Monday, February 13, 2012

Republican Racism Example #16: Fox News - The "Black People Scare Us" Channel

(Screen capture from the Business Insider website at

A November 2010 episode of the animated series The Simpsons featured a closeup of a Fox News helicopter emblazoned with the slogan, "Not Racist, But #1 With Racists."  The joke was funny, but only half right.

Fox News has become not just a network that encourages racism in others but revels in intolerance.  When Newt Gingrich launched into his bullying, condescending put down of black anchor Juan Williams during a January GOP presidential debate, he knew that he was not only playing to the hateful rednecks in the auditorium, but also to a friendly audience in TV land.  In the Obama era, Fox News continued as a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and set about to destroy the new president as they had tried to bury his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton.  But there was a new dimension to Fox's partisanship: what Joan Walsh, the editor-at-large for Salon has labeled "the 50-state Southern Strategy."

After 2008, it was no longer sufficient for Fox News to gin up phony stories (the type of smear campaign used against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s war record during the 2004 presidential race, for instance) long used by GOP hatchet man and Fox News President Roger Ailes to discredit what he saw as liberal policies or the defective moral character of Democratic politicians.  Fox feared an ideological sea change had happened during the last presidential election. 

Ailes and company feared that the country was headed in a genuinely progressive direction, not just the "New Democrat" faux liberalism of Bill Clinton.  The network, therefore, went to DefCom 4 – high red alert status – when Obama won the presidency.  It was not enough to get the rabid Republican base scared about health care reform, to fill their tiny minds with fables about “death panels.” Fox had to appeal to baser, tribal instincts to make the increasingly white supremacist GOP voters motivated to “take their country back” from a black man slandered as foreign-born and secretly a Muslim. 

Ailes and Fox News chose to provoke a racial panic: that a country supposedly built by and for white people was being taken over by violent and subversive black people.  Fox fed its viewers a steady diet of stories about dangerous black people, no matter for fragile the tall tales’ connections to reality.  There was nothing new here for Ailes.  He had been part of the Nixon campaign brain trust in 1968 when the “Southern Strategy” first hatched.  A central part of the Southern Strategy was to repackage the white racial resentment boiling in the South over integration and in the North over school busing and urban riots that had been successfully exploited by segregationist Alabama Gov. and perennial presidential candidate George Wallace.  Nixon wanted to win the votes of bigots, but in a sophisticated enough way that he didn’t scare off more moderate voters.  

Towards that cynical end, Ailes carefully cast the audiences that sat in on staged “Nixon meets voters” televiion broadcasts during the 1968 campaign.  A minor crisis developed before one taping in Philadelphia when a staffer had placed a Jewish psychiatrist on the panel.  Nixon didn’t like Jews and held a deep suspicion of the psychiatric profession.  The man was dropped from the panel before taping and Ailes made a suggestion for a substitute.

 “A good, mean Wallacite cabdriver,” Ailes said.  “Wouldn’t that be great?  Some guy to sit there and say, ‘Awright, Mac, what about those niggers?”  Nixon could then act shocked, Ailes reasoned, deplore the man’s language, but then talk about law and order and “states’ rights” – in short offer a reasonable version of the cabbie’s anti-black resentments.  Ailes went outside the studio and found a cabdriver who matched the desired description.   Ailes once worried about scaring away moderates.  He doesn’t worry anymore.  The GOP is in the hands of extremists and those Wallacite cabdrivers are the core audience for Fox News.

Look at the wholly concocted stories that have raged on Fox since the 2008 election.  As Joan Walsh eloquently summed it up:

Glenn Beck and others went after ‘green jobs czar’ Van Jones, an African-American, false claiming Jones signed a 9/11 ‘Truther’ petition [and that he had been arrested during the Rodney King riots and was an active communist . . . correctly noting he’d said some not-nice things about Republicans. Jones resigned.

Van Jones, who would have been Barack Obama's "green jobs czar" instead found himself transformed into Fox News' first of many "scary black people."  Hosts like Glenn Beck lied about Jones, falsely claiming he was a 9-11 "Truther" and that he had been arrested during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in the 1990s.  (Photo from 

“Then the big story was ACORN, the community-organizing group run by a black woman, Bertha Lewis, and known for working in low-income black communities. First, remember, ACORN allegedly committed voter fraud in the 2008 election (in fact, the voter registration problems at ACORN were self-reported, and the fraud was on ACORN, because they paid some scam-artist workers to register voters that ultimately didn’t exist – and thus wouldn’t vote). Then Fox hyped the big Breitbart video lie: that James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles went into various ACORN offices dressed outlandishly as pimp and prostitute, and got advice on how to beat taxes and set up a child prostitution ring. In fact, once law enforcement officials began examining those charges, they found they were false. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post even had to headline its story: ‘ACORN set up by vidiots: DA.’

