Media are equal opportunity villains

July 26, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, executive director of the NAACP, closed the organization's recent convention in Chicago with an almost obligatory potshot at the news media.

Invoking divine assistance in what the NAACP sees as a veritable holy war, Mr. Chavis intoned, "Lord, we know if you embrace us, nothing can get through -- no news media, no stone, no stick, no bullet, nothing of evil."

So there you have it. The news media, in the eyes of the NAACP, is a "thing of evil" -- somewhat akin, we might surmise, to the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz." A resolution adopted by the convention on its final day claimed that the 85-year-old civil rights organization "is under attack by the news media."

The question we must ask is whether Mr. Chavis and the NAACP have a valid basis for their claim. Is it the NAACP or Mr. Chavis that is "under attack" by the news media?

The two are not the same; even Mr. Chavis should be willing to concede that much, unless the size of his ego has reached the mammoth proportions of Louis Farrakhan's.

It is, in fact, Mr. Chavis' willingness to extend a hand to the leader of the Nation of Islam and invite him to attend the NAACP's leadership "summit" in Baltimore last June that inspired much of the media criticism. Mr. Chavis, an intelligent man, knows full well that Louis Farrakhan is to controversy what lightning rods are to lightning.

But Mr. Chavis has a valid point when he says that his invitation to Mr. Farrakhan didn't imply an endorsement of Mr. Farrakhan's views.

"Whether it is Nelson Mandela sitting down with foes of a nonracial South Africa or the Israeli government talking with the Palestine Liberation Organization, discussion does not imply endorsement," Mr. Chavis wrote on this page recently ("Farrakhan sideshow," July 13). "It is a necessary exercise for progress," he insisted.

Touche. White leaders with diametrically opposed world views -- Kennedy and Khrushchev, or Nixon and Brezhnev, for instance -- have had summits. No one, except maybe a few right-wing loonies -- felt the summits implied either leader endorsed the views of the other.

In fact, one of the reasons to have summits is to discuss differences. No doubt many blacks felt that whites who criticized the NAACP leadership summit were saying implicitly that meeting to discuss either differences or agreement is the exclusive privilege of white folks.

Yet Mr. Chavis' point on that issue is obscured by another statement he made earlier in the same article. He referred to a "media frenzy over a few critics from within."

The critics comprise less than 1 percent of the organization's membership, Mr. Chavis claimed -- as if that were a valid reason for the news media not to cover a schism in the nation's oldest and most famous civil rights group.

When you consider that the questioning focuses on whether the NAACP will continue its traditional integrationist orientation or whether it will develop a more nationalist stance -- a fundamental shift in philosophy -- the reason for the media coverage becomes apparent.

To put it simply: It's a good story, and editors love good stories.

Mr. Chavis need not feel alone. Everybody feels persecuted by the press coverage they get. Feminists think it's sexist; minorities think it's racist, right-to-lifers think it's pro-abortion.

The most curious charge is that of conservatives, who think of "the media" as too liberal.

Conservatives say this with a straight face even though you can turn on the television any day and see Rush Limbaugh holding forth. There are as many conservative columnists on opinion pages as liberal ones. A bunch of right-wing, pot-bellied, middle-aged white guys have hijacked talk radio.

But that doesn't keep conservative talk show hosts from frothing at the mouth about the "liberal media."

When it comes to being bashed by the media, Mr. Chavis should simply consider himself a member of the country's largest club.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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