(The Root) — It's the never-ending debate that many minorities have privately with each other, but dread having with anyone else: How much does the bad behavior of someone from our community reflect on the rest of us?
Never before has the discomfort of this dichotomy been on display more than when an African-American fugitive and alleged murderer by the name of Chris Dorner hijacked the media coverage on what was supposed to be one of the most significant media moments of the year for President Barack Obama.
Usually the hour or so before a major presidential event (an inauguration, a State of the Union address or even a major presidential campaign event such as a debate) is spent with experts and pundits discussing what we could and should expect.
That did not happen before this State of the Union address. Instead of all of the major cable networks — CNN, MSNBC and Fox — carrying in-depth coverage of the vision for America the president would be unveiling in what is arguably his most important State of the Union address, the networks carried wall-to-wall coverage of the manhunt and ultimately the firefight involving a party who is widely believed to have been Chris Dorner.
On Fox News, during a panel discussion with legal experts about the Dorner case, Bill O'Reilly drew comparisons to O.J. Simpson, denouncing those who have defended some of the claims of bias from Dorner, a former police officer, as a defense for his alleged rampage.
MSNBC carried live coverage of the Dorner case, anchored by one of its leading political hosts, Chris Matthews, up until just before the State of the Union was scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, shortly before 9 p.m., CNN began employing a split screen to display political pundits on one side, Dorner coverage on the other, clearly striving to find a balance between what was supposed to be the night's most important story versus what seemed to become the night's most important story.
There is no question that the spotlight belonged to President Obama, but unfortunately he had to share it with Chris Dorner. The excessive coverage of a man who embodied the most negative stereotypes that have been perpetuated about black men — on a night when a man who has done so much to defy these very stereotypes was preparing to address some of America's greatest problems — is a disturbing statement on the state of media, and America. After all, media only gave many Americans what they want. Why waste time watching substantive discussion of some of our most pressing policy issues when you can watch the ultimate version of reality TV — a car chase and a shootout?
In the end, Dorner will become a footnote in history. Unfortunately those he allegedly killed, including some law enforcement officers, will too, even though they deserved far more attention than the man accused of killing them did. But for one night Chris Dorner got to be as famous as the president.
He can thank his friends in media.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.