NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a video on black convicts in Sing Sing Prison, who deeply regret committing gun violence. There was not necessarily anything wrong with the video itself, however, “Meet the Press” chose to connect it to the Charleston church massacre committed by a white supremacist named Dylann Roof. And then the program responded to a backlash and defended how the show had chosen to cover an act of terror.
Host Chuck Todd declared in a statement:
…The original decision to air this segment was made before Wednesday’s massacre. However, the staff and I had an internal debate about whether to show it at all this week. When we discussed putting it off, that conversation centered around race and perception – not the conversation we wanted the segment to invoke.
We decided against delaying the segment because we wanted to show multiple sides of what gun violence does in this country. We thought the issue of gun violence in our culture and society was an important conversation to continue — too important to put off for another week. The consequences of gun violence should not be hidden..
The show also produced a post-show discussion to address outrage directed at “Meet the Press,” and Todd read the following comment from Twitter, “Unfortunately, Meet the Press decided to show that guns don’t kill people but black powerless kids kill people. Wrong time.”
He then added, “We wanted to have a different conversation about guns, about the societal issues, the why people choose to go get one. It wasn’t meant to be a black and white issue, and I understand maybe in one of these moments when everyone’s only seeing things through black and white.”
But that is exactly what is infuriating people. It is a “black and white issue.” A young white supremacist entered a historic black church to specifically kill black people.
Roof’s manifesto makes it clear he was a white supremacist, who decided to take action because he viewed blacks as “stupid and violent” and thought they had “lower IQs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in general”—a “recipe for violent behavior.”
“I have no choice,” Roof declared. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
The conversation that “Meet the Press” should have had was why someone who felt whites were threatened decided to go into a historic black church and open fire on them in an act that he fervently believed was self-defense.
“Meet the Press” should have talked about white nationalist or white supremacist groups, especially those with ties to fairly mainstream politicians and political organizations. The program should have talked about the history and legacy of terrorism against black people in the United States, but that would have been a discussion that made Todd, the program’s producers, the program’s regular guests, and the program’s weekly audience uncomfortable. So, the program decided to discuss the massacre within the context of gun violence, particularly gun violence by black men, a subject that white Americans would much rather talk about instead of the violence black communities have endured daily in this society.
In the post-show clip, Todd turns to Eugene Robinson, a black columnist for the Washington Post, hoping Robinson will validate the decision by “Meet the Press” to air this segment as part of its coverage of the Charleston church massacre. Disappointingly, Robinson does.
“One thing it teaches is we have to conscious about the way we talk about race. And we ought to do it more often. If we did it more often and it were part of the general conversation, then it wouldn’t be so striking when we do something about gun violence, and you only have black people in it,” Robinson suggests.
Except, that is not why it is “striking” to people. It is “striking” because black people were attacked by a white supremacist and now it kind of looks like “Meet the Press” is saying but black kill people with guns too.
Todd claims this had to be connected to gun violence because more people are dying from gun violence in America than in terrorist attacks. True, but then “Meet the Press” should counter hysteria about the threat of terrorism when that happens, as it does frequently, with sober discussion about what is truly a threat to American lives.
As if it could not be any worse, New York Times columnist David Brooks complains about overly mixing race issues with poverty issues and claims “most poor people in America are white.” Todd can be heard saying “right,” as in, yes, Brooks you’re complete and utter bullshit about race and poverty is not bullshit at all.
Brooks’ comments push Todd to say that President Barack Obama “went guns, not race in the immediate aftermath. And I talked to people close to him. The President is self-aware when he talks about race it polarizes the conversation. It defeats the purpose he wants to have.”
What Todd is saying here is the same thing that the Obama administration is saying when it avoids taking positions on racism. Talking too much about race will alienate white people and so we have to talk about issues in a way that overlooks and ignores institutional racism.
Todd later states, “It is a reminder, and, in fact, on law enforcement, white people do not see this issue the same because I’ve never been pulled over because of the color of my skin.”
In Roof’s manifesto, he says black people always see things through a racial lens and that is a problem because blacks always are getting offended and think everything is racist toward them. This is a common white view that suggests there is nothing to black complaints about society. And what Todd says is the other white view, that whites don’t see race or skin color because they don’t have to struggle because of the color of their skin. It’s not a real issue.
Now, to the credit of “Meet the Press,” Robinson does get time to highlight the history of the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina and how it was not flown in Columbia until 1961. Robinson recalls it was a “middle finger” to the federal government, resistance to desegregation. South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn breaks down how it was a symbol of hate. However, this is all in the context of a “Heritage or Hatred?” debate that included Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who tries to balance them out by downplaying hate in South Carolina.
And this specific discussion about a flag completely ignores significant issues of white supremacy. For example, a number of white Americans see the Black Lives Matter movement as a movement intent to constrain law enforcement from being able to do their jobs to protect Americans, especially from the spread of black-on-black violence. This fear is a seed that could potentially grow into something more dominant that pushes more whites to commit violence. The threat posed by them should be given attention by “Meet the Press.”
Todd needs to understand that “Meet the Press” can cover gun violence and racism simultaneously. It is really easy for a racist American to buy a gun. Racism plays a big role in white Americans’ opposition to gun regulations. And, while it may make some white viewers of “Meet the Press” uncomfortable, as Todd said, “Meet the Press should make all viewers uncomfortable at some point or we are not doing our job.”