Barack Obama waggled his birth certificate in our faces 10 days ago to prove he is a United States citizen. Then, just to underline the point, he sent troops to kill Osama bin Laden last Sunday, bagging a trophy that had eluded George W. “Bring It On” Bush for more than seven years.
On Monday, a sizable number of Americans still said they believe the birth certificate is a fake, and added that bin Laden’s death is a hoax.
All of this raises a few questions.
First: Just how bleeping dumb are we, anyway?
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Second: When will the mainstream news media do its job and stop enabling these crackpots?
The questions may be more closely linked than you think.
I watched aghast April 27 as the president of the United States went on television to persuade his fellow countrymen that he is indeed a fellow countryman.
It was mortifying. No other president has had to do such an abasing thing.
It was also racist to the core.
A prim story in the paper last week allowed as how “some” African-Americans considered Obama’s ignominious proof-of-citizenship moment racist. I’ve got news for that oh-so-cautious reporter: you are unlikely to find an African-American who doesn’t see racism in Obama’s announcement.
“Some” Caucasian-Americans, like me, feel the same way.
And yet Obama felt he had to show us the birth certificate. And now he’s being accused of faking bin Laden’s death.
It’s a swell pair of notions from the fringe about what they see as our conniving president and his sinister machinations.
Conspiracy theories always slither around the edges of public discourse: Lyndon B. Johnson was behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination; Dick Cheney brought down the World Trade Towers; the moon landing never really happened.
Nut jobs are always out there; ask any reporter. We’ve all had to deal with them.
What’s different today is that these bizarre, repugnant rants have been accepted into the mainstream discussion. No lunatic obsession like the one that underlies the birther movement ever made it so far into the larger discussion.
I blame us — the media, especially the national media.
News editors and reporters nationally made a conscious decision to cover these things as though they were a discussion about something that matters.
The space and air time they have given to birthers and others brandishing bizarre theories are space and time taken away from other issues — the economy-killing budget of the Department of Defense, for example.
Why are the media not giving us stories about who profits from war, how they manipulate those in power and how that affects the rest of us?
Here’s why: They’re too busy exploring the birther blathering and whether bin Laden is really dead.
I think they’re doing this because they lost their mojo somewhere along the way.
The press consists of news professionals, who are trained to make judgments as professionals. That’s not arrogance — it’s confidence, and it’s the truth.
We used to exercise that judgment.
If we covered a local government, we wouldn’t give space to people who came to meetings week after week to insist that the mayor was systematically burying children in his cellar.
We’d say, this guy is bonkers and move on to real news, just as we did on the national level with people who fingered LBJ for the JFK snuff or Cheney for the trade towers.
But we got scared somehow, as an institution. I think part of that is due to the relentless attacks over decades on the media as being biased to the left. It was always a preposterous accusation, but we took it to heart and began giving play to fringe groups who complained.
We told ourselves we were being fair, balanced, evenhanded.
We became timid. Now we cringe and whimper when someone complains, and we bring their views, no matter how batty they are, to a larger audience.
You saw one of the results the week before last when you watched our president abase himself because a group of daft people made enough noise for a long enough period of time, using our national news media as a megaphone.
I don’t mind people being screwy. I do mind when my profession bows down to them.
As journalists, we have standards, like bricklayers, accountants and neurosurgeons. It’s time to exercise them and stand behind them when someone attacks. The next time a Donald Trump starts bleating, we can simply write one story noting the fact, and then go to the serious reporting this country needs.
I’ve had enough of lunacy degrading the profession I love and the nation I call home.