If it has not been made in other places, the charge has certainly been made in e-mails to Fox News Watch: the media are spending too much time on Trent Lott; there is too much coverage, too much fuss, and one can see in that fuss evidence of a liberal bias.
It is the kind of charge with which I often agree. I am not fond of what is called political correctness, not an advocate of small slips of the tongue being turned into large issues. Nor have I any regard for the unrealistic sensitivity that is the underpinning of political correctness, which sometimes goes so far as to manifest itself in a complete disavowal of the truth.
Some years ago, in an ambush interview, one which he did not anticipate and for which he was not prepared, CBS Sports analyst Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder said that blacks had been bred during slavery for their physical attributes. The politically correct crowd was irate. How dare he even suggest such a thing! They demanded that CBS fire him. CBS did.
There was just one problem. Snyder spoke the truth. Slave owners did breed slaves for physical prowess. To dispute this fact is to suggest that those who held slaves in earlier America were a humane bunch of gents who bred their chattel, or allowed them to breed on their own, on the basis of affection and mutual interests. Clearly, this was not the case.
Clearly, slaves owners wanted slaves who were fit enough to carry heavy loads and work long hours in the fields. Clearly, Jimmy "the Greek" should not be fired for speaking the truth, no matter how unpleasant the truth.
But Trent Lott is a different case. He did not speak an unfortunate truth about the past; he offered an unfortunate opinion about the present, and how well it could have turned out if only. Trent Lott did not make a slip of the tongue; he made a confession of views that seem to have been long-held and too often acted upon. Trent Lott is not a sportscaster or business executive or college student with a streak of immaturity; he is one of the most powerful elected officials in the United States, and must be held to a standard commensurate with his position.
The media have not made too much of Lott’s statements. Lott has made too little of the lingering national stain of racism and slavery.
What the media have begun to do in reporting this story, and properly so, is examine the extent to which racism remains institutionalized by practice even though it has been eliminated by law: in government, in business, in the academy. Lott’s comments about the Strom Thurmond presidential candidacy of 1948 hinted at something insidious about American politics in 2002; fair-minded men and women can only hope that Lott did not reveal the tip of an iceberg that should long since have melted away.
To those of you who remain as indignant about the media’s handling of Lott as you were a few paragraphs ago, let me say this: Al Gore announced this past week that he would not run against George Bush in 2004, and one of the reasons that a good number of Democrats were relieved by the news was that, in 2000, Gore lost Tennessee. A man can hardly be considered a viable candidate for high national office, these Democrats believe, if he cannot even hold his home state.
Well, Lott has lost his home state, too. Newspapers from one end of Mississippi to the other are blasting the senator, including The Mississippi Press in Pascagoula, which is Lott’s hometown. A recent editorial called for Lott to resign his position as Senate Majority Leader (as he has since done.)
Trent Lott did not commit an offense against political correctness. He committed an offense against moral correctness. The media, in publicizing and examining and analyzing his statement, are simply demonstrating journalistic correctness.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .