Racism at RNC 2012: Why the Media Has a Responsibility to Cover It

If you want to refute the widely-disseminated myth of the media having an anti-Republican bias in this election, one need not look any further than this recent incident at the Republican National Convention:

The controversy should have been over the type of partisan parliamentary maneuvers that normally define such major political gatherings, as Ron Paul supporters were in the process of contesting the decision of the Romney-run Republican National Committee not to seat several of the delegates that the quixotic libertarian had won during the Maine caucuses. Yet attention was quickly taken away from that matter when Zoraida Fonalledas, a Puerto Rican delegate and chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization, took the stage. As soon as the crowd heard her begin to speak in accented English, some of the delegates began to shout her down by chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"

This went on for nearly a minute, although it has been recorded for eternity on YouTube. By the time it was finally stopped by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, the damage had already been done. A large sub-section of the GOP delegates had just exposed their racism to the world.

The media, meanwhile, decided that this wasn't headline news.

That isn't because the story itself isn't newsworthy. Even if one ignores the long-standing rumors of racist streaks within the conservative movement, there is still plenty of objective evidence that such a story is relevant, from the racial bias of Arizona's anti-immigration laws to studies like one conducted a couple of years ago by the University of Washington which found Tea Partiers were far more likely to hold bigoted views against blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals. All of this information is readily accessible to anyone who seeks to find it — but while journalists report it, their editors and corporate bosses decide to tuck those stories away and focus on other matters.

A similar decision was made last week, after Mitt Romney quipped at a campaign rally in Michigan that "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know this is the place where I was born and raised." This was an obvious appeal to birtherism, the popular right-wing conspiracy theory that insists that President Barack Obama wasn't actually born in Hawaii. This canard has long since been proven groundless. Even before Obama received special permission from the Hawaiian government to show his birth certificate last year, there were already the birth notices that had been printed at the time in both the "Honolulu Advertiser" and the "Star Bulletin," eyewitnesses who could attested to having seen the president shortly after his birth, and the sheer impracticality of the notion that his parents would have made a 21,458 mile round-trip flight from Hawaii to Kenya just so their son (who they intended to raise in America anyway) could be born in his father's native country. 

Yet the myth has persisted precisely because it appeals to what experts in racist psychology refer to as "Othering," or the marginalizing of members of a minority by finding ways of highlighting their perceived "differentness" in the eyes of others. It is hardly coincidental that the first black president is, to many of his more zealous critics, somehow so much of an "Other" that the only conclusion they can draw is that he wasn't even born here in the first place. Not only would this validate their sense that any non-white president is fundamentally un-American (unless he happens to adhere to a right-wing self-denigrating philosophy), but it would also delegitimize his entire administration on a very real legal basis. While their theory may lack any kind of sound factual or logical foundation, such niceties are hardly necessary when racial animus serves as such a potent fuel.

And when Romney decided to use this fuel to help move forward his sputtering campaign, the media paid the story only scant attention.

There are several theories as to why the media is pushing these stories aside. One speculation is that they're overcompensating against allegations of left-wing bias by not reporting harsher realities about modern conservatives that could get them into hot water among their critics; others argue that the media (wrongly) believes Americans are as racist as the more vehement right-wingers who claim to represent them, and as such steer clear of avoiding those sensibilities. Either way, the insufficient attention paid to this issue is nothing short of shameful, as the American people have the right to know about such bigoted tendencies among any group it intends to potentially elevate to a position of national power.

 

The author would like to thank fellow PolicyMic contributor Cady McClain for the link including the RNC footage referenced in this article.

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Matthew Rozsa

is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published in "The Morning Call," "The Express-Times," "The Newark Star-Ledger," "The Baltimore Sun," and various college newspapers and blogs. I actively encourage people to reach out to me at matt.rozsa@gmail.com.

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