Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Baltimore, Media, and Oligarchy

A special post today. Alexandra K kicks off our coverage of Election 2016!

As Morgan Freeman recently said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, “Fuck the media.” Their usual negligence in coverage has been particularly egregious in the senseless death of Freddie Gray. At this point his tragic end is but a footnote to them; the early peaceful protests failed to elicit much attention outside of the state, but add some riots and fires and the national media bigwigs are falling all over themselves to get the most outrageous images and stories. If conflict sells papers, then conflict and the kind of one-sided reporting that perpetuates widespread prejudices is what the papers will say!

The fact that Baltimore is the site of the latest police murder of an unarmed black man is also a particular plum to an institution that is obsessed with king-making. That’s because Martin O’Malley, the aspiring candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, was mayor of the city from 1999 to 2007, right before serving two terms as Maryland’s governor. O’Malley’s been mulling a presidential run since before his second term as governor ended, but few people outside of the Mid-Atlantic states knew who he was. Now suddenly everyone (who pays attention to what’s going on in the world) knows he who is, and the media is determined to tar and feather him with the Baltimore riots to kill his chances for the presidency. “Baltimore riots hurt O'Malley's already slim chances” crows Politico, the hottest broadsheet in Washington DC politics today. From “Who is Martin O’Malley?” he is suddenly considered the Giuliani of Baltimore for his police policies as mayor.

As someone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1990s, and who lived and worked in the Washington DC area in the late 2000s, the comparison seems more than a little ridiculous to me. Full disclosure: I’ve been an O’Malley fan even since before I knew he was considering a bid for the presidency, because of his support for renewable energy. When I started working for a solar energy company a few years after that and Maryland had great policies and incentives for the solar projects, that didn’t hurt either.

But that’s also why I never thought he’d never really have a chance to be president: he seemed too liberal. Not only a supporter of clean energy and climate policy, he also defends abortion rights, oversaw the passage of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act in Maryland, and he’s in favor of same-sex marriage; basically he’s on the center-to-left of most any political issue that you can think of. Even the news outlets that have floated him as a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton in the primary didn’t really take him seriously.

So the hysteria over his policing policies in Baltimore seems ironic and more than a little suspicious to me now. O’Malley has acknowledged that as Mayor he played a role in shaping the city in which Freddie Gray’s life was taken (even as he’s heavily played defense). Understanding the numerous intertwining factors of policy, history, racism, economics and demographics isn’t something that lends itself well to our sound-bite driven political news culture, but O’Malley doesn’t have a choice but to talk about it; the media has decided he has to. He knows this, and that’s why he’s planning to make Baltimore a central focus of his campaign. That will only be a successful strategy for a relatively unknown candidate if the media decides they want it to be, and my current guess is that they don’t.

During the national coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, I don’t remember the media mentioning that Florida’s Stand Your Grand law was passed during the administration of Jeb Bush, but reporters would love a Bush candidacy. I think the media would do anything for a Bush vs. Clinton contest, but I’m not going to speculate on the reasons for that here. The larger point here is about the consequences of media influence; information and how it’s framed is a major determinant of public opinion. Public opinion sways politics, policy-making and current events. Which then goes back to the media. See how it all cycles? Keep your eyes open America. Seek the truth and always question. When O’Malley said “We are all responsible for Freddie Gray,” he was being politically tactful, but think about what that really means too.

No comments:

Post a Comment