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Jul. 8 2009 - 8:48 am | 206 views | 3 recommendations | 10 comments

If A Black Man Screams Incomprehensibly At White People, Is It News?

tamron-hall-msnbcSorry to be the only black person in America that does not have a powerful statement about Michael Jackson, but as my father once said “son, you are living proof that all black people do not in fact have rhythm.” Let’s leave it at that.

Over on The Root, Cord Jefferson writes about a color line that still hasn’t been broken. He argues that the angry cable news anchor is still the sole province of aggressive white men. After re-telling the cautionary tale of Glenn Beck pretending to light a staffer on fire, Jefferson writes:

Can you imagine the outcry if a black news anchor performed a mock-burning? Imagine a black news anchor flippantly saying of an abducted boy who hadn’t escaped fast enough that he must have been having “a lot more fun [with his child molester than] he had under his old parents.” Imagine a black news anchor telling an anti-war protester whose father died in 9/11 to “shut up” before cutting off the young man’s microphone.

American society wouldn’t stand for some raging, ranting black maniac shouting people down night after night. For proof of this, simply look to the first family.

Jefferson then goes on to list instances where the Obamas have had to defend against the “angry black person” charge.

There are a lot of black men and women out there on cable television, doing their thing at the highest level. Carlos Watson on MSNBC is locking down the 11 a.m. time slot right after Dylan Ratigan’s much publicized new show. Don Lemon is making it happen on CNN. And of course there is Tamron Hall — who in addition to being a very entertaining newscaster also doubles as the hottest woman on MSNBC. Take that, Scandinavian definitions of beauty.

But to be fair to Jefferson’s point, none of those anchors carries an aura of  “loud, perhaps mentally unstable, and dangerously detached from reality” the way Bill O’Reilly does. Obviously, that is a good thing for the causes of sanity, intelligence, and this “news” thing I keep hearing so much about.

But some day soon there will be a cable news anchor that terrifies white people so much that they will tune in every night like they are going to see a Saw movie. I’ll tell you how I know this after the jump.

I’d love to apply for the job of America’s Next Unhinged Anchor myself. But I just had my first experience in front of the cameras this past Monday, and it turns out that I’m a bobblehead doll on methamphetamines. I’m out.

stephen-a-smithBut I know that there is some black man out there who is ready to douse this cable anchor thing in courvoisier and make it his “prison friend.” I’m not saying it’ll be this guy, but the Stephen A. Smith experience proves that white America is ready to be screamed at by a black man whom they can’t even understand.

If you are not familiar with the slightly terrifying Stephen A. from ESPN, let me give you a taste of what this article would look like if Stephen A. had written it:

The Root, a website frequented by BLACK MEN, thinks that only white people can act crazy up in this cable television thang. Now, I. Don’t. Know. What. Cord Jefferson is talking about because I act crazy EVERY DAY. And my mamma acts crazy, for days if it. Is. Necessary. But Kobe and I BOTH THINK that America is ready for a proud BROTHER. Holla back.

And it works. Stephen A. Smith is goddamn entertaining.

And don’t think for a second that success on SportsCenter cannot translate to success on cable news. Just ask Keith Olbermann — who proved that sports fans would be entertained by cynical and bitingly sarcastic commentary about strikeouts and slam dunks long before he turned into America’s sense of righteous indignation. From Jackie Robinson to letting black people hit the ball without having to carry the clubs, if the sports world is ready for something, America as a whole is not far behind.

It’ll be hard. Whoever attempts to become the black Bill O’Reilly will have to fight against being marginalized as a person who can not relate to a crossover audience. He’ll be subjected to vicious, racially motivated attacks on anonymous message boards from sea to shining sea. For a lot of people, a screaming white man can still exude a fatherly presence, but those same people will worry that a screaming black man exudes a criminal element.

But if the person is good, if the person is talented, if the person is entertaining and knowledgeable, the black Bill O’Reilly will succeed. America has space for Brian Williams and Lester Holt. She can also make space for Sean Hannity and a loud, foaming, verbally violent individual who just happens to be black.

I’m not sure if that is actually a good thing, but progress is amoral.


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  1. collapse expand

    Perhaps no more Bill Os — white or black — would be a good thing. (But your point is taken.)

  2. collapse expand

    In search of a new Petey Greene, perhaps? Petey Greene broke barriers again and again. Watch as he interviews Howard Stern in the early 80s (one of Stern’s first television appearances):


  3. collapse expand

    You. Are. A. Funny! Man. And spot on about Stephen A.

    When I was a reporter in Nashville, we actually did have a black Bill O. His name was Rev. T.J. Graham and he had the morning slot at WVOL, the nation’s oldest historically black radio station (Oprah got her start there.) You shoulda’ heard him get all worked up about immigrants. He actually was very friendly in person, but doesn’t, um, have the face for TV.

  4. collapse expand

    Damn. I had not noticed, but can’t deny. The gap is freaking obvious once you point it out.

    Sad. Don Lemon, for example, is so ingratiating and appears even dumber than the average newsmodel. How painful if that’s the model of what the nets are looking for in an acceptable black man.

    (I wonder what the acceptable gayguy is. Oh, wait, I know that one: a closeted anchor. Thanks, Anderson.)

    The only upside is the nets saving both black and white America from the embarrassment of other Bill O’. Thank God for small favors. But I agree with the thesis: suffering through one more cable”news” whacko is less bad than the quiet message the barrier transmits. Sad, but true.

  5. collapse expand

    Here’s a white nightmare: Spike. Lee. in front of Camera.

  6. collapse expand

    Mr Mystal: You were GREAT in that Fox video! Yah, you seemed to be charged up, but it is obvious that you are funny, you know your stuff, and you have a point of view that is interesting and thought provoking. I get so annoyed with the somnambulistic monotones of the usual talking head. You are a welcome change! Don’t give up!!! I’d LOVE to see more … But please don’t be another B. O’R … yek.

  7. collapse expand

    Funny, we went through this same things with basketball players. For a while, everybody was trying to be Magic or Jordan, or Grant Hill in the media. When Charles Barkley came along he got put in his own special category (a lot like Andrea’s point about Petey Greene). Soon we’ll have a black anchor that is like Allen Iverson, and he’ll take an immense amount of crap:

    “We’re talkiin’ about rehearsal. Rehearsal. Not the news. Not “the news!” but rehearsal. Rehearsal. Man. Rehearsal.”

    But on his shoulders a town like Boston will learn to love an objectively terrifying man like Kevin Garnett.

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    About Me

    My first name is pronounced like Eliot without the “it,” my last name is pronounced like the Crystal I don’t have the “M”oney to afford. I’m an editor of Above the Law, a legal website that covers all of the gossip and business of the legal profession. Prior to that I wrote about politics. I used to be a lawyer, but I quit that profession in lieu of stripping naked and lighting myself on fire. I received a degree in Government from Harvard University because I enjoy pain, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School because I dislike change. I’m also a Met fan (pain + born in Queens).

    I’m African-American thanks to my maternal grandmother (which means there is one word I can use that white people can’t. Mwahaha). My father is from Haiti and my wife is from Zimbabwe, but outside of the northeast corridor I turn into a sniveling idiot. My maternal grandfather is from China, so I can make fun of Chinese-Americans ¼ of the time. It’d be great to go a whole year without embarrassing my mother, as Julia might say “Ye Gods, can that woman wait.”

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