Stillwater News Press

Opinion

April 21, 2014

LEONARD PITTS: Race and news coverage of President Obama

STILLWATER, Okla. — I have a question for George Will.

If he can’t answer it, maybe Brit Hume can. Both men were recently part of a panel on “Fox News Sunday” to which moderator Chris Wallace posed this question: Has race played a role in the often-harsh treatment of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder? Wallace was reacting to a clip of Holder strongly hinting that a testy encounter with House Republicans was part of a pattern of race-based abuse of himself and the president.

Some of the panelists framed their answers in political dimensions, i.e., what does this mean for the midterms? But Hume and Will responded directly.

Has race played a part? Heck no.

Said Hume: “This strikes me as kind of crybaby stuff from Holder. My sense about this is that both Eric Holder and Barack Obama have benefited politically enormously from the fact that they are African-American and the first to hold the jobs that they hold.”

“Look,” added Will, “liberalism has a kind of Tourette’s syndrome these days. It’s just constantly saying the word ‘racism’ and ‘racist.’ It’s an old saying in the law: If you have the law on your side, argue the law, if you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have neither, pound the table. This is pounding the table.”

And here, let us remove Holder from the equation because, frankly, the question I’m here to ask is more pertinent to his boss than him. I just wish Mssrs. Will and Hume would explain one thing:

You say race has played no role in the treatment of President Obama? Fine. What would it look like if it did?

I mean, we’re talking about a president who was called “uppity” by one GOP lawmaker, “boy” by another and “subhuman” by a GOP activist; who was depicted as a bone-through-the-nose witch doctor by opponents of his health-care reform bill; as a pair of cartoon spook eyes against a black backdrop by an aide to a GOP lawmaker, and as an ape by various opponents; who has been dogged by a “tea party” movement whose earliest and most enthusiastic supporters included the Council of Conservative Citizens, infamous for declaring the children of interracial unions “a slimy brown glop"; who was called a liar by an obscure GOP lawmaker during a speech before a joint session of Congress; who has had to contend with a years-long campaign of people pretending there is some mystery about where he was born.

There’s much more, but you get the drift. So I wish those men would explain how, exactly, the treatment of the president would differ if race were indeed part of the mix. What misbehavior would make them say: “OK, this is definitely about color of skin, not content of character"? Because from where I sit, much of the behavior toward Obama would need white hoods to be more blatantly racial than it already is.

Hume, by the way, says some critics have called his comments themselves “racist.” They’ve also scored the fact that this discussion was undertaken by an all-white panel. While the optics were odd, there was nothing in what he or Will said that would seem to merit that label. Those who slap him with it are likely motivated by the same knee-jerk reflex by which my critics – depend on it – will claim that I consider any disagreement with the president to be – sigh – “racist.”

That’s silly. But then, discussion of this seminal American fault line often reveals in some of us an unfortunate fondness for clownish superficiality. And yet that silliness does not detract from the criticality of the fault line itself. Nor can I share Will’s conviction that manly taciturnity is the best way to seal that fissure.

So what I ask is not rhetorical, not abstract, not a joke. It is a serious question.

And I’d appreciate the same sort of answer.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.

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