MTV, the bastion of American popular culture, had huge success with a show called, "Punk'd." It was a hidden camera practical joke series. The show, which was the brain child of actor, Ashton Kutcher, was akin to a celebrity version of the once famous Candid Camera Show, which was hosted by Allen Funt. First airing in 2003, Kutcher's version was like Candid Camera on acid. Candid Camera usually played innocent, yet comical, pranks on everyday folk in America, Kutcher chose to prey solely on some of the biggest names in entertainment and sports (wait, aren't those the same thing?).
"Punk'd" ended it's successful run on May 29, 2007...or so we thought. FOX News thought they would bring the show back, this time in a prank of epic proportions. Andrew Breitbart, was to do his best Kutcher impersonation, and the pawns in this political joke were the NAACP, its president and CEO, Mr. Ben Jealous, a host of political pundits (especially those from CNN), as well as the White House. The joke was to be centered around USDA's Shirley Sherrod. She was the department's Georgia director of Rural Development. I won't go into more of that story because I'm sure that you have heard it. If not, I would ask you to read the great work of blogger and journalist, Danielle Belton in her piece, "NAACP, White House, Pundits, Et Al, Get "Snookered" By FOX News."
I want to focus on a larger issue that I think is being lost in all the media hoopla. I consider myself a big picture type of thinker and this situation has a big picture that many are missing. Last night on the "The Rachel Maddow Show" she had Ben Jealous on as a guest. He obviously wanted to explain what exactly went wrong with the NAACP during this fiasco. Jealous spoke for a lot longer than he needed to. I think both he and LeBron James could take a course on how to announce something on national television in a clear, concise way--with emphasis on concise (i.e. short and to the point).
All Jealous needed to do was apologize and get the ball back rolling on the real political issues. (To be honest, Mr. Jealous could have turned this negative into a positive by going down to Georgia to meet with Ms. Sherrod today. That would have gone a long way to mending relationships and it would have been a great public relations move--only in a perfect world I guess.)
Maddow brilliantly pointed out that what FOX News had done was not really about NAACP, but was essentially part of a larger agenda had more to do with fanning the flames of racial fear and ignorance, via the zero sum game. Maddow explained:
"I also think there is a broader racial agenda with this attack to try to stoke essentially white racial resentment to tell white people they are victims of racism, that anybody standing up for civil rights is out to take rights away from white people. It's a zero sum game that white people must be harmed in order for nonwhite people to be treated as equal citizens in this country."Maddow is absolutely right. The broader issue is the politics of racial resentment. This has been the game plan by some conservative factions since President Obama was elected. Organizations such as the NAACP, the political pundits on cable news stations, as well as the White House, should worry less about what FOX News will say about them and move to start acting in a decisive way that defines the debate on race and politics and stop having the rules dictated to them by falling for political practical jokes.