More recently, Fox has been pushing the story of how the Obama administration protected the New Black Panther Party from charges of voter intimidation, stemming from complaints by three Republican poll workers that the ‘Panthers’ were intimidating mainly black voters in Philadelphia in 2008. No intimidated voters were ever found, and conservative Abigail Thernstrom blasted other GOP members of the U.S Civil Rights Commission for trying to use the non-story to ‘topple’ Obama.

Then came Shirley Sherrod . . .”

In case you don’t remember, Shirley Sherrod worked at the United States Department of Agriculture.  She was forced to resign because of a dishonestly edited videotape of a speech she made during a NAACP Freedom Fund dinner on August 21, 2010 that seemed to prove she deliberately discriminated against a white farmer, withholding full help from him when he was facing the loss of his farm, when she was the USDA’s Director of Rural Development in Georgia.  Breibart’s redacted version highlighted this section of Sherrod’s speech:

“You know, the first time I was faced with helping a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he... I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that, or the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him. So I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. So I figured if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.

That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white – it is about white and black, but it's not, you know, it opened my eyes because I took him to one of his own.”

Had the tape not undergone a Stalinist revision, viewers would have seen the remarks in context.  Sherrod was telling a complex story about how her family had suffered horribly from racism, and how her dad had been murdered by a white supremacist.  She was confessing that this had made it hard for her at first to empathize with white people, how she struggled with her own racial biases, but how she overcame that.  In the unedited version of the story, she tells the audience that she decided to help the farmer, won him assistance, and became friends with him.   (The video of Sherrod’s complete, moving speech is available  at

In a shabby smear campaign against Shirley Sherrod,  an official in Obama's Department of Agriculture, the recently deceased Republican activist Andrew Breitbart deceptively edited a video of a Sherrod speech to make it look like she was abusing her position to punish white people.  Sherrod's speech was actually about reaching racial understanding.  (Photo from  

When Breitbart posted the edited video on his website.  Fox News hyped this into an artificial scandal, with around-the-clock coverage of how the Obama administration had an anti-white racist working at the USDA.  Talking Pinheads Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity demanded that Sherrod resign, citing her misrepresented remarks as evidence of Obama’s alleged black radicalism.  For a collection of the sleazy Fox News attacks on Sherrod, check Media Matters for America (another target of constant dishonest smear jobs from Ailes and company), at

As has happened so often with this administration, the White House withered in the face of opposition.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack cravenly pressured Sherrod to quit.  However, CNN got a complete tape of the speech and interviewed the subject of Sherrod’s story, Roger Spooner.  The farmer told CNN that Sherrod was no racist and it was because of her that he was able to save his farm. “If it hadn't been for her, we would've never known who to see or what to do," he said in the interview. "She led us right to our success."  His wife, Eloise, remembered Sherrod fondly, and recalled that, “after things kind of settled down, she brought Sherrod some tomatoes out of her garden, and they had a good visit."

Ailes, Hannity and O'Reilly were exposed, at a minimum, as being incompetent and spreading a smear due to laziness. Unable to deny his role in this ugly imbroglio, O’Reilly had a rare moment of public regret and apologized.   Vilsac would sheepishly offer Sherrod her job back though she later refused.  This doesn’t let Fox off the hook.  “I have no doubt that, if CNN hadn’t found Roger and Eloise Spooner, the white farmers helped by Sherrod, Fox would have peddled Breitbart’s lies all week, to further its paranoid and politically driven narrative that Obama is a ‘racist’ who’s out to oppress white folks as ‘reparations’ for the centuries of discrimination blacks have endured,” as Walsh wrote in  (See

Lest you think that Fox News learned any moral lessons from the Sherrod smear, the hacks at that network created another artificial controversy in May 2011 over the invitation by Obama to the rapper Common, well-known as a positive performer whose main crime to Fox is being black and that he supports liberal causes, like winning a new trial for Mumia Abu Jamal, an African American man accused of killing a police officer.  Hannity and O’Reilly defamed Common as a support of cop killers and as a radical black nationalist.  As Jon Stewart later exclaimed incredulously on The Daily Show:

"Are we really doing this again? For this guy, Common? The guy from the Gap ads? The guy from the Queen Latifah rom-coms? Elmo's friend?" (Common appeared on Sesame Street.)

When Common performed at the White House, Fox News transformed the rapper, who has devoted his career to promoting understanding and peace, into a dangerous black radical who supports cop killers.  Above, Common poses with "Elmo" during an appearance on Sesame Street.  (Photo from 

Stewart pointed out that Fox News, hosts Sean Hannity and former GOP Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee often had acid casualty rocker Ted Nugent as an honored guest even though he once invited Obama and Hillary Clinton to suck the barrel of his machine gun and called them on their racially biased hypocrisy. Stewart says it better than I do here:

As for Breitbart, in spite of his proven record as a liar with motives that are at least racially divisive, he continued to be a talking head on CNN and other network until his death earlier this year.  Baseless attacks on black people don’t disqualify someone as an expert in the mainstream media.  Maybe Fox News is simply more open about its racism.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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