Racism in Politics Too Often Goes Unreported

Evidence that racism is thriving in the US arrives on a regular basis. There are the ongoing stories of institutional racism that media often fail to frame as being about racism: underfunded schools, drug wars, sentencing differentials, stop and frisk, lending disparities–the list goes on and on.

There are also the episodic stories that media are usually more comfortable with–because they’re shorter,  come with names attached, can be treated as isolated incidents and often leave the reader or viewer with a feeling that the problem is at least being addressed.  But even these stories, depending on who the bigots are, often go begging in corporate media newsrooms.

John Huppenthal

John Huppenthal: Arizona school superintendent by day, racist blogger by night.

Take the recent revelation that Arizona superintendent of schools John Huppenthal has been posting online racist screeds for years under assumed names (Arizona Republic, 6/25/14). Writing anonymously on Arizona’s law penalizing employers for hiring undocumented workers, Huppenthal commented: “We have a whole lot fewer Caucasians working now that the Hispanics have left. But, crime is much lower. No money and no one is stealing it.”

The story only provided more thorough confirmation of Huppenthal’s hostility toward communities of color: He won election in 2010 on a platform of “stopping La Raza” and, once in office, zeroed out state funding for ethnic studies programs and banned books suspected of promoting “ethnic solidarity” from public schools (Extra!, 9/1/12). Perhaps more disturbing: In the upcoming GOP primary, where Huppenthal faces a Tea Party challenger, he is considered the moderate in the race.

In Mississippi’s GOP primary on Tuesday, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran narrowly defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. During the campaign, Cochran appealed to black Democrats to cross party lines and help him defeat McDaniel, a right-wing radio host who pals around with the racist Sons of Confederate Veterans, attacks reparations for slavery, and says that hip-hop culture “values prison more than college” (Slate, 6/25/14).

Cochran’s appeal consisted mainly of reaching out to black churches and running ads in black media reminding voters that he has voted for funding for historically black colleges, and has supported social spending programs like SNAP that benefit poor communities.

In response to Cochran’s appeal, and in seeming confirmation of long-term allegations of GOP and Tea Party racism, national Republican and conservative groups flocked to Mississippi in a sort of nightmare variation on Freedom Summer. Where 1960s activists gathered to protect black voters, 2014’s right-wing activists gathered to implement “poll watching,” a traditional tool of voter intimidation and suppression. The conservative groups insisted they were only there to protect the integrity of the vote, which only seemed to come under threat with the potential of a surge in black voting. As Juliet Lapidos reported on the New York Times’ Taking Note blog (6/23/14):

Several right-wing groups have banded together to form a “voter integrity project” in response to the news that Republican Sen. Thad Cochran is courting black Democratic voters in his runoff with the Tea Partier Chris McDaniel. The Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots, all political action committees, will “deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats,” according to a Times article. Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservative Funds, said these observers would be trained to see “whether the law is being followed.”

National GOP and Tea Party groups descending on Mississippi to scrutinize black voters seems like a pretty big story to me–one loaded with the sort of  sensation and historical resonance that might otherwise attract journalists. But it also provides a confirmation of the charge that the GOP has a serious problem with racism, and corporate media are often loath to point fingers too directly at elite American institutions such as one of the two major political parties.

Besides the Times, which mentioned poll watching in a few stories (6/24/14) and quoted a Mississippi election expert (6/22/14) saying that it could be seen as an effort to “intimidat[e] voters from coming to the polls,” the Mississippi story was almost invisible in national media.

And John Huppenthal, the racist Internet graffiti artist who runs Arizona’s public schools? Besides a Washington Post blog post, the story  pretty much didn’t exist outside Arizona.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.