NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks to Jason Johnson, professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University and politics editor at The Root about a series of recent incidents of white people calling police on black people in public spaces.
NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks to Jason Johnson, professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University and politics editor at The Root about a series of recent incidents of white people calling police on black people in public spaces.
Sinclair Broadcast’s pythonlike grip on local news stations across America became a national issue two weeks ago when our sister site Deadspin posted a video story showing dozens of anchors at Sinclair stations forced to recite Donald Trump’s talking points about “fake news.”
On top of making trusted anchors across America look as if they’re making a synchronized hostage video, Sinclair has forced stations to air “must-run” stories on the “deep state,” “terror alerts” and “illegal immigration”—not to mention political commentary by white nationalist and former Trump staffer Sebastian Gorka.
Forcing this kind of commentary and coverage on local news stations between the farm report and local high school’s football scores isn’t just bad for independent journalism; it also endangers democracy in general. If left unchecked, Sinclair’s influence could turn the impending Democratic “blue wave” of the 2018 midterm elections into a trickle, ending what might be America’s best and last hope to provide any checks and balances on the Trump administration.
Sinclair’s history of dabbling in electoral politics didn’t just start when a former reality-television host managed to stumble into the White House in 2016. In April 2004, Sinclair ordered its ABC affiliates to pre-empt the Nightline special“The Fallen,” wherein host Ted Koppel would read the names of over 700 soldiers who had died during the invasion of Iraq. Right before the November presidential election to elect George W. Bush or John Kerry, Sinclair required its stations to run Stolen Honor, a propaganda documentary suggesting that Kerry’s Vietnam service record was false. Public outcry caused Sinclair to back off.
In the weeks before the 2010 midterm elections, Sinclair stations from Iowa to Kentucky to western Pennsylvania were forced to run a 25-minute documentary called Breaking Point, which, among other things, suggested that Barack Obama wanted to “kill some crackers,” and that Republicans were the only way to save America from the Kenyan-born, Muslim-terrorist sleeper agent. Perhaps the last part was an exaggeration. But only a slight exaggeration, since the story didn’t mention Birtherism by name.
Democrats took major losses in each of these elections, and while Sinclair can’t be given full credit, millions of dollars in free Republican talking points across the airwaves is no small in-kind contribution, either. Now, even with Republicans quitting right and left, and Democratic enthusiasm reaching #Beychella levels, could a flood of GOP-leaning Sinclair coverage in crucial states make a difference between a wave and a ripple this fall? We at The Root investigated.
We took a look at all House races listed as Democratic or Republican “toss-ups” as of April 6, according to the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. While the sites had slightly different analyses, our team settled on three Democratic and 20 Republican “toss-up” races, meaning that the election could go either way this fall. We then cross-referenced these congressional races with the media markets where Sinclair owns at least one television affiliate, according to its own website; analysis by Vox.com; and, in some cases, calling the stations directly and asking which congressional districts they broadcast in. The results should give Democrats pause.
Sinclair Broadcast’s reach is vast, but the number of markets where the company could potentially affect close midterm races range from rural Texas to upstate New York. The table below lays out the stations, the races and the potentially affected markets. In some cases, Sinclair owns more than one station in the same market, or the congressional district is bracketed by more than one set of Sinclair-owned stations.
Illustration: Jason Johnson
This list includes crucial seats targeted by Democrats across the Midwest, where the party has suffered huge losses in recent years. More important, this study only focuses on “toss-up” congressional House races. When you expand to look at Senate races, gubernatorial elections, and the overlooked but extremely important state and local elections, Sinclair can run a Legion of Boom-level defense for Republicans to stem any major Democratic forays into the heartland.
More important, these aren’t all nobody races, either. Texas’ 23rd District is the home of incumbent Will Hurd, one of the few African-American Republicans in Congress, and he sits on the House oversight committee. So for both symbolic and policy reasons, Sinclair may be inclined to run friendly editorials in his backyard. The question is, with the map this slanted, what should Democrats do about it?
Direct attacks on Sinclair are fine, but they tend to backfire. First, Sinclair Broadcasting has demonstrated an Instagram level of petty, and any attempts to highlight the company’s conservative biases result in its running even more editorials screaming about liberal hysteria and “fake news.”
Further, politically speaking, you can’t just go to war with local news outlets. Yes, Sinclair is being run by a “Make America great again,” Muslim-attacking, allegedly prostitute-loving old Republican (in this instance I’m actually not referring to Trump), but the men and women who work for him aren’t mindless media henchmen. They are still regular human beings who have established good reputations with local elected officials, done good stories and are hoping to just get through the next right-wing editorial so that they can go back to their Emmy Award-winning series about the local petting zoo for kids with lice.
