Our media is failing us again. This time, it’s that they refuse to name clear anti-Semitism, falling back on safe distancing words like “purported” and “widely criticized as antisemitic” and “widely deemed antisemitic.”
The headlines from our top institutions in response to Kanye (Ye) West’s tweet saying: “I’m going death con 3 on Jewish people” were an insipid mess.
“Purported, deemed, criticized” suggest that it is a matter of opinion whether or not threatening to kill Jewish people because they are Jewish is anti-Semitic. It is not. Anti-Semitism is defined as “The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.”
Too many in the media are still treating hate like an opinion that deserves to be treated with respect. A “side,” if you can stomach it.
The Wall Street Journal was widely dragged on Twitter Sunday evening for the “purported” qualifier, and late Sunday evening the article was updated to remove “purported” with this note: “Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify the description of Kanye West’s tweet and to include an excerpt.”
So public pressure can work. But why does it require this level of input from widely respected public figures to generate change when it is obvious that Kanye’s message was not only anti-Semitic, but dangerously so and even signaled this to the most desperately-devoid-of-connective-activity brain by including a threat.
Our media is failing us and it looks set to continue doing so.
In recent days Kanye’s friend-in-hate-trolling Elon Musk, who is allegedly buying the global media public square of Twitter so he can reinstate renown hate accounts for the sake of “free speech” even though he is so sensitive to criticism of himself that he shuts down critics, proffered the Putin propaganda that if we want peace, then we should let Russia annex large parts of Ukraine, because appeasement of Putin types went so well after the 1938 Munich agreement required Czechoslovakia to surrender its border areas to Nazi Germany.
Elon was dragged on Twitter for this propaganda but responded not by realizing that there are some things that he doesn’t need to assert power over, but by then suggesting that Taiwan be forcibly unified with mainland China. Elon’s Twitter purchase would make the global media company of Twitter private and thus solely answerable to his whims instead of the kind of forced accountability that comes with a public company. If it goes through, it’s a precipitously ominous sign of how our media will fail to rise to this occasion.
We have already seen the result of this hate speech with the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh following Trump and Fox News’ relentless fear-mongering about a “caravan” crossing the border. The people I met at the Tree of Life memorial knew what the problem was, yet too many in the media still dance around it all of these years later.
Why is our media so unwilling to name hate speech even after so much hate-based domestic terrorism (the slaughter of nine worshippers at a African American church in South Carolina, Charlottesville, on and on it goes)? Why are they loath to call Trump a racist?
Is the media so hellbent on catering to white people who lean right and or is our country so fundamentally built on racial oppression that our media is naturally inclined to turn a blind eye to the perilously obvious?
Sure, the Wall Street Journal is owned by Murdoch now, but racism is a tool. Anti-Semitism is a tool. Misogyny is a tool. And all three prevail in our culture.
The belief systems behind them are designed to consolidate power for a certain type of wealthy, white, Christian man. They are aimed at people who fall victim the faulty beliefs.
These ideologies share the trait that they often appeal to weak people who feel they can’t compete with others. They feel a need to narrow the field by eliminating x, y and z so they can “win.” But that’s not winning; it’s rigging the game.
The concept of rhetorical stochastic terrorism has a place here. When someone is allowed to insert hate speech into the public arena, it hits vulnerable people (as it is designed to do by the users of same vulnerable people). Anecdotally speaking as someone who lives around a majority Trump supporters and hears the casual and consistent hate aimed at liberals, Black people, antifa, etc, it works.
But it’s not true that Trump supporters are all economically suffering. They also don’t always tell the truth when the media comes calling for interviews, because they know how they are perceived (they are not, as an entity, the reductive “stupid white people” that too many seem to cling to), which is why we get the well-intentioned but sanctimoniously clueless dribble about the poor white people who don’t consume conservative media but for some reason support Trump. They do consume conservative media, or at least their headlines, including the Babylon Bee which they don’t recognize as satire. Is this a problem? Of course. And so it is ignored. This is how good people are radicalized into hateful beliefs. Racism and anti-Semitism are taught.
In Kanye’s case, people often blame his unmanaged mental health challenges for his hate, which is no doubt contributing to his paranoia and willingness to publicly share his dangerously wrong thoughts. But to blame mental health for an ideology of hate is to wrongly smear millions of people with mental health issues.
Mental health issues do not cause racism or anti-Semitism or the kind of misogyny that led to Kanye’s threats against his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her then boyfriend Pete Davidson. But even if Ye’s mental health was soley responsible for his words, that does not mitigate the harm caused by the words. Excusing and ignoring it and repackaging it as an opinion is why we are still here, post-Trump, in a divided country with violent white supremacists plotting a Civil War.
No matter what is behind the message of hate, the response of a healthy democracy and a strong society is that it would not elevate or excuse the hate.
Instead, we in the U.S. are subject to growing violence based on hate. We are catering to insecurity and weakness in a certain kind of white man. The institutions that are supposed to be telling truth to power won’t call it that and we need to question why.
Journalism is at its core about telling truth to power. But our press institutions have not yet risen to the Trump challenge. They often cite their excellent investigative work as evidence that they have, while ignoring the cultural cancer posing a direct threat to our very democracy.
Yes, threatening to kill Jewish people is anti-Semitism. Yes, Donald Trump is a racist. Yes, they have both evinced misogyny and Donald Trump has admitted sexually assaulting women whenever he feels like it.
To refuse to use these words is not only cowardly, but it is ultimately an act of tremendous bias. It is the opposite of objective to be so afraid to call something what it is that the institution itself enables and elevates hate. After all, if the (formerly?) esteemed Wall Street Journal thinks it’s okay to say what Kanye said, then for many, it must be okay.
What is it going to take to get our media institutions to accept where we are as a nation and stop focusing on “partisan division” as the problem and stop whining about “resistance types.”
In the rising days of Hitler, Resistance Types were the heroes, “In the life of every person there are moments when he says to himself: ‘Tja, this won’t do.’ And then he does something.”
This will not do. Hate must be called out and held accountable. Hate is dangerous, it too often leads to deadly violence. We must as a culture rise to this moment, finally and at long last. We must, or we risk losing this great experiment and our accompanying freedoms.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.