Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It’s Just A Kiss

In a perfect world the photograph of a black man kissing his white wife on television would illicit little if any reaction from those viewing the photograph. However, we do not live in that perfect world and so last night when the producers of MSNBC’s, “Countdown with Keith Oberman” repeatedly cut to shots of the photograph of Justice Clarence Thomas kissing his wife while discussing her lobbying and tea party activities seemed designed to exploit the prejudice and discomfort of a certain segment of the population. It is unfortunate but we live in a world where racial prejudice is still a part of everyday life. If we are truly honest with ourselves that photograph to many is the culmination of their worst fears and nightmares. This is true in a subtle way for many Americans not just the raging bigot.

For those who are unaware of the story last night during the MSNBC show, “Countdown with Keith Oberman”, they did a story on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia (who happens to be white) establishing a conservative lobbying firm and also her possible attendance and speaking engagement at two upcoming tea party events. During the report they were showing pictures of Justice Thomas and his wife together in a variety of pictures including one of them engaged in a full mouth kiss. During the reporting of this story the show continued to cut back to the photo of Justice Thomas and his wife kissing.

Let me be clear I think that Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia are two of the worst jurist we have had in the history of the Supreme Court. I think that the activities of Justice Thomas’s wife highlighted in the story were worthy of media scrutiny. My concern does not lie in his wife’s activities reported in the story or the implications being drawn from those activities concerning possible conflicts of interest or the hypocrisy of the wife of someone who is paid by tax dollars rallying against taxes. No, my concern is with the show using what I know the producers knew was an inflammatory photograph to help bolster their argument. The show did not merely show the photograph once as part of a montage, but continued to cut back to that particular photograph and stay locked on it.

It is one thing to decry the tactics of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove; it is another to imitate those same tactics. I think it is the willingness of both sides of the political spectrum to use inflammatory images and speech that has allowed our political discourse to devolve into its current state. Was it necessary to continue to show that photograph to the reporting of that story? Remember the uproar concerning the ad that was used against Harold Ford Jr. with the white woman at the end of it winking and saying I’ll see you later or call me. I understand the desire to fight fire with fire, but in the end all you end up with is a bunch of burned up stuff. Are we, the public better served by the use of these tactics?

In my opinion by MSNBC using that photograph in that manner they are perched on a slippery slope that leads from journalism to Fox News. Is scoring short-term political points worth rousing the fears and prejudices of some people’s baser natures? For many years on the right the answer to that question has been a resounding yes, but is this a model we want to emulate? I fail to see the long-term strategy in arousing historical fears, anxieties, and prejudices in developing partnerships and common bonds. My hope is that this was a temporary lack of judgment and not a preview of coming attractions. Come on MSNBC you are better than this, that story has legs without the use of inflammatory pictures and incendiary language. I’d be curious to know if I was the only one who felt this way after the segment. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

thelifeofkai said...


After watching my old episodes of "Countdown" in my podcasts, I caught the segment you were referring to. I noticed that, in fact, they only played the pictures of them kissing twice, and what happened was that they had three photos of them together and the slideshow repeated itself once.

So in fact, the picture of them kissing was not used more than the other two pictures were. In addition, I personally don't see what's wrong with an African-American man kissing a white woman, and I don't see how it should cause an "uproar", especially with regular viewers of MSNBC.

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