White Noise: Evaluating Charlottesville Media Coverage
Last weekend, on August 12th, hundreds of men and women took to the streets of Charlottesville, VA, to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park; or, at least that was the front for white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and Ku Klux Klan organizations to march against the growing diversity of our nation. Fortunately, over one thousand people took to the streets of the city as well, championing love and equality, in counter protest to the white nationalist crowd. Clashes occurred, and one white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing one woman, Heather Heyer. Following the event, news outlets, political figures, and many citizens of this country expressed grief for the loss of a passionate soul, concern for the state of race relations, and outrage that such bigotry still lives, breaths, and murders in this country today. This is not the first and far from the last tragedy and act of bigoted villainy we have seen or shall see. However, this is the first to occur under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump.
Known for increasing viewership ratings on cable news, Trump has been the center of conversation in American politics since he announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015. Unfortunately, this Trump-heavy focus in broadcast journalism has given the man of little hands and all he stands for a massive platform and, during the campaign, free advertising. Today, from a logical standpoint, it makes sense for the news to report what he does and says; he is the President of the United States, after all. Despite this, Trump's eccentric, crude personality and the ridiculous cast of characters he surrounds himself with have overshadowed other important news and all associated discussions since his election in November 2016. Even after a disgusting display of hatred last weekend, Trump's words (and their ever changing form) have taken the foreground of our nation's attention; at least to those who watch and read the news, Trump seems to matter more to reporters than the issues of racism and domestic terrorism that poison our country.
One week has passed, and the only reports still addressing Charlottesville are those in memory of Ms. Heather Heyer and those covering the political aftermath of Trump's ludicrous beating-around-the-bush about racial motivation and the definition terrorism. News channels are getting one thing right by highlighting the former, but it is far from enough. What is missing from the headlines and our country's dinner table discussions? A conversation about race and terror.
The last major incident of racially-motivated domestic terrorism occurred in June 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. While the topics of race and domestic terrorism were discussed following the Unite the Right rally, the supposed-to-be-ongoing conversations disappeared, hidden in a presidential sea of spray tan and unplanned self-correction. Major news networks like CNN (the network I chose to watch during the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville) cared more about discussing every guests' opinion on Trump's comments than engaging in the necessary dialogue about race and terrorism. The effects of the affectionately nicknamed "Cheeto Monster" and our news media's Trump-focused reporting have even reached the American home; my own family, politically active and frequently engaged in issue dialogue, found ourselves discussing Trump's "many sides" more than racism and domestic terrorism.
Terrorism and racism have gone hand in hand in this country for well over a century. One of the Unite the Rights' primary organizations, the KKK, was responsible for some of the first organized, politically-motivated crimes in our nation's history. To me, it seems like more terrorists around the world borrow tactics from white supremacists than history's other violent groups; the Ku Klux Klan, like the modern terrorist cell of ISIS, attacked individuals and small groups of people at a time but publicly displayed the results (often death) to instill fear into the hearts of their targets. For this hate group and its comrades in the Unite the Right rally, to perpetuate vile sentiments of white supremacy and racial cleansing says one thing about our nation: racism is alive. But everyone already knows that. The fact that the nation's most popular form of news media discussed race and terrorism far less than the wild ramblings of an unpopular executive says even more.
Photo credit Anthony Crider, Creative Commons