Yes, I’ll admit it: I’m climbing on my high horse and I’m probably going to anger a few readers. So be it. The fact is, I’m sick of hearing about the George Zimmerman story, case, and (now) verdict. And it isn’t because I’ve followed every dramatic development and pawed after every scrap of “news” related to the story, as apparently 93.267% of Americans have been doing for the past several months (I made that stat up, but the rhetorical point should be clear). In other words, it’s not because I’m burnt out from endless hours of arguing about the case and verdict on Facebook and via other social media. Sure, I followed the story. Then again, you’d have to be living in a cave in Iceland to miss the story.
Why my complaining? Is it because I’m a heartless jerk? Or because I don’t care that young Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26, 2012, by George Zimmerman? Is it because I’m insensitive to the deep, racial divides in the United States?
Let’s look at it another way: what does my offering such obligatory, defensive rhetorical questions say about what is expected of consumers (you and I) by the peddlers of such stories (the mass media)?
The Canadian philosopher (and convert to Catholicism) Marshall McLuhan (1911-80) famously wrote a book titled, The Medium is the Massage. I suggest that if McLuhan was still among, he would need to write a book titled, The Media is the Story. If an actual news story exists, the media frames it and positions it and promotes it as is needed or desired. If the desired story does not quite exist, or doesn’t exist at all, then it can be massaged and molded, and even birthed into being through artificial, uh, creation. News stories are essentially products; if they become big enough, they might turn into brands. And once you buy the product and embrace the brand, there’s a good chance you’re being played. Put another way, you end up discussing the product and debating the brand based largely, if not entirely, upon the assumptions and premises built into said product and brand.
“But,” some will say, “the internet and FOX News and Blogger Smith and Talk Shaw Host Jones have helped us fight against the falsehoods, errors, and misrepresentations surrounding this story.” I don’t want to dismiss that out of hand, or say it’s not important to fight biased fire with objective facts. Yet in so many cases, it’s not that the story in question does not have some merit; rather, its alleged importance is completely out of proportion to its actual importance. While there is certainly some subjectivity involved in such a judgment, it’s also the case that the central focus and overarching theme of a story is quite often a distraction from questions and issues of much greater, deeper, and permanent importance. There is also this simple fact: the media continues to drive the bus called “Big Story of the Day.” And if you are on the bus, you can yank the cord as much as you like, but you are mostly at the mercy of the driver.
I’ll illustrate with a couple of simple questions. If a young black couple went on a date and was abducted by several whites, and then tortured, raped, and killed, how would you feel if that story went unreported by the national media? Would you consider such an oversight “racist”? Or simply inept, lazy, or gutless?
With that in mind, here’s another question: have you ever heard of Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian? If not, acquaint yourself with their story: a young white couple, kidnapped in January 2007 in Knoxville by five black suspects, four men and one woman, and were both raped, tortured, and then killed (Channon was forced to watch to Christopher be raped and killed before she was eventually murdered). While some accounts have been sensationalized a bit, the undisputed facts are so vile, you may (like me) get sick. But, as Snopes.com notes, this horrible story was not reported by ABC, NCB, CBS, cable news networks—not even FOX would touch it.
Why? Good question. I’ll let you mull that over for yourself. And while you do, keep in mind that a Google news search for “George Zimmerman” produces over 67 million results, while a search for “Christopher Newsom” and “Channon Christian” produces a total of 56,300 results. Again, why?
As is so often the case, it takes a British newspaper to broach a topic that most American outlets are too politically-correct and spineless to address. Crystal Wright, in a July 11th column in The Guardian, wrote,
Sadly, this trial wouldn’t be receiving wall-to-wall national media coverage if Zimmerman was black. That’s what we should be talking about.
Startling statistics reveal that between 1980-2008, African-Americans were six times more likely than whites to be victims of gun violence and seven times more likely to kill with guns than whites, according to the Justice Department. African-Americans represent a mere 13% of the US population yet more than 50% of federal prisoners are black. You can claim racial bias in the judicial system, but that doesn’t explain all of it.
