Accuracy in Media

According to the founder of the website that started the Ralph Northam Klan/blackface imbroglio, the tip about the photo came to him from classmates of Northam who were angry about his remarks promoting infanticide the day before.

But Slate, in “Why You’re Not Hearing That Ralph Northam Was Smeared By His Enemies and Destroyed by Social Media Polarization,” by Ben Mathis-Lilley, contends we’re not hearing the same claims of “Fake News,” “tribalization” and “social media” because Northam is a Democrat.

“When mainstream media outlets reported on sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Republican politicians and conservative media outlets said he’d been the victim of a left-wing ‘smear job,’” Mathis-Lilley wrote.

“When the same outlets covered a viral video of Covington, Kentucky, high school students facing off with a Native American protester near the Lincoln Memorial, Republican politicians and conservative media outlets said the same thing – that the students had been victimized by left-wing Fake News. Some centrist pundits listened to the criticism and, though not entirely crediting its conspiratorial conclusions, wondered whether the real problem at issue wasn’t Kavanaugh or the Covington students’ behavior as much as it was tribalization or social media.”

Mathis-Lilley acknowledges there could be “a grain of truth” in the conservatives’ complaints. “Some of the allegations made against Kavanaugh during his confirmation process do not appear to have been on firm factual ground. Some initial accounts of the Covington incident suggested incorrectly that the students had surrounded the protester when, in fact, he approached them.”

In fact, all the accusers against Kavanaugh have been proven to have lied except for Christine Blasey Ford, and there are serious doubts about her testimony.

As for the incident on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the teen photographed in front of the drumming Nathan Phillips, whose claims to have served in Vietnam have been debunked, said he was trying to defuse the situation, and a lawyer who says he represents the teen’s family has sent letters to a variety of media figures who criticized the teen telling them to retain documents because a lawsuit is on the way.

But the facts about Northam seem cloudy to Mathis-Lilley.

“There are similar open questions about some aspects of the scandal,” he wrote.

“The caveats [that classmates say they don’t remember him in those outfits and that photo could be on his page by mistake] … don’t change other facts and realities: that a picture on Northam’s yearbook page that he’d gone three decades without objecting to was probably one that he at the very least approved of; that there’s something off about his claim that he only realized a day after the picture came to light that he might not have been in it; and that he has admitted to dressing in blackface on another occasion.”

Similarly, “a big-picture view of the Kavanaugh and Covington stories does not support the claim of an unfair ‘smear.’”

Kavanaugh and the Covington students “were not railroaded on completely fabricated and slanderous charges, but rather called to account for real or plausibly alleged misbehavior. That every single thing alleged about them anywhere by anyone did not turn out to be true does not exonerate them.”

The “difference between the reaction to Northam and the reactions to Kavanaugh and Covington is pretty easy to spot: Northam is a Democrat.”  

“Despite not every detail of his situation being locked down, we’re not hearing about this story as a smear job because, for reasons including identity, ideology and coalition-building necessity, Democrats and pundits on the left aren’t looking for ways to worm out of confronting racist and sexist behavior.

“Northam’s peers in his party and his movement aren’t invested in proving that all such accusations are fraudulent, and centrist media figures haven’t been made self-conscious about criticizing people like him by years of bias accusations.”

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