A couple of oops moments for the media

FIRST:  Geraldo Rivera, what were you thinking? Someone who has made his living in media must have realized that his comments regarding Trayvon Martin’s hoodie were going to be seen through a lens of frustration and rage. Or maybe not.

The hyperbolic commentator is noted for his drama quotient more than his journalistic integrity, and he certainly will get more than his fair share of push back this weekend.  His observation that wearing a hoodie contributed to this sad killing is seen as blaming the victim, or parents who buy such clothing.  And yet, there is a sad fact at play here:  at the base of American life, there is tremendous racial bias. It is caused by fear, and applied most often to the innocent, law abiding person of color.  A friend of Steve’s once told me that he would raise his son strictly and with firm expectations, because his life would be inherently more difficult and complicated because he was Black. The Pollyanna in me looked at this wondrous, nurturing family and thought he was paranoid.

Today,  I would bet that he does not let his son pull a hoodie around his head.  For too many, the functional garment has become an emblem for thugdom.  Crime reports contribute to this shorthand, because escaping offenders are often described as wearing them.

It is still a gigantic leap to conclusions that a hoodie=criminal.

This boy was killed because of the irrational fear of a commando, going rogue.  That the rogue had a gun, had been allowed to view himself as a Neighborhood Watch  enforcer, and hadn’t been corralled by law enforcement after chronic 911 calls makes eventual tragedy almost inescapable.  That law enforcement took his word that the shooting was in self defense testifies to the uphill presumption of thugness, as opposed to innocence,  that is ubiquitous for young Black men.

I will not defend Rivera and his careless, bombastic wording.  Even his own kid verbally spanked him.  But I understand that  as long as we dwell in delineated universes where people shoot first, then ask questions, appearances count.  SO I say that Rivera is the messenger, and we can ignore the message of judging and racism at our own peril.  And that is sad, and regressive.

Maybe we will start to examine our biases. Black boys should not have to prove up that they are innocent to get some skittles and a soda.

SECOND:  The Tribune has a great Watchdog unit, and they have been digging into the Chicago Public Schools ethics violations.  Last week they splashed an employee’s picture on the front and fourth pages with the assertion that she had benefitted from $86,000 dollars worth of gifts from vendors.  The punchlist of swag included sky box tickets, dinners, spa certificates- some clearly in excess of the $50 dollar limit.  BUT- the rest of the story was the fact that the $86,000 represented all enumerated “gifts” from two vendors since 2006.  $28,000 was gifts to lunchroom workers.  Additionally, charges that the Trib believed were on a CPS credit card were, in fact, on the employee’s personal card.

SO this employee is being targeted for dismissal, and excoriated publicly by the Mayor and School Chiefs.  I am not privy to the Code of Ethics for CPS employees, and the actual “gifts” are all mudged together.  SO I expect that the threshold of 50 bucks was crossed.

But what does strike me as more than a little unfair is that the Trib revealed its faulty assertions a week later, and tucked into the last 1/3 of a story with a headline: CPS stresses ethics after gifts taken.  Underneath this, the same employee is pictured.

Assumption by reader: GUILTY GRAFT TAKER. Not so fast….

Later, as the story reaches its last paragraphs, we read:    “The market value of such gifts (to her and others) could be in the thousands, but appears to be far less than the amount reported in the Tribune’s weekend stories.”  OOPS.  “Also, the Tribune incorrectly reported that Sullivan found that ___________’s CPS credit card had as many as 143 purchases for dinners that may have included representatives from either Chartwell or Preferred.  Those expenses were on __________’s personal credit cards.”  OOPS!  In essence, a giant splash of GUILT is followed by a microscopic, buried correction.

The correction is little comfort for this employee.  The retraction will be unread or unnoticed by the masses.  It does not seem to honor the journalistic notion of fairness.  And it has ruined a career.


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