Watching the current debate swirling around the Washington Redskins’ name, I can’t help but shake my head. American Indian nicknames is a tired issue that we have heard about before. Yet something seems different this time, and much of that has to do with the liberal mainstream media jumping on the bandwagon to help fuel the fire.
The Redskins name should stay. The team has a historical attachment to the name that goes back more than 80 years. The team has declared that its intention is to honor American Indians and not to demean them, so we should take them at their word. If ever there were an example of political correctness run amok, then demanding the Redskins give up their name is it.
I respect Redskins owner Dan Snyder as a successful businessman and at the end of the day the team is his investment. It’s not our place to tell him how to run his business. He can call it whatever he pleases. If some people choose to be thin-skinned and take offense, then that is their problem.
But somewhere along the way this issue regarding the Redskins also became about personal attacks, and that is a far more serious problem than some sports team’s nickname.
The Daily Caller website ran a recent story that purported to be about the leader of the campaign to change the mascot, but it amounted to little more than a smear against him.
I have never met or even spoken with the Oneida Nation’s representative Ray Halbritter. But I’m willing to bet that The Daily Caller reporter didn’t either; certainly the article gives no indication he did, with only a brief notice at the end that the Oneidas “did not return a request for comment.” Yet that did not stop them from publishing an “article” that relied on quotes from a detractor of Mr. Halbritter and “documents” that suggest he is not a legitimate member of the Indian tribe that he leads.
In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote about the Oneidas several months back, when they expanded their growing enterprise with the opening of a new multimillion-dollar restaurant and entertainment complex. I praised their business acumen as an example of the kind of entrepreneurship that this country needs more of.
I happen to think that the Oneidas are wrong on this Redskins issue, yet I respect their view and the fact that they believe what they are saying. Hopefully they can respect my perspective as well.
What I find totally unacceptable is that The Daily Caller didn’t even attempt to make its case in support of the Redskins name, nor did it challenge any of the Oneida leader’s arguments. Instead, it went far outside the lines of what’s acceptable and tried to discredit him personally.
Trying to sully a man’s personal reputation by challenging his authenticity and questioning his heritage is not journalism — it’s a low blow.
Unfortunately, this type of tactic has become the norm rather the exception in today’s cutthroat media environment and in this country. Don’t like the other side’s position? Attack someone on personal grounds. Try to raise doubts about his legitimacy.
Just look at what some opponents of President Obama have written and said about him. They have asked if he’s black enough. They’ve questioned whether he’s Christian enough. They’ve even tried to force him to prove that he is American enough to have been elected.
The problem with attack journalism is that often, by the time the truth ultimately comes out and the person is vindicated, it’s too late and the damage has been done.
For those who step forward to serve at the highest levels of government, they understand what they are getting into and know that it comes with the turf. They choose to subject themselves to unbelievable scrutiny and criticism because they seem to feel that the opportunity to wield power is worth the price they pay on a personal level.
But for others who don’t decide to put themselves out there in the manner of presidential or congressional candidates, ad hominem attacks can have true consequences. People get hurt. Careers can be derailed or even permanently destroyed. In the age of Google, things never go away and are always just a click away somewhere online, regardless of the real facts or the sorely missing context.
Journalism should be about reporting the facts, not attempting to impugn the character of a person who possesses a different perspective. Respectful discourse and civility are virtues that are sorely lacking in our media, in our churches and on our streets. We should commit ourselves to reawakening them. We can and should do better.
• Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” Join him from 4 to 5 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.