MILWAUKEE (Analysis) — The Donald Trump who addressed a small audience in Miami’s Little Haiti community, seven weeks before Election Day 2016, appeared to be an impostor.
Gone were the gunslinger’s swagger, the arrogant smirk, and the shrill condescension, and in their place stood a subdued – almost humble – candidate, who seemed to be making a sincere effort to court South Florida’s Haitian vote and narrow the gap in the polls between his campaign and that of the Democratic frontrunner.
“Haiti showed the world so much heart and so much resilience,” he said of the cataclysmic 2010 earthquake. And yet, “when Haiti needed help the most, Secretary of State Clinton was responsible for doing things that a lot of the Haitian people were not happy with. We know that taxpayer dollars intended for Haiti and the earthquake’s victims went to the Clinton cronies,” he said, referring to reports that donations to the Clinton Foundation did little to relieve the suffering in the earthquake’s aftermath.
He continued: “My opponent calls those who don’t support her ‘deplorables’. You’re not deplorables, not this group. . .I am running to represent Haitian-Americans, and African- Americans and Asians, (and) at the top of my agenda will be jobs, jobs, jobs.”
When he finished, the audience erupted in thunderous applause while he squeezed his girth on to a narrow chair. “He is the first U.S. presidential candidate in history to visit the Haitian community,” said the moderator, to yet another round of applause. “The other ones came to pick up the check and we never saw them back again. … The Clintons have been running Haiti for 25 years,” he said — repeating a widely-held belief among Haitians that the power-couple exploited a 1993 coup against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to privatize the country’s resources –“and they say … ‘Haiti is open for business,’ and the Haitian community knows that Haiti was open for Monkey Business!”
Spitting at the wrong spot
A year into the Trump Administration, the White House press corps has yet to unearth any proof that Russian operatives somehow managed to hijack the election but continues nonetheless to insist breathlessly that President Vladimir Putin orchestrated Clinton’s defeat. What the evidence clearly suggests, however, is an altogether different narrative: after more than 30 years of championing policies that jail, dispossess, miseducate, and betray black voters who have traditionally been the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituents, the political supercouple’s chickens finally came home to roost.
Trump made few inroads with African-Americans but he managed the next best thing: black voter turnout in 2016 declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6 percent after reaching a record-high 66.6 percent in Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid.
Turnout was lowest in the critical state of Florida and in the “blue wall” of Rust-Belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — won by Obama in 2012. By the time Clinton addressed South Florida’s Haitian community, Trump had already campaigned there twice, and she went on to lose the critical state by roughly 120,000 votes, or just about the difference in black voter turnout from 2012 to 2016.
Similarly, she won 50,000 fewer votes in Detroit than had Obama four years earlier, and 27,000 fewer votes than had Obama in the majority-black city of Milwaukee — which accounted almost entirely for Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin, even though he won roughly the same number of votes in the state – about 1.4 million – as had the GOP’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. Clinton did not make a single campaign appearance in Milwaukee.
Whitened U.S. media has lost touch with currents in and impact of non-white America
What, then, accounts for the news media’s preoccupation with Russian espionage as the critical factor in the 2016 election, when the smart money is on a discerning black polity?
The media in the U.S. has never been especially diverse, but over the past 20 years it has undergone a stark transformation, initiated, ironically enough, by Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, which deregulated the industry and allowed giant corporations to buy up thousands of news outlets across the country, tightening their monopoly on the flow of information in the United States and around the world.
Since the law was enacted, the number of black journalists in U.S. newsrooms has plummeted by nearly half, from 2,946 in 1998 to 1,560 in 2015, according to the American Society for Newspaper Editors (ASNE). On a per capita basis, that figure is slightly smaller than it was in 1890, when the U.S. Census counted 300 black journalists out of a total population of 62 million, compared with 325 million today.
According to ASNE, as a percentage of the workforce, Blacks accounted for 5.4 percent of all editorial staff in 2015 — a proportion virtually identical to the 1968 Kerner Commission Report’s estimate that African-Americans represented only 5 percent of the nation’s journalism workforce then. Even fewer, about 1 percent, are supervising editors.
The Kerner Commission was charged with identifying the causes of the season of revolts that erupted in America’s big cities beginning with the Watts rebellion in August of 1965 and culminated three years later following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The common thread in all of the riots, the report’s authors wrote, was racial discrimination in housing, education, job opportunities and, centrally, the news media, which was so disconnected from the black community writ large that it had almost nothing useful to say about its causes, or how to prevent such uprisings in the future.
The report concluded:
“Many editors and news directors, plagued by shortages of staff and lack of reliable contacts and sources of information, have failed to recognize the significance of the urban story and to develop resources to cover it adequately.”
