At our worst, journalists are making the same sorts of mistakes and miscalculations that surface whenever the pack descends on a hot topic, whether it happens to be health care or Iraq. If we're not oversimplifying the news, we're hyping it to whip up a controversy. Or we're twisting the meaning of events to sell papers and woo viewers and listeners. And we wonder why the public hates and mistrusts us.
The turning point was the campaign and eventual election of African-American Barack Obama as president in 2008, paving the way for pundits, politicians and ordinary people at their water coolers to discuss race openly. Whether America has apparently been pro- or anti-Obama, race relations have become an unavoidable consideration.
Lately, there have been a number of specific, racially charged examples for the media to ponder:
The incident in Cambridge, Mass., when a police officer arrested African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., under questionable circumstances, ultimately prompting Obama to weigh in. Rep. Joseph Wilson yelled, "You lie!" during the president's recent major health-care reform speech before Congress, prompting concerns of racism. Former President Jimmy Carter addressed the topic during an explosive interview Tuesday with General Electric Co.'s (GE) NBC News unit. Carter said that an "overwhelming portion of the intensity" directed toward Obama was "based on the fact that he is a black man." Conversely, Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck made headlines when he charged that Obama was a racist. (Fox News, like MarketWatch, is a division of News Corp. (NWS) ) Questions about race arose in less overt ways, too. Tennis star Serena Williams screamed at and threatened a lineswoman during the U.S. Open. And rapper Kanye West jumped on stage after Taylor Swift got an award at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony. Williams and West are black; Swift and the lineswoman are white."
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