On Yellow Journalism and the National Review’s attack on Cornel West

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As usual, activist, former Professor of Black Studies at  Princeton and current professor at Union Theological Seminary,  Dr. Cornel West stirred a hornet’s nest. This it occurred when he commented on US Supreme Court Decision on the Defense of Marriage Act on his public radio talk show Smiley and West. During the Smiley and West news and comment segment called Hot Stuff West said the following:

Again this has something to do of course with what history books will say. The irony of the age of Obama in which black folks found themselves pushed to the back, [and] our gay brothers and lesbian sisters more and more pushed to the center.

The National Review Online published the quote on blog post titled Cornel West: Blacks ‘Being Pushed to the Back of the Bus’ in Favor of Gays and Lesbians. While the quote was correct the context was not.

The full quote revealed West’s intentions on the subject:

An age where we black folk have been pushed to the back of the bus in terms of our visibility and our suffering. In terms of the intensity of our exclusion especially poor black youth especially with the new Jim Crow. Again this has something to do of course with what history books will say. The irony of the age of Obama in which black folks found themselves pushed to the back, [and] our gay brothers and lesbian sisters more and more pushed to the center.For me its not in anyway an either/or I applaud the moves on behalf of our gays and lesbian brothers and sisters and their struggle based on principle I view myself pardon parcel with their struggle for justice.

The National Review conveniently left out West’s full throated statement of support for Gay and Lesbian rights. In fact, West called it a “magnificent triumph.”West was simply juxtaposing the downfall of DOMA with the simultaneously “gutting” the voters rights act on the same day. This move was clearly a cynical move by the Review to gin up juice in the social media sphere. West is an easy target as most prominent American Black activists are.

This is a modern incarnation of Yellow Journalism. Wikipedia uses  Frank Luther Mott‘s 1941 five point definition yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:

  1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
  2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
  3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
  4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
  5. dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

The days of the Sunday supplements are in their last throes but most of these five points are slathered all over The National Review’s stories especially when it involves race on any level. This is not the first time that The National Review has used black culture and high profile black figures as fodder to chase clicks. The National Review Online has taken a long series of jabs, swipes, and ill-informed explanations of black culture including the since deleted post when magazine held a “national symposium” on black unemployment without inviting one black person, or when a National Review writer called President Obama a fake Black, or when they fired a writer who published a piece which called blacks dangerous and unintelligent among others.

In a world driven by click rates and retweets stoking racial and political tensions makes good business sense. It can can drive your numbers and help you meet your profit goals as long as you don’t mind burying your journalistic integrity.

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