Liberal Columnist a Bret Baier Fan
Donald Sterling’s Racism: Why Have the National Media Snoozed Until Now?
The audiotape that made Donald Sterling into a national pariah was breaking news only in the sense that most of us had little clue about the owner of the L.A. Clippers and his racist outlook.
Turns out that Donald Sterling’s lengthy history of racism was an open secret in the NBA and in Los Angeles. And yet, until TMZ obtained the don’t-bring-black-people-to-my games tape, no one much seemed to care—and that includes the national media.
Sterling was sued by one of his executives, basketball legend Elgin Baylor, for racial discrimination? That was a blip. Sterling paid nearly $3 million to settle federal charges that he tried to drive black and Hispanic renters out of his buildings? Another blip.
What does this tell us about the media? Lawsuits are dry; secret tapes are hot, especially when there’s an alleged mistress and sports celebrities involved and a whole subplot about deception and revenge. That rendered the Sterling saga a made-for-television story.
The outrageous comments about blacks (it’s okay to sleep with them but not to post pictures with them, says Sterling) dominated the early coverage, as well they should. But the next phase is likely to focus on gal pal V. Stiviano (Was she a gold digger? Why is she denying he was her boyfriend? Why was she secretly taping her 80-year-old guy?) and Sterling’s wife, Shelly (who calls him “despicable” and is suing Stiviano for the return of roughly $2 million in gifts).
And more may be coming: TMZ says that Stiviano has “more than 100 hours of recordings…some of which are extremely damaging to Sterling’s reputation.” And that she told the mogul to call her lawyer when he called Sunday to say, “How can we make this go away?”
The short answer is he can’t. Sponsors are already bailing on the Clippers.
But as the mainstream media pile on, it’s worth asking: How did they bobble this ball?
After all, it took an outlet that isn’t part of the pack—TMZ—to push this issue front and center, with help from one V. Stiviano.
What about the L.A. chapter of the NAACP, which just yanked an award it was about to bestow on Sterling? TPM’s Peter Dreier reports:
“Yes, there's no way that the NAACP could have known that Sterling would be caught making those comments. But there's also no way that the NAACP could not have known that Sterling has a long history of racist comments and racial discrimination in his rental properties.
“Indeed, the NAACP seems to suffer from amnesia. Almost exactly five years ago, a similar controversy arose when the civil rights group honored Sterling with the same award! At the time, Elgin Baylor, who served as the Clippers general manager from 1986 to 2008, had just filed an age and racial discrimination suit against Sterling. According to Baylor, Sterling had a ‘Southern plantation’ view, preferring to field a team of ‘poor black boys from the South ... playing for a white coach.’”
The answer is that Sterling contributed plenty of money to the group.
“This I'll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-my-back philanthropy is hardly unusual in America, but Sterling's blatant self-promotion, designed to cleanse his reputation and burnish his ego, should win an award of its own. In this way, the NAACP is simply another cog in the Sterling PR machine.”
Here’s Reverend Al playing both commentator and activist again:
“Al Sharpton followed up an appearance on ‘Meet the Press’ Sunday in which he urged the NBA to suspend L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling by telling TMZ he plans to organize an advertiser boycott of the team if the league does not take action.”
I get Sharpton’s outrage. But now he’ll be covering his boycott efforts on his MSNBC show.
At Grantland, Charles Pierce blames the NBA for not cracking down much sooner:
“The point is that all of what we’ve discovered about Donald Sterling over the past three days has been an open secret for as long as he’s owned the Clippers…
“The NBA has tolerated this guy for years, despite the fact that, even if he had been Francis of Assisi, he still has been the worst owner in the modern history of professional sports. Nobody else is close. Since 1981, when he bought the team, Sterling’s Clippers have compiled not merely the worst winning percentage in the NBA, but the worst winning percentage in all four major American sports, and that includes several teams that didn’t even exist when Sterling first graced the Association with his presence. It allowed him to run this franchise into the ground a number of times. It allowed him to hang Baylor, one of the league’s founding superstars, out to dry. And it allowed him to reap the benefits now that his team is the only one in Los Angeles that is in the NBA playoffs.
“In fact, not only can it be said that the NBA tolerated this clown, it can be argued that the league actively empowered him. After all, the sainted David Stern was a lot harder on rap music and on clothing than he ever was on Sterling.”
But the league may finally have no choice, says SB Nation’s Paul Flannery:
“Sterling is finally now the league’s problem. For reasons that have never been properly explained or examined, David Stern gave him what amounted to a lifetime free pass. His fellow owners did the same. Sterling was one of Stern’s greatest blind spots, a wretched blot on a league that likes to present itself as a shining beacon of enlightened thought and progressive views. That’s over now too, the myth exposed by its greatest hypocrisy. ..
“But there is nowhere for Sterling to hide anymore and you can thank his mistress and all the unseemliness that it implies for making it happen.”
It was inevitable, given that Cliven Bundy’s comments on “the Negro” had recently exploded, that the media would pair the two stories. Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw sees a generational explanation:
“What do Bundy and Sterling have in common? First of all – aside from the obvious fact that they are white – they are old. And I don’t mean old like me… we’re talking really old. And second, each in their own way are old men who live in a form of isolation. Bundy lives in a geographically isolated, rural region. Sterling lives in the rather insular world of the very wealthy. They also come from a different generation, growing up among attitudes which were common beyond notice in their day but which would probably shock many people today…
“Is actual racism completely dead in America? No… I’m not saying that. But from the looks of things out on the street it’s dying a natural death. I wouldn’t read too much into the comments of septuagenarians who grew up steeped in a different culture.”
Mediaite’s Joe Concha also examines the age question with Sterling and Bundy, but adds that there should have been more outrage over Harry Reid talking about Barack Obama’s selective use of “Negro dialect” and Joe Biden talking about Indian-Americans working at 7/11 and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“All are over the age of 60; all are white; all grew up in a ‘different time,’ when racism was much more accepted. So it’s fascinating to listen to Reid this week publicly call on Republicans to disavow Bundy, whom he correctly calls a ‘hateful racist.’ As we’ve seen, the 27-year senator never misses an opportunity to score political points with the base, even when the hypocrisy is obvious…
“Maybe it’s just that too many people on the extremes have been given a microphone. Shock value is more and more embraced in media, particularly the world of cable news. And nothing is easier for a segment producer to put together than a racial ‘debate’ between the usual suspects we see every time there a story involving black vs. white that day, that week, that month.”
It is true that the media gravitate to racially charged stories and that it’s far easier to record damaging remarks on smartphones. But sometimes, as with Donald Sterling, racism is hidden in plain sight.
Liberal Columnist a Bret Baier Fan
Joe Klein has been a staunch and thoughtful liberal commentator for decades, first at New York magazine, then Newsweek and now Time.
The columnist (and once-anonymous author of “Primary Colors”) doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a big Fox fan, but according to Mediaite, here’s what he had to say:
“Time magazine’s Joe Klein used to watch CNN at 6 p.m. just as prep for the nightly newscasts, but the network’s coverage of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane has gotten so ridiculous and pathetic, out of the three cable networks, Fox News is the only one with a solid newscast in that time slot.
“Klein told Jeff Greenfield at the 92nd Street Y [Sunday] night, ‘It is such an embarrassment to our profession that CNN has gone in the toilet the way it has. You know, I miss being able to turn on a straight newscast, and it turns out the only place you can go to get one at 6:00 at night is Fox.’
“The audience mumbled a bit, but Greenfield said Klein has a point about Bret Baier. Because at least Special Report is a straight newscast, unlike CNN’s frantic MH370 coverage and,well, Al Sharpton.”
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.