One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.
Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
A few recent headlines:
“Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.
“Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.
“After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.
This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.
In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.
“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.
While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.
The NBC News story highlighted above begins, “A string of fires at predominantly black churches in the South has fueled concerns about the potential for a new wave of racist violence in the days since a white gunman killed nine black worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina.”
It then adds, “The worries persist despite FBI data showing a sharp decline in bias-motivated torchings of black churches in the past two decades and a corresponding drop in hate crimes that targeted places of worship.”
After reporting that federal authorities were investigating the fires, NBC added, “In each case, the church was severely damaged or destroyed – with congregations left wondering if they were specifically targeted by bigots.”
If you tell people often enough that they’re victims – whether they are or not – they’re probably going to begin to believe you.
Of course, black churches have been targeted by bigots before, but to make the inference that any time black churches burn it must be the work of racists is not just lazy journalism, but pernicious and damaging.
Among media outlets which have made an attempt to actually analyze information and present something other than scary headlines is the Los Angeles Times.
On Monday, the Times reported that, “None of the late-night attacks have been a declared a hate crime and it’s unclear whether any of the fires are linked. Social media reports that six black churches have been burned down in arson attacks are not accurate, according to local officials’ accounts of the fires.”
The Times added that investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are particularly focused on two suspected arsons that destroyed churches in Charlotte, NC, and Macon, Ga.
“We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related,” Ginger Colbrun, spokeswoman for the ATF, said in a statement provided to the Times on Monday.
Given the most recent reports, I’m hopeful that none of the fires were racially motivated, and I’d like to believe that we won’t see any race-related fires going forward.
That said, I’d love to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, when a typical media executive pulls their Prius into their gated community at the end of the workday, sees a news report that states definitively that these recent church fires were not racially motivated and commences with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.