Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Liberal "racists" (granted anonymity)

The cult of anonymity of sources is one of the more aggravating characteristics of what still passes for journalism in America.

In his syndicated column, Racism - from [both] sides - mars campaign San Francisco Chronicle 10/29/08, Ruben Navarrette, Jr. addresses an underappreciated phenomenon. In the era when the whole Republican Party worships at the altar of Rush Limbaugh and their campaign rallies become harder and harder to distinguish from Klan rallies, Navarrette wants alert to a disturbing phenomenon: "liberal racism".

Fortunately for the health of the Republic, we have brave truth-tellers like Ruben Navarrette, Jr. who are willing to boldly speak truth to power, no matter what the consequences! Some black conservative radio talker named James T. Harris in Wisconsin has been getting critical mail, some of which calls him things like "Uncle Tom". Noting that "Harris said he believes many of the e-mails came from whites," truth-teller Navarrette boldly observes, "It takes nerve for someone who isn't black to accuse a black person of not being black enough." And, hey, did you know that liberals can be condescending, too?

In other words, he recites the same stale conservative script that we've heard from conservatives since, well, forever. E.g., "Don't you know those damnyankees are racists, too?", although Navarrette isn't quite that, uh, "politically incorrect" I think Republicans call it in their increasingly cult-like language where things may mean the opposite except not really.

Funny thing is, none of these "liberal racists" in Navarrette's column seem to have names. We hear about poor James Harris' hate mail, more specifically, according to our brave truth-teller, Harris "was inundated with hate mail and death threats." Navarrette also relates several instances of "liberals" saying insulting things to him. But they don't seem to have names either!

He didn't even bother to recycle any of the accusations of Hillary Clinton's alleged racism during the primary campaign, at least one of which was at least so borderline than even her defenders on that score (of which I am one) found it hard to credit her with the best intentions.

I mean, there are lots of liberals out there, including members of Congress, state legislators, local officials, writers, bloggers, Air America hosts and guests, community activists, organizers, union activists and officials, who make up the group of people who would feel comfortable describing ourselves as "liberals" (in the American sense of the term!). A whole lot of them have actual names.

So, if Navarrette is actually worried about this grim rise in "liberal racism", couldn't he have at least told us about some of these scary people who actually have names. Members of Congress who fit that category? Rachel Maddow? Some columnist for The Nation?

To expand a bit on the Harris quote, "hate mail" is a pretty broad category. I've gotten some myself now and then. But "death threats" are another category.

I can't find the link right now. But sometime in the not too distant past, Dave Neiwert posted at his Orcinus blog about a death threat he had received. He made a point of saying that he refers all such threats to the police, which is a good practice for anyone. Because, even with the broad interpretation of free speech in the US, making death threats is seriously illegal.

Which makes me wonder if Navarrette actually interviewed Harris about his hate mail and specifically about whether he had reported death threats to the police. The last time someone acted in a seriously threatening way toward me - he didn't make a death threat but he was in a road rage and confronted me next to the subway tracks - I filed a police report that same day and wrote down an even more detailed version of the incident for myself. Because if there were any further incidents with the guy or some kind of escalation, I wanted an official record in place. Death threats are serious business. People shouldn't be making them and those who do receive them should report them to the cops.

But if you're a columnist like Ruben Navarrette, Jr., and you're using reports of more than one such incident ("death threats") in your nationally syndicated columnist as evidence of the alarming phenomenon of "liberal racism", shouldn't you actually do something to verify the claim? Did he see copies of the death threats? Of Harris' police reports on them, if there were any?

Does he have any actual evidence that any of the hate mail or the far more serious alleged death threats came from actual "liberals"? And what in the name of Apollo does it mean to say, "Harris said he believes many of the e-mails came from whites"? From the wording, I would assume it means that neither Harris nor Navarrette actually verified the claim at all.

Again, before we all start worrying about this shocking outbreak of "liberal racism", shouldn't those warning us about it be able to point us to at least a couple of living, breathing liberals with names who they judge to be guilty of this offense?

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