I suppose those are “startling statistics” if 1) you haven’t been paying attention for the past, oh, few decades and 2) you get your news from mainstream U.S. media outlets. The real issue here is not racism, since most violent crime is intraracial. No, it is actually the culture of death, which is rooted (so to speak) in the collapse of families, the corresponding rise in gangs, the obliteration of basic familial and social responsibilities, and a growing subculture that is, it can be fairly said, barbaric and violent in nature. An August 18, 2012, Wall Street Journal article, “Communities Struggle to Break a Grim Cycle of Killing”, sums up some of the big and very bloody numbers:
Bureau of Justice Statistics data show that from 1976 to 2005, white victims were killed by white defendants 86% of the time and black victims were killed by blacks 94% of the time.
Then there is the matter of who is dying. Although the U.S. murder rate has been dropping for years, an analysis of homicide data by The Wall Street Journal found that the number of black male victims increased more than 10%, to 5,942 in 2010 from 5,307 in 2000.
Overall, more than half the nation’s homicide victims are African-American, though blacks make up only 13% of the population. Of those black murder victims, 85% were men, mostly young men.
Here are some more numbers.
There is a lot going on here, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But I will question many of the trite and generally terrible answers provided by the usual suspects. Again, the real story—the actual, abiding crisis—is not, ultimately, racism. As Jonah Goldberg remarked a few months ago, “the inconvenient truth is that conservatives are not only not racist, they aren’t a fraction as obsessed with race as liberals are.” Yet that’s all we hear about, and therefore many of us dutifully play the game.
I’ll confess that I’ve been guilty of it in a small but real way. A few years ago, my wife and I had to take some state-run classes in order to adopt a child (our third) from another state. It’s a complicated story, but suffice to say we had to attend a dozen or so classes, each three hours long, that addressed a host of issues. Having already adopted two children (via private adoptions), we were familiar with most of the material. The class on race and bi-racial families, however, was a shock, even though our immediate and extended family are both bi-racial. For three hours, in different ways, the several dozen, predominantly white couples in attendance were told, without much subtlety, that they were racist.
Why? Because they were white. When one woman timidly raised her hand and uttered a meek and puzzled question, she was immediately and firmly informed that she simply didn’t understand how things really work, how minority kids really feel, and so forth. Hey, you’re racist and stupid! Any more questions? Meanwhile, I kept my mouth shut (it was hard!), because we had one goal: to adopt a young boy who needed a family. (And we did; our youngest son is now almost six years old.)
The fact is, most people are simply clueless about the staggering depths of the problem of black-on-black violence, as the WSJ article notes:
Because black-on-black violence tends to stay concentrated within poorer, inner-city areas, there is a lack of wider awareness of the depth of the problem, said Jack Levin of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. “Nobody in this room would even know the name Trayvon Martin if it had been a black kid who shot Trayvon Martin,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, an African American, speaking at a gun-violence research forum.
And, of course, if you bring it up, you’re a racist. A hater. A bigot. An intolerant, insensitive jerk who doesn’t understand what’s really going.
What’s really going on, however, is a spiritual and social collapse that has been spiraling out of control for decades, a collapse that is hardly unique to black communities, but for various reasons has revealed itself most dramatically within those communities. Other communities, of course, aren’t far behind or, perhaps, are just as bad off, but are able to hide it better through sleight-of-affluent-hand tricks and endless talk about government programs that will rebuild this, revitalize that, redirect that group, reeducate this group, and so forth.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting once again with Fr. Daniel Maurer of the The Mary Mother of God Mission Society, who since 1992 has been a missionary in Vladivostok and a priest at the Most Holy Mother of God Catholic Church. He discussed some stunning numbers and statistics: 94% of marriages in Russia end in divorce; most women have had 8 or 10 or more abortions; only 1% of the people practice the Faith (that is, the attend church more than twice a year). There is rampant corruption and despair throughout the country. The communists, for some 70 years or so (1917-late 1980s) had worked to destroy family ties and religious faith, and had done so through a variety of tactics: propaganda, fear, “education”, persecution, jail, and the murder of some 40-50 million people (perhaps more). The Soviet Union, without doubt, was very different from today’s United States in many ways. Yet the communist government knew that the key to controlling the people was through the destruction of belief, the transference of familial ties and loyalties to the state, and the insistence that this life is all that matters. That is, in short, a recipe for the culture of death. And can anyone say that sort of erosion, whether planned or not, is not taking place in this country?
But, hey, why worry about that when we can argue endlessly about faux racism? Facebook, here I come!
[Update: The original post incorrectly identified McLuhan’s book as The Medium is the Message.]