When I grew up, in the ’70s, it seemed as if every week 60 Minutes would have a blockbuster story. Over the years, the CBS news program seems to have lost its focus and hard-hitting journalism. Last night, they seemed to be getting back into form. Last night, they revealed that many Congressman, as most of us thought, aren’t working for us. We elect them to represent our interests in Washington. It appears that many of our congressmen are more interested in lining their own pockets than they are in passing legislation that helps the American people. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American people issue.
Melissa Harris-Perry is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and dramatic people on the political scene. She has moved from Princeton to Tulane. I suspect that NOLA will change. She is a force. In her latest article in The Nation she answers the question why we still need a Black History month.
From the Nation:
We are in the final hours of February 2011. These are the last moments of this year’s Black History Month. February is always my busiest month for travel and public lectures as I join dozens of other professors whose research takes on sudden relevance for four short weeks. Typically, I spend some time in February responding to queries about the origins of the month-long observance. Invariably, I am also asked to defend its continuing relevance.
Student reporter: Do we really need a separate black history month now that we have a black president?
Me: Can you name five important African-Americans, not including Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, and tell me something about their contributions to America?
Student reporter: (Silence)
Me: Yes, we still need Black History Month.
In these waning moments of yet another busy February I admit to feeling particularly defeated by our typical Black History Month approach, which tends to be rooted in a recitation of “little known black history facts” and the celebration of a few accomplished and brilliant individuals. Our contemporary political environment cries out for an urgent, collective immersion in accurate Americanhistory, including its complicated intersections with race and racism. I have a professional nerd fantasy in which I imagine every cable news program devoting a quarter of every hour to the study of American history. I can hear the ratings plummet, but I love the idea of taking just a few moments to inform the public about the broad outlines of our key historical moments, so that these moments cannot be so easily twisted, distorted and misused by ideological movements. Indulge the fantasy for a moment.
What might happen if Americans understood Revolutionary War history? Maybe it would be considerably harder for the Tea Party to convince voters that their anxieties about a president elected with 53 percent of the popular vote by an electorate that enjoys universal adult suffrage are “just the same” as the concerns of colonists who decried taxation without representation under the rule of an absolute monarch. No sustained engagement with The Federalist Papers could allow the narrow, simplistic assertions about the intent of the founding fathers so often present in Tea Party rhetoric. The Tea Party’s ability to deploy the symbols and language of patriotism requires broad and deep ignorance of American history. The American public is woefully unprepared to fact check their bold assertions that they are the keepers of the authentic national legacy. I do not mean to suggest that Revolutionary War history or The Federalist Papers reveal that America’s founders were actually progressive liberals, likely to have subscribed to The Nation. Rather, American history teaches us that the founders were complex, that the founding was contested and that any attempt to reduce American history to soundbite ideology is woefully inadequate. If we shared a deeper and more accurate understanding of our history we would not all be liberals, but perhaps we would be more careful.
While we clearly suffer from a national deficit of historical knowledge in general, we seem to be particularly uninformed about the histories of marginal people: black Americans, non-white immigrants, women of all races, workers and gay Americans. I suspect secession would seem less reasonable to those who had a clear understanding of American Civil War history. I believe Americans might be better equipped to recognize and appreciate the consequences of the racial angst directed at President Obama’s administration if they were better versed in the decades of backlash that followed Reconstruction. I am confident that serious study of American labor history would remind voters of all that is at stake in the current battles to maintain collective bargaining rights. I have no doubt that young women would feel more urgent about protecting their reproductive rights if they were more fully versed in the history of women’s struggle for equality. (more…)
Hey, I upgraded my blog yesterday. If there are any troubles please let me know. Thanks!!
Those of us who have sat back and looked at the media knew this was going to happen sooner or later. Juan Williams, longtime contributor to NPR, has been fired. He hasn’t been fired for anything he has said on NPR, but for his other job. He has been the “liberal” on Fox news for some time now. As the “liberal” it is his job to make Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and others on Fox news seem less crazy. It is his job to agree with some premise that they point out by stating that it is really not all that far-fetched.
On Monday, I documented the glaring double standard in our political discourse generally and in the world of journalism specifically, whereby anti-Muslim bigotry is widely tolerated, while those perceived as expressing similar (or even more mild) animus toward other groups are harshly punished (see, for instance, Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez). That double standard suffered a very welcome blow last night, when NPR announced it was firing its long-time correspondent, Juan Williams, due to blatantly bigoted anti-Muslim remarks Williams made on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program.
O’Reilly had created controversy last week when he went on The View and blamed 9/11 on “Muslims,” and Fox’s morning host, Brian Kilmeade, then exacerbated that ugliness when he falsely claimed, as part of his defense of O’Reilly: “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” On Tuesday night, Williams went on O’Reilly’s program to perform his standard, long-time function on Fox — offering himself up as the supposed “liberal” defending Fox News commentators (and other right-wing extremists) from charges of bigotry and otherwise giving cover to incendiary right-wing attacks — and said this to O’Reilly:
Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.
I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
Now, I remember also when the Times Square bomber was at court — this was just last week — he said: “the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood.” I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.
This isn’t the first time that Juan Williams has opened his mouth on Fox and inserted his foot. The problem is the situations that Fox puts Mr. Williams in and he willingness to answer leading or stupid questions.
Here’s an example of Juan on Da Factor talking about Michelle Obama and want she brings to the table:
WILLIAMS: Yeah. And let me just — let me just tell you this: If you think about liabilities for President Obama that are close to him — Joe Biden’s up there — but Michelle Obama’s right there. Michelle Obama, you know —
O’REILLY: But it’s not her fault in the sense that —
WILLIAMS: — she’s got this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking, as Mary Katharine suggested, her instinct is to start with this “blame America,” you know, “I’m the victim.” If that stuff starts to come out —
Last year NPR asked Juan Williams not mention their name while on Fox. The writing was on the wall. It was only a matter of time before Mr. Williams would get fired. I think that Glenn’s point is a good one.