Your Take: Race-Baiting Is Different From Racism
When ColorOfChange.org campaigned against conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart's presence on Huffington Post, it was for what he's done, not what he feels, say leaders of the organization.
When more than 43,000 ColorOfChange.org members spoke up last week to demand that huckster Andrew Breitbart not be given a place of privilege on the Huffington Post, they weren't motivated by some desire to name-call. They weren't pretending to have some window into Breitbart's heart, or to understand his personal preferences or how he treats his neighbors.
But you wouldn't know that from watching how Breitbart -- and many in the media -- responded to the success of our campaign. Instead, the issue quickly became whether or not Breitbart is a racist, a claim that ColorOfChange.org has never made. What we have rightfully claimed is that Breitbart race-baits. What we mean by that -- just in case it's honestly a term that confounds the wordsmiths in the Beltway's media corps -- is that Breitbart is the latest in a long line of political operatives who take advantage of Americans' racial fears and anxieties for political, economic or personal gain.
Race-baiting is a tool that has propelled the careers of many men before Breitbart (see: Lee Atwater). And if journalists, pundits and political leaders aren't willing to acknowledge that Breitbart and his ilk willfully create false narratives that play on racial divisions, then our public discourse is doomed to continued pollution by these dirty tricks in an era where they simply have no place.
Here's how we described what Breitbart does in the original email message we sent our members: "His method is to pose as a journalist, and then use deceptive tactics to gin up race-based fears, protect racists, and demonize black political leaders and institutions." Race-baiting is what Glenn Beck did when claimed that Barack Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people, or the white culture." It's what Roger Ailes did with the "Willie Horton" ad and what he continues to promote in much of Fox News' programming, as we saw in Megyn Kelly's breathless coverage of the New Black Panther Party last summer. And it's what Breitbart did when he demonized ACORN, Shirley Sherrod and the NAACP under false pretenses.
By pointing out these clear examples of pandering to some of the worst and most antiquated instincts in the American psyche, are we calling Beck, Ailes, Kelly or Breitbart racists? No. In fact, we're happy to assume that they aren't -- because it's not who they are that creates a problem; it's what they do.
In this most recent case, after his ouster from a coveted slot on HuffPo's front page, Breitbart was eager to change the subject to whether or not he's a racist. It was a blatant effort to distract the public from the accusations he'd have a much harder time defending: whether he engages in race-baiting.
But you'd expect as much from Breitbart. The real problem is that major media figures and institutions took the bait, thereby helping muddy the conversation to the point that a meaningful dialogue became impossible. For some reason, Huffington Post Executive Editor Roy Sekoff took seriously the line of questioning put to him by the Daily Caller, practically tripping over himself to assure the Daily Caller's readers that he knows Breitbart is a good person on the inside.