The Race Card

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Bob Butler
June 28, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and Jon Stewart are feuding over a skit on the comedian’s show in which he tried to mimic Cain’s voice and now the conservative and mainstream media are accusing each other of bias, which has kept the story alive for three weeks.

Herman CainCain was addressing a campaign event on June 6th when he said, if elected, he would tell Congress, “don’t try to pass a 2,700 page bill. You and I didn't have time to read it. We are too busy trying to live, send our kids to school. That’s why I’m only going to allow small bills. Three pages.”

Three days later Stewart played segments of the video from the event and tried to mimic Cain’s voice using African American dialect saying, “bills will be three pages. If I am president, treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box. From now on, the State of the Union address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie. I am Herman Cain, and I do not like to read.”

Since then charges of racism have flown between conservative and mainstream publications and websites. 

Stewart went on Fox News Sunday where Chris Wallace asked if was “planning a remake of “Amos and Andy?” Host Juan Williams interviewed Cain on Fox News and the candidate referred to Stewart using the “Amos and Andy” dialect.

Jon StewartConservative media have accused Stewart of being racist even though Stewart said he was doing satire and Cain told Williams on Fox that the skit didn’t bother him. 

“He’s a comedian. I’m not offended by what he did,” said Cain.

The mainstream media in the form of the Los Angeles Times “Top of the Ticket” blog wrote, “Cain chose not to believe that the Comedy Central comedian was attempting to provide satire; instead the conservative chose to whip out the race card.”

The blog was referring to Cain’s comment that Stewart doesn’t like him because he is “an ABC, an American Black Conservative.”

The story has become a lightning rod because Cain is a national candidate. It also shows the issue of race generates as much controversy now as it did during the civil rights movement.

“The media look for controversy. We look for it because it makes a better story,” said Bill Drummond, professor of journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. 

He said the issue might have gone away were it not for the fact that race is involved.

“Slavery existed longer than it’s been gone. You cannot expect in one, two, 10 or 20 generations for it to disappear. Identity politics are poisoned by this long-standing heritage and legacy of prejudice.”

Some members of the media don’t believe the controversy is worth all the attention.

“Jon Stewart, who has skewered a number of politicians (left and right), has said he is ‘an equal opportunity’ comedian,” said Charles Robinson, political reporter for Maryland Public Television and a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists. “It is a sad commentary on our political discourse that a television show has somehow usurped reasoned debate.”

Robinson said media outlets writing about the Cain/Stewart flap should do more than just repeat what everyone else is doing.

“Reporters and editors who have cursory knowledge of subjects and who only Google/Wikipedia subjects are just plain lazy. Sorry, these are secondary sources, stop reading press releases and pick up the phone.”

Journalist Nicki Mayo also wonders why journalists are reacting to Stewart like he is a journalist, not a comedian.

“Jon Stewart is not journalist and he’s not even a public affairs host,” she said. “Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly are public affairs hosts. He’s a comedian and he should not be held to the same standard as a journalist.”

Roland Martin, Host and Managing Editor, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," on TV One and CNN Contributor, put it succinctly.

“Jon Stewart is a comedic host on Comedy Central,” he said. “Not CBS. NOT ABC. NOT NBC. NOT CNN. NOT MSNBC. NOT Fox News. Friggin' Comedy Central. End of discussion."



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