The best way to stop Sinclair from attacking the Democratic wave is to simply starve the company out. Refuse to run any commercials on Sinclair stations, refuse to do any interviews with Sinclair station reporters and refuse to go to debates running on Sinclair stations.
Democratic candidates from Kentucky to New York have pledged not to run commercials on Sinclair-run stations. Even everyone’s favorite pumpkin-spice-latte-loving pseudo-feminist comedian Amy Schumer refused to do an interview on Washington, D.C.’s ABC affiliate WJLA-TV when she found out that it was a Sinclair-owned station.
Yes, Sinclair is a huge national conglomerate, but most local television stations are run like mom-and-pop shops. They depend on seasonal advertising dollars, the NFL, summer concerts and election seasons to keep their budgets in the black. If Democrats stop throwing cash at Sinclair stations, that’s like canceling Christmas on mainstream USA. Except this time it’s to save democracy. No matter what Sinclair says nationally, local stations will complain and demand more editorial control if it’s beginning to affect their bottom line.
Would boycotting Sinclair stations suddenly guarantee that Democrats take the House this fall? Of course not; there are still gerrymandered districts, state-sponsored voter suppression, Russian bots, and Sinclair in almost 40 percent of local markets, pumping out pro-Trump “news” every day, to contend with. It’s going to be a fight. However, hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue going to rival stations would convince enough local news directors to push back against their corporate masters.
Yes, Sinclair will still promote must-runs about Muslim terror and commentators who advocate sexually assaulting high school activists. However, eventually, with enough campaign pressure and enough dollars lost, those stories will be returned to the 2 a.m. time slot, right between infomercials for the Slap Chop and the Fridge-Locker, where decent people will never have to see them before Election Day.
Written with the assistance of Charles Tucker, a graduate student at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism & Communication.
Do you know how hard it is, in a week of Kanye and Candace and Ben and Bill, to still win the Most Embarrassing Negro of the Week Award? That takes a special kind of dedication. A commitment to such a grotesque caricature of blackness that even Michael Rapaport would let time expire before picking you in the racial draft. Yet here we are: Donald Trump-supporting social media stars Diamond and Silk have jumped through hoops to snatch the trophy, and they even did it in front of Congress.
Lynnette Hardaway, aka Diamond, and Rochelle Richardson, aka Silk, were called to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday about whether or not Facebook was targeting conservative social media personalities for “shadow bans” and censorship. It was a ridiculous farce of a hearing, featuring three empty chairs for executives of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to attend (which is about as realistic as leaving spare seats for Barack and Michelle Obama in the front pew for your local Black History Month pageant), and members of Congress decried the entire affair.
— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) April 27, 2018
However, we all know that this was just a show for Republicans to grandstand about social media, create clips for commercials, and give Diamond and Silk a chance to look presentable out in public. This also might have been a cautionary tale about what happens when dim-witted social media stars get confronted by people smarter than they are: They end up saying idiot things (note Trump’s interview on Fox & Friends yesterday). Diamond and Silk broke so many laws of common sense, legality and decency yesterday that I’m surprised they weren’t collecting lawyers’ résumés by the end of the hearing. Below is a list of three laws they broke.
I am no language snob. I have taught students with the flat affect of Midwesterners; taught many a successful future lawyer who regularly code-switches between “axe” and “ask”; and know which of my Morgan State University students are from around the way by how they pronounce Baltimore (real locals say “Bal-more”).
Listening to Diamond and Silk butcher the laws of logic and grammar for three hours should be punishable by law. If not law, then definitely Twitter jail. You needed a Rosetta stone and closed captioning to make sense of the word salad and painfully poor pronunciation from those two. I don’t know what an “ago-rhythm” is (I suspect it’s related to Facebook algorithms, but maybe that’s fake news), but they kept complaining about it and Jeff Zuckerberg, and seemed to believe that Facebook, a nominally free platform, owed them some type of income. These two need grammar school and some rudimentary social media training.
One of the basic laws of nature is survival. You fight to survive no matter what, even in the face of death. As American hero and spirit animal to every black man entering Waffle House in 2018 James Shaw Jr. said, “You gonna have to earn this kill.”
So in nature, normal animals don’t team up with predators for survival. Yes, they may hide from them, even create a symbiotic relationship with them, but antelopes don’t build bungalows with cheetahs (too expensive, anyway), and mice don’t cozy up to cats. So when it was discovered after the Diamond and Silk congressional carnival that the two had taken money from white nationalist Paul Nehlen, various laws of nature, common decency and civility were broken. In fact, news of Nehlen’s payment is what put them over the line for Most Embarrassing Negro of the Week, since it was just a little worse than Kanye’s unseasoned-house photos.
