Monday, June 09, 2008

The press can't hear those dog whistles

-- by Dave

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Floyd Brown's plans to use racially incendiary ads against Barack Obama in the upcoming campaign with the headline "Opening shot in the battle over crime."

Now, did you know that crime was going to be a major electoral issue this year? Me neither. In fact, with violent crime rates continuing to reach record lows, the issue hasn't exactly been burning up the front pages or the wires.

Of course, "crime" is also one of those code words for "black thuggery" that has been used by racists and white supremacists since the 1960s as a way of scaring insecure white men with guns and their insecure housewives.

Indeed, the LAT headline should have read "... in the battle over scary black people". Its story was about the ads that Brown has already field-tested in North Carolina, as we noted at the time:

The new ad recounts the deaths of three Chicago residents in 2001 at the hands of criminal gangs. "That same year, a Chicago state senator named Barack Obama voted against expanding the death penalty for gang-related murders," an ominous female narrator intones. "So the question is, can a man so weak in the war on gangs be trusted in the war on terror?"

The story does discuss the fact that Brown was responsible for the 1988 anti-Dukakis "Willie Horton" ad, which made the same sort of dog-whistle racial appeal, a well-known component of classic race-baiting. But you won't find a word discussing the fact that these current ads are every bit as racially incendiary as the Horton ad, especially considering that Obama himself is a black man.

Neither, we might add, does the story mention that Brown's outfit, ExposeObama, is being run by a scam artist with a long history of involvement with far-far right tax-fraud schemes.

This is, frankly, a disturbing trend. We know that Republicans are going to try to make race a major issue in the coming campaign, and we know that their favorite tactic is going to be engaging in dog-whistle politics that employ coded but clear racial appeals without being explicit about the matter. Indeed, they already have been warming up for awhile.

The only way that it will work, however, is if the press continues to pretend that it can't hear the whistle -- and that the people doing it are legitimate political operatives, when in fact they're fringe nutcases who the GOP is letting do their dirty work, as always.

So far, they're doing a splendid job of that.

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