LONSBERRY: The Silence Of The Press

As a boy, I went out one time to a cold, wet barnyard to help my step-father and another man slaughter a hog.

We parked out front and walked to the pen, three big fat porkers squealing for us at the fence, their snouts upward and voracious, presuming we had come to slop them. Three brothers, happy in their sty, identical little curly tails waving. Looking for a pail of food, thinking it was time to eat.

Instead, the man tipped a .22 rifle down toward the forehead of the biggest of them, popped off a round, and my step-father instantly reached through the fence and cut its throat with a big knife while the pig lay on its side, legs straight outright, quivering.

And the blood shot out. Great waves of it.

And the other two hogs, instantly, unhesitatingly, turned to gobble it up, feeding at the throat of their brother.

Kind of like how the Rochester news handled the firing of Jeremy Kappell at Channel 10.

One day they were all happy comrades; the next, it was something different.

Each acting as if there was only one bullet in the world and that the rifle would never point at them.

Acting as if the issue was a diphthong and two consonants, a monosyllabic moment of hate and self-destruction.

With no questioning, no context, no pushback, and no response to a broader challenge to them all. It was almost as if the sacrifice of one of them would provide absolution for all of them. A scapegoat who must die that others may live.

What’s my point?

That the mayor’s demand for the firing of the weatherman was just the beginning, of her statement and of this season of press intimidation.

In the same breath, the mayor and City Council denounced the newspaper’s columnist for reporting accurately and honestly that a mayoral appointee had a questionable residency and may have violated thereby the particulars of state law. The official statement from the city of Rochester denounced as racist the columnist’s use of the word “carpetbagger” to describe this black mayoral appointee. 

Later, elaborating for the cameras about her demands and upset, the mayor likewise said “buffoon” in reference to a black public official was racist.

This was in the same statement as the one insisting on the firing of the weatherman. This is a co-equal demand from City Hall. It is a conflating of the two issues.

And it is pure crap.

Nowhere did any Rochester reporters, in their breathless stories about the slaughtered hog, point out that neither “carpetbagger” nor “buffoon” are or ever have been racial terms of any sort. At no point in American history – now or in the past – have they been applied as a pejorative against black people.

A carpetbagger is someone who moves to a new area to take a political job. The word arose to describe white Republicans who came south to hold federal positions in the South during Reconstruction. A buffoon is any foolish person, and the word arose to describe comedic characters in European plays of centuries past.

Neither word has ever been applied to black people as a group. Lovely Warren’s assertion – directly or through her surrogates – that they are racist is demonstrably false.

And the Rochester press is silent.

While the mayor seemingly tries to silence it.

Rochester’s grand journalistic corps – in the newsrooms and on the college campuses – tweet long and loud about Trump and his disrespect for the press. Many have spent months wrapping themselves in the First Amendment and proclaiming their essential role in the Republic. It’s been Hug-A-Journalist Month for a long time now.

But when the threat is close to home and real, there is only silence.

Which will only embolden efforts to stifle press oversight of City Hall. 

The paradigm is being advanced that journalistic scrutiny of Lovely Warren is racist. That has been laid out by a longtime Warren supporter in the “Minority Reporter,” and it has been echoed in the words of the mayor and the statement of the city’s elected politicians.

It is an argument this city heard last year in the corridors of the Hall of Justice.

And it is an argument that, beyond silencing the press, divides and polarizes this region – bringing social media cheers from African Americans and allies, and bristling alienation from others.

The sacrifice of the weatherman was a galvanizing and cynical move. It rallied core constituents to the mayor, but divided almost all others from her. It brought no peace or understanding, only rancor and upset.

And it was an opening salvo. The mayor and City Council broadly accused Rochester media of racism, pointing as one example at the racial composition of television promotional videos. The mayor and City Council also called on Rochester media to subject itself to a review, to have a dialogue about its racial failings.

The newspaper and the TV stations didn’t say anything about that. 

They just lapped up the blood of their brother, hoping that the slaughter was done for today.

Lovely Warren presides over one of the poorest and most dysfunctional cities in America. The school district is the worst in the state and among the five worst in the country. The crime rate is 77 percent higher than the national average. No economic or social indicators are trending upward. And her campaign finances are under active criminal investigation.

And constituents are calling her a hero as she takes on the “racist media.”

I believe the contemporary word for that is “Trumpian.”

And the word for the media’s response to it is “cowardice.”

(FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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