Friday, October 24, 2008

The Hate Talk Express in Pittsburgh

I lived in the city of Pittsburgh from the late 80s to the mid 90s. I wrote a column for a weekly paper for part of that time, and op ed pieces for the dailies (there were two then), and articles for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

So I have been following this incredible story of the young white woman, a McCain volunteer originally from Texas, who claimed she was attacked by a black Obama supporter in Pittsburgh. She has since admitted that it did not happen.

She said it happened at an ATM in Bloomfield. I know that neighborhood. We used to go to a couple of restaurants there, and I sometimes shopped at an Italian grocery there--it's one of the Italian neighborhoods. It was always a quiet area as I remember it.

The facts of what she said, what police did and the outcome are in this Post-
Gazette story.
Among her allegations were sexual assault, and at one point she said that the tall black man had been upset by seeing the McCain sticker on her car.

These are obvious the kind of charges that inflame race hatred. Not so very long ago, it was the kind of charge that often resulted in black men being lynched. So the questions being asked today have to do with why some people jumped at the chance to believe them. Among those who did were the Drudge report and Fox news, and other right wing Internet outlets. But apparently the first to further inflate it was the McCain campaign, first in Pittsburgh, and then all the way to the top.

TPM has documented the facts that the McCain communications director in Pittsburgh gave two local TV stations unverified details, including one which he apparently made up (that the backwards B marked in the woman's face was for Barack.)

According to CNN, both Sarah Palin and John McCain spoke to this young woman, before she admitted she'd made up the story. Was this extraordinary and very swift reaching out simply compassion for a campaign worker, or did they see political gain in this?

One person certainly did--Fox News executive VP Joe Moody (Joe the Racist?) whose daily memo setting up the talking points of the day said:

It had to happen.
Less than two weeks before we vote for a new president, a white woman says a black man attacked her, then scarred her face, and says there was a political motive for it.
Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old white volunteer for John McCain’s presidential campaign, says she was mugged at an ATM machine in Pittsburgh (my hometown) by a big black man. She further says he threw her down, then disfigured her by carving the letter "B" into her face with a sharp implement when he saw that she supported McCain, not Barack Obama. Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination.
That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.
If Ms. Todd’s allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee. "

The racism begins with the first sentence. "It had to happen"? And the strategy for exploiting it is articulated. What does an assault at a bank machine have to do with Barack Obama? Nothing, except providing the opportunity for race-baiting, for there is no other reason to "suddenly feel they do not know enough" about Obama. It is a clarion call to inflame the "distrust" between black and white. And why not, if it wins an election? Republicans have done it before.

I'll add just one comment. Having lived in Pittsburgh, I heard many stories about the bullying attitudes of the Pittsburgh police. But in this instance, it wasn't the police who leaped to emotional conclusions and inflamed a lynch mob mentality. They checked the woman's story, beginning with reviewing the video at the bank machine where she said she'd been attacked (she wasn't even there.) The McCain campaign continues its losing strategy of inflaming hate, but the Pittsburgh Police come out of this the heroes.

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