Why the “liberal” media doesn’t get Jena


I read this scathing denunciation of the GOP from a hotel room in Washington, DC. I appreciate the fact that Bob Herbert has finally directed his attention to the Jena story, even if he merely uses it as what columnists call a “media hook”. Herbert could have brought the Jena story to the attention of mainstream, liberal America months ago, but he chose not to. (Herbert, some of you may recall, set a fire under the Tulia story with a string of columns in 2002). In fact, the New York Times virtually ignored this story until it got so big they had to put it on the front page. This is tragic because, thanks to Randy Credico and the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, the New York Times brought the Tulia story to national attention two years before Mr. Herbert’s influential work.

For several weeks now, I have been doing an average of two interviews a day on the Jena mess. Yesterday, I was talking to a radio talk show host in DC while I settled into my seat on the plane–the interview ended when the pilot told us to kill our cell phones. Everybody wants to know why the mainstream, allegedly “liberal” media has been so slow to pick up on Jena. Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune and CNN are blessed exceptions, but, as a general rule, the big boys and girls of the Fourth Estate fumbled this story badly. How come?

The answer is obvious: at first glance, this is a story about six black guys beating the crap out of a white guy. The Jena saga begins with a graphic and rivetting image: nooses dangling from a “white tree”; but it ends with lurid photographs of Justin Barker’s swollen eyes. That’s not an image white Americans (be they ever so liberal) like to promote.

My critics argue that, had this been a story about six white boys being charged with attempted murder for mugging a black student, people like me would be calling for the death penalty. This will always remain a hypothetical. It is inconceivable in our America that white students would face such draconian charges–it simply couldn’t happen. And even if the six white boys were so charged, they would never be tried by an all-black jury. In Jena, as in both American towns, white defendants are tried by white juries–so are black and Latino defendants.

This story captivates the black imagination because, properly told, it is a story about white guys mugging a defenseless black guy. Short days before Justin Barker was assaulted at Jena High School, Robert Bailey Jr. (now one of the Jena 6) was attacked by a savage white mob at a local dance. True, he wasn’t knocked unconscious–but that is just a matter of aim and good fortune. He was punched, he was kicked, and he was smacked over the head with a beer bottle (he’s got the scars to prove it).

Robert Bailey’s twenty-two year-old assailant was charged with misdemeanor battery. Had Justin Barker’s assailants been similarly charged, I never would have touched this case and it wouldn’t be gracing the pages of the New York Times (Paul Krugman kicked off an excellent column on southern racism with the Jena saga yesterday morning).

African Americans immediately notice that only one of Robert Bailey’s white assailants was charged. What happened to the rest of the kids? The case was hardly investigated. Eye witnesses were not questioned. After all, the black kid had strayed onto white turf–he didn’t know his place.

This story may have been shaped by a white guy (me) and introduced to the world by white guys (Howard Witt, Jordan Flaherty, Bill Quigley, Tom Mangold of the BBC); but it didn’t become a phenomenon until it came to the attention of black bloggers and radio talk show hosts. Black America (conservative and liberal) understands this story; white America still doesn’t know what to do with it.

None of this should be construed as a tacit admission that the Jena 6 are guilty as charged. The evidence against Mychal Bell (his much lamented juvenile record notwithstanding) is so weak that any motivated attorney could have won a grudging aquittal–even from an all-white jury in Jena. The evidence against the other defendants varies greatly. One defendant hasn’t even been arraigned because the evidence against him is virtually non-existant and Reed Walters doesn’t want to give his critics a moral victory by dropping the charges.

It would probably have been equally difficult to identify Robert Bailey’s attackers. The primary assailant wasn’t hard to identify because he kept attacking Robert even after he had been restrained by adult chaperones. Had eyewitness statements been requested they would likely have been riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions–just like the statements taken in the wake of the assault on Justin Barker.

I am disturbed by the growing tendency of mainstream journalists to jump from the nooses to Justin Barker’s swollen eyes without mentioning the chain of events that link these graphic and disturbing images. We don’t hear about Reed Walter’s pen. We don’t hear about the fire that destroyed the central academic wing of the High School. We don’t hear about Robert Bailey, Jr. getting attacked at a dance. We don’t hear about a white youth threatening black youth with a shotgun outside the Gotta Go convenience store. We don’t hear about Justin Barker and his buddies talking trash with black students during the lunch hour.

In fact, many journalists have latched onto US Attorney Donald Washington’s bizarre claim that there is no discernible link between the noose incident and the assault on Justin Barker. Anyone familiar with the facts of this story can only gasp in disbelief at this suggestion. But most journalists don’t know the facts. Last Friday, on the LaSalle Parish Courthouse lawn, I told an NBC reporter that they needed to get a person of equal prominence to Donald Washington (Charles Ogletree?) to rebut his allegations. The man was unimpressed. “He’s got access to the evidence,” he replied. “Who else knows as much about the story?”

I told him I had access to all the facts Washington had seen. To prove it, I began rattling off the disturbing undeniable links between the nooses and the swollen eyes. “You’re kidding me,” the man said. “Really?” “Oh my God, I hadn’t heard that.” This is the guy who was helping to shape the story for the NBC Nightly News!

The Jena story has revealed a wide and gaping chasm between the perceptions and instincts of white and black Americans. This perception gap is as significant as it is troubling. Black America was right about the war in Iraq. Black America is right about Jena. Perception is rooted in personal and painful experience; few white Americans have been impacted by the inequities at the heart of our criminal justice system. The folks who came to Jena brought their scars with them. No surprise that you had to scan the crowd for a single white face.

15 thoughts on “Why the “liberal” media doesn’t get Jena

  1. Keep digging, Friend of Justice, because the stories go deeper. The eyewitnesses to the shotgun incident tell a much different story than you. The “mob” who attacked Bailey was at most three, three less than the mob who attacked Barker. Notice also, 3 whites went to the hospital, but no blacks. Not 3, but 2 nooses (“painted in school colors on a Friday morning that the football team was to play the Cowboys and the rallying cry was ‘Hang ’em High'”).

    Bell sits in a cell today because his juvenile probation was revoked.

    Finally, there was no “white tree”. That is a fabrication by the activists. Even MTV has posted the AP release that begins to tell the whole backstory.

    This is quickly turning into the Jena 6 Hoax (another misnomer, there are 7).

  2. The biggest difference between the black faces in Jena and the white ones not there is that caucasians are largely busy attempting to hold down jobs and responsibly raise children. Indeed who has time to protest when vastly more important things are necessary? The black community in America would do well to raise it’s children with fathers, disavow using drugs, and disown violence. Take responsibility for your actions, my black brothers and sisters. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ll go should you give up your gratuitous hate of the caucasian. Reed Walters is a hero.

  3. Whites will never understand, thats why, they have always had, never been treaded upon , like, african americans, mexicans. and other race,,, they have been brainwashed by their parents, and ancestors so badly that they do not know any other way, and for most , But not All ,their way of live is the right way… they chose to walk over others and turn their heads to anything that will make them be wrong. they make their own LAWS., and know their counterparts IN HIGH PLACES will turn their heads as long as they can.

    Sadily the will cause Hell to enlarge her mouth.Isiah 6: 14-16

    I am very sad that this has been allowed to happen……. we may as well have 1ST Graders Making the Laws of our land. From the 1619 unto 2007 Not much progress,, Appearance wise but not mind wise.

  4. Michael Cousins,

    I strongly suggest that you reread the above post and then get yourself to a library or bookstore and bone up on American history. Try to read the facts and sift through the opinions, being careful to take in information that may be counter to what you think you already know. If Reed Walters is your hero, you have a lot of work to do.

  5. Heather MacDonald says:
    “To be sure, black incarceration rates are off the charts. Black men were 41 percent of the more than 2 million men in federal, state, and local prisons at midyear 2006. At the end of 2005, there were 3,145 prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared with 1,244 inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 inmates per 100,000 white males.”

    I wonder if the IQ correlation would fit roughly along those lines. 85 for blacks… 90…Hispanics 100 for whites. There was a very good ABC Evening News piece about how the Black/White divide looks fifty years later in Little Rock Central high. Sort of what you expect… blacks predominate remedial, whites in AP courses and grades. Yet the principal, a white female, was weeping over society’s being at fault…and, oh yeah, she mentioned something about reading not being promoted in black families.

  6. Michael Cousins – the people demonstrating in Jena are certainly not being irresponsible – they are taking responsibility for seeing that justice is done in this country. Merely holding down a job is not enough to show your children that justice for every person is important. Responsibly raising children also involves advocating for a society in which every person can feel safe. When children are threatened by nooses and other forms of bullying and intimidation at school, we as adults have not done our jobs effectively.

