John on October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm
Over at Big Journalism, Andrew Breitbart points out the Washington Post’s late, late entry to the New Black Panther case. For months the old media guard has been unwilling to touch this even as the left (prominently in the form of Rachel Maddow) spun all attention to the story as an attempt to frighten white people.
The story reads like a careful attempt to minimize the most significant facts of the case. For instance:
In recent months, Adams and a Justice Department colleague have said the case was dismissed because the department is reluctant to pursue cases against minorities accused of violating the voting rights of whites. Three other Justice Department lawyers, in recent interviews, gave the same description of the department’s culture, which department officials strongly deny.
So we have four people confirming that there is a problem, but the Post story notes the official denial, then quotes someone making that denial. That’s despite the fact that much later in the story we learn:
some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities. “The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly…
In other words, the authors of the story have every reason to believe the official story is bunk. So why are they giving prominent space to a bureaucrat spewing the party line? There’s even more later in the story:
Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.
“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”
And then there’s the knockout punch, buried near the tail end of the story:
In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.
“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”
Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.
In sum, the Post story confirms that the Justice department has a problem treating people equally under the law. However rather than highlight this and make it the focus of the story or the headline, the reporters have buried the lede and obliquely suggested it’s much ado about nothing. There’s even a subheading that proclaims the video tape of the NBP “A non-incident.”
Guess what? Watergate wasn’t a story about an office break in. What were the burglars after and why? Who cares?! What mattered was what the breakin told us about corruption in the Nixon administration. Similarly, the New Black Panther case isn’t a story of two black nationalists standing armed in front of a polling place. In fact, if the Obama administration taken the summary judgments, the story would have been over. But when they dismissed most of their case, it uncovered a much bigger story about unequal application of the law. The Post goes a long way to confirming that story is accurate, though it seems not to understand why it matters.
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