NPR gives a megaphone to a white supremacist

In an earlier, simpler era, news organizations had easy decisions when it came to racist statements in public. They opted to report on them in the belief that it would reveal the extent to which racism existed, even though it was hidden. The audience would be repulsed and push back, and decency would win the day. Easy call.

In the last two years, however, we’ve learned that racist views are widely held out in the open by people who are proud of them.

So now, news organizations have a tougher call. Where is the line between exposing racism and amplifying it?

NPR did little to identify the line or answer the question about what value it sees in giving a nationwide megaphone to Jason Kessler, the man behind the “Unite the Right” rally, being held a year after his earlier rally led to the deaths of a woman and two state troopers.

NPR warned its audience before this morning’s interview between Kessler and host Noel King that “some of what you’re about to hear is racist and offensive,” a clear signal to suggest that maybe morning radio should take a pass on racism and offensive chatter.

No matter. Kessler was invited to state what he believes.

“I’m not a white supremacist. I’m not even a white nationalist. I consider myself a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic,” he said.

Some sort of ethical journalism guideline at NPR prevented King from asking what every other decent listener was asking, “are you freaking kidding me?”

So she had to ask, instead, to explain. More airtime.

“They’re the only group that’s not allowed to organize into political organizations and lobbies and talk exclusively about what interests are important ot them as a people. You have blacks who are able to organize with Black Lives Matter or the NAACP. You have Jews who have the ADL. Muslims have CAIR…”

The interview was taped and, in a poor edit, NPR eliminated the rest of his answer, allowing King instead to claim “I don’t really understand what you mean” in asking for more.

She knows. Everyone knows. Everyone’s heard it before.

Kessler said his march is a response to “an attack on the First Amendment,” to which King asked how the First Amendment can be under attack when “you’re about to march on Washington?”

“I’m trying to explain it to you, but you’re not listening,” Kessler said. “Who’s trying to oppress the rights of white folks who are standing up for themselves are Antifa, who come there to use violence to shut down speech.”

Kessler has invited a former Klan leader, a neo-nazi supporter, and someone who’s left anti-Semitic messages on the answering machines of Jewish Americans saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.

“Why did you invite them to your rally?” King asked.

“I don’t think you know anything about my rally,” Kessler said. “I haven’t announced who the speakers are yet to anybody. You’re going based on left-wing rumor mills.”

“I’m citing the National Parks Service,” King responded.

“And I’ve publicly stated numerous times that I don’t want any neo-Nazis at my rally,” Kessler said.

King took a timeout in her interview there to say she wanted to ask Kessler more about his position on the differences in the races — IQ, for example.

Check the calendar. It’s 2018. And NPR is inquiring about the IQ differences in the races. She noted that Kessler bases his opinions on the work of Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute and points out, accurately, that the work has been debunked.

So why give someone a microphone to talk about it if it’s been debunked? This is the normalization of racism.

“What are the differences?” she asked Kessler, returning to her interview.

Racism followed. Predictably.

And theater.

“You sound like someone who wants to tick people off,” King said.

“You sound like somebody who doesn’t respect science,” Kessler countered.

“Oh come on. Charles Murray? Charles Murray? Really?” King said.

Defending his decision to stage another Charlottesville rally, Kessler continued, “saying there’s really no place that’s OK for me to speak.”

There’s always NPR.

But why?

Archive: When should a racist get air time? (NewsCut)

  • Barton

    To me, this is becoming the same as giving Flat Earth Society members a space to discuss their “beliefs.” It isn’t scientific, it isn’t in the norm, it shouldn’t be acceptable, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed a platform.

    Others will scream back, but they’ve a right to speak their opinion. Maybe, sure. But that doesn’t mean their positions should be legitimized by treating them as rational beings.

    And this is after the rather brilliant (I thought) interview NPR did with the mayor of Charlottesville this week.

  • MrE85

    Some of us white folk get it too, Elle.

  • If this is okay, I guess the next thing to expect from NPR will be visits by climate deniers, anti-vaxxers, anti-evolutionists, and flat-earthers – all prepared to present “the other side” while basking in an atmosphere of legitimacy.

  • Jeff

    Reminds me of John Oliver having two climate change denier scientists onstage to talk, then bringing onstage about 200+ scientists as the voice for climate change asking why the deniers should get equal time?

  • Rob

    A bonehead decision on NPR’s part. Those involved in the decision to give this chuzzlewit airtime should be dope-slapped.

