Addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors (4/13/88), President Ronald Reagan asserted that criticism of Jesse Jackson had been muted because of concern that it “might be misinterpreted into some kind of racial attack.” The president seemed to be adding his voice to the popular media refrain: When will Jackson’s “free ride” with the press end? A closer look suggests the free ride has been rather bumpy.
The Wall Street Journal (3/21/88) reported how Jackson “rants” against corporations. NPR (2/23/88) compared Jackson to a Chinese fortune cookie which “you get whether you want it or not.” Jackson’s policies are typically dismissed by journalists as “far left”; the phrase “far out” is not an uncommon putdown.
Far from a free ride, Jackson has been running against the press every step of the way. First came the “no frontrunner” period following Gary Hart’s departure — even though some polls gave Jackson twice the support of his nearest Democratic rivals.
Next came the “What Does Jesse Want?” phase. Newsweek‘s cover, 3/21/88), which assumed that Jackson couldn’t be nominated even though he had run strongly in many states (including overwhelmingly white ones). The oft-repeated question took on racial overtones, suggesting that whites can aspire to be president, but a black must have ulterior motives (such as wanting influence over cabinet nominees).
Meanwhile, white voters were taking the views of a black candidate more seriously than much of the press. Jackson’s support among white working-class people confounded some journalists, who sought to explain voter reaction, not as approval for his populist economic program, but as an irrational response to Jackson’s spellbinding rhetoric.
Jackson’s landslide victory in the Michigan caucuses inaugurated the “no more free ride” period. Dan Rather announced (CBS, 4/5/88) that “Jackson’s success is bringing new scrutiny” — implying that Jackson had thus far been spared the tough scrutiny supposedly given to other candidates. To test the “free ride” premise, FAIR compared Jackson coverage to coverage of Ronald Reagan when he ran for president.
Nearly every significant piece on Jesse Jackson has contained the word “anti-Semitism” (e.g., “Jackson’s perceived anti-Semitism”, Newsweek, 12/14/87; “the taint of anti-Semitism,” ABC, 2/15/88). His 1984 “Hymietown” remark and his past relationship with Louis Farrakhan are always cited. Most accounts go on to link these with Jackson’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis — neglecting to point out that such a solution is endorsed by many prominent American and Israeli Jews.
In a story typical of the genre appearing almost monthly in 1987 — and daily in the weeks leading up to the New York primary — the New York Times (6/13/87) dredged up all the old news in the headline: “Three Years Later, Jackson Is Haunted by Anti-Semitism of Farrakhan; Despite Meetings With Jewish Leaders, Suspicions Persist”.
By contrast, one is hard-pressed to find a profile of Reagan in the mainstream media that contains the word “racism.” Yet Reagan had consistently opposed civil rights laws in the 1960s, as well as open housing in California. When blacks sought to move into whites-only neighborhoods, then-Governor Reagan told realtors that the blacks had “staged attempts to rent homes,” but their real intent was “only to cause trouble.” Former Reagan cabinet member Terrel Bell said that racist slurs (such as “Martin Lucifer Coon”) were frequently uttered by White House staffers.
Blacks fear racism in high places as much as Jews fear anti-Semitism. Yet black concerns rarely get the same media attention. Reagan’s presidential campaigns were not subjected to repeated articles bearing headlines such as, “Four Years Later, Reagan Still Haunted by Perceived Racism; Despite Meetings With Black Leaders, Suspicions Persist.”
Journalists like to pretend that they are merely observers, not participants, even when their decision to focus on one campaign issue prior to the New York primary — “Jackson and the Jews” — undoubtedly influenced the course of events. Thus NBC correspondent Bob Kur (4/11/88) could deadpan about “that lingering image” of Jackson embracing Yassir Arafat. Images have a way of lingering when TV producers decide to show them every day.
Rather and Reality Are Polls Apart
(from EXTRA! Sept. ’92)
In an exceptionally nasty and inaccurate attack on Jesse Jackson (“There have always been two Jesse Jacksons — there’s Jesse the radical, who preaches rage and black separatism…. And there’s Jesse the self-promoter, who preaches desegregation and compromise”), Dan Rather stated (CBS, 7/13/92) that suburban voters, who he said comprised most of the electorate, are “not in the mood to see much more money spent on the poor.” Yet in a May 11 CBS/ New York Timespoll taken shortly after the L.A. riots, 60 percent of respondents said too little was being spent on problems of the big cities, with only 15 percent saying too much. Sixty-one percent said too little was being spent on improving conditions of blacks, while 10 percent said too much. Was the poll flawed, or is Rather parroting the line of conservative Democrats who say you can’t appeal to both the poor and the middle class?