During a recent interview at my local unemployment office, the man charged with my case looked at my résumé and expressed his admiration of American journalism. “You people just report the facts; here in France it’s nothing but opinion,” he said.
I told him that while I agreed with the sentiment, his viewpoint was unfortunately out of date. American newspapers today prefer the evidently more exciting role of opinion monger and ideological prosecutor.
I base my view largely on reading the New York Times, for whom I worked for 18 years as a copyeditor, first on the International Herald Tribune and then on the International New York Times. The company treated me well and paid me well, and it did much excellent reporting that inspired my respect, but it also taught me some probably unintended lessons.
Reading the paper, I gathered that its editors and writers had little love for the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee. I drew this conclusion from the implicitly approving way in which they dealt with the persecution by European governments, particularly the French, of people, almost always on the right, who violate the many legal restrictions on public speech. Fines and prison sentences, usually suspended, are the punishment prescribed by law for saying the unacceptable, and I can recall only one protest in the paper during my 18 years there. (Oh, sorry, two: I forgot its defense of Bob Dylan.)
I also learned that its writers and editors judged that white people generally were fair game in a way that other categories were not. I drew this conclusion from the many articles which accused, blamed or pointed an invidious finger at white people and which had no equivalent with regard to other peoples. Nicholas Kristof’s six-part series on “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” for instance, has had no counterpart for any other distinguishable ethnic or racial group. The same might be said for the opinion pieces by Charles M. Blow, Michael Eric Dyson, George Yancy and Roxane Gay.
And of course, the Times, among the most ardent exponents of virtually unlimited immigration into the United States and Europe, rarely could find any motivations but fear and racism in many people’s reluctance to admit thousands or millions of non-European strangers into their countries. Its lack of sympathy with the ordinary people of these countries was evident.
The Times is hardly alone in its biases. They permeate the vast majority of America’s leading newspapers and magazines (and, perhaps, television, but fortunately I don’t see that from here). Even if you have never particularly thought of yourself as white, you will learn to as you read the papers. You will become accustomed to being on the defensive, and you will observe that any journalist who attempts to do something similar to blacks or Jews or other distinct categories of human being is very likely to be branded a racist or antisemite. Those who fail to conform are cast out into the wilderness of the blogosphere.
Many Americans are accustomed now to being addressed and discussed as if they are uniquely guilty of much of the world’s problems. As for myself, I am quite willing to consider that various aspects of European and American history are regrettable, blameworthy, unfortunate and so forth. And I think it desirable that anyone feel free to tell me so. But I am only too aware that this is not a two-way street.
The recent events in Charlottesville cannot be understood without recognizing that white people generally sense, consciously or not, that they are on the defensive, that a large number of political actors are sort of licking their chops at the ongoing disempowerment of white people.
When those who offer calm, rational defenses of white people’s interests are banned by the main media, as they generally are today, most of those willing to take up that defense will be extremists and kooks. And the process of “naming and shaming” that is now seeking to identify individual pro-white demonstrators and strip them of all sorts of ordinary internet services is certain to reinforce this process.
So what happened in Charlottesville? Several hundred people, members of fringe pro-white groups that most Americans had never heard of, marched on Friday evening, August 11, and the next day. Their right to do so had been affirmed by a district court judge. Their event was called “Unite the Right.” They chanted, according to the Washington Post and New York Times, “You will not replace us”; “Jews will not replace us”; “Blood and soil”; “One people, one nation, end immigration”; and “White lives matter!” However repugnant it may be to hear Jews mentioned in this way or to hear the real Nazis’ slogans echoed, these chants were essentially defensive, stating that the marchers would not allow certain things to be done to them. (Of course, as we learned in the 2016 presidential campaign, to say “White lives matter” or “All lives matter” is an offense in itself.)
In a nation of more than 300 million people, it is neither surprising nor shocking that several hundred, or even several thousand, might hold views that are beyond the pale. It is unusual that they would come together and march through a small city, but there is nothing in their assembly that suggests that their political power is anything but marginal.
So what happened? Who did what to whom?
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a Times reporter, said on “The Daily,” an audio interview, on Aug. 14th that counterprotesters tried to block the pro-white marchers from entering a city park. “Suddenly,” she said, “clubs were coming out and pepper spray was being sprayed and there were smoke bombs being thrown. And both sides had bats and they were beating each other and they were holding up their shields, and, you know, it was truly a melee.” She sent out a message by Twitter that “the hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.” She then corrected herself: “Rethinking this. Should have said violent, not hate-filled. They were standing up to hate.” You understand, it is only natural to wield clubs and beat people who are filled with “hate.”
Of course, there is no moral equivalence between people who have a clear legal right to demonstrate and those who seek to shut them up. Extremism in the pursuit of virtue is no vice, as a famous anti-fascist once said.
