was shaken and angry that an attack like that could happen, but was resilient. He told Lemon that “during times of trauma, grief and pain there is still a responsibility to lead with love.” It was all he knew, Lemon said Smollett declared. . “And that can’t get kicked out of me.” 

Nearly two weeks after the Smollett attack, Lemon went on a black-themed internet show called “Red Table Talk,”which is hosted by actress-activist Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris. On that segment, Lemon divulged the back channel he had established with Smollett. He had texted the actor quite a few times, Lemon revealed, making sure to emphasize that like Smollett, Lemon was both black and gay. Sometimes Smollett responded. Sometimes he did not. 

Describing their communication, Lemon told the women:  
Every day I say, 'I know you think I'm annoying' – I can show you a text – 'I know you think I'm annoying you, but I just want to know that you're OK, and if you need somebody you can talk to me, 'cause there's not a lot of us out there. Sometimes he responds; sometimes he doesn't.

Lemon added that his focus wasn't to be skeptical about Smollett's account. His outreach was more in the vein of offering moral support. 

I knew everyone would be picking apart his story. But that was not my concern.

After news broke that Smollett was being arrested, Lemon took to CNN air for a rambling, disjointed ten minute monologuethat was both a disingenuous attempt to excuse himself and at the same time castigate Smollett for squandering “the goodwill of a whole lot of people.” This, Lemon said, was “not cool.” 

As Lemon described it, he and Smollett were not close friends, but they were acquaintances, first meeting the actor when he was asked to do a cameo for Empire just as Robin Roberts had done. 

He introduced himself and he said, ‘You know, I'm a big fan. You know, I love your work. It's good to have you here on the set.’  Very nice guy. We chatted for a couple times after that. I saw him maybe when he came to New York a couple times. I know him, not best friends, but I do know him.” 

Unlike the Red Table interview where Lemon said absolutely nothing about the reservations he may have had about Smollett’s account of the attack, Lemon now said he had had questions and doubts about Jussie’s story from the beginning, “as many “people in the community, black and gay people did.” Lemon explained that he had worked in Chicago for several years and knew the neighborhood Smollett was attacked in very well. It was such a cold night for attackers to be roaming around; Smollett did not hand over his phone; probably not a whole lot of MAGA fans watching Empire. “The details just didn’t seem to add up,” Lemon maintained.

Like I said, there were questions about Jussie's story from the very beginning, questions he still needs to answer. Innocent until proven guilty, but a whole lot of people want to hear from him. What happened, Jussie?  

Beneath the professional veneer, Lemon was actually confessing to a significant lapse in professionalism, putting the personal over the journalistic. Of course news professionals are human beings and are certainly not barred from providing comfort to a friend. But isn’t their first obligation to ask uncomfortable questions to those who are in the public eye, especially when there’s more than enough reason to suspect BS? It also seemed narcissistic on Lemon’s part to slam Jussie Smollett for squandering the good will of so many of his supporters, as well as Lemon’s own, when in fact he had done nothing to check that, allowing his “intersectional” affinities to blur his professional focus. Lemon was essentially expressing resentment at Smollett’s duplicity even as he admitted to being, in essence, a willing victim of it by failing to do his job at America’s most important cable news network. 

Lemon was also prominent among many journalists, white and non-white, straight and gay, who insisted that the unravelling of the Smollett hoax should not detract from the urgency of recognizing that hate crimes in America were on the upswing and that whites were in the vast majority of those committing them against minorities. This was the line being plied by the SPLC and the ADL, whose claims the mainstream media rarely challenge. Discussing a significant increase in hate crimes and “intolerance” with CNN colleagues Van Jones and Chris Cuomo, Lemon said: “This is an America where hate groups, hate crimes are on the rise.” In fact, Lemon was less concerned about the damage done by the Smollett hoax than he was about how it would be used by conservatives to advance Trump’s ideological agenda. “This is playing out every single moment in cable news,” Lemon said. “Sean Hannity is going to eat Jussie Smollett’s lunch every single second. Tucker Carlson is going to eat Jussie Smollett’s lunch every single second,” the host warned, adding, “The president of the United States is going to eat his lunch.”  

The New York Times’ Charles Blow was another high-profile black journalist, incidentally bi-sexual, who had access to Smollett but chose to tread too lightly. Like Lemon, Blow had a somewhat strange, racially defensive reaction after the news came out. Blow is on book leave from his regular column at the Times in order to write a book about race relations in the time of Trump. But as news came in that the Chicago Police Department was going to arrest Smollett, Blow posted a short, panicky video to twitter.   
The post was both emotionally raw, histrionic and twee. Several times, Blow said that he was “hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping hoping that this is not true” but that if it were true “it’s just devastating on so many levels.”

Blow told his viewers that “The story has been a strange one” and because of that he “steered clear” of posting on it or commenting. “My spider senses was off and something wasn’t adding up,” he confessed. Blow said he had sent a note to Lee Daniels, the producer of Empire; evidently they are friends/acquaintances. Blow said he needed to know if the story was off or not. “But I didn’t hear anything back so I just said let me just leave this alone.”  

