If I’ve learned anything from my decade in this business it is that you don’t run into a burning building holding a container full of gasoline.
Until a couple of days ago I had never heard of Bubba Wallace. I know NASCAR exists but I’ve never watched a race or cared to. Watching cars go round and round in circles for hours seems like an odd form of entertainment to me, but suddenly it’s become an apt metaphor for our current state of race relations as driven by media.
Like it or not, Bubba Wallace and NASCAR were forced into my field of vision this week, for reasons we should all be familiar with by now. When the story first surfaced I knew right away I had absolutely no intention of responding publicly until more details emerged. Being an opinion journalist can be a careful dance. People aren’t really paying you for news, they’re paying you for your opinion on the news, thus that is what you must offer. I didn’t want to be afraid to take a position, but I also know from years of experience now that when national tragedy or scandal strikes the first 24-48 hours of information is the most unreliable. And knowing that, it becomes a gross act of irresponsibility to add fuel to the flames when you aren’t even sure what’s on fire. That’s what the media does every time, and it only serves to enrage and divide. From mass shootings to racial incidents, the modus operandi is “shoot first, don’t ask any questions later.” It’s dangerous and I refuse to be a part of it.
So I waited.
Now, the FBI investigation has concluded there was no racial attack against Bubba Wallace, even as Wallace himself digs right into the narrative. The sides have been chosen and no one seems willing to throw cool water on this blaze. Watching the young driver insist to Don Lemon that despite an investigation he still believes it was a noose and not a garage-door pull, I realized that this really isn’t a story about a hoax. I’m not convinced Bubba Wallace or anyone else perpetrated anything intentionally. This isn’t even really a story about racism. In fact, if you take a deep breath and look closely, you’ll see this isn’t even a story about Bubba Wallace.
This is a story of how progressive/legacy media has formed a rabidly destructive partnership with social media, resulting in inflamed divisions and an information famine. This is a story of how our current state of constant rage is not only cheered on by legacy media but, in fact, is generated by them as well.
Some may ask, “If a story like this hits the mainstream, shouldn’t it be covered immediately? After all, it’s relevant considering current events.” I most certainly am not suggesting a story like this be ignored in the name of peace. What I am suggesting is that a story like this needs to be reported. Not opined, not instantaneously broken down into breathless monologues on slumping cable news channels, not turned into Instagram soundbites set to maudlin, bleak music. Reported. Like news. Because that’s what it is until there’s enough information for it to be something bigger.
If you think that’s an impossible task, consider your local news. They have reporters, entertainment reporters, a weather reporter, and typically what is called an “opinion desk.” They actually make a specific space for opinion. Journalism is what you see on the 5 o’clock news. Straight reporting from the scene of an incident, witness interviews, details, and information. In fact, if you pay attention you’ll notice that often when an anchor tries to get a street reporter to editorialize what is happening around them, they will go to great lengths to avoid descriptions that could feel personally motivated.
Your local news station and publications are the last bastion of real journalism. Or the leading edge of true journalism, depending on how you look at it.
Perhaps one of the greatest legacies President Trump will leave with us is this now commonplace term of “fake news.” Everyone uses it, even the people who hate it. We may not all agree on what it means, but we’re all talking about it, and that in and of itself is both astonishing and illuminating. For the first time in journalistic history, we are talking about what it means to disseminate information and we are seeing how tragically dangerous it can be for all of us when information is intentionally twisted by media.
Mainstream media has become so reactionary that is has actually fostered a reactionary viewership. The result is that instead of informing us it has inflamed us. What exactly is the traditional media’s role in American society? Where exactly are they leading us? The Bubba Wallace case has sadly revealed that what once was a trusted institution has absolutely no intention of leading us into enlightenment. The instantaneous gratification of social media has landed us in an atmosphere in which the golden ring goes to the person who yells the loudest and causes the biggest stampede. We are trampling each other in this warped version of a journalistic shopping frenzy, where every day is Black Friday at 4 a.m.
It’s killing our discourse and twisting our view of ourselves. It’s killing both curiosity and solution-oriented thinking.
Now that that both the FBI and NASCAR have concluded that this was not a racial attack, is the legacy media making any effort to dissect the investigation and share the information? No, they’re doubling down on rage and pretending like they are mere observers here, when in fact they are perpetrators. They are instigators. They are tearing us apart and laughing all the way to the bank.
Wallace may very well believe that what he saw was a racist symbol. Or he may just be in too deep and enjoying too much attention to say otherwise. My suspicion is that it is the latter. Frankly, why would he do anything else? There is no media glory, no parade, no pushing his car to the starting line if he says he is relieved this was all a misunderstanding and calls for Americans to stand together because of our differences, not in spite of them. The Bible says “blessed are the peacemakers” but the legacy media says, “The peacemakers can die poor and go to hell.”
I believe with all my heart that most Americans are searching for solutions, but our progressive media is bound and determined to feed us nothing but rage until we all die.
And that scares the hell out of me.
The Bubba Wallace noose-that-wasn't story is not the story of a "hoax." Bubba himself didn't report it. Everyone involved tried to do the right thing. It's a story of how stories go viral in the social media age before anyone has time to check them, and how that doesn't help us.
— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) June 24, 2020