During the Barack Obama presidency, questions of race and racism have become highly visible and hotly debated on corporate media. While the president himself has had little to say on these issues, Fox News has its own stable of guests and panelists ready to raise the topic—some of them wearing a “liberal” label, though Extra! readers (3/12) know to take such descriptions with a grain of salt.
Among Fox’s race analysts, perhaps none is as effective and credentialed as Michael Meyers, the network’s resident black “liberal” civil rights commentator, a New York Post columnist and head of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. But for a civil rights activist, Meyers takes curious positions—like dismissing charges of nooses being hung on university doors as “racial histrionics” because, he says, “I am a race expert, and I know better” (HuffPo, 10/30/07). An expertise that led him to attack the Trayvon Martin “race hucksters” in their “rush to judgment” of his killer (NYCRC Blog, 4/16/12).
Meyers deflects criticism of the Tea Party and lambastes African-American leaders who don’t “recognize the significant racial progress in this nation” (Hannity, 7/13/12). He comes to the rescue of Pat Buchanan (HuffPo, 1/18/12) and even defends Don Imus’ infamous racist remarks (Washington Post, 4/11/07), warning of the danger of “bland conformity with the peculiar and narrow tastes of those who don’t want us to hear what they themselves don’t like.”
Meyers’ usefulness to Fox is that he expresses such views as a “liberal,” something he regularly reminds viewers: “I’m a liberal Democrat” (Hannity, 8/31/12, 10/4/12), he repeatedly insists; “I’m a liberal, I get it from all sides” (Hannity, 12/10/12). So, while distancing himself from known black conservatives, who have had notable influence and even favorable media coverage (Extra!, 7–8/92), Meyers pitches suspiciously conservative positions on race, giving viewers the misimpression that Fox is including a broad range of perspectives.
Meyers, who as an African-American can apparently absolve conservatives of racism, is also one of the only members of the Fox team who could get away with calling Barack Obama “ghetto” (Hannity, 9/6/11) or claiming black voters “will vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama is black” (Hannity, 7/10/12).
Meyers’ rants against civil rights groups, which he says preach the “gospel of racial hatred” (Hannity, 11/1/12)—he even labeled the NAACP a “hate group” (Hannity, 7/10/12)—are handy not only for Fox, which already has Juan “I’m not a predictable black liberal” Williams (FAIR Blog, 10/26/10) on their roster, but for the conservative effort to associate Obama with radical black politics.
Meyers hits the proper notes on the subject of Obama and minister Jeremiah Wright (Hannity, 4/26/11), for example, a favored subject for conservatives, saying:
Wherever there’s a preacher of racial rhetoric, Obama feels his soul with an incline. This is the theology of racial divisiveness, the theology of racial hatred.
Of course, criticism of Obama or civil rights groups is not necessarily conservative; there are quite a few black commentators on the left who criticize both, and touch upon issues that neither Fox nor more centrist corporate media do; Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon and Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report come to mind. But they don’t get the platform that Fox and others afford to Meyers.
What about Meyers’ most evident credential—the civil rights group he heads? The NYCRC’s website says it “started out with a grassroots structure of citywide community, civic and legal defense organizations,” which included the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Urban League and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others. This was, however, “reorganized” by Meyers into a “network of concerned individuals.”
Today, the organization’s board of advisers includes Tamar Jacoby, who served as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank, for nearly 20 years, where she inveighed against white guilt and “racial consciousness” (Weekly Standard, 2/5/01). (Meyers’ bio reveals that he himself has served on boards for conservative outfits like the anti–affirmative action Center for Equal Opportunity.) NYCRC’s board of directors also includes, coincidentally, one Juan Williams.
Having diverse and unpredictable voices in media is to be encouraged—especially on Fox. But Meyers is utterly predictable, part of Fox’s effort to dismiss criticism of racism as political opportunism and paint the African-American community today as the real racists. By playing along with the network’s effort to paint Obama and modern black civil rights groups as the Malcolm X and Black Panthers of today, he plays a key role in misinforming the public and misdirecting the debate.