A young man drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman and injuring many other people. Whether groups should be blamed for the criminal acts of someone they supposedly inspire is a fair and familiar topic of debate. I will simply note that there was no demand by White House reporters after the shooting of Republicans playing baseball in Alexandria, Virginia, that Donald Trump denounce strong critics of Republicans, such as the Times’s Paul Krugman, who has written that “Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe.”
The ramming by car was awful, but what about the day’s toll altogether? According to the New York Times, “some 34 others were injured, at least 19 in the car crash, according to a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center.”
Simple arithmetic tells us that if about 34 people were injured, “at least 19 in the car crash,” then the number of people injured in the rest of the day’s horrendous clashes was somewhere around 15 or less. How serious were their injuries? Oddly, we don’t know. The Times has reported that one man, DeAndre Harris, “was savagely beaten by white supremacists wielding poles.” The British paper The Independent quoted him as saying, “I have eight staples in my head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth,” which suggest a beating that was serious but somewhat short of “savage,” and reported that he had “set up a GoFundMe page to help cover his medical costs.” But about the other injured we haven’t been told. Are these injured people hospitalized, in serious condition? It is likely that if they were, we’d have read about it.
My intention is not to trivialize the injuries any particular person may have suffered, but the questions of number and severity are essential if we are to evaluate whether what actually happened merited the amount of media attention it was given. They are also essential because many articles and op-ed pieces have depicted the pro-white marchers as out to do harm. Perhaps the most explicit accusation in the Times was made by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of modern media studies at the University of Virginia, who wrote: “The hate groups were not just after attention. They wanted conflict. They came to hear the sound of flesh being struck, bones being broken.” His opinion piece contains this sequence of sentences: “They did not come to engage in ‘debate.’ They came here to hurt us. And they did. Two Virginia State Police officers died in a helicopter crash. … ”
Aside from the absurdity of blaming the officers’ accident on the “hate groups,” this passage prompts a necessary question: If the intention of the marchers was to cause harm, why did they cause so little? Leaving aside the ramming by car, one would think from the media hullabaloo that the corpses were piled high, the hospitals were overflowing, and the destruction in Charlottesville would take years to repair. Weren’t these evil people armed to the teeth, in battle gear and so forth? Were they really so pathetically inept that 15 minor injuries, including presumably some amid their own ranks, was the best they could do?
Isn’t the likeliest explanation that the marchers generally did not seek to commit violence but that a fair number of them were determined not to back down from a challenge? That the confrontations that took place, often with no police officers to interfere, were of a nature to excite even ordinarily calm people? And that a small minority of the marchers and counterprotesters were of a type similar to soccer hooligans, that is, aggressive young men attracted by the prospect of a rumble?
This isn’t the place to discuss the abuse of language in the media today, but certainly the increasing deployment of the word “hate” merits the attention of every self-respecting detester of balderdash. That a website such as VDare, which argues straightforwardly against immigration, can be labeled a “hate website” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (a fabulously wealthy organization that is taken very seriously by the media) and denied service by PayPal, suggests definitional hypertrophy. “White supremacy” is a term beloved by most of the newspapers and magazines I read, but I venture to guess that most of the marchers would more accurately be described as segregationist or separatists. And I can’t forbear to call attention to the Times’s surprising use of the word “tepid”. Under the heading “A tepid White House response,” the Times stated that “on Saturday afternoon, President Trump met criticism for condemning the ‘egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides’ without singling out white nationalists or neo-Nazis.” There is much I don’t know about politics, but on words I feel pretty competent, and terms like “condemn,” “egregious” and “hatred, bigotry and violence” strike me as, shall we say, untepid.
Of course, most of the media’s steam was expended not in clarifying the facts of what happened, but in whipping up indignation over Trump’s reluctance to condemn the pro-white marchers and exonerate their valiant opponents. It is not worth wasting your time laboring this point. How dare this president, so often criticized by the media for being “divisive,” refuse to divide the mean old goats from the gentle lambs in this affair?
In any case, the New York Times knows who is responsible. In an article titled “Inside the C.E.O. Rebellion Against Trump’s Advisory Councils,” it reported on August 16 that “Mr. Trump blamed ‘many sides’ for an outburst of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va.” You see? The matter has been decided; forget the bats on both sides. It’s “white supremacist violence” and that’s that. Next case!
At bottom, what the media have sought is to do something very un-American: that is, to insist that because of their opinions the marchers deserved any violence that came to them. Their march may have been legal, but that’s a technicality. Their thoughts were wrong and evil, and that is what is important. Arrayed against these few hundred were the major media, the heads of many wealthy corporations and a large number of politicians of both the major political parties. I could hear the alarm bells ringing even over here in France.
The most likely effect of the media’s orgy of indignation will be to push ordinary white people to choose between conformity to an orthodoxy that treats them disrespectfully and radicalization. If the goal is really to improve relations between the races, I can’t think of a stupider program.
Lawrence G. Proulx is a retired copy editor who worked for more than 30 years at the Washington Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune and International New York Times.