  • Gary F

    I think you ignore both sides in this event. Both sides are knuckleheads. Sure the reporters can view what happens if something does. This just fuels the conflict. But that’s what the media wants, conflict.

    • “both sides in this event…”

      What’s the other side of racism?

    • Rob

      Let me get this straight: You’re calling people who oppose thugs, racists and Nazis knuckleheads?

      • Gary F

        The Antifa are also thugs.

        • Rob

          How so?

          • RBHolb

            Equivalency demands it.

            If Antifa didn’t exist, the right-wing would have to invent it.

          • Mike

            Antifa doesn’t believe in free speech. In fact, they believe that they have the right to deny free speech to any group that they designate as illegitimate.

            Whatever else you want to say about them, that fact makes them illiberal in the classic sense. It also makes them a group I want nothing to do with. Antifa has more in common with the neo-Nazis than they care to admit.

          • You know that Antifa is not a monolithic organization, nor does it have a leadership structure.

            The term “Antifa” is the name given to an umbrella group that shares a number of causes, most importantly is resisting white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

          • Mike

            NPR’s “On The Media” did an extensive interview with several representatives of the movement last winter. They made it quite clear that they do not subscribe to the classical liberal notion of free speech. Their view is more totalitarian: if they don’t like a particular type of speech, they will use any means necessary to suppress it.

          • As I just stated: Antifa is not a monolithic organization, nor does it have a leadership structure.

          • Mike

            If the NPR report was representative of Antifa’s general consensus, then they are a group that believes in violent confrontation with other groups. Quibble all you like, but that’s a fair statement.

            Meeting ideas – even hateful ones – with violence is essentially identical to the position the white supremacists are taking. Both groups are saying they’ll take power by any means necessary.

          • Rob

            Ummm, no, no, no and no, as Onan notes below.

          • Mike

            If your claim is that the average white soldier in WWII (in a segregated military) would have considered a black soldier his equal, then this argument is way off base.

            The America of the 1940s is what many in the white supremacist movement would like to go back to.

          • My claim is that during WW2, the US was pretty much dead set against fascism and sacrificed to make sure of its defeat.

            But go ahead and put words into my mouth if it will make you feel better.

          • Mike

            I’m saying that the argument is hollow and jejune. The America of the 1940s would be considered fascist by today’s Antifa.

          • Ah, I see.

            I’m just going to stop replying to you because it’s fairly obvious you’re just trolling here.

            Good day.

        • Barton

          How about we stop using the loaded/racist term “Thug” to start with?
          (a linguist explains in the attached)

      • Al
    • crystals

      I’m not the media, I don’t love conflict, and I think this argument is total garbage.

      There are no “both sides” here. One group believes people of color are less than fully human and white people are superior. The other…doesn’t. It’s not that complicated.

    • Angry Jonny

      Ah, the “there are bad actors on both sides” argument. This isn’t difficult. You either see racism, ethnocentrism, and nationalism for what it is, or you’re willfully ignorant and an apologist.

  • MikeB

    NPR editors should recognize the concept of bad faith arguments and actors. How much rope do you give to someone who wants to hang you?

  • Al

    Go home, racists. Your time is LONG up. A diverse nation is here (and has been for, well, centuries) and it’s a beautiful thing. We haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to learning from our neighbors, new and old, black and white and brown and all shades in between. We, the American people, know and love and value our neighbors, don’t think an iota of what you say has any merit, and are done with your bullsh*t.

    • Barton

      Any response that includes Ruby Ray is always going to win my approval!!!

  • AL287

    I would expect this from Fox News, not NPR.

    Our racial tensions exploded out of Pandora’s box with the Trump campaign and subsequent election.

    Until he is impeached or resigns we can expect this kind of aberration to occur more frequently.

    I refuse to call this the “new normal.”

    If this is an attempt by NPR to maintain market share, this is the absolutely WRONG way to go about it.

    • kat

      NPR has been sliding into the “let’s give the other side a voice” ditch for a couple years now. The slide became an avalanche as the Trump campaign ramped up. Lots of “policy makers” and fewer people with actual knowledge fill the interview slots. I wonder if it is driven by a fear of offending people or seeming biased.

      • Part of the problem is the NPR reliance on the “live interview” (even if it’s taped), in which they get someone from “one side” and have the host grill the person. It’s a shift away from the more traditional journalism in which a reporter would do interviews, find facts, and report a story in a four or five minute piece with context. You rarely hear reporter packages on Morning Edition anymore.

