sharpton

Freedom of the Press: Why Don’t Journalists Challenge Race Hustlers Like Al Sharpton?

The third right guaranteed in the First Amendment is freedom of the press.  This being the case, one can be forgiven for wondering why, when it comes to challenging the hate-filled diatribes of race hustlers like Al Sharpton, journalists seem afraid to act.  For years Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other so-called black leaders who make their living fomenting racial divisiveness have been given a pass by mainstream journalists.  At the same time, these same journalists are quick to challenge and even denounce black conservatives. One can be forgiven for wondering what these mainstream journalists are afraid of.

One of the duties of journalists—both print and electronic—is to be appropriately skeptical of statements made by those who seek the attention of the reading and viewing public—people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.  Mainstream journalists have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of doing this when the individuals in question are conservatives, Christians, or Republicans.  In fact, when it comes to dealing with people in these groups, journalists can be more than just appropriately skeptical—they can be obnoxious, rude, and contentious.  In fact, they typically are.

Clearly, mainstream journalists are either afraid of offending black Americans—and, in turn, being labeled racists—or they are guilty of applying a double standard to left-leaning black leaders.  Of course another option is that both of these possibilities are true: they are afraid of being called racists and they are guilty of applying a double standard.  I suspect the “both option” is closer to the truth than either of the other two.  In other words, mainstream journalists use their freedom of the press to selectively attack those with whom they disagree while serving as willing propaganda agents for those whose views they share.

When questioning people who refuse to toe the line of liberal orthodoxy, journalists often behave like prosecuting attorneys or, worse yet, angry little brats in a snit.  But let the speaker be a liberal black leader—say Al Sharpton for example—and journalists who are supposed to be appropriately skeptical suddenly become sheepishly docile and blindly accepting.  As a result, Sharpton and company get away with making some of the most outlandish claims imaginable; claims that go unchallenged by journalists who don’t dare put aside their tacitly agreed to double standard. The double standard that mainstream journalists apply when dealing with liberal black leaders is not just unprofessional, it is blatantly biased and an insult to the Framers of the Constitution. Worse yet, it does nothing to help black Americans who find themselves indirectly associated with those who make the ridiculous statements whether they agree with them or not.

When conservative commentator Walter Williams published his first book, The State Against Blacks, a press conference was called to introduce the author and the book.  Williams surprised participating journalists by demanding they treat him like a “white man.”  By this he meant they should ask him difficult questions, disagree with him, and even demand that he validate his opinions with facts.  Several books and hundreds of columns later, Williams no longer has to demand that he be treated like anyone else by journalists.  Now that the mainstream media is familiar with his conservative views, Williams gets the same obnoxious treatment journalists give anyone who questions the liberal agenda.

Here is what Walter Williams had to say in a syndicated column about the journalistic double standard applied to black leaders: “People such as former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and former Chairman Julian Bond and the Reverend Al Sharpton can make ludicrous statements.  An intimidated news media just swallows the nonsense.  They are probably afraid to challenge, lest they suffer guilt feelings of racism or be seen as racists for demanding that a black person back up his comments with facts.”  Williams notes that Al Sharpton once claimed that “White folks was in caves while we was building empires.”  The Reverend was pontificating about black history at the time.  Julian Bond, who is no Al Sharpton and knows better, once claimed, “The Republican Party would have the American flag and the swastika flying side by side.”

One expects Al Sharpton to make absurd statements such as this that cannot be backed up with facts—it’s what he does and giving him a pass when doing it is what mainstream journalists do.  However, to allow someone such as Julian Bond—a man who marched beside Dr. King at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and who has held responsible positions in government at the national and local levels—to go unchallenged when he equates Republicans with Nazis represents an inexcusable breakdown in journalistic ethics and professionalism.  A responsible journalist would have asked Mr. Bond such as questions as: 1) Mr. Bond are you saying that Republicans will build death camps in which they will slaughter millions of black Americans by gassing them as the Nazis did the Jews?” or 2) Mr. Bond, are you saying that Republicans plan to organize a “Krystal Night” in which they will burn and loot black-owned businesses nationwide as the Nazis did to Jewish businesses?” Julian Bond fought as hard as anyone as a warrior in the Civil Rights movement, and what he fought for was equality among the races not favoritism for one race over the others. He was right then, but he is wrong now.

The battle for civil rights in America was a noble cause that had one over-riding goal: to bring equality to all the races by applying the same standard to all.  In other words, civil rights leaders wanted Americans to do what Dr. King asked them to do: judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  Giving black leaders a pass when they make absurd and purposefully divisive statements is not just irresponsible journalism.  It is an abdication of everything Dr. King died for and an affront to what the framers intended when they drafted the First Amendment.

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Jacob "Jake" Steele

Dr. Jacob Steele is a professor of Political Science and the author of numerous books and articles in this field.

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