Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Unprompted Media Reporting on Racism is the Exception, Not the Norm

I've said my bit on the Alice Walker controversy, but I did have one more thought to add on the meta-controversy -- namely, the complaint that the media hasn't (until the Tablet article, anyway) "covered" Walker's antisemitism. A similar hue and cry has gone up about the Women's March: until Tablet did its big expose, big media sources weren't "investigating" the Women's March for antisemitism.

The idea here is that there is something distinctively passive in the media's treatment of antisemitism. Had it been a different author who'd put up a racist poem on his blog, or had it been a conservative social movement whose leaders had a history of misogyny, the media would have been all over it -- there would have been an endless stream of reportings and investigations and think pieces. But on antisemitism? Silence.

I find this complaint a bit strange, as it appears to live in a media world I'm utterly unfamiliar with. Namely: one where the media, without any particular prompting and without some specific sharp instigating event, just runs a story about a given public figure or social movement's racism problem.

It's only in a world where that happens regularly -- where the New York Times, every other week or so, picks out some celebrated author or actor and of its own accord runs a story about their terrible racist or misogynist or xenophobia viewpoints -- where it seem remotely weird that they hadn't yet done that for Alice Walker. Right? Because otherwise, the failure of the media to run such a story here is utterly normal, and perfectly in keeping with their regular practices.

And the fact is that the media generally doesn't run such pieces. Unless there is a clear instigating event -- something like the Tablet article -- the New York Times doesn't just search about and look for social movements or public figures it can call racist. It mostly studiously avoids such "inflammatory" pieces unless and until it is absolutely impossible to hold off on it. Which is to say, exactly how it's handled the claims of antisemitism in the Women's March or for Alice Walker.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Whatever they'd do or say about Jews, they'd do or say about others too (and vice versa). What we think is unique to Jews on matters of oppression -- whether we think it's uniquely favorable or uniquely disfavorable treatment -- very rarely is. One can very much believe that mainstream media sources should take on a more proactive posture towards reporting on prominent figures and movements who have problems of prejudice. But when they don't do so in the case of antisemitism, they're doing nothing more than what they fail to do for everyone else.

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