NPR doesn’t interview authors who find liberal bias in the news media. But it does interview its own contributors when they attack Fox News and media that feeds "fear and prejudice." On Thursday’s Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan welcomed on Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times to discuss his new book for a half hour. It's titled "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation."
Deggans opens the book by talking about his verbal battles with Bill O’Reilly, and explained his title “comes from the fact that Bill O'Reilly called me a race-baiter on his show years ago for the articles I've written criticizing the way he talks about race, and also talking about conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh and other people on Fox News Channel.” Conan began the segment by talking about America’s increasing racial prejudice (which they must think is Fox-based):
CONAN: With less than a week to go before the presidential election, a Pew poll released this week suggests the election may be the most racially divided in history. A lot of reasons for that, but it's symptomatic of what media critic Eric Deggans called a divided America, where almost every group can find media outlets that play to its interests, including some that exploit racial fear and prejudice.
Minutes later, he cited another poll finding increased prejudice:
CONAN: An Associated Press poll released last week found that racial prejudice has increased since 2008. It showed that a slight majority of Americans express prejudice towards blacks and towards Latinos...Eric Deggans, that AP poll asked people, among other things, to indicate how much they agree or disagree with statements like: Irish, Italians, Jewish and other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up; blacks should do the same without special favors. What do we make of a question like that?
ERIC DEGGANS: I think it's trying to get at that sentiment that somehow black people remain aggrieved about the oppression they've endured in way that other groups who came here as oppressed minorities did not. But of course, you know, none of those groups were brought here in chains as slaves. None of those groups were officially defined as non-humans for hundreds of years in this country.
And those groups didn't have to deal with the brunt of official segregation, legal segregation, legal subjugation - even as late as the 1960s. So we're talking about a very different circumstance. And, you know, one of the things I try to talk about in the book is this idea that black and white race difference is, sort of, a special scar in America because of those things.
Conan tried to help Deggans to emphasize he didn't evade issues on the liberal side, since Deggans resents that MSNBC hired Rev. Al Sharpton as a "journalist" instead of handing a show to an actual black journalist, and Deggans found it unseemly that Sharpton would do a show on Trayvon Martin after leading a rally on Trayvon Martin.
They began the interview discussing how John Sununu sounded prejudiced when he questioned that "conservative" Colin Powell endorsing Obama a second time:
CONAN: And Governor Sununu walked back that statement a little bit, but Eric Deggans, that's one of the moments in this campaign where racial attitudes have come out quite starkly.
DEGGANS: I talk about something in the book called "linked fate," and it's this idea that some academics talk about that says that people of color, black people in particular have done this, make some choices based on the welfare of the entire group and not necessarily their own welfare, right?
So someone like Colin Powell, who is a Republican, calls himself a conservative, and has served under Republican administrations, also is very sensitive about the issue of affirmative action and very sensitive about making policy choices that relate to the welfare of African-Americans in general in this country. And so how do you talk about that without sounding prejudiced in the way that John Sununu did? That's a big challenge.
PS: One caller did sound a slightly cynical note about the Obama campaign:
NEAL CONAN: Let's go next to Cynthia, Cynthia on the line with us from Jacksonville.
CYNTHIA: Hi. I just came from Obama Michelle Obama's speech in Jacksonville, and we waited in line for a long time. And I'm white, but the majority of people were black. I would say probably 80 to 85 percent were black. And when we got inside, we were standing, waiting, waiting, waiting. And they brought in a group of people that apparently had been out there to sit on the stage behind where Michelle Obama was going to speak.
But the group behind her did not look like the audience. They had apparently, in my opinion, kicked out people that look like America. In other words, it was very diverse. It wasn't 80 percent black back there. And so I thought how odd that they want to show, they want to give the impression that the support is equal for all races, which I suppose there's a reason for that strategically. But I - it just struck me as very calculating, and I wondered if you have any thoughts on that.
NEAL CONAN: Am I being too cynical, Eric Deggans, to say I'm shocked -- shocked -- to hear that politicians might jigger the background?
ERIC DEGGANS: Yes. Speech a few days before, tightly contested election that's divided by racial lines, and they were manipulating what the background looked like. I - you know, that's sort of job one at political rallies.
CYNTHIA: I guess I'm naive. I kind of was surprised they did that.