The American media is so predictable. Two important trials took place within the past month and a half. One trial – we all know – concerned socialite Paris Hilton, whose forbears created the international Hilton hotel chain. The other concerned six black high school students in Jena, Louisiana. We all heard about the Paris Hilton trial. Even those news reporters who “didn’t want” to talk about Paris Hilton’s confinement to jail made a show of “not talking” about Paris. Everywhere the American audience looked, on all the large broadcast and cable networks, some reporter was rolling her eyes, looking annoyed, and saying, “Oh, no, not this Paris Hilton story! Why do need to know or care about her?” Yet no one spoke for the Jena students.
The Jena students were placed on trial for second degree attempted murder. And why? Because they had been involved in a school fight. And why, you may wonder, did this school fight begin? Because some white kids — as a joke — placed three nooses in the schoolyard, reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. Louisiana, racist as ever, found a way to put three kids into prison forever because of a school fight. Ah, America! The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Interestingly — or perhaps not so interestingly — none of this ever showed up in the American media.
Folks from different countries may not realize this, but American media is a business like any other. Through their polls and “research” they know what sells. They know what will make Americans tune into their various news programs. And they tailor their stories to that. At this point in our history, Americans want to hear controversial stories about gay marriage, illegal immigration, the Iraqi war. Americans do not want to hear controversial stories about continued racism. Frankly, it bores most people, humiliates others, incites many, and annoy some. And American news programs want to keep their viewers. They don’t want racist white Americans being mad at them, or non-racist white Americans feeling as if their country isn’t that wonderfully perfect city set on a hill.
I long ago accepted the fact that the mere occurrence of events did not make “news.” I understood early enough in my life that news was about selling and that meant the news programs we saw generally promoted something someone wanted to sell us. Lobbyists, advertisers, publicists, are everywhere. They know what to sell to the American public. And they know how to sell.
Fearful talk sells! Therefore morning shows are filled with discourses on diseases, possible pandemics, the latest missing white girl story, and the latest terror alerts. (Stay tuned to this channel for more on the increased terror alert!) Fame and keeping up with the Joneses sells! Therefore they always have some consumer segment showcasing the latest gadgets or the latest celebutante. And as they fill us with fear, greed, and lust, the advertisers such as the large pharmaceuticals and the great technological companies reap the benefits of our greed and terror. What does not sell is news about missing black women, news about what’s happening in other countries, or news about racism in America.
I’m not saying that we don’t get a lot of news. Occasionally some real news slips through – news about stuff that is actually happening. Not news of things which might happen, not pundits and prognosticators chattering away about pseudo-important issues. But for the most part, the American public is fed a lot of fear, greed, and provincial silliness.
I had hoped the news media would have found some room on their Paris Hilton schedule to discuss the Jena trials. So far, the outcome of the fist trial doesn't give me much hope. Mykal Bell, one of the accused black boys, has been found guilty of second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second degree battery. In my opinion — and in the opinion of everyone who has been following this case — he was found guilty because his defense lawyer was incompetent, because he was poor, and because everything hinged on the "he hit the white kid first" accusation.
Of course there were other witnesses who say the white kid hit first, but remember, this is the American south. It's also the American justice system where rich folks (O.J. Simpson, for instance) get away with murder, while poor black kids involved in a simple schoolyard brawl will be sentenced for attempted murder. It would seem that six boys are to be placed in prison for a very long time because racism in Louisiana and the United States likes equating blackness with violence. A sentence has been handed down which will devastate many lives — and Americans aren’t even aware of it. Of course, why should they be aware of it? It’s not news.
There are many people who feel compelled to do something about this injustice, however. Some concerned citizens have put a petition up at Petition Online. One can hope for the best in these cases, but knowing the media, the justice system, and American racism, it is often safest for the heart to prepare for the worst.