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The 1950s and ‘60s were a bad time with Sheriff Bull Connor and his ilk. It was embarrassing to try to explain to foreigners and children why public officials were training fire-hoses and setting police dogs on people who were just trying to eat at lunch counters. Once all that stupid business faded away, one would have thought Americans were ready to behave as sensible, non-judgmental people. But one would have been wrong. It’s all coming back.
When did the Stupid Era return? I’m not sure. But from the platform of my own memory, I can argue that it never left. Having some memory of President Eisenhower’s two campaigns in the 1950s – which can only be described as “genteel” – I was shocked when the Johnson campaign smeared the entirely honorable Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 as a dangerous warmonger who would certainly draw us into a land war in Asia, and who might even push the nuclear button.
The worst of LBJ’s smear-campaign against Goldwater was the infamous Daisy Girl TV ad (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDTBnsqxZ3k ), which depicted a young girl innocently picking daisies in a field. Suddenly she is startled by an ominous voice counting down (10, 9, 8…) to a horrific nuclear blast whose image fills the screen. As the fireball rises and roils into the mushroom cloud of doom, Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard saying, preacher-like, “…we must learn to love each other, or we must die…” As the ad fades out, a narrator sonorously intones, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
The ad’s glorious career was media-driven. It ran repeatedly on the major TV networks until it gained the rarified status of revealed truth. Large numbers of people actually believed that Barry Goldwater was a dangerous nut who would take us into war. He never had a chance, as Lyndon Johnson took 61% of the popular vote and won 486 electoral votes. Political junkies – especially Democrats – still speak admiringly of Daisy Girl as “the most successful political ad in history.”
Of course, the ad was perfectly vile. I consider it embarrassing on two counts: (1) that an American political party did this to an honorable public servant and patriot; and (2) that a significant part of the electorate actually bought such a disgusting lie.
As for the “warmonger” charge: In March 1965, soon after his Inauguration, LBJ called for 500,000 troops to defend South Vietnam against incursions by the communist Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies. This essentially launched the Vietnam War. My colleagues and I sat in our offices listening to LBJ’s radio-address. One of our group said how fortunate it was that LBJ had kept us out of a land war in Asia by defeating Goldwater.
This was my adult-introduction to modern politics, but other shocks were in store – not just from politicians. One of the most disgusting was the case of Patty Hearst – granddaughter of the famous publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst – who was kidnapped on February 4, 1974, by a gang of domestic terrorists called the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was a 19-year-old college student at the time. Feeble FBI efforts to find her, over several months, were unsuccessful. Indeed, officials acted as though they feared being accused of spending too much time looking for a “spoiled rich girl.”
That initial part of the case was disgraceful enough. But when Miss Hearst was spotted wearing guerilla garb and packing an automatic weapon in a bank-robbery filmed by a video-monitor in April, 1974, the FBI split their trousers leaping into action. They launched a nation-wide dragnet and made her Public Enemy Number One. (I’m not making this up!) In short order she was captured and charged with bank robbery. No one at the time seemed to recall that the FBI previously had been unable to find her. Nor was it ever determined whether the weapon she brandished in the bank job was actually loaded or even operable.
Media-cries of “no leniency for rich kids” – reminiscent of a Paris guillotine-mob in a 1930s B movie – drove officials forward. Miss Hearst’s trial began on February 4, 1976. Deaf to defense pleas that she had been terrorized and violently coerced into the appearance (but not the intention) of criminal behavior, prosecutors and controversial Judge Oliver Carter collaborated in a trial worthy of Saturday Nite Live.
The many bizarre aspects of the trial included:
- A pretrial interview in which Judge Carter made prejudicial observations;
- Several changes of defense attorneys;
- The (natural) death of Judge Carter in the midst of the proceedings.
One waggish observer’s throwaway line was that the trial’s subtext was a “race between reporters, attorneys, and ex-boyfriends to see who could get their book published first...” Another said that a SNL skit of the whole fiasco would exceed even the credibility standards of comedy.
Despite a madcap defense staged by F. Lee Bailey, Miss Hearst was convicted on one count of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years. Her sentence was judicially reduced to seven years – matching the sentence SLA leader Bill Harris received in 2003 as an accessory to the murder of Myrna Opsahl during a 1975 bank robbery. Miss Hearst killed no one, but she got the same sentence.