    I certainly don’t condone violent reactions to bullying; however, I can understand the feelings that motivate such actions. There is no reason, however, for the black students to be treated differently from the white students – any student who is attacked deserves a full investigation into the case with consequences for the attackers and actions taken to prevent further attacks. Such action on the behalf of victims is what will truly reduce violence and injustice in our country.

    What could possibly be more important than protecting everyone’s rights? A paycheck isn’t worth much when one is too oppressed or afraid to enjoy it.

  7. WOW and i say again WOW.

  8. Michael Cousins…I pretty much don’t know you exist. You’re fucking retarded in the head, much like every other “white” person involved with the Jena 6 incident. “The black community in America would do well to raise it’s children with fathers, disavow using drugs, and disown violence.” Hmm…spoken like a true racist I guess. My other question is what the hell does that even have to do with the Jena 6 incident? Wait, maybe I can predict a response. Maybe it goes something like this (I will be using the term “black” in my guess as to what Michael Cousins’ response would be because I don’t think the term African American is in his vocabulary, but, yet, caucasian seems to be…go figure.)…It was due to the black teens’ ignorance of their boundaries that caused this incident. The caucasians linked to this incident were only trying to protect what was “their” territory.

    Michael Cousins is, more or less, dumber than a rock. “Why?” you might ask. A rock is not racist.

  9. MIchael Cousins…if you wish to contact me…my email is mle2@wisc.edu
    I hope to hear from you soon…because you’re clearly intelligent enough to operate such technologically advanced equipment, but not enough to recognize the social injustice that’s going on in Jena.

  10. I’m a bit appalled that the New York Times allowed Reed Walters to post an Op-Ed and not seek out a similar post from someone like Friends of Justice. Scary that thy ignored the event, then allow the prosecutor to take the upper hand in the media game. Any way that you can respond in kind on their Op-ed page?


    Certainly Mr. Walters can state his opinion, but can he do it while he’s the prosecutor? As well, the New York Times has every right to carry his op-ed, but I think they owe the issue a sense of balance.

    Regardless SOMEONE has to point out his “stroke of my pen” comment to the students before he pressed charges against them.

    Again, I’m appalled that he’s talking the upper hand on the issue and that the NYTimes is playing his cards.

  11. Michael, you should be ashamed of your ignorance.

    It’s true that many white people are trying to hold down jobs and raise kids. I wanted desperately to go to Jena, as I’ve been following this story since June and have worked to expose this story at the Daily Kos. But my three kids 6 and under couldn’t make the trip, and I couldn’t leave them to go protest. But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of black people who made the journey to Jena were neglecting jobs and children to go. They just tried harder than I did and made more sacrifices to get there. Sacrifices that are impossible for some, but just too inconvenient for too many in white America.

    For the problem with white America is that we refuse to learn the facts of anything because it would just be too much trouble and might require us to reevaluate our view of the world, as your comment shows. And we won’t break out of our comfort zone to protest anything anymore.

    We are bleeding money and US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but where are Americans protesting? We are giving our treasury away to war profiteers, Big Energy, Big Pharma and foreign governments, and where are the protests of that? Our children are inheriting a planet of increasing environmental instability, but we can’t be bothered to care. Over the past several decades we have armed the half the countries in the Middle East and have instigated a war with two of them, and are still rattling sabers with two more. Is white America paying any attention to this?

    White Americans aren’t just ignoring Jena, they are ignoring anything that might be inconvenient to their worldview or lifestyle. And as you show, they are willing to make up convenient distortions in order to live in the perfect world that allows them to live in ignorance.

    In your perfect world, black Americans born into poverty somehow would pull them up by their bootstraps in a world dominated by white political officials who hand out slaps on the wrist to whites but prison sentences to blacks, as does your hero Reed Walters. In your perfect world, black people who face racism in Jena would overlook being beaten at parties, threatened at gas stations and high schools and would all turn the other cheek, no matter how many times they’ve been slapped.

