Thursday, March 31, 2016

America today: Outrage will Trump dialogue

Donald Trump just might win.

Stuff like Pittsburgh's l'Affaire Wendy Bell will ensure that most terrifying of electoral outcomes.

What's l'Affaire Wendy Bell? You'll be sorry you asked.

Wendy Bell is . . . uh, was . . . a popular news anchor at WTAE television in Pittsburgh. That is, until she got fired Wednesday for saying the kind of thing white folks sometimes say when they unwisely let their guard down.
Wendy Bell, an award-winning journalist with WTAE-TV for 18 years, was fired Wednesday for comments she made on her Facebook page.

A statement from Hearst Television, the station’s parent company, said, “WTAE has ended its relationship with anchor Wendy Bell. Wendy’s recent comments on a WTAE Facebook page were inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.”

WTAE-TV president and general manager Charles Wolfertz III confirmed the news and declined to comment.
Ms. Bell did not return phone calls for comment from the Post-Gazette, but she told the Associated Press that she didn’t get a “fair shake” from the station, and that the story was not about her, but about “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”

“It makes me sick,” she told The Associated Press when reached at her home on Wednesday. “What matters is what’s going on in America, and it is the death of black people in this country. ... I live next to three war-torn communities in the city of Pittsburgh, that I love dearly. My stories, they struck a nerve. They touched people, but it’s not enough. More needs to be done. The problem needs to be addressed.”

Ms. Bell joined WTAE in 1998 and has won 21 regional Emmy Awards.

Ms. Bell had been off the air since Mr. Wolfertz aired a public apology from the station last week, citing Ms. Bell’s “egregious lack of judgment” in posting racial stereotypes on her official Facebook page.

After a mass shooting March 9 in Wilkinsburg in which police still have made no arrests, Ms. Bell wrote, in part, “You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday... they are young black men, likely in their teens or early 20s.

“They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs.”

She then wrote about a young African-American man, this one a worker she saw in a SouthSide Works restaurant. She said she called over the manager and praised the man, adding, “I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.”
THINGS LIKE l'Affaire Wendy Bell ensure that no, we can't talk to one another. That, yes, speaking your mind can wreck your life. That, probably, when people get tired enough of walking on eggshells for fear of becoming a cultural Untouchable -- when people figure out that social and economic ruin await some lunkheads (like them) and not others (not like them) -- their long, anxious journey eventually leads to the Land of What the F***.

And, they figure, "What the F***" will set us free. It won't, of course, but people take hope wherever they can find it these days.

Having grown up in Louisiana -- and most importantly, having grown up in the Gret Stet in the 1960s and '70s -- I think I know the difference between someone being maliciously racist and someone not-so-artfully jumping to a conclusion, and then a stereotype, and then trying to soften it all by being patronizing.

I'd like to think it's the difference between being flat-out hateful and being cluelessly ignorant. I think Wendy Bell probably was, with all the best flawed intentions, guilty of some iteration of the latter and certainly not the former. There is a big difference between the two, and we ultimately are making this country a lot worse for people of all races by deploying the same one-size-fits-all nuclear weaponry against the clueless as we do against the malicious.

Does "white privilege" exist? Certainly. Does extreme dysfunction exist among the black underclass, and does that have an impact on violent crime? Certainly. Can we talk about that without resorting either to mau-mauing on the one hand or race-baiting on the other? Oh, hell, no.

NO, WHAT WE'RE  going to do is this. We're just going to double down on emoting and Facebook posts WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, and we're going to fire TV anchorwomen after they get a little too "real" in response to corporate insistence that they build a social-media "brand" and "keep it real."

Well, then. If this is what being "real" and "relatable" and "relevant" gets you as you build a personal "brand" on social media, I think I'd stick to complaining about the weather, "bless his heart" posts and links to the Puppy Christmas video on YouTube.

If we, the politically correct, have no response to someone who sees through a glass darkly other than to scream "Racist!" and send her off to some figurative Siberia -- just like we would some skinhead with a Nazi flag in his hand and the N-word on his lips -- we really and truly are sunk as a country and a society. Shutting someone up is not the same thing as showing them the light.

Shouting someone down is the antithesis of arguing our way toward the truth. Scaring corporate cowards into "disappearing" TV anchors for unwisely saying what a lot of their audience is probably thinking (and a lot less politely at that) will not suddenly embolden the media to proclaim the truth, no matter what.

Here's some truth for you: When we no longer can "reason together," the only thing left is to eliminate the Other.

Wendy Bell, on her Facebook post, emoted before she had all the facts. She took the real problem of familial breakdown among the black underclass (a phenomenon now trending among white folk near you) and weaponized it as an explanation for the actions of still-unknown killers. And then she unwittingly, I'm sure, stumbled right into some "good nigger" condescension straight out of the Bad Old Days.

Did she mean any harm to African-Americans? I'm absolutely sure she didn't. She was frustrated and angry, and she wanted the damn killing to stop. And she blurted.

Everybody blurts. If we're lucky, it's not on Facebook.

Trouble is, today we -- especially those of us in the media -- are expected to do our blurting in public, online, to be seen by whomever and instantly preserved in the postmillennial amber of a screenshot. Let the outrage begin.

Victims Outraged by Evil (fill in the blank) is the new black, and "Sweetie, did you really mean to say that?" is so gauche. "Sweetie, did you really mean to say that?" doesn't have a chance in hell.

HELL. Funny I should mention hell.

You see, if we keep this up -- this perpetual outrage and this continual inability to separate the malicious from the clueless -- hell is exactly where we're going to end up.

Hell is that place where we're always looking behind our backs and Facebooking lots of links to recipes and Puppy Christmas as we try to stay on the good side of President Trump and his What the F*** brigades.

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