The media and black-on-white hate crimes
Perhaps you read the riveting front-page story in Sunday's Chicago Tribune by Howard Witt about the white couple in Tennessee, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, and the four blacks who have been charged with carjacking and the murder and rape of both victims. There was little media outcry about the Tennessee murders.
I've been in this business long enough to know that we tap dance around such stories, hesitant, uncomfortable, insecure, vulnerable to an in-house charge of racism for reinforcing ugly stereotypes.
By contrast, hateful white-on-black crime is easy to report as a cultural event. We're secure in it, eager, because we all know our parts as acolytes in the rigidly defined ritual, the victims, reporters, commentators, even the consumers of the news.
Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton appear to carry the story forward. They know their roles and play them well. The cameras click. Editors dispatch think pieces on race in America. TV talking heads offer commentary and what are called "town meetings" and "national conversations on race." Special-interest advocates use the media time to argue for racial preferences in academic admissions and hiring. Politicians mouth their platitudes. Editorials chant conventional wisdom.
The rest of us know our part, too, as readers and viewers. We shake our heads, cluck our tongues, turn the page, assured that the catechism of race has been observed.
But when the hateful crime involves white victims and accused minorities, there's a problem. Jackson and Sharpton aren't there to round out the second act. Instead, they are replaced by white supremacists or Nazis, drooling out hate, and who wants to carry their water?
"You've seen a lot of people with impeccable credentials making the point that the press does play up white-on-black crime and play down black-on-white crime," Glenn Reynolds, law professor and publisher of the well-known Instapundit blog was quoted as saying. "I think it's a fair criticism. And it just empowers the crazies when the mainstream media soft-pedals this stuff."
Why journalists play down black-on-white crime would take more than a few columns to answer. We don't want to give comfort to white racists. It also may have something to do with our politics.
As a conservative, I suppose my column is testament to true diversity.
But mostly we're of a certain class and tone: white and college-educated, politically liberal, holding an abiding (and terribly mistaken) faith in government regulation to engineer social outcomes. Journalists generally mock evangelicals for "believing" in creationism, yet many journalists are fundamentalists when it comes to other beliefs, like using skin color -- not the content of someone's character or the quality of their mind -- to discriminate against those of other hues while defining such discrimination as fair and affirmative.
Hate crimes and the lack of hate-crime status depend on the politics of the day. I've written about black victims of white hate, incidents that weren't called hate crimes, and also the reverse:
The black cop pelted with rocks and racial epithets by white toughs with political connections. White cops who shot at a black couple for cutting them off in traffic. That white teacher whose face was rearranged by a black student with a hammer. All these and more could have been considered hate crimes. But application of the hate-crime statutes is, at bottom, highly political and therefore suspect, because politicians like to get re-elected.
Are All Crimes Created Equal?