The South doesn’t need to rise again. It has the evening news shows for that.
Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down as key part of the Voting Rights Act and the broadcast networks took us back in time to the civil rights era 37 separate times.
ABC, CBS and NBC underscored their support for the law by filling their broadcasts with images straight out of Jim Crow. Pictures of police dogs attacking protesters, police officers beating and arresting African-Americans filled the screens in photograph or video.
The court ruling stated that “history didn’t end in 1965,” but you’d never know it by watching the networks, especially ABC.
That network used 21 separate images and videos of the civil rights era and it wasn’t just to show off the its spiffy archive of news footage. It was to depict the law as one correcting great injustices.
But those injustices were two generations ago – from an era before an African-American president sat in the White House. They also predated much of what makes up 21st Century America – from iPods, Twitter and the Internet to predictions that America will soon be a majority minority nation.
None of that was good enough for journalists to dwell on events in the 21st Century. Instead, they were clearly angry over the decision. The historic images were the visual expression of that anger. But there were ample examples of more current comments that made it hard to distinguish between journalists and the activists they interviewed.
NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams began with the subtlety of civil rights era Democrat Bull Connor.
“As one reporter put it today, the U.S. Supreme Court has driven a stake through the heart of the most important civil rights law ever enacted – the Voting Rights Act.”
Williams also teased the story by saying the court “goes after the very heart of the most important civil rights law in U.S. history.”
Correspondent Pete Williams echoed the anchor’s theme and hyperbolic wording. “The court’s conservatives today followed through on a threat they made four years ago to strike at the heart of the Voting Rights Act unless Congress updated it,” he said.
Over a backdrop of images showing African-Americans being abused and arrested, ABC’s Terry Moran explained, “This is why the Voting Rights Act was passed.” That broadcast followed up with an interview with omnipresent civil right hero Rep. John Lewis. The Georgia Democrat managed to be interviewed on all three evening news shows, MSNBC, CNN and still pen an op-ed for The Washington Post.
CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the court “essentially knocked down one of the pillars of the civil rights movement.”
In a follow-up report from Mississippi, correspondent Mark Strassmann interviewed people on both sides of the issue. But he made sure he summed up the issue the way he and other journalists viewed it – from the left. “The weight of history on this community might be lighter, but it has not fully lifted.”
Lefties on the Web and in print were even more upset, though they used some of the identical phrasing.
The liberal Huffington Post echoed the heart theme with a headline saying : “Civil Rights Icon: Supremes ‘Put A Dagger In Heart Of Voting Rights Act’…”
Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis repeated that in a piece he wrote for The Washington Post, claiming: “The Supreme Court has stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act.” That phrase is one he also used on CBS “Evening News” and ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer.”
Across the media, hearts were getting abused so much, it looked more like an episode of “True Blood.”
The New York Times’ Adam Liptak certainly had heart. “The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval,” he wrote.
Liberal Rick Ungar went even further than just the heart in an op-ed he wrote for Forbes. “In a 5-4 decision along the ideological lines one might expect, the Supreme Court today cut out the heart and soul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” he claimed.
On MSNBC, Chris Hayes said “Section 5 is often referred to as the heart of the Voting Rights Act.” In the background, he had a graphic saying “Killing the Voting Rights Act.” Surprisingly, the graphic lacked a vampire slayer, stake in hand. Rachel Maddow followed up her own reading of the Lewis quote, by paraphrasing it. “The thing about the dagger in the heart, is that the patient is still alive,” she explained.
Although Lewis turned up in so many locations it looked like he had embraced cloning, that wasn’t the issue. He is a veteran of the civil rights movement and a natural for this story. The bigger issue is which Democrat issued the “heart” talking point and how did he/she get so many “journalists” to embrace it so quickly? Was it Lewis?
Even when liberals weren’t being heart-felt, they were still upset.
One of The Washington Post’s many liberal columnists, Dana Milbank complained about “conservative activism,” echoing the standard left-wing talking points for the justices striking down sweeping government regulation.
The New York Times editorial board unsurprisingly called the decision “another damaging and intellectually dishonest ruling.” The constitutionally ignorant Times claimed “the 5-to-4 ruling usurped Congress’s power,” forgetting the Supremes also have a wee bit of power.
The hardcore left went even more apoplectic.
Salon editor at large Joan Walsh blasted the ruling as “The ugly SCOTUS voting rights flim-flam.”And it wouldn’t be crazy without at least one Hitler/Holocaust comparison, in this case, brought to us by MSNBC’s Michael Eric Dyson. He went on the “Martin Bashir” show to bring the lunacy in a comment about Justice Clarence Thomas.
“A symbolic Jew has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit holocaust and genocide upon his own people.”
That was pretty much in character for liberals who included Minnesota Democratic State Rep. Ryan Winkler Minnesota using Twitter to call Justice Thomas “Uncle Thomas.” He later apologized. Had he been conservative saying that to a liberal, you’d need the back of a milk carton to find his remaining career.
All in all, Tuesday's decision brought out a typical mainstream media reaction. Next up, the same folks will be showing clips from “Birth of a Nation” to make their point.
No, wait, that might be too subtle.
Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.