Nehlen, the white nationalist running to replace Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in Wisconsin, is such an awful neo-Nazi that even other neo-Nazis don’t like him. But that wasn’t enough to stop Diamond and Silk from lining up for those butter biscuits. (As a sidenote, an additional law broken: Nowhere in nature is there any animal whose teeth match the color of their hair and their shirt, but Silk seems to complete the trifecta in this video.)
because we live in hell i have downloaded the campaign ad for white supremacist Paul Nehlen, who paid Diamond and Silk $7000 for it. enjoy pic.twitter.com/GweDKtIwux
— 👹 special boy (@HonoredSpirit) April 26, 2018
Here’s where it gets very interesting. Diamond and Silk perjured themselves in front of Congress. In fact, it was almost unfair: They were playing three-on-two against Congressional Black Caucus members Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who slowly and surely teed them up during various points of testimony. Johnson asked if they had been able to monetize their high-profile posts on Facebook; Jackson Lee asked if they had ever been paid by the Trump campaign; and Jeffries specifically said that lying during congressional testimony is perjury.
Then what did Diamond and Silk do? They lied under oath, of course. According to FCC records, Diamond and Silk were paid $1,274.94 for “field consulting” by the Trump campaign for flying to a Women for Trump event in Ohio during the election. Diamond insisted five times that she had never been paid by the Trump campaign, and when pressed by Jeffries, the pair claimed that they had simply been reimbursed for plane tickets, not paid.
Which is a difference without a distinction. The question isn’t whether you made a profit—the question is whether Trump ever paid you, and the truth is yes, and they said no.
In a just world, Cubic Zirconium and Polyester would go to jail for at least one of these crimes (the orange on orange on orange has to be illegal somewhere), but alas, in Trump’s America, violating the laws of common sense, decency, democracy and good taste has no consequences. Eventually, though, their patron saint of corruption, Donald Trump, will get his comeuppance, and they’ll fall by the wayside or attach themselves like leeches to the next crazy person running for office. Maybe Paul Nehlen needs two staff secretaries who aren’t that good at grammar but can keep the racist base entertained.
Originally posted on theRoot.com
“Don’t you fucking walk away! Don’t fucking walk away from me!” the 20-something-year-old woman screamed as she followed after the 20-something-year-old guy who just got out of her car. It was 2 a.m.; only the streetlights were on, but the guy was clearly done with his girlfriend (probably ex-girlfriend at this point) and was just trying to get inside the building.
“You fucking asshole!” she screamed and ran after him, jumping onto his back for the angriest piggyback ride in history. He tussled with her for a bit, managing to slide her off his back with a thud. Then he kept walking to the apartment, cursing at her to leave him alone. This was several years ago—my friend Josh and I were awkwardly watching the whole thing. All we wanted to do was move a few final boxes into my first apartment in Laurel, Md., but this Real Housewives of Potomac cutscene was blocking our path to my second-floor unit.
“I’m gonna call the cops! I’ll tell them you hit me!” the woman screamed, sitting on the grass and pointing at her ex. “I’ll tell them you beat me up. They’ll get your ass.”
The man stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and gave her a look of shock, anger and then unmitigated fear. He was black. She was white. He knew exactly what she was saying and so did I, and most horrendously, so did she. When white people threaten to call the police on black people—out of anger, out of spite, out of pure vindictiveness—they are effectively saying, “I’ll kill you!” They’re just using a legal extension of white supremacy to do it. It’s high time we start considering these bigots just as much a threat as the police they summon to do their bidding.
This week, black America added “sitting at Starbucks waiting for a white friend” to the list of things that we cannot safely do without fear of police violence. Previous entries included sitting in your car, sitting in someone else’s car, standing on your front porch, standing on your back porch, surviving a car accident, asking for directions to school and, of course, breathing.
As a black man in America who has been harassed by police more times than I can count, I wasn’t surprised by the viral Starbucks video at all. However, my anger is directed not just at the cops but also at the cowardly Starbucks manager who made the call to the police to begin with. The men and women making these outrageous and unwarranted calls to police, which result in the harassment, unfair prosecution and even death of people of color, need to be found, publicly shamed and prosecuted to the full extent that the law allows.
No, I’m not talking about Dave Reiling, the man who reported an actual crime in Sacramento, Calif., that the police used as an excuse to shoot Stephon Clark in his own backyard. Calling the police to report an actual crime that the police overact to is not the citizen’s fault, no matter what color he or she is. I’m talking about the hundreds of cases—that we know about—every year, where white Americans actively and knowingly use the police as an extension of their personal bigotry yet face no consequences.