  • NG

    Entrenched beliefs… I get that NPR is trying to be respectable. Trying to show that they are making a good faith effort to be an impartial news organization. And, I actually fall in to this category: “The audience would be repulsed and push back, and decency would win the day. Easy call.” The trouble is, there is validity to the argument that this legitimizes the stalking horse of white supremacists.

    • // to be an impartial news organization

      This is the evolving of ethics into unfathomable definitions. There are certain truths that are self evident. There should be no impartiality when the subject is racism.

      • NG

        There are a few different ideas at play here: Yes, racism is trying to be main-streamed. The tactics of those who are doing it have become much more convoluted. Individual judgement is still needed on the part of the listener. And, not necessarily linearly associated from one to the next.

        There has been a change in tactics, from my perspective at least, to using the language of “I’m the victim”. It doesn’t immediately display itself as racism. It plays on the average person’s desire to blame someone. It gives who the oppressor is, instead of giving a scapegoat to hate. It gives a figure who, supposedly, has power over you to hate. It turns about those ideas that were used to justify equality and says that they are, in fact, the instruments of inequality. This then becomes the stalking horse for the consequences that follow. People don’t often go so far as to consider larger consequences. And, as another commenter on here said, there are “low-information listeners” out there. You used a good representation of that tactic with Kessler’s denial of being a white supremacist. Even if you “prove” he were a white supremacist, he can still point to his statement “I’m protecting free speech.”; co-opting those ideals that allow him to express himself to further his own agenda.

  • Cooper_Monster

    Charles Murray has been debunked? Perhaps in the Progressive, la-la-la I can’t hear you, anti-science bubble. But Sam Harris disagrees. The facts are uncomfortable, the reasons behind them are unexplained, but the facts remain. And as Murray comments in the podcast, he very much resents the misuse of his work by the likes of Kessler.

  • John F.

    Alarming, to say the least. These trying times are a test of our Republic.

    I would be interested to hear the about the decision to hold this interview from whoever does that at NPR. I’m not quite ready to throw the baby out with the bath water and end my monthly contribution, but both NPR and MPR have been testing my loyalty recently. And not just with this topic.

  • kevins

    I for one want to hear these people. And I want to see their faces, and know if one is a neighbor. It is difficult for me to understand the assertion that because a media entity, college, church and so on, gives these voices a forum, that they validate or even endorse the beliefs of the speaker. I can lean toward that with Fox (News??), but as a general principle, I believe that it is far better to see the evil than hide it, ignore it or assume it is not evil simply because it is unseen.

    • Yes, that’s the old theory. In practice, it doesn’t seem to work anymore.

    • kat

      But racism is not a secret. The problem with giving these people airtime is the ideas are put out there as facts. The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups who advocate for civil rights recommend that people do not engage in interviews with racists as a strategy to combat hate

      • kevins

        I am certain that ideas are not facts, and I am also certain that some accept ideas as such without much thought. That is a dilemma for America. I just don’t believe that pretending that these people and their cancerous thoughts will go away if ignored. I believe in exposing them for the distorted and perverse beliefs they hold. Because of that, I want to know exactly what they think. It informs my argument against them.

    • Rob

      I gotta go with kat on this one.

    • Barton

      It is very easy for me to believe the assertion that giving these people voices validates their beliefs. I look at the number of Confederate Flags that are cropping up in towns you’d never see them fly before. I look at the words you hear spewed at POC and actions taken against POC for being In The Public Space that you rarely saw before and I know that the media is validating them to some segment of the population. “hey, this guy thinks like me! I guess its okay to be an out racist now!”

    • RBHolb

      What is the point of stories like this? Racism exists, and only the most willfully blind will tell you otherwise. Is it to tell us that there are rabid racist extremists out there? Again, I think there would be little disagreement there. There could be some debate about how influential they are, or how much of a threat they really pose, but we all know that there are neo-nazis and klan members in America.

      Stories like this turn into a kind of extremism porn. We can look at them and listen to their rantings, all the while convinced that these are the “real” racists, and equally convinced they are confined to a clownish minority. The more pervasive kind of racism, the kind that is more subtle and more easily dismissed as just “pc concerns,” gets ignore or minimized.

      The real threat of racism is not the nazi or the kkklucker parading in the park. The real threat is the person who is “not racist, but . . .”

      • kevins

        Well, I was speaking for myself, and it pleases me that there are other opinions about the matter. It’s a bit like speaking of suicide in that everyone is alarmed when a person talks about taking their own life, and hopefully there are well grounded people to listen. As a Psychologist however, I worry more about the folks that don’t speak and aren’t heard. They are often successful in what they intend to do. Before everyone points out to me that bigotry and suicide are not even close to the same, I already know that. The point is getting information so that caring, thoughtful people can then act appropriately.

