Olbermann Blog Falsely Asserts Supreme Court Overturned Brown v. Board of Education

The following was written for NewsBusters by Jason Aslinger, a private practice attorney from Greenville, Ohio. Portions in bold below reflect the editor's emphasis.

The media’s contempt for the conservative U.S. Supreme Court reached new lows this week when it used a dishonest play on words to imply that the Court was against racial diversity in public schools.

That distortion, however, paled in comparison to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who announced on his blog (appropriately named “The News Hole”) that the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education had been overturned!

Olbermann would have you believe that the U.S. Supreme Court had returned us to the days of segregated public schools.

Under the intentionally inflammatory heading “TURNING BACK HISTORY,” Olbermann's "Countdown" staff wrote:

Two things seem certain in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Brown v. Board of Ed., the Justices having ruled that schools can no longer use race as a factor in fighting – of all things – discrimination: That Justice Anthony Kennedy is the court’s new key swing vote, and that late Chief Justice Earl Warren is rolling over in his grave.

Allow me to give a little bit of history is required to clear up Olbermann’s delusion.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the Court made the regrettable decision to maintain segregated public facilities though its “separate but equal” doctrine. In 1954, the Supreme Court reversed its prior ruling in the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education, where the Court found that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” In the 53 years since Brown v. Board of Education, public school districts across the country have employed various policies in order to guarantee racial integration, which brings us to the Supreme Court case decided this week.

The public school districts in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, Wash., employed elaborate integration policies which included the school district’s ability to assign students to schools solely upon the basis of race, when all the other policies failed to achieve the desired integration.

In other words, after all the students were assigned to schools, the school districts could shuffle a few white kids here, and a few “non-white” kids there, in order to achieve optimal integration.

In reviewing these policies, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority found generally that the policies allowing students to be moved around solely upon the basis of their race amounted to unconstitutional governmental racial classification.

The 5-4 majority decision was agreed upon by the five most conservative Justices, with Justice Kennedy joining the other four with a slightly watered-down concurrence.

In the plainest terms possible, the Court found that the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education was that public schools can not make classifications based upon race, and the Louisville and Seattle policies (no matter how well-intentioned) were at their core classifications based solely upon race.

The bottom line: The Supreme Court’s decision was a pure and passionate defense of Brown v. Board of Education, not a rebuke as Olbermann would have you believe.

In one of the greatest one-sentence summaries of all-time, Justice Roberts wrote: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In essence, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a policy based upon racial discrimination, but the discrimination itself was part of the school districts’ diversity policies. And that is the basis for the media’s duplicitous reporting (particularly its headlines).

Rather than focusing on the “racial discrimination” aspect of the decision, much of the media’s reporting deceitfully focused on the Court rejecting “diversity” and “integration” policies.

In an earlier post, Ken Shepherd pointed out some of the headlines that appeared in the media: “High Court rejects public school diversity plan” (AP via Chicago Sun-Times) and “Supreme Court strikes down school integration policies (LA Times), to repeat a few of the prior examples.

CNN.com actually has a pretty fair article on the decision, but the story remains under the headline “Divided Court Rejects School Diversity Plans.”

In their ongoing assault on the John Roberts Supreme Court, the obvious intent of these headlines is to give the false impression that the newly-conservative Supreme Court is hostile to racial diversity.

It is a pretty lame strategy, but it is also telling in the sense that the mainstream media is calculating that some amount of its readership (probably most of its readership) will only read the headline, but not take the time to read the story that goes with it.

And that takes us back to Olbermann, who goes far beyond misleading headlines. By stating that Brown v. Board of Education had been overturned – and further that the “late Chief Justice Earl Warren is rolling over in his grave,” the MSNBC hatchet-man is reducing himself to the lowest form of race-baiting possible, on par with the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

The dishonest implication is that the conservative Supreme Court Justices (now including the liberals’ new whipping boy, Justice Kennedy) are bigots who want to return our country to the days of Plessy v. Ferguson and segregated schools.

It’s the oldest play in the liberal playbook – when all else fails, smear the conservatives as bigots.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.