I’m talking about the white woman at the Red Roof Inn outside of Pittsburgh who called the cops on me because I disputed the charges on my bill and asked to speak to a manager. I’m talking about the white woman who called the cops on me last year even though she knew I was walking with political canvassers for Jon Ossoff’s congressional campaign in North Atlanta. I’m talking about the police officer who followed me behind my house in Hiram, Ohio, asking where I lived because he’d “gotten some calls about robberies.”
In each and every single one of these instances, a white person used the cops as his or her personal racism valets, and I was the one getting served. In each of these instances, I could have been arrested, beaten up or worse based on nothing more than the word of a white person whom I made uncomfortable. As sick as this all is, I still consider myself lucky.
Tamir Rice was killed at the tender age of 12 because a man who admitted to spending the afternoon drinking called 911 to report a “juvenile” who was probably carrying a “fake” gun. Constance Hollinger, the 911 dispatcher, who failed to deliver that information to the cops, got an eight-day suspension but kept her job, and there was no investigation into the caller. Tamir is still dead.
Then there’s Ronald T. Ritchie, who told 911 that John Crawford III was running around Walmart “menacing children” with a shotgun. Crawford, holding a BB gun—sold at Walmart—in the open carry state of Ohio, was shot and killed by police. Despite clear evidence that Ritchie lied to the 911 dispatcher, which is a crime, no charges were filed against him.
You can get arrested for pulling a fire alarm, making fake bomb threats and making false claims of an alien invasion—why not a false police report that results in death? We should be pushing for prosecution against these callers just as much as the cops who pull the trigger.
That’s why I knew Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s statement on the Philadelphia incident was trash: “Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated the way it did … ”
Either Johnson is lying or hasn’t been white in America as long as I’ve been black in America. Calling the police is the epitome of escalation, and calling the police on black people for noncrimes is a step away from asking for a tax-funded beatdown, if not an execution. That Starbucks manager didn’t call the police in hopes that they’d politely ask two black customers to buy a latte or leave, just as the angry woman in front of my apartment wasn’t threatening to call the cops just to get her boyfriend to listen to her. The intent of these actions is to remind black people that the ultimate consequence of discomforting white people—let alone angering them—could be death.
As horrible as the realities of American policing can be for black America, we can’t ever forget that there are even worse people out there. They’re peering out from the curtains of their house, information kiosks and “liberal” coffee counters, surreptitiously dialing their phones, whispering the exaggerations and Trumped-up fears that make America’s violent policing possible.
Steven Spielberg is the stunt king of Hollywood; he might be the only American director who could create Ready Player One, a film that is literally an homage to Spielberg’s own work in the 1980s.
Ready Player One is all about the adventure of a working-class Midwestern white teen boy who saves the world, the same setup as E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Goonies and Gremlins, genre-defining hits by Spielberg.
In this modern take on Spielberg films of old, Ready Player One is essentiallyWilly Wonka meets The Matrix with a splash of Wreck-It-Ralph, with flawless action scenes and special effects that rival each of those films in their heyday.
Unfortunately, Ready Player One is also disturbingly brazen and comfortable in its erasure of women and black folks from ’80s popular culture. While ostensibly the movie is about nostalgia for the music, dress, toys and video games of the ’80s, it’s only through the narrow, white male view of the ’80s.
If this were simply a Ready Player One problem, it would be understandable. However, increasingly, through movies and television shows, the 1980s are being rewritten in real time, erasing the burgeoning diversity of the time and replacing it with an unshakable white gaze.
Ready Player One takes places in 2045 in Columbus, Ohio, a city growing so fast, trailer homes are placed on top of one another to form “stacks,” the equivalent of urban housing “projects.” Everyone escapes the drudgery of the real world in the virtual reality OASIS, where people’s avatars engage in commerce, socializing and immersive video-game-type adventures that lean heavily on ’80s pop culture.
OASIS creator James Halliday went missing five years before the movie. Nevertheless, like a Silicon Valley Willy Wonka, he’s left a video promising that the gamer who discovers three hidden keys within the vast OASIS will be able to control the entire operation, essentially the most valuable resource in the world.
Regular nobody Wade Watts (bland Tye Sheridan) has been gunning for the clues for years, as well as his friend Aech (played with equal flatness by Lena Waithe), love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and evil mega-corporation chairman Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), whose Innovative Online Industries just wants to run the OASIS on its own.
The movie has a great setup and a serviceable cast. Then the world it creates all falls apart.