President Carter finally commuted Patty Hearst’s sentence in 1979. She was freed, and the Kafkaesque saga of her kidnapping, indictment, trial, and sentencing ended. Throughout the grotesque media circus, not a single statesman was brave enough to stand up and speak thus:
My friends, an innocent young woman was forcibly taken from her home and family by thugs and terrorists whom our society had allowed to operate freely within our borders. By not preventing her abduction, terrorization, and physical abuse, our government failed to discharge its fundamental duty to keep the citizenry secure in their persons. Accordingly, any complicity she appears to share in the criminal activities of her captors must be discounted due to her natural fear of injury or death at their hands. We shall now restore her to her family and beg her forgiveness. This travesty has gone far enough…
A governor, a mayor, or a judge could have made this entirely sensible statement at any time. But as the Prophet said, “I looked, and there was no man…”
Today, I remain depressed and deeply ashamed that we actually prosecuted and imprisoned a victim whom we had failed to protect from a violent crime. We let our envy of rich people get the better of us. Recently, this character flaw has reappeared.
Obviously we have a love-hate relationship with rich, successful people that can cloud our judgment. We are also obsessed with race – even involving what an individual might have said in the distant past, when so much of the country was racially prejudiced. During my childhood and adolescence, in the 1940s and ‘50s, the conventional wisdom was that black Americans could never be mechanics, scientists, accountants or football quarterbacks. We all “knew” they were simply too stupid. It was not a debatable matter!
Of course, it was all complete rubbish. We know that now. But it was widely believed then by people at every level of society. Indeed, many liberal elites – including educators – still believe blacks are intellectually wanting. This must be why they insist on setting lower academic standards for minorities – what Ronald Reagan called “the soft racism of low expectations.” Today, most Americans hold the more informed view that, with decent preparation, minorities can achieve at the same levels as others. As a people, we have grown up in matters of race.
William Faulkner famously wrote, “In the South, the Past isn’t being relived; the Past isn’t even past…” As a resident of the New South, I can say with some confidence that this is no longer true in most southern states. But in the media it still is. Race-baiters find it useful to dig back into the past of certain public figures to uncover instances of racist speech and conduct. It produces salacious copy that excites editors and politicians. For them, the Past isn't even past.
This trip down Memory Lane happened recently to successful television cooking host Paula Deen, who admitted in a court deposition that she had used a racial epithet – i.e., the “N-word” – several decades ago. As Miss Deen grew up in the South, this should not have been surprising. But media attack-dogs joyfully piled on, until several of her industrial sponsors – including The Food Network and Smithfield Foods – cancelled their contracts with Miss Deen’s show. Despite strong Amazon pre-publishing sales, Ballantine Books also announced its cancellation of Miss Deen’s new book, Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.
The media bums-rush seemed on the point of entirely ruining her – to the obvious delight of many media figures – when a group called Black People for Paula stepped forward to say that she should not continue to be punished for something she said decades ago, for which she has apologized. A statement from the group – which plans to hold a rally in Times Square on August 6, 2013 – ran thus:
“We want everyone to see that that Black people are for Paula, and that we accept her apology. Black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton have forgiven Paula. The Black community has forgiven Paula. It’s time for us all to open our hearts and give this good woman a second chance. The Black community is with you, Paula, and we are going to let the world know!”
Recently, Hoffman Media announced that it will continue publishing the bimonthly recipe and lifestyle magazine Cooking with Paula Deen. The magazine has base circulation of 400,000.
Where am I on all this? Am I defending Paula Deen because I’m a fan? In the interest of full disclosure, I’m prepared to swear (on a stack of cookbooks) that I have no interest in cooking shows, and have never watched hers. That such shows come and go concerns me not a bit.
How they come and go does interest me, however. I don’t like media-lynchings – especially over what someone might have said 30 years ago. Even less do I care for the media’s double standard. The late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was much-eulogized for his long service in the Senate, while media hounds remained curiously silent about his well-known past as a Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan. Nary a discouraging word was heard about the many times he must have used the N-word during that era. Where was the lynching-party for him?
Perhaps Miss Deen’s career will survive, despite her treatment at the hands of the media. I hope so. I don’t want her ruin to be another smudge on the American character that we recall with shame and embarrassment.
