Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - Conflicts - Politics - Racism
Mama Grizzly Palin Mauls Smokey the Bear
Even Mama Grizzly, who brags about using helicopters to blast wolves with assault rifles, knows the mantra of that famed American outdoors icon Smokey the Bear: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Since Mama Grizzly (a.k.a. Sarah Palin) once bragged about being able to see Russia from her home in Alaska, she certainly can see the clear meaning of Alaska Statute Section 41.15.110 titled, "Uncontrolled Spread of Fire; Leaving Fire Unattended."
Under a provision in that statue section, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if they neglect “to make every effort possible” to extinguish a fire they’ve knowingly set.
Now, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is not guilty of literally starting wildfires in the forests around her beloved Wasilla home.
However, Palin is complicit in literally lighting up the dry underbrush in America’s forest of political discontent with incendiary rhetoric delivered deliberately to inflame.
Palin calling a political opponent a “terrorist,” as she repeatedly castigated then candidate Barack Obama during the Fall 2008 presidential campaign, was incendiary in America’s post-9/11 climate.
As noted in an October 2008 article in London’s Independent newspaper about McCain-Palin campaign rhetoric, “What’s troubling here is not only the candidates’ loose inflammatory talk, but also their refusal to step in promptly and strongly when someone responds to it with bloodthirsty threats…”
Palin telling supporters after passage of Obama’s health-care reform to not retreat but “reload” was slick phrasing, but still an incendiary reference to firearms.
Palin putting gun-sight cross-hairs on a map targeting 20 Democratic members of Congress to unseat is incendiary, irrespective of Palin’s indignant claim that such imagery is secondary to her right to frame political messages as she see fit.
One of those Congress members put in Palin’s cross-hairs was Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded during the recent massacre where a gunman killed six and wounded 14.
That Tucson shooting rampage is not isolated to America’s tinderbox political arena, where anti-government activists engaged in shootouts with police last year, including a March 2010 incident at the Pentagon, a May incident near Memphis and a July incident in California that made national news.
President Obama’s been the target of more death threats than any president in American history, according to the Secret Service.
Certainly some of those threats against the President come directly from the charged anti-Obama rhetoric comparing him to Hitler and calling him un-American as surely as Smokey Bear knows the direct connect between playing with matches and starting forest fires – accidentally or deliberate arson.
Months ago, Congresswoman Giffords stated the obvious about Palin’s now infamous cross-hairs map that should be understandable to conservatives who extol the virtue of personal responsibility: people who do that have "to realize there’s consequences to that action.”
Palin’s defiant denials of her incendiary rhetoric playing any part in that Tucson incident led blogger and university finance professor Dr. Boyce Watkins to compare Palin’s stance to gangster rappers who “use public platforms for personal benefit, yet neglect any responsibility for the negative outcomes of their words.”
If words have no meaning, as some assert in the wake of the Tucson shootings, then why did the new Republican majority in Congress quickly change the names of some congressional subcommittees, dropping words like "civil rights," "civil liberties," "labor" and "family support" from those subcommittee titles?
That Alaska statute dealing with forest fires addresses Palin’s my-rhetoric-but-not-my-responsibility excuse.
One statue section states the “escape of the fire is presumptive evidence of negligence by the person responsible for starting the fire.”
In fairness to Palin and her incendiary accomplices, from Beck to Gingrich to Limbaugh and beyond, there is an unindicted co-conspirator in America’s climate of politically tinged hate: the news media.
Mainstream news media quickly came to Palin’s aid pushing the message that a defensible distance exists between incendiary rhetoric and deadly results.
A Washington Post editorial warned against “the temptation” to put broader political meaning into the acts of the Tucson gunman while a former Post writer (now with a popular Internet political site) whitewashed linking Palin’s words to the shooting as a “sickening ritual of guilt by association.”
Apparently, many political pundits highly-paid for their (alleged) experience-based insights lack the common-sense eyesight of the woman who published an October 2008 letter about McCain-Palin campaign scare tactics in a leading North Carolina newspaper.
That letter writer stated, “I fear the inflammatory rhetoric may unhinge someone, who, regardless of party affiliation, will use these remarks to take matters into his own hands to ’keep America safe.’ ”
The news media’s main complicity in this over-heated political climate is more omission than commission.
Yes, the media can and should cover the utterances of a leading figure like Palin, but the media has a responsibility to provide the public with context. For example, when Palin and her confederates regularly rail about the dangers of socialism, the news media has a duty to provide a counterpoint by presenting real socialists.
Candidates from three socialist parties campaigned for the White House in 2008. Why does the news media fail to utilize any one of those candidates to address issues revolving around charges against socialism?
Gloria La Riva, the 2008 presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, is articulate, actively engaged in numerous social causes and is attractive –- apparently a criteria for television news programming.
As surely as the news media covers every "hot-button" utterance of a Palin, it shirks provisions in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics like supporting the “open exchange of views” and diligently seeking out subjects of news stories “to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.”
Despite Palin’s frequent criticisms of unflattering news media coverage, she’s benefitted from the media turning a blind-eye to unsettling skeletons in her closet.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, where Palin rhetoric often contained racist taints, the news media ignored the "story" of her rocky relations with Blacks and Native Alaskans who criticized her stiff-arm stances as governor.
While the LexisNexis database contains nearly 900 articles about Palin published on October 19, 2008, that authoritative database only lists one newspaper carrying the 10/19 AP news wire service article about non-white disillusionment with Palin, and that was a newspaper in New Zealand.
When reflecting on that Tucson shooting, remember that a danger to American democracy far larger than the rants of a Palin or a Limbaugh is limiting diverse views in the mainstream media "marketplace" of ideas.
Restoring a semblance of civility to America’s current coursed climate of political discourse requires more diversity of viewpoints in the news media not dampening down the First Amendment rights of a Sarah Palin…regardless of Palin irresponsibly exercising those rights.
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