The Lowlight Reel

The November 30, 2014 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources will be remembered for years to come as one of the sleaziest cable-news broadcasts of all-time. Thanks to one deranged booking decision, an episode that could have been dignified ended up being a disaster.
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The November 30, 2014 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources will be remembered for years to come as one of the sleaziest cable-news broadcasts of all-time. Thanks to one deranged booking decision, an episode that could have been dignified ended up being a disaster.

Discussing the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri, host Brian Stelter declared:

Tell me if you agree with me about this. There is a conversation mainly among whites that mostly tiptoes around race and sometimes denies race as a factor. Then, there's a totally separate conversation mainly among people of color that argues many white people just don't get it, just don't, or can't or won't understand the pervasive, corrosive, devastating effects of racial bias.

These conversations -- they happen through the media. So I'm tempted to call this white news/black news instead of our usual segment red news/blue news, because one of the reasons why we're having two different conversations is that we're hearing two different stories. One story is very specific. It's about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. But the other story is about an epidemic of police violence.

This story, this is the one that many African-Americans have absorbed through a mix of mainstream and social media. It's a picture that is viral online. It's of dozens of men, dozens of unarmed men killed by police. Dozens of Michael Browns, and there are unarmed women as well.

Now, many whites don't know all their names. I don't know all their names. Many African-Americans do know their names.

So, two different conversations based on two different narratives.

Stelter then introduced his guests: popular writer and comedian Elon James White and (for God knows what reason) Republican media personality Crystal Wright, who proceeded to ruin the segment with nonsensical arguments. White fought valiantly to keep the segment focused on logic and reason, but he was fighting in a rigged contest.

White observed:

The big thing here is that we've been dealing with this for generations. This is not the first time something like this has happened, it probably won't be the last time something like this has happened. We're seeing various people being shot unarmed even now since the Mike Brown shooting.

And so, the conversation for us is about the fact that this is something that needs to be dealt with on a different level. We can't sit here and wait and continue to ask, please treat us like human beings, and yet somehow when people want to look at this, they want to take out all the history around it, all of the obvious bias that's been shown, and they just want to look at it from a very stark and cold way, and you can't do that in this situation.

Stelter then asked Wright for her take, and Wright responded with a series of Republican talking points on race:

Well, I think what's interesting is that for some reason the media, and, Brian, and I think you did this a little bit yourself, you're lumping black people in all camp and all white people. I'm black, Elon is black, and I disagree with Elon. I have a different perspective on what happened to Michael Brown and how Officer Wilson behaved.

I think that's part of the problem, why Americans can't talk honestly about race is because as a black person, I'm supposed to think like Elon, and I don't. I think the real issue is you did bring up an important point -- white Americans feel afraid to talk about race because they feel like if they talk honestly and share an opinion, they're going to be marginalized, they're going to be called all sorts of heinous names.

And I think you're right again, Brian, that we're talking at each other, because white people are supposed to think a certain way. Black people are supposed to think another way, and we can't have an honest dialogue. We have hate hurling at us.

I will say this. I think the real epidemic is not police violence against black men. The real epidemic is young black men killing other young black men.

You may have noticed that I identified Wright as a "Republican media personality," not a "conservative." An actual "conservative" would presumably be very concerned about an armed government official possibly abusing his power and his authority during an interaction with an unarmed private citizen. An actual "conservative" would suggest that armed government officials should be subjected to the highest level of social scrutiny from the taxpayers who provide that armed government official's salary. Wright clearly didn't give a damn about any of that, because she's a Republican media personality, not a "conservative."

White wasn't going to let Wright get away with making arguments that weren't right:

So, first of all, the black-on-black crime thing, Crystal is completely and totally wrong on this, because, one, this conversation has been happening within the black community for generations. Like, if you go to any black community, the black church, the people are having this very conversation around violence within the community.

And so, in all honesty, that's really a way to deflect from the issue here. And let's be real real here, OK? The fact is, when a cop kills a young black man unarmed, it's a bit different than violence happening within a neighborhood.

And to pretend that it's anything else is disingenuous at best. And so when you talk about this, when you talk about, oh, black-on- black crime, there's black-on-black crime in similar rates as white-on-white crime. This is a false narrative that people push in order to derail the conversation around our community still being gunned down by the police.

Now, when a police officer, who is supposed to protect the community, who is supposed to protect the people in that space, kills an unarmed man, it's a different thing than gang violence or something like that, because this person has been sworn in to specifically protect the community.

And when they don't and when they can't and when we're still sitting here afraid of state violence and then in the end they're going to be acquitted of that, so that means that when you shoot down our young people, that means you get to go walk free and you get to walk away? That's ridiculous, and that's not something that should be tolerated in any shape or form or fashion.

I would argue, based on these remarks, that White is more of an actual "conservative" than Wright, who tried to redeem herself by calling attention to the businesses that were affected by the events in Ferguson:

Let's not forget, guys, 60 businesses are now not able to operate in Ferguson and provide jobs to employees. You have businesses that were either completely burned down or destroyed to the point that it's going to take months to rebuild.

(Does Wright want an award for pointing out that businesses suffered as a result of what happened in Ferguson? She acts like she's the first person to notice this.)

What were Stelter's producers thinking when they decided to bring Wright on? Were they even thinking? What in Wright's background suggested that she would be able to say anything enlightened or interesting about the events in Ferguson? What, exactly, were her credentials?

White displayed uncommon valor in dealing with the clueless Wright; in his position, I probably would have lost my cool and condemned her as a representative of the absolute lowest common denominator in American politics. I have only one suggestion for White: the next time you're asked to appear on CNN, please demand that your fellow guest be somebody on your intellectual level, not below it.

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