They still haven't found what they're looking for

>> Friday, September 12, 2008

My clock radio is set to NPR in the mornings. That's what I wake up to, or at least what I lie in bed and hear while I try to figure out where I am and why I am while the cat sings the food song and does an improvisational dance on the bed and the floor. The cat, you know, has something in common with the Israelites per the Old Testament account: he cries up and cries up, and all that is merciful and cruel says, "I'm comin'! I'm comin'," and eventually musters up the fortitude to clumsily walk-fall downstairs to provide manna from heaven, or at least an open can of Fancy Feast that goes over like manna to the feline. I don't remember my joints aching as much in the morning when I was in high school twenty years ago--it must be that global warming, or the economy.

Anyway, the other morning, as I lay waking up, NPR featured a roundtable discussion with residents of York, Pennsylvania about race and the 2008 election. Penn is considered a battleground state, of course, and race, well. There's a possibility it might be considered a potential issue, maybe. So, I'm listening to this story, and one of the participants says something interesting. He says, and I'm paraphrasing here, that it seems to him that a lot of the people who keep saying that the media has been "soft" on Senator Obama act as if they're expecting something else to surface, are assuming that there's some scandal or story that isn't being exposed because of media bias, and that it further seems to him that these folks (most of whom are white) are expecting this or assuming this because Senator Obama is black.

That woke me up.

It's an interesting thought hadn't occurred to me, possibly because I'm white, and like (I expect) most white Americans, I don't spend much time thinking about being a white American, or as much as I probably should. It's an interesting thought because it isn't like there haven't been media flurries about Senator Obama: Tony Rezko, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the latest business about dolling-up pork. It's not that the media hasn't done stories about these issues and others--it's that these things have flared up and died down, and nothing has stuck particularly well.

So what are these media critics looking for?

Are they waiting for the revelations of drug use? Oh, wait--the candidate already broached those more than a year ago (an old trial attorney's trick, that: get the bad news about your client out first, show you've got nothing to hide). (Some journalists even went so far as to report that the Senator's useful drug use might have been overstated.) Are they waiting for the shady real estate deal to be exposed? Wait, no, it already was, and the local newspaper decided there was no "there" there. Do they wish journalists would dig up potentially embarrassing videos from the Senator's church and float them the way videos from Governor Palin's church were floated? We've been there, done that. Maybe they think the Senator has a secret love child... hang on, no, that was the other guy.

It's possible, you know, that the reason the media isn't outing all of the skeletons in Barack Obama's closet isn't for want of trying. It's even possible--mind you, I'm not saying it's the case, only that it's possibly the case--that the media haven't found all sorts of juicy scandals because there just aren't any.

So what are the media critics looking for? What do they hope to find?

Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. Except when it is. Sometimes, the reason you can't find something is because it's not there.

And if some people are insisting that there must be something there, the reasonable question is "why"? Is it, as the roundtable participant suggested, because Senator Obama is a black man and therefore a shady character?

Or is it novelty in general? I have to confess, when Governor Palin suddenly impacted the national political scene, I wondered what was going to emerge when people started looking more closely at Alaska politics. It wasn't because she was a white woman (though I've known many shady white women, now that I think about it), but because the McCain campaign didn't exactly pick someone that many people south-of-Canada had even heard of. (I started to write "any people," but I've heard that Rush Limbaugh, who has some kind of radio show, spent many hours of air time rhapsodizing about the Governor; clearly, I wouldn't know. I listen to about half-an-hour of radio news when I wake up on weekday mornings, and that's my whole exposure to the wireless. When I bought my car, it was worth it to me to upgrade the car stereo to something with a built-in iPod connector.) I really won't be surprised if it turns out there's nothing more scandalous in Governor Palin's background than the usual penny-ante small-population politics--personal grudges made platforms, an odd appearance at a questionable rally, dubious-but-not-obviously-illegal uses of local funds; you know, the kinds of things you'd see in a mayor's race or judges' election. But I won't be shocked if there's something toxic and nuclear that the McCain campaign missed in their cursory inspection, either. I just don't know, because until about two weeks ago Alaskan politics was for Alaskans.

Senator Obama has been on the national radar a little longer, about four years. He wowed everybody with a speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention that I've never even seen, to tell the truth, and then became a presence in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Most of what the general public knows about Senator Obama, in other words, has been learned since 2007 or maybe 2004 if someone was really paying attention that day. So it's possible that the people who say the media hasn't been digging enough aren't thinking in terms of the Senator's melanin, but rather they still don't know who he is even after a year-or-so.

I'm assuming some good faith on their part: after all, it's quite possible that the "unfair treatment" meme has just become something to say, that it's nothing more than the bleating of sheep during Snowball's speeches. Indeed, as I write this it strikes me as unfortunately likely that much of this particular meme is nothing more than that, that to credit idiots with the possibility that they're racists, much less the possibility they're merely cautious is to give them more than their due: they have heard a string of words with appealing cadences which they now repeat whenever they can.

Still, the possibility that it's race is provocative, even if only because of the fact it had to be pointed out to me. I assumed the media critics were being partisan, and it never dawned on me that they might be white and frightened, or maybe white and instinctively hostile, instead. I like to think of myself as someone with a decent capacity for empathy, somebody who can put himself down in another person's shoes and sort of see things the way they do. But in this case, being white and certain I didn't even consider the fearful or hateful angles in this case. It is something to think about, even if you conclude the repeaters of the meme are partisans, or idiots, or perhaps even if you conclude they're right.

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