First, given America’s demographic changes, by 2045, chances are Wade Watts isn’t a white guy, he’s black or brown or something in between. However, it’s this kind of whiteness by default that defines and weakens the entire film.
The ’80s-themed OASIS everyone so blissfully plays in is a very white and male place; so much so, it’s unfamiliar to anybody watching the film who actually lived during that era.
The OASIS has Ninja Turtles, Ryu from “Street Fighter” and DeLoreans from Back to the Future, all white or white-male-identifying characters or films.
Where is the Ghostbusters’ Winston Zeddmore? Jazz from The Transformers? Panthro from Thundercats (c’mon, we all know he was black), or even prominent women like Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake and She-Ra?
Out of all the pop-culture characters available to her, would Lena Waithe’s Aech (who, both in the Ready Player One book and in reality, is a black lesbian) really choose white male robots and cyborgs as her avatars? Black sci-fi folks go out of their way to find people of color, even aliens, to play in games in order to have some reflection of their identity. If that means cosplaying as Roadblock from G.I. Joe or a mechanized Claudia LaSalle fromRobotech, so be it.
Ready Player One gives no such agency to the characters of color, even in the future; they view the past through the collective memory of white men. That kind of collective-memory erasure is no small thing; it makes the movie inauthentic and is representative of a larger problem in many recent ’80s period movies and television shows.
Ready Player One, much like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, Netflix’s Stranger Things and FX’s The Americans, takes our modern values and transposes them onto the 1980s. So, on the one hand, women aren’t completely accessories for male leads, and LGBT characters are presented, and with nuance, but no such reimagining seems to occur with black culture or issues; in fact, the opposite is happening.
For all the punk, A-ha and Peter Gabriel love ballads you heard on four seasons of Halt and Catch Fire, you’re telling me that nobody ever listened to a rap song? Even though Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys were two of the most influential acts of the decade?
Stranger Things can identify an abusive father by making sure he screams the homophobic slur “faggot” in 1984, but it conspicuously dances around the fact that Lucas, the token black kid on the show, is being bullied by a racist?
I can tell you without question that “working class” Midwestern white folks had no problem calling anybody “faggot” or “nigger” in the ’80s, no matter how much modern writers want to pretend otherwise.
Even The Americans, which does a better job with the complexities of race than most other ’80s period shows, still falls far short of a legitimate multicultural view of the Reagan era. There are at least a dozen episodes in which the family watches television, but they’ve never watched The Cosby Show? Their Christian, politically liberal daughter never rocked a “Rev. Jesse Jackson for President” T-shirt?
Collective white memory is a serious drug.
The erasure of black culture from the collective memory of the 1980s is no small nitpicking of the liberal cultural critic. Every time black folk are written out of America’s past, we have to fight to relearn it.
Writ large, Ready Player One, with its frothy retelling of the ’80s, is no different from decades of Western films with no black cowboys, rock ’n’ roll retrospectives that eliminate the black roots of the music, and commercials that appropriate our past while removing us from it. Today’s Gap commercials would lead you to believe that white people invented breakdancing and pop-locking.
Recasting the past for mass consumption isn’t simply an oversight, it’s an act of cultural hostility. Your past is being gentrified: In essence, get with the program or be erased from history.
There is literally a scene in Ready Player One where Aech is “punished” for not knowing the same pop-culture references of other main heroes. It’s a not-so -subtle message about race and assimilation: You’re welcome so long as you view the past through our white lens, and our experience supersedes your own lived experience.
Yes, the ’80s were about spiked-hair gel, but they were also about high-top fades. Americans loved the Terminator’s “I’ll be back” as much as they loved Axel Foley’s famous laugh and signature Detroit Lions jacket.
The 1980s were the beginning of the true integration of “black culture” into mainstream American “white culture,” but Ready Player One would have us believe that a five-second dress-up montage featuring a Purple RainPrince suit and Michael Jackson’s red-leather Thriller jacket was the only thing black people contributed to pop culture from 1980 to 1989.
As pure adventure escapism, Ready Player One is a fun movie, but it is ultimately alienating. The film doesn’t ask; instead, it aggressively forces you to rearrange your memory of ’80s popular culture in order to go along for the ride.
If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t win the game. But when you notice that the game was never made for you, there’s a lot less interest in playing, let alone watching.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor, political analyst and public speaker. Fresh, unflappable, objective, he is known for his ability to break down stories with wit and candor. Johnson is the author the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell, a tenured professor in the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and Politics Editor at TheRoot.com. Dr. Johnson has an extensive public speaking and media background ranging from … [Read More...] about About Jason Johnson