If at first you don't succeed, blame media and racism

MIKE LITTWIN

December 22, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Jackie McLean blamed the media. Which is what beleaguered public officials are supposed to do.

It's right there on page 12 of the Richard Nixon handbook on governance, immediately following the chapter on erasing incriminating tapes: If you don't have any other defense, slam the media.

Why not? The press is an easy target. And we don't really mind.

And don't hold it against her for hiding behind lawyers, either. That's her constitutional privilege, as set down in the Bill of Rights by our forefathers in case they ever got caught with their hands in the till.

Sure, you'd love to see your public officials stand up and answer charges as if they were actual public servants. If McLean could tell us who Michele McCloud is and exactly what she was doing on the city payroll, maybe this whole mess would go away.

At a press conference Monday, McLean didn't tell us who McCloud is or what she does or if she even exists. McLean didn't tell us why the checks to McCloud were sent to the same address as her sister's beauty parlor. Also, McLean didn't tell us how it was she could have forgotten that she owned a building she tried to lease to the city.

She told us something else instead. And, for this, we do not forgive her.

McLean told us she was an African-American woman looking out for the interests of all African-Americans. She told us there was a specific "white male" -- that's the term she chose to use -- in city government who would discriminate against blacks if she were not there to stop him.

She went on to advise "members of the African-American community" of the importance of having people like her in office.

This is called playing the race card.

And it's just as ugly and craven as it sounds. It's harmful, too.

Although it's obvious that the only factor here is whether or not McLean is guilty of some sort of mis- or malfeasance, some will credit her notion that race must have played a role. She said it on TV with everyone watching, didn't she?

Others will look at her comments as clearly self-serving and dismiss them by saying that blacks tend to blame all their problems on race. And that's where the real harm comes.

Race is still the most serious problem in America today. Race is the great divide that we can never seem to breach. When someone like McLean cheapens the discussion by cynically linking race to allegations of corruption, she makes it harder for everyone who has a legitimate complaint to be heard.

She knows it, too, and apparently doesn't care.

Of course, it isn't only McLean who cheapens the discussion. On the same day she was holding her press conference, there was another in Los Angeles conducted by the Western Regional NAACP, which should know better.

At this press conference, officials complained that Michael Jackson is being tried in the press and suggested that race might be a factor.

"This is not only about Michael Jackson," said Shannon Reeves, the west coast NAACP director, "but about how the media uses its power to continue to aid in the oppression and degradation of African-Americans in this country."

What planet are these guys from?

Tell me, does anybody out there define Michael Jackson by the color of his skin, which, as we know, changes from day to day?

My best guess is that this is a person suffering from race confusion, gender confusion and general confusion. When I define Jackson, it is usually in psychological terms.

OK, it's fair to say the press, particularly the tabloid end of the business, has a bad case of Michael-frenzy. It's hardly a unique case, though. Or has anyone forgotten Amy Fisher, Heidi Fleiss, Princess Di, Elvis and other not-exactly-African-Americans who have met with similar coverage?

This is about celebrity sickness, and it's worthy of study, but probably not by the NAACP.

The NAACP should be holding press conferences to discuss the recent reports that schools and neighborhoods in this country are more segregated than ever. That's a race issue.

And if Jackie McLean wants to hold any more press conferences, they should be to address the harm that is done when an elected official tries to divide her city along racial lines.

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