Req: A, E, N, S
CNN plans to run a documentary Thursday entitled “The Noose: An American Nightmare” and prominently asking the question, “Why is it back?” The unspoken answer could be that the media helped to bring it back.
The Noose returned to the public eye following the now-infamous “Jena 6” incident in Jena, La. But, as the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins recently told a gathering of journalists and journalism students at King’s College, coverage of that incident has perpetuated numerous myths.
One of the biggest myths, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, is that the nooses hung in the tree were intended to intimidate black students. That simply was not true, the article said:
An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team. (The students apparently got the idea from watching episodes of “Lonesome Dove.”) The committee further concluded that the three young teens had no knowledge that nooses symbolize the terrible legacy of the lynchings of countless blacks in American history. When informed of this history by school officials, they became visibly remorseful because they had many black friends.
[Continue reading Jena 6 Media Myths]
Seeing CNN’s teasers for Thursday’s special report, I’m reminded of something Randy Quaid’s character says in “The Paper,” defending his tabloid newspaper: “We run stupid headlines because we think they’re funny. We run maimings on the front page because we got good art. And I spend three weeks bitching about my car because it sells papers. But at least it’s the truth. As far as I can remember we never ever, ever knowingly got a story wrong, until tonight.”
There has been a saddening trend among the national media lately. They appear willing to run a story despite the fact that is demonstrably false or at least highly suspect (cf. the Rush Limbaugh “phony troops” incident).
In journalism, as in life, people make mistakes. But it is disturbing to read so many stories about nooses in Jena hung to intimidate African Americans who wanted to sit beneath a “whites only tree,” when law enforcement officials and local journalists insist that not only were the nooses not aimed at black students, there wasn’t even a “whites only” tree (in fact, the very idea of such a thing “evoked laughter from everyone present – blacks and whites.”).
Why is the noose back? Unfortunately, in large part, because the national media helped to bring it back.