  • Angry Jonny
  • John

    I struggle with a lot of this. Like most Minnesotans, I live in a bubble. It’s a side effect of living in a place where a tremendously high percentage of the population is white. (i.e. it’s easy to believe you’re not racist when you’re a member of the only race in the neighborhood).

    Up until relatively recently, I believed that racial inequality was no longer an issue, and was still improving, starting from the 60’s to now. This wasn’t an active belief, supported by any facts or research, it just stood to reason – it’s what anyone who went through high school history class and didn’t have any interaction outside one’s own bubble would believe. MLK had a dream, and now things are good.

    I don’t believe that any longer, because of groups like BLM and the news coverage they’ve sparked that has focused on some stark examples of why I was wrong.

    Walking the fine line between shining a cold light on some horrible people, to make the world aware of what they’re doing and accidentally providing them with a platform to spout their views is definitely tough. (I don’t happen to think NPR did a good job in that here.)

    If you don’t shine a light on these issues, then they flourish through ignorance. Relatively decent people (like I consider myself to be) are definitely not pro-racism, but in the absence of the occasional wakeup call, it’s easy for us to be lulled into a false sense of security that it’s not the massive problem that it is.

    • Rob

      It’s always easy to believe inequality is not an issue when you’re part of a group for whom inequality is generally something that’s experienced by others. The official term for this state of naivete and assumption is “white privilege.”

      • John

        Exactly. It’s even easier when you live so far away from it that you have zero chance of any interaction.

        I might call it white ignorance in my case. Not justifying or attempting to minimize – just failing to see any other way it could have gone for me.

    • kat

      I like what you have to say here, but letting extreme racists spout their doctrine isn’t a good way to spread awareness

      • John

        Thanks. Like I said, it’s a tough line to tread in a thoughtful, effective way, and I don’t think NPR managed that today.

  • Mike

    If one group has a permit to assemble, then another group that is “forcibly shutting them down” is by definition suppressing speech.

    • RBHolb

      The racists are not a threat to me, at least not directly. I’m a middle-class, straight white male who has been on this planet for more years than I care to admit.

      That gives me the option of seeing the whole dispute in terms of free speech. When the klan or the neo-nazis march through the street, I can shake my head and say “disgusting.” They are not an existential thereat to me or my family. They aren’t out to get me.

      There are other demographics who may be in a position to see things differently.

      • Mike

        Other demographics may be more likely to see things differently, but not all members of groups threatened by the extreme right will, in fact, see it differently. People are individuals.

        The protections of the First Amendment are very broad, and apply even to speech that advocates violent overthrow of the government and other disruptive acts.

        • RBHolb

          First, advocating the violent overthrow of the government is unprotected speech. It’s called sedition, and seditious speech does not receive First Amendment protection.

          Second, if a bunch of losers take to the streets to shout epithets, yes, the First Amendment protects them from governmental interference. If a group calling itself “antifa” shuts them down, it may or may not be a criminal matter. It is not a violation of the First Amendment.

          Third, people will see things differently, but that doesn’t diminish the threat posed by the losers marching, chanting, and brandishing nooses.

          • Mike

            “First, advocating the violent overthrow of the government is unprotected speech. It’s called sedition, and seditious speech does not receive First Amendment protection.”

            You’re wrong. Take a look at the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).

          • RBHolb

            Excuse me, I should have said “advocating imminent action to effect the violent overthrow . . .”

        • I think we’re getting pretty far afield from the original post so let’s reign it back in a bit and discontinue the “but whatabouts”, which are intended to distract. The First Amendment is not in play on the question of providing air time to racists.

  • Frank

    “In the last two years, however, we’ve learned that racist views are widely held out in the open by people who are proud of them.”

    Many have learned the same thing about Socialism/Communism.

    The left has completely defanged the bite of being called racist…everything is racist in the leftist bubble, except the racism they perpetuate.

    The same used to be true of the right and Communism, but then Hugo Chavez stepped in to revive the meme’s impact.

    Racists/Communists…which bunch has the highest body count, do you think?

    • What I find particularly illuminating is how many people make an excuse for racism by jumping in to attack another political philosophy in a “but what about them” manner.

      As if racism is a political philosophy.

      The proper response to Kessler isn’t “but what about Antifa.” The proper and logical response to Kessler isn’t “what about Socialists.”