    But in this world, white kids can gang up on black kids with beer bottles and get one misdemeanor for one person, while black kids get railroaded into felony attempted murder charges for wearing shoes. In this world, African-Americans face stiff sentencing for even small amounts of drugs, while the white people’s “drug culture” of abusing prescription drugs and alcohol are enabled by our society, pushed by doctors and paid for by Big Pharma. In this world, wages are stagnant while healthcare, tuition, taxes, housing prices, and energy costs are all going up. And in this world, it’s easier to scapegoat poor parents for working longer hours and extra jobs to make ends meet than to understand the harm being done by cutting social programs and while allowing corporations to bring upon a new feudal system here in America.

    So it’s shameful that after reading through a well-researched, well-reasoned account of the issues surrounding Reed Walters race-based justice, you choose to ignore Dr Bean’s summary of the injustices in Jena in order to continue to live in your own fantasy world where racial stereotypes explain everything and the victims are to be blamed. If Reed Walters was the hero you claim him to be, he would have charged the troublemakers who hung the nooses, found and convicted the perpetrator’s of the school arson, protected the black teens in Jena from bottle-wielded and shot-gun toting whites and kept the violence from escalating to the point where Justin Barker felt comfortable taunting “n—–s“ for getting their “asses whipped” and black kids felt they had no other way of getting justice except by their own hands.

    It’s a shame that you feel comfortable with your own ignorant taunting on this board, but unlike Reed Walters, you don’t get to force your racist views of black and white justice on anyone else. Quit blaming the black community for your own ignorance and racism and educate yourself.

  12. Whites do more drugs than black with all the meth Labs around the US just to give you a piece of knowledge to reference next time you want to speak on what Blacks are doing. How can some one work when knowing the very people we trust to take of our kids cant do that for mere ours a day as required by law at school. Give blacks a justice system that works and stop singling us out. I know what color your neck is anyway to be suggesting that Reed Walters is a hero.

  13. Hey Melissa,
    Totally agree! As a white St. Paul Minnesota girl, I know for a fact that the white people do many more drugs! And for the Racists on so many of these comment boards, do notice that almost 100 % of the comments come from the Southern States! They have their heros in the KKK and DA Walters. It is too bad, BUT, we can hardly blame them, since they were raised by racist parents and were subject to lifelong brainwashing! Just like in the Middle East! And Americans have the nerve to wonder why so many young people there want to commit murder?? Look to their upbringing for the answer!!
    No different in the Southern USA!
    Keep on fighting and JUSTICE FOR ALL!!!

  14. Denise said,
    September 27, 2007 at 2:21 pm
    Hey Melissa,
    Totally agree! As a white St. Paul Minnesota girl, I know for a fact that the white people do many more drugs! And for the Racists on so many of these comment boards, do notice that almost 100 % of the comments come from the Southern States! They have their heros in the KKK and DA Walters. It is too bad, BUT, we can hardly blame them, since they were raised by racist parents and were subject to lifelong brainwashing! Just like in the Middle East! And Americans have the nerve to wonder why so many young people there want to commit murder?? Look to their upbringing for the answer!!
    No different in the Southern USA!
    Keep on fighting and JUSTICE FOR ALL!!!

    {{Denise, according to http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/hate_crime/index.html
    in 2004 1457 hate drimes were reported from the participating agencies in the Southern States. Minnesota reported 239, 8th among all the States. California ranked 1st with 1,393 hate crimes reported. So, sweetheart, it looks to me that you are as much of a bigot as anyone else, a bigot against the South. Also, your statement reveals your ignorance. BUT, we can hardly blame you, since you were probably raised by bigotted parents and were subject to lifelong brainwashing! Alabama, a Southern State, was ranked last, reporting but 3 hate crimes in 2004.}}

  15. Living as blacks do,under the constant pressure of racism, i am overjoyed that we have found the strength and energy to raise millions of productive,law abiding and successful young men and women.
    although their contributions are largely ignored by
    mainstream media in favor of stories geared towards further perpetuating the myth of lazy, drugged crazed criminals,be well aware, that the majority of blacks ,regardless of the hostile nature
    of this land of the free, are now and always have been survivors. we succed where others fail.
    thanks to organizations such as friends of justice,
    the truth, though slowly,comes out.
    And those who would see us fall must once again
    resort to sterotyping and name calling in order to justify their failure to stop our proud march forward.
    bigotry is a disease of the heart and mind.
    hypocrisy and fear are two of its many symptoms.
    And true christianity cannot exist in such a toxic environment.
    its either hood or bible.
    the two are not compatible.choose wisely.



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