- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

Talk of race relations in America is never simple. Amplified on a public stage by an intense mix of news coverage, speculation and commentary and the topic becomes complicated. Such is the case with the recent racially charged remarks made by a sports team owner, a rancher and a Democratic congressman, which have drawn scrutiny from critics who say that some news organizations could be guilty of a double standard.

In review: Among other things, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling warned a girlfriend not to associate with blacks. Nevada rancher Clive Bundy Nevada rancher suggested “Negroes” may have been “better off as slaves, picking cotton.” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, equated Republican criticism of President Obama with racism, and unapologetically declared that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is “an Uncle Tom.”

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy are white, Mr. Thompson is black. Have news organizations offered equal time to all three?

“As of Thursday morning, the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows had devoted more than 165 minutes of airtime to the Sterling-racism story, all since Saturday night. In contrast, news that Mr. Thompson had branded Republicans as racist and Justice Thomas as an Uncle Tom had received no coverage from these same broadcasts,” said Rich Noyes, research director for the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog that has tracked the content and slant of the coverage since it emerged on press radar.

“If the media really want to play the role of civility cops, they need to patrol both sides of the street. Incendiary language from a sitting member of Congress is at least as newsworthy as offensive private statements from a wealthy white businessman,” Mr. Noyes continued.

“Even though Thompson is an elected representative, the news media clearly regard his comments, delivered on a radio program, as less scandalous than those of an NBA owner who was recorded in a private setting.” Mr. Noyes said.

SEE ALSO: Clippers furor leads to focus on new owners to target

Such coverage could affect relations between black and white Americans.

Asked during a CNN interview if the “Uncle Tom” comment was a racial remark, Mr. Thompson himself replied, “For some, it is. For others, it’s the truth.”

The events surrounding the trio of racial incidents has also rattled editorial desks.

“Which is more dangerous: a racist NBA owner or a bigoted member of Congress?” asked Jonathan S. Tobin, a columnist for Commentary magazine.

The situation also has become heavily politicized on both sides of the aisle.

“Donald Sterling will be a campaign issue for Democrats because they have nothing else,” Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience on Wednesday. “The Democrat Party makes people comfortable with their racism. The Democrat Party makes people comfortable with their bigotry.”

SEE ALSO: Bundy aftermath: Utah lawmaker moves to disarm BLM, IRS, says ‘They’re not paramilitary units’

On the same day, MSNBC host Chris Matthews noted, “Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the LA Clippers, got himself tape-recorded in the worst such case of verbal self-destruction since Mitt Romney’s 47 percent debacle, or going back further, to Richard Nixon,” naming two Republicans.

The nation, meanwhile, has been exposed to extensive coverage and commentary that spans straightforward news, spectacle, scandal mongering and even farce. The mix has unfolded relentlessly in broadcast and across print, online aggregation sites and social media. Mr. Sterling’s story alone generated close to 15,000 print stories this week, according to a Google News count.

In the meantime, the news cycle goes on.

Mr. Sterling can mount a legal fight against the NBA’s call that he resign as owner of the Clippers. Mr. Bundy remains on his property and has continued to resist demands from the Bureau of Land Management to pay for the cost of his cattle grazing on government lands. And Mr. Thompson, an 11-term congressman, is tending to constituents in his state affected by this week’s severe weather.

The nation appears to have conflicted, but potentially promising, sentiments about the state of things between blacks and whites in the meantime.

A recent Gallup “Minority Rights and Relations” poll finds that 40 percent of Americans say that racial relations “will always be a problem.” But another 70 percent characterize relations between blacks and whites as “good,” while 58 percent insist that a “solution” will be found. The national survey of 4,373 adults, Gallup says, included “oversamples” of both blacks and Hispanics.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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