Culture Links Culture and Media Institute July 20, 2010
NAACP's Attack on 'Racist' Tea Party Revives it Relevancy, According to Media
Reporters continue to perpetuate unfounded claims of Tea Party racism.
by ALANA GOODMAN, Culture and Media Institute What’s the key to pulling your political organization out of “irrelevancy”? Well if you’re the NAACP, you can start by hammering on allegations of Tea Party “racism.” News coverage of the NAACP has exploded since the “nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization” passed a resolution last week attacking the Tea Party for including “racist” elements in its organization. Not only has the story spawned hundreds of news articles, but the network news stations have also taken notice. In just six days – from July 13 to July 18 – the NAACP’s feud with the Tea Party was discussed on eight network news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC. “And what about the NAACP`s new charges of racism against elements of the Tea Party? We`ll bring in the head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, and one of the leaders of the Tea Party, David Webb,” Bob Schieffer said on “CBS Evening News” on July 18. On “World News with Diane Sawyer” on July 13, Sawyer reported that “the NAACP has just adopted a resolution this evening at its annual convention condemning ‘racist behavior’ by Tea Party members. Tonight, Tea Party is fighting back...” But Americans might want to ask themselves why this story is even making news. In recent years, the media has buzzed over the NAACP’s “irrelevancy” – and even the NAACP itself raised the question over whether it was relevant as a political and social arm just two years ago. The organization cited “declining membership, closing of regional offices and ineffective marketing” as reasons critics used to attack its political significance. At this time last year, as the NAACP prepared to hold its centennial conference, several commentators and reporters dismissed the group as ineffective and unnecessary. “I fear that the NAACP is making itself irrelevant,” Clarence Page wrote in the Chicago Tribune on July 15, 2009. “If we did not have the NAACP these days, would anybody notice the difference?” Robert Smith, a sociology professor at San Francisco State University, echoed Page’s concerns in a July 16, 2009 Newsday article. “[T]he NAACP as an agent of national change has been irrelevant for a long time now,” he said. Last week, UPI raised a similar question, publishing an article titled, “NAACP strives to stay relevant” on July 14.
“The NAACP is facing the question of whether it remains relevant after the election of the nation's first black president, officials say,” reported UPI. “In its upcoming 101st annual meeting, President Benjamin Jealous and the new NAACP chairwoman, Roslyn Brock, say they intend to inject energy into the organization as it aims to stay a force in national debates, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.”
But with all of the media attention the NAACP has been receiving over their Tea Party resolution, it seems like irrelevancy is becoming less of a problem. On July 13, the NAACP passed a resolution stating that it “condemns the bigoted elements within the Tea Party and asks for them to be repudiated. The NAACP delegates presented this resolution for debate and passage after a year of vitriolic Tea Party demonstrations during which participants used racial slurs and images.” The media’s sudden interest in the NAACP’s Tea Party resolution supports the liberal narrative of Tea Party racism. This is evidenced further by how the media have aided in the character assassination campaign directed at conservative demonstrators by repeating unfounded allegations of Tea Party racism. One example is the unproven claim that Tea Partiers spit on civil rights leader. In a column for The Politico, University of Maryland School of Law professor Sherrilyn Ifill said that “elements in the movement that have displayed racist posters of President Barack Obama, spit at black congressmen and used veiled language to warn that ‘our way of life’ is threatened by our first black president.” In another instance in a July 18 Washington Post column, Sophia A. Nelson wrote that “I abhor and reject anyone who would spit upon or yell racial epithets at an esteemed public servant such as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and other black members of Congress, as tea party supporters reportedly have done.” Even some news articles reported this unsubstantiated claim. “Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights movement, was called the ‘n-word’ during the protest, while others in the crowd used anti-gay slurs against Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass,” reported RTT News on July 17. “Further, the NAACP said that Missouri Representative Emmanuel Cleaver was spat on at the protest.” However, according to video footage from the event, claims that a congressman was spit on were never confirmed. Andrew Breitbart, founder of BigJournalism.com, even offered $100,000 for video of the alleged incident. However, even though many cameras were recording the scene, nobody came forward with evidence of an assault. Other newspapers have lent a platform to the claims that the Tea Party movement is about racism as opposed to supporting principles of free market and limited government. “[N]o president in history has had so much racist vitriol directed at him as the current one, including being compared to a monkey and having his birthplace and religion endlessly questioned,” Lynne K. Varner wrote in the Athens Banner-Herald on July 17. “The tea-party movement tries to hide behind limited government and restrained spending, classic – and in my view, unassailable – conservative tenets. But what separates this movement from the traditional Republican Party is the former's virulent anger directed at anyone who is not white, straight and Protestant,” Varner continued. It’s telling that the media would resurrect the NAACP from irrelevance just at the moment the NAACP produces a resolution that supports what many writers and reporters have incorrectly believed all along – that the Tea Party is a racist organization that opposes President Obama for the color of his skin as opposed to his policies.