June 14, 2008

A Good "Pounding"?

I'm sure by now you've all heard of the Fox News "terrorist fist jab?" fiasco. If you haven't, you can check it out here, in a NY Times story which criticizes Fox for having made three apologies in as many weeks for statements made about Obama. I'm sure I don't need to point out to you that at least Fox is making apologies, as opposed to some NY daily newspapers, who even when on that rare occasion that they do apologize, make it less about being sorry and more about pointing fingers and making excuses.

Anyway, I did have a few thoughts about the whole thing. I'm just going to list them for the sake of organization.

1) The "terrorist fist jab?" comment is such a non-issue, for reasons I'll cover shortly. However, one of the other incidents mentioned, the "Obama's baby mama," is inexcusable. Whoever did it should be fired on the spot, and not even because of the term itself, but because by including it, he or she exhibited the worst judgment I've ever seen in news broadcasting, and is obviously an incompetent.

2) It's amazing to me how little people understand the language we speak. In researching this post, I saw literally dozens of writers (some major media, some other bloggers) claim that E.D. Hill was "calling Barack and Michelle Obama's fist-pound a 'terrorist fist jab'" or some such variation. That isn't quite the case. First of all, it was phrased as a question, not a statement. It's the difference between "You're asking for a punch in the nose?" and "You're asking for a punch in the nose." Secondly, she followed the list with the phrase "The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently." This clearly means that the preceding list is not her belief, but the way in which she feels other people may have interpreted it. Once again, there's a world of difference there. It's the difference between someone saying "Hey, you're a no-good lying bastard," and saying "Hey, I read this post that called you a no-good lying bastard."

3) That brings up the question as to whether or not it's reasonable to think that some people may have interpreted the fist bump (or FB as I will refer to it from now on) as a "terrorist fist jab." Well, there's a number of emails circulating the net that claim that Obama is a Muslim, that he and/or his wife have ties to groups that are...to be kind, I'll say "intolerant" of white people, that he has something against the Pledge of Allegiance, that he secretly hates America, and various other character flaws. (Please note: I am not saying those things. They are circulating in e-mails.) There was even a post out there which called it a "Hezbollah-style fist jabbing." (The post has since been edited to remove the term, which is why I didn't bother linking to it.) Even a member of his own party--Ted Kennedy--accidentally started calling him "Osama bin.." at a press junket before correcting himself.

And then there's the name. Barack Hussein Obama. Most reasonable people (including me) will have no problem with it--it's just a name. But running for president in the U.S. with a name that sounds somewhat the same as some of those who want to destroy us and our way of life? You've got to expect that some people will be suspicious of your motives. Can you imagine running for office in Israel with a name like Adolph Stalin? You could have nothing but the best intentions, and be the best politician in the world, but c'mon...you're going to draw fire.

4) I would guess that Fox's audience on the average is a bit older than some of the other news outlets (although I have no real basis for that). I've seen a lot of people comment on how the fist bump, or "pound" as they refer to it started in sports. One particularly telling comment said "The dap came from sports players a long time ago. Look at some old sports taps[sic] from the 80's 90's and even now." Let's just assume for a second that there are some people alive who might not consider the '80s "a long time ago," and who might also remember the "DAP" which "has existed in the African-American community for centuries" and most notably (for this discussion, at least), has been associated with Black Power advocates in the '60s and '70s, many of whom "believed in racial separation, black nationalism, and the necessity to use violence as a means of achieving their aims." This includes the Nation of Islam: Black Muslims who shouldn't be--but often are--confused with Muslims. It might not be as far of a stretch as it first seems to think that there might be people out there whose minds call up those images when seeing Obama and his wife fist bump. After all, in almost every other case, a closed fist gesture is considered hostile, or at the very least revolutionary, whether it's the "One of these days, Alice" fist waving or the upraised fists of Northern Ireland loyalists or the Black Panthers, both of whom at one time or another have--let's face it--been called "terrorists."

5) I've seen a number of places insinuate that because Hill brought the term up in the "teaser" and not the segment proper that somehow, she was not refuting the term. I think the reverse is true. The segment itself makes it clear that this is nothing more than, as the Times so quaintly put it, a "closed-fist high five." I think had she added something about the "terrorist fist jab" to the segment, not only would that have been in worse taste, I firmly believe that those who are criticizing her for not following up on the teaser would actually have criticized her much more.

6) In the end, I think it was a poor choice of words. She shouldn't have said it. But neither do I think she deserves the shitstorm thrown her way. The press has given so many "passes" to Obama (wonder why?)--for thinking there were 60 states instead of 50**, for his 'I-see-dead-people' gaffe on Memorial Day, his story about his uncle liberating Auschwitz, inflating the death toll of a Kansas tornado from 12 to 10,000, for claiming that he was losing the primary in KY because Hillary was "much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas." (for the record, IL--the state in which Obama has lived since 1985, and the one he serves as senator--actually borders Kentucky!), and the two that I think are incredibly egregious and much more than "misstatements": not knowing the details of a nuclear waste-treatment plant he voted on, and shamelessly using Selma, Alabama to associate himself with the civil rights struggle.*** I could go on, but you can pretty easily find the rest of them with a quick search. The point is that the media seems to be okay with the Right being called Nazis, fascists, racists, etc. They seem to have little problem with Obama's association with Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, James Johnson, Tony Rezko, and Reverend Pfleger. And yet they bring the wrath of god down on Hill for a stupid (but ultimately innocuous) comment? How about a little consistency?

One last thing: No one's really mentioned it, but what I found a bit offensive about the whole thing was that after the fist bump, Obama smacks his wife on the ass! It you're looking for something inappropriate and a little sexist, focus on that.

** He said he had visited 57 states with one more to go, while also admitting that "his staff wouldn't let him go to Alaska and Hawaii" (the latter is where he was born, by the way--there's loyalty for you). I don't know what's more troubling--that he could mistake the number of states (even as a misstatement, that's a pretty bad one to make for the man who wants to be president. Can you imagine if John McCain said this? There would be cries of "senile!" all over the media.) or that he lets other people tell him what to do (just the kind of thing I want in a leader).

*** Apparently this shows that he votes on things he doesn't read and/or understand and that he feels the need to be the Forrest Gump of modern politics, tying his life to famous people and events. Is there something wrong with having a largely unremarkable life? Do we need politicians who grow from myth, having thrown coins over rivers, split logs, overcome polio, or survived sinking PT boats?

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