      The proper response to Kessler is, “You’re a racist. Don’t be a racist.”

      End of story

  • AmiSchwab

    these impotent little white boys deserve no air time, just jail time.

  • Frank

    “She noted that Kessler bases his opinions on the work of Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute and points out, accurately, that the work has been debunked.”

    And by way of providing an example of how it’s been debunked, we have a link to that respected scientific journal; Vox, where we find “debunking” placed into a whole new realm of denial:

    “Murray’s ideas are plain wrong. Diversity is demonstrably good for society and the economy, not the reverse. Social programs can and do improve lives.”

    Well there you have it. Vox doesn’t provide any peer reviewed research to warrant that scorching debunking of IQ research, but hey; consensus, right?

    I have never read Murray, and so won’t try to defend or attack his work. But I will say that if the cited link is the best his critics have, he’s probably on pretty solid ground.

  • Frank

    Vox; the scientific journal of record for the left?

    This is the second time Murray has been cited and dismissed as “debunked”. OK, I’m interested and willing to be educated. Do y’all have any actual scientific research to debunk it? Because, Vox and Ezra Klien just aren’t gonna cut it.

  • Frank

    “Attempts to fully discredit his most famous book, 1994’s “The Bell Curve,” have failed for more than two decades now. This is because they repeatedly miss the strongest point of attack: an indisputable—albeit encoded—endorsement of prejudice.”

    Man, that is not a refutation of the man’s work; it’s a complaint against how it’s being applied by some people.

    “I don’t like it” is not debunking.

    This is simple. Is there any research proving intelligence is equally distributed among racial groups?

    Your link says “nope”.

    • Yeah, you know what’s not going to happen on the blog here today? This.

  • RBHolb

    Charles Pierce, writing at the Esquire politics blog, has a very good piece on this topic. Best quote:

    “My sneaking suspicion is that the elite political media wants to make the forces that produce our Kesslers and our Goodwins as mysterious and unfathomable as possible, so that we don’t have to face the fact that they are produced by something that has been fundamental to the American identity since its founding, the same thing that kept a memorial to the treasonous Robert E. Lee in that park all those years, and that kept the banner of sedition flying proudly over the South Carolina state capitol until Dylann Roof gave us all a vivid illustration of that for which the flag really stood.”

  • John F.

    You might be surprised:

    (Ok, maybe it isn’t the 1940’s, the late 1930’s is pretty close.)

  • Mike Rose

    Earlier today, I saw a CNN piece that included an interview with a white supremacist in a small town in PA. I think the difference in coverage was that their piece also included an interview with other town residents who feel that the white supremacist has brought a bad name to the area (everybody kind of knows everybody, so he’s not a secret). It was an illuminating (I thought) look at how this person and his horrible views were distressing his neighbors in rural America.

    I think I’d kind of draw the line there…in CNN’s piece, speaking to this vile man provided some demonstrable context to why other residents were upset. From what is said here about NPR’s piece, there is no context like that.

    • Reporter “packages” are better journalism than interviews.

  • lindblomeagles

    I understand NPR receives donations from Democrats and Republicans; that they want to position themselves as fair, open minded, and unbiased; but these kinds of interviews, as we discussed back in 2016 when NPR interviewed David Duke, just become circuses. We don’t need to hear Duke’s or Kessler’s opinion because we already know what it is, “Whites are oppressed (despite leading every State Congress AND the Congress and the White House) and by God, whites must eradicate everybody else.” Nothing new is coming from Kessler, so that was time lost. Second, the very people (Duke and Kessler) wary of leftist conspiracy to hurt whites have continued to perpetuate a conspiracy that has never happened in the United States since the KKK was founded during Reconstruction. The KKK has LITERALLY been in existence since the late 1850s, and not once has the Black Power Movement or the American Indian Movement, or the Jewish Holocaust Survivalists, or the Islamic Relations Group overwhelmed Washington or any of the 50 US State Capitols. Heck, Islamic Terrorists haven’t busted through. Thus, NPR just ENABLED Kessler to spread “fake news,” which is what NPR says it is trying to prevent. Even if you think Kessler has a point about whites not forming groups like Black Lives Matter and so forth, the KKK IS A GROUP, and its a lot older than all the other groups Kessler mentioned. Right here in these Twin Cities, we have the Germanic American Institute near Summit Avenue, Irish Festival in downtown Saint Paul, and the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. There’s no real good reason to do this other than to say to one side, we put your guy on the air. We’re not learning anything new, and the information is all wrong.