Two related news stories, one you couldn’t miss, and the other you almost couldn’t find: a gunman opened fire on a women’s exercise class last night at a fitness center in the Pittsburgh area, and this same gunman kept a diary filled with racist rants, some directed explicitly at President Obama. Again, coverage of the incident itself, including the fact of a diary, was all but universal; but only today did the folks at Editor & Publisher point out that the AP and others had ignored the clearly anti-Obama aspects of the diary.
Which was tough to ignore, frankly.
The diary itself begins the day after Obama was elected, when Sodini, the killer, wrote, “Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man.” This is followed by a long, thoughtful digression on why young white “hoes” prefer black men, rather than a “clean-shaven” white man with a “touch of cologne,” like Sodini himself.
How does the AP miss all of this?
It’s not a tough narrative to assemble, really, when all is said and done. Since Obama’s election there have been at least three mass shootings, in which killers have linked their actions explicitly to the President, to the President’s race, to a common set of racist and ideological hallucinations, that Obama is a baby-killer, that he plans to take our guns and use the census to herd us into camps.
We’ve seen this film before.
The Republican base, particularly in the South and the Midwest, was stung by Clinton’s election in 1992, and talk radio became the voice of their frustration and discontent. Limbaugh and Liddy and others began to idolize the “patriots” at Ruby Ridge, and speculate about the most effective way to kill federal agents.
And then, in 1995, we lost a Federal Building. And everyone in it. Including a daycare, a daycare Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War vet, toured before incinerating it.
Now in that case, race played a more limited role. McVeigh had strong ties to white supremacists, but their beef with Clinton was more generalized. With a black Democrat in the White House, the mix is as explosive as it’s likely to get.
So why did the AP and others pull back on one of the most pertinent aspects of the story?
Think about how much of the last two weeks has been devoted to the media’s ritualization of the coming combat between the parties on health care. We’ve been told that this is it, the moment everyone needs to throw down.
And the birther flap has been pushed to a high boil nearly simultaneously, with shouting matches on cable each and every day. Everyone senses that violence is just off-camera, waiting to take center stage, but no one wants to admit it.
Why? To do so would be to risk being perceived as taking sides, something traditional journalists are still loathe to risk.
Any attempt to report out the truth of last night’s murders — that this was a self-loathing loner pumped up by ugly rhetoric about “the liberal media” and the black man in the White House — would almost certainly lead to howls on the Right, as well as accusations that the media was in the tank not only for Obama, but for the policy questions being fought out in town halls nationwide.
The national media, on first blush, didn’t want to risk it. And it’s easy enough to pass over the weird rantings of the Tea Baggers and the Birthers and the Nobama types. They don’t look like much of a threat, for all their bile. But they are.
One last note from 1995. After McVeigh was captured, President Clinton called for the “tagging” of explosives, to make tracing a bomber easier for law enforcement. The GOP eventually shot the proposal down, arguing that it infringed upon the rights of American citizens. The right to bear explosives, as it were.
So don’t let anyone tell you we learned our lesson after Oklahoma City. We didn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination.