Memo to Media: Ask Trump if He's a 'Serial Racist'

It's easy to laugh off Donald Trump's fact-free comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists. And easy to poke fun, as Jon Stewart did, at Trump's grudging admission that some Mexican immigrants might be "good people."

But there is a serious issue here, and mainstream media interviewers have neglected to ask Trump about it -- and that's Trump's history of pointing the finger of rape at innocent men of color. I'm talking about his high-profile effort years ago that fanned racial tensions after perhaps the most notorious rape in New York City's history.

In 1989, a white, female investment banker was viciously raped and nearly murdered while jogging in Central Park. Police quickly pinned the crime on five Black and Latino youths, aged 14 to 16, after extracting rape confessions (soon to be retracted). Mainstream media piled on behind the police -- abandoning usual hedge words of "accused" or "alleged" -- by referring to the accused rapists as a "wolf pack" and "park marauders."

A racially-tinged lynch mob had formed, and real estate mogul Donald Trump used his money to try to lead the mob.

A dozen days after the attack, as the 100-pound rape survivor emerged from a coma, Donald Trump bought a full-page ad in all four New York dailies with the banner headline: "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!"

Trump's ad spoke of "roving bands of wild criminals" who "roam our neighborhoods"; it decried a "permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh . . ."

The ad blamed civil liberties concerns for permissiveness and, ultimately, the Central Park rape: "Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS" [capitalization in the original]. Trump called for killers to be "executed for their crimes."

We know now -- after the five convicted Harlem youths had collectively served more than 40 years in prison for the crime -- that they had not raped anyone. Sarah and Ken Burns' documentary, "The Central Park Five," shows that the wrongful imprisonment resulted partly from police/prosecutorial misconduct and an abridging of the youths' civil liberties.

Needless to say, if the youths whose alleged crime sparked Trump's ad had been put to death, we would have had five more innocent men of color executed in our country.

Thirteen years after the Central Park rape and Donald Trump's full-page ad, it became clear - thanks to a jailhouse confession confirmed by DNA testing - that the culprit, acting alone, had been a convicted serial rapist.

A question journalists might pose to candidate Trump today, especially when he's discussing the issue of rape: "Mr. Trump, are you a serial racist?"

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Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR in 1986.