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Hate Crime Hoaxes

In November 1987, a girl named Tawana Brawley claimed she had been abducted and raped. She was found in a garbage bag, smeared with feces and with racial slurs scrawled on her body. Soon, she was surrounded by several advisers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, who claimed that she had been kidnaped and raped by a group of white men, including a former prosecutor, Steven Pagones. Pagones denied all the charges and sued Brawley’s so-called advisers for defamation. A jury has now ruled for Pagones, and has awarded him $345,000 in damages.

But that’s only part of the story. The reason we came to this point is that Brawley’s advisers made it into a national controversy. As the Washington Post put it, “The advisers insisted she [Brawley] not cooperate with the investigation, which they called a racist coverup. Instead, they broadcast her allegations on television, creating national alarm about an apparent racial atrocity.” That investigation was a grand jury probe which concluded that Brawley’s story was a hoax.

The exoneration of Steven Pagones is a welcome development. But the lesson that the media should draw is that they should stop paying attention to characters such as Sharpton. They should have come to this conclusion by now. Indeed, years ago Howard Kurtz did a very thoughtful piece analyzing why the media love somebody like Sharpton. He described him as a “savvy guy, a media manipulator who knows how to deliver that inflammatory sound bite that television is so addicted to, the juicy quotes that reporters love.” He said reporters are lazy and that they found it easier to cover a Sharpton news conference than seek out opposing or more conservative views.

Kurtz noted that one of the strange things about Sharpton is that he is a “reverend” without a congregation, and that he pays young blacks to attend his demonstrations. We don’t know if the Reverend Jesse Jackson pays anybody to attend his events, but he, too, is a minister without a congregation. And he has been a close buddy of “Reverend” Sharpton. Will Jackson now be asked to disassociate himself from his old friend?

The major media have to develop much more skepticism about so-called “victims” of alleged hate crimes. Another incident recently unfolded in South Carolina, where a lesbian insisted that she had been beaten by a stocky red-haired white man with a scruffy beard. She said she was hit on the head and on her back. She was found with several abrasions on her back and her hands and feet were tied. On her porch was spray painted an anti-homosexual slogan. She used the incident to argue for passage of hate crimes legislation at the state level, and homosexual rights groups called her a symbol of persecution.

But the police didn’t buy it. She was later arrested on charges of filing a false police report. She was accused of faking the whole thing and paying someone to beat her. The hoax was exposed when the person she paid went to the police after not getting all the money he was promised. This lesbian version of Tawana Brawley is another reason for the media to be wary of such “victim” stories.