Blow explained that the revelation of fraud was wrenching, less because it was represented an assault on the truth than because it threatened the cult of victimization. 

Because in this moment in our history, whether it comes to sexual assault of a man or a woman, or whomever,  we want to believe. We don’t want to puncture, slow the momentum of people being willing to come forward and tell their legitimate stories about legitimate assault. And if this turns out to be something that tries to takes advantage of that, that hurts that in so many ways…. It’s just about victimhood, and how we will deal with that, whether we will give people the benefit of the doubt or will this, if it is true, and I keep saying I like I say I hope, hope, hope it is not, or will it just sow more doubts. Oh God! 

In the following days Blow dropped the handwringing and went back to the racial defensiveness that marks his Times columns. Those who felt manipulated by Smollett shouldn’t “beat yourself for feeling empathy for someone who said they were a victim. That’s a natural, normal human response.” He also scornfully refuted claims, such as Robin Roberts’, that Smollett had set relations back. “Race relations were already in shambles,” Blow declared. “We have racists in the White House and millions who support them.”

NPR's Michel Martin refused to concede the racial moral high ground. The NPR Weekend All Things Considered host said she had two names “for those tempted to gloat, despair, or be ashamed because of Jussie Smollett, the actor now accused of orchestrating a fake bias crime against himself.” One name was Charles Stuart, a Boston man who in 1989 tried to trick authorities into believing that a black man had forced his way into Stuart’s car and murdered his wife. The other was Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who in 1994 had claimed a young black man had abducted her children, only for it later to be discovered that she herself had rolled the car into a nearby lake with her two sons, still strapped into their car seats, drowning them. Smollett’s story was just a flipping of the racial script, Martin explained. was just the inverse of these two cases, “Instead of the scary black men terrorizing white suburbanites like the Stuarts, or Smith, he invokes scary MAGA hat wearers spewing hatred because he is black and openly gay.” 

The fact that one of the cases Martin cited was from 30 years ago and the other was from 25 didn’t seem to phase her. Racial injustice doesn’t seem to have an expiration date, especially if you’re set on asserting progressive moral equivalence.  

Martin noted that “some in the conservative media and Twitterverse can barely contain their glee at this turn of events. But they should try.” She noted that one the very same day Smollett was arrested and charged with filing a false police report, “federal prosecutors revealed that a white Coast Guard officer was stockpiling an arsenal of weapons and had created a list of journalists and Democratic politicians he presumably hoped to target.” 

Martin concluded that we have to be prepared to face facts, whether they are about “how far some will go for attention or about white supremacist leanings among those sworn to protect and defend us.” The moral of the story

is what it always is and always will be: The truth can hurt but the truth WILL come out eventually and it will always set you free. But for that to happen there have to be truth tellers and truth seekers.


It’s tempting to think that the Jussie Smollett hoax is one of those inflection points where racial solicitude, racial dishonesty and racial opportunism “jump the shark,” encouraging many in the media to be more careful about facts and less presumptuous about the deplorable racism of the MAGA set. I mean, the dereliction of basic journalistic duty here was so egregious and the excuses and rationalizations were so squalid, you’d think that professional embarrassment alone would do that. But the defensive reaction, the lack of shame or contrition on the part of those who had access to Smollett and still did not ask him to address the red flags in the narrative leads me to think otherwise. No matter how dire the need for rectification, this will not be the moment for that.

Having written about the media’s diversity crusade for more than 25 years now, I can say quite unequivocally that there is just no learning curve on these kinds of things. In the media, diversity, and the victimization narratives that go along with it, has become theology, a matter of religious conviction, the burning bush of revelation, the light of truth, no matter how cold and dark the wintry Chicago streets where Jussie Smollett set his fiction. There is only “Invincible Ignorance,” as the theologians would put it---a vast and righteous obduracy.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday & The Democrats' Problem With The 'Catholic Vote'

This blast from the not-so-far-off past might speak to some current problems that CNN, as well as other mainstream media news organizations, might have in the coming 2020 election cycle.

Turner’s Rep in Ashes---CNN Boss Called a Bigot After ‘Jesus Freaks’ Slur
Outraged leaders of Christian groups labeled Ted Turner a bigot yesterday after the Mouth from the South called staffers who wore ashes 
on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday “Jesus freaks.” 
The CNN honcho, who once proclaimed that Christianity is “for losers,” made the insulting remark in the network’s Washington newsroom last Wednesday at a staff meeting that preceded a retirement party for anchor Bernard Shaw. 
About 300 people were present and three or four staffers had ashes on their foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday. 
Sources said Turner stared at one of the staffers and said, “I was looking at this woman and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first I thought you were in the earthquake” in Seattle that day. 
As puzzled staffers furrowed their brows, the cable tycoon unleashed this zinger:“I realized you’re just Jesus freaks. Shouldn’t you guys be working for Fox?”Turner laughed, and there were a few titters in the audience, but most of the 300 people greeted the remarks with stony silence. 
---New York Post 3/8/01