In her unpublished memoir, the radical white journalist and Bay Area-based activist Arlene Eisen — who is the author of a groundbreaking 2012 report, Operation Ghetto Storm, investigating police slayings of one black person every 28 hours in the U.S. — recounts her time meeting Malcolm X and working with the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and a collective of Vietnamese women.
At one point, Eisen recalls watching a white television reporter interview an African-American man as the Los Angeles insurrection erupted: “There are rumors that Mao Tse Tung or the Vietcong are behind these riots. What do you think?” The young man shook his head and smiled. “I don’t know who those folks are,” and turned to go.
The reporter attempted to grab the man’s arm. The man moved back and glared at the reporter, who tried another tactic, “Please, can you tell our TV audience then, why you people are rioting?”
“Ya really wanna know?”
The reporter nodded slowly.
“I guess we don’t feel like taking no more mess off the police. There’s other things too, but I gotta go now.”
The reporter’s fanciful “Mao” narrative was wholly the result of white journalists’ — even the most liberal and well-intentioned — estrangement from the oppressed communities that have so often been the engine of history.
We have met the enemy and he can’t possibly be us
The media’s current preoccupation with all things Russian, when the far more imminent threat is much closer to home, represents what the revolutionary writer and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon described as “cognitive dissonance,” which in the U.S. manifests as the white settlers’ reflexive attempt to rationalize their own savagery to avoid unsettling and even traumatizing truths.
As fewer and fewer corporations decide what is news and what is not, journalists of all races are leaving the industry, but many black journalists are, in fact, being purged for the very reason that got their foot in the door after the Kerner Commission released its report: bringing a black perspective to an overwhelmingly white milieu.
Sunni Khalid, an African-American with more than 30 years’ experience as a journalist and foreign correspondent at National Public Radio and other outlets, was summarily fired from his job as the director of a Baltimore radio station in 2014 after he said in an interview that news outlets should do more to reflect the Palestinian view as well as Israel’s.
Esther Iverem was pressured to leave the Washington Post 20 years ago because she focused her reportage on the District’s thriving, underground arts community rather than on the chandeliered world of the city’s elites.
And last summer, the CEO of The Real News Network, Paul Jay, rescinded a job offer to me when he discovered that I had written this critique of the California Nurses Association’s mostly white leadership’s unresponsiveness to its nurses of color, even though stoking racial tensions within organized labor has been the chief weapon for dismembering workers’ movements in the post-World War II era.
Jay bills his network as alternative media and — like Democracy Now, Jacobin and the Intercept — it is aligned squarely with the political Left. But the white liberal media’s investment in top-down reportage and white male authority is not much different from that of Fox News or The Wall Street Journal, said Jared Ball, an African-American professor of communications at Morgan State University in Baltimore who worked at The Real News in 2015. While the staff is indeed relatively diverse, Jay and his principal donor — a white, California businessman — make all the calls when it comes to content.
When Ball produced a segment critical of Bernie Sanders’ mixed record on challenging U.S. imperialism, Jay informed him that such reportage would not be tolerated.
“From the beginning I found Paul to be a near caricature of a white liberal . . . condescending, arrogant and totally disinterested in my politics, most of which emanate from the black radical tradition,” Ball told MintPress News. He went on:
“During an argument we once had, he made one of those routine and condescending dismissals of ‘You don’t like what I am doing here, go do your own!’ conflating his access to capital with some kind of journalistic acumen.
Almost immediately it was apparent how miserable most people [at Real News] were, across the board, regardless of race, gender, political or sexual orientation. Mostly I would learn this emanated from a very traditional top-down business practice where most decisions regarding content and format were handed down by Paul and imposed with little discussion.“
The result of such a top-down approach to journalism is a lack of robust interrogation, and a didactic, polemical style that centers on white expertise rather than the black-lived experience, which is more democratic, revelatory, and resonant. That’s important, Khalid told MintPress, because newsrooms draw their energy from reporters and the communities they are in touch with, not from managerial hacks.
“The real question is always who is in that editorial meeting,” he said, “because that’s where you decide which stories to pursue.”
Missing a good story
Voter turnout data explains Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office far better than does CNN’s reportage.
In Milwaukee, for example, the five poorest city council districts accounted for half the citywide drop in voter turnout, according to this New York Times article, one of the rare mainstream media stories to tackle the subject of black voter turnout.
According to the article, the steepest decline was in District 15, a stretch that the Times described as “fading wooden homes, sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants that is 84 percent African-American, and has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, due in no small part to the Clinton Administration’s 1995 omnibus crime bill.” Voter turnout declined by almost a fifth from 2012, Neil Albrecht, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, told the Times.
“I don’t feel bad,” Cedric Fleming, a black barber, said to a Times reporter a few weeks after Election Day. “Milwaukee is tired. Both of them were terrible. They never do anything for us anyway.”