This isn’t a political blog (except when it is), and this isn’t a post about politics.
This is a post about stories, about the truth, and how vitally important one is to the other.
Please read on.
Tuesday night three young people were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They were executed, shot in the head, all three of them. Their names were Yusor Mohammad, a 21-year-old woman, her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, the oldest of the victims at 23, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who was only 19.
All three were American citizens. All three were students. All three were Muslim.
Their killer is a man named Craig Stephen Hicks, a fervently anti-religion neighbor who’d argued with them before.
That should be enough, shouldn’t it? It should be horrific enough. It’s an act that should speak for itself. It shouldn’t require a great amount of debate, or be difficult for us to arrive at a consensus.
And yet what followed the next day (because that’s how long it took for major media outlets to reluctantly cover the story) was the single most backwards, telling, despicable cycle of news coverage through which I’ve ever had to swallow equal parts disgust and rage.
That may seem overblown to some of you reading this. Certainly there’ve been instances of greater tragedy. Many more deaths. More carnage. More mayhem. Vastly more sensationalized events in the media.
But that’s just it. This was so appalling because it was so stripped down, so bare. There was no sensation for the media to hide behind. There was no pretense of debate because they couldn’t retreat into the same stock debates.
You see, whenever we institutionally murder a brown or black person, any person of color, anyone who is The Other in this country, there’s always some argument, however tenuous, for the news media to lean on. Sure, Michael Brown was unarmed, but he was a shoplifter who resisted arrest. Sure, we have video of an NYPD officer murdering Eric Garner by choking him to death, but he sold loose cigarettes and resisted arrest.
They were thugs.
And make no mistake, “thug” is the word a huge segment of white America has been waiting for since their parents instilled all of that good, wholesome, folksy racism in them as kids. “Thug” is the new, socially acceptable way to call a black person “nigger.”
Whenever the media uses that word, a huge segment of us immediately and guiltlessly disassociates.
“Oh good,” says the inner monologue they never share aloud. “They were a nigger. THAT’S why they’re dead. I don’t have to be concerned. My worldview is safe.”
Unfortunately for our collective comfort level there were no thugs in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night. There were just three good kids. There’s absolutely nothing bad to say about any of them. They were innocent.
And that’s primarily what led to one of the most infuriatingly pathetic, baldly manipulative, achingly desperate 24 hours of news coverage I’ve ever witnessed.
Because, you see, a genuine victim of color the media can neither slander nor ignore is America’s worst nightmare.
It is a direct threat to The Narrative.
We’ll get to that in a minute.
There was a point in my life when I very much wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be a journalist the way other kids wanted to be sheriffs or knights or cowboys. I held the pursuit in that level of esteem, as the crusade it should be. I studied it. I edited my school paper. I interned at the local paper. Journalism, and a journalist’s responsibility, was and still is sacred to me.
What I observed yesterday was not journalism.
It was damage control.
I watched and read as every state and local official, every media hand-puppet with whose press credentials I wouldn’t wipe the ass of a colitic dog, all of them scrambling to disprove the motivation behind these killings. That was the meat of every story. The fact that three Americans, not a one of them over the age of 23, were executed on American soil was accepted as quickly as it was glossed over or dismissed outright.
The only question that mattered was whether or not the killings were motivated by racism, by hate.
And the only answered that mattered was, “Of course not. This was a standard American atrocity. It was definitely not the kind of hate-motivated atrocity brown people commit against America. It definitely was not that. There was no terrorism here. No, sir.”
They tried to tell us the man killed these kids over a parking space.
They told us this as if it somehow made things okay, made them less horrible.
As if it made this act normal.
Why would they do this? Why would anyone do this?
The answer is simple: To protect and feed The Narrative.
We’ve created a very simple, handy, easy-to-remember narrative in this country.
Simple, but utterly imperative to how we conduct business here and especially abroad.
The Narrative reads thusly.
Muslims are terrorists. They’re the bad guys.
White Americans are the good guys. We fight the terrorists.
We can’t have white American terrorists. We can’t have those terrorists victimizing the people we’ve cast as the villains. That simply won’t do. We’ve created this narrative to support the shitty things we do around the world. At a government level it’s institutionalized. At a media level it’s perpetuated. At an entertainment level we make batshit propaganda like AMERICAN SNIPER and salute it as if it were the flag itself.
I watched as CNN had the bald audacity to trot out the wife of the terrorist piece of shit who executed those children, before they’d even considered talking to the families of the victims themselves, so she could dispel any notion that while her husband is undeniably capable of murdering three kids in cold blood over a fucking parking space he would *never* murder those three kids because they were Muslim.
That’s the one thing she absolutely knows for sure, you see.
There was no hate crime here.
I WATCHED THAT HAPPEN.
AND HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?
HOW THE FUCK DOES THAT HAPPEN ON THE BIGGEST NEWS OUTLET IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD?
It violates every standard of ethics and taste applicable in the field of journalism. It was appalling.
It was an action born of sheer panic and desperation.
It was American media-spun damage control at its absolute worst.
It was us at our absolute worst.
And as rage-inducing as watching our neo-journalists vomit all over the profession and its sacred trust was, watching a majority of Americans not questioning it in the slightest was even worse for me.
They’ve not only bought The Narrative, they breathe it like air.
And it makes absolutely no fucking sense.
It’s societal mass psychosis. It really is. It reminds me of that explanation of The Joker’s pathology, the theory he isn’t actually insane, but “suffering” from a form of super-sanity. He alone recognizes that the world around him is undeniably insane, clinically, and the only way for his psyche to deal with it is to create a new personality every day to combat that day’s insane events.
That’s how I felt yesterday.
You need to know something, folks. We’re not the good guys. I’m really sorry, because I want it to not be true just like you do, but we’re simply not. We’re killing innocent people every week with drones. We torture folks who patently don’t deserve it. Our police are dangerously undertrained, poorly supervised, and victimizing entire populations on a daily basis. Your government takes a warm piss on your rights every morning, afternoon, and night. The only reason they aren’t posting checkpoints and demanding to see your papers is because they’ve cracked your iPhone and know whether or not you have them already.
The bad guys are in charge, and we never hold them accountable for atrocity, be it a standard American atrocity or otherwise.
There are, however, good people in America. A lot of them.
Yusor, Deah, and Razan were three very good Americans. They were the kind of folks I would’ve liked to see running this country some day.
The problem is no one looks at them and sees America.
They see the enemy.
Because of The Narrative.
And because of that narrative I believe the news media would’ve ignored their deaths if social media hadn’t raised holy Hell.
I also don’t believe they’d be dead without that narrative.
Please stop buying it. Any of it. It’s a fucking lie.
You know, I marveled earlier this week at the reactions to Jon Stewart announcing his plans to retire from The Daily Show. Everyone, it seemed, felt so viscerally sad about it. The overwhelming emotion was loss, and not in a tearful nostalgic way as if he were Carson calling it quits. This was angry, resentful, even desperate loss. I’m a fan, but at the end of the day he’s a comedian retiring from a comedy show. It was shocking to me.
It took the events of the last 36 hours to make me fully realize what lies at the core of those reactions.
When Stewart’s gone we won’t have anyone left.
There’s no one we can trust anymore. That’s why we hold Jon Stewart up like he’s Walter Cronkite. He’s the last person speaking about current events on television we actually believe.
That’s a fucking tragedy all its own.
We need better than that. We need to demand better. We need to do better.
It all starts with the story people are told.
That’s where truth come from.
The wrong people are controlling the story right now.
We need to take it back.