The George Zimmerman case was also another media-lynching that failed. Disclosure: we are not related, unless it was through my great-great grandfather, Pedro Zimmerman. (Just kidding…)
The case has been rehearsed in the news so much since February 2012, when the shooting of Trayvon Martin happened, that I won’t try to replicate or even summarize that coverage here. When the incident occurred, the police of Sanford, Florida, determined that there was not enough evidence to charge George Zimmerman. They were prepared to release him.
As news emerged of the plans to release Zimmerman, national broadcast media launched a furious campaign to force Florida authorities to charge him. This included NBC News’ infamous editing of a recording of Zimmerman’s comments to a police dispatcher, when he was following the 17-year-old Martin through the streets of a gated community where Zimmerman was a neighborhood-watch volunteer. The recording was abridged to make it appear that Zimmerman’s tracking of Martin was racially motivated. (Reports show that Zimmerman now plans to sue NBC News for slander over their editing of the dispatch-recordings.)
Besides the spurious audio-editing done by NBC News, all print and electronic media organs persistently aired a photo of Trayvon Martin, age 12, to depict him to the public. It contrasted markedly with how the 6’2” Martin truly appeared at age 17. (See photos below.) The jury in Zimmerman’s trial undoubtedly saw the age-17 photo, including photos of his body, taken at the shooting scene. But with rare exceptions, the public saw only the age-12 photo.
These outrageous media misrepresentations helped to spark a national outcry to bring Zimmerman to trial for the fatal shooting. Racial agitators – including Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson – descended on Stanford Florida, ultimately causing a reversal of the decision not to charge George Zimmerman. Reports have also emerged suggesting that the U. S. Department of Justice sent agents to Florida to foment protests demanding that Zimmerman be put on trial. If DoJ resources have been used in that way previously, I’m not aware of it.
The situation became a perfect racial storm, with news organs routinely referring to George Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic” – a previously unknown term – to put a distinct racial cast on the conflict. In the ensuing uproar, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee was accused of “botching” the investigation of the shooting. He stepped aside, was later reinstated, and in June 2012 was “entirely relieved of duty.” President Obama also entered the dispute by saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon…”
As the trial – televised for maximum effect – proceeded, it became clear why the police initially declined to charge George Zimmerman. There was significant doubt that he had committed the crime he was charged with. Did he really confront Martin with the intention of killing him? (This is what 2nd-degree murder means.)
Gradually, the average man on the street began to see that in a similar situation he might have acted as Zimmerman had. The tide began to turn. In recent days, racial agitators darkly suggested that riots would occur if Zimmerman was not found guilty. Reporters began to talk about “manslaughter,” and the presiding judge ruled that the jury could consider that lesser charge if they saw fit. (Legal experts note that this ruling after the defense had been presented was highly questionable.)
The manslaughter ruling reassured those who were deeply invested in Zimmerman’s conviction, but they were ultimately disappointed. After deliberating just 15 hours, a jury of six women delivered a verdict of “not guilty” on all charges. Zimmerman will be freed, and the long nightmare will end. Another media bums-rush has failed.
I’m glad for that result, although I’m not happy about the shooting incident itself. I doubt if very many people are. It seems a totally unnecessary waste of a young life. And if he remains free, George Zimmerman will be branded for life by the incident. We’ll never know exactly what happened, but the whole thing was certainly tragic.
Some “spokesmen” for the black community have said, “the system failed.” This is what people always say when a trial hasn’t gone their way. I don’t think it did fail, however. My strong impression is that the jury of six sensible people also wished the incident hadn’t happened. But it had, and their job was to look at the evidence, not to act on feelings or wishes. Having fairly done that, they decided there was reasonable doubt of Zimmerman’s guilt, so they acquitted him.
There is talk of trying Zimmerman, under federal statutes, on charges that he deprived Martin of his civil rights. I hope that does not go forward. But if it does, I believe that another sensible jury will pass the same verdict. I’m not a lawyer, but as a mature citizen I can’t see why you get to try someone twice just by calling the same act by two different names.
George Zimmerman has been found Not Guilty. Let’s let it go and move ahead.
Trayvon Martin, age 12 (as we saw him)
Trayvon Martin, age 17