Thankfully the media circus is beginning to die down over last week’s Confederate History Month proclamation. I ended up watching more of the “debate” on the major news channels than I care to admit. It was downright painful to watch. The most disappointing aspect of it all was the almost complete absence of any professional historians. You would think that the major networks could have mustered up at least one legitimate historian. The closest I saw was a half-way decent interview that Rachel Maddow conducted with Patricia Harris-Lacewell, who teaches politics and African American Studies at Princeton. Unfortunately, the professor’s distinction between two southern pasts didn’t quite address all of the salient issues involved.
More often than not the audience was treated to the same talking heads who clearly do not understand the relevant history. CNN’s Roland Martin had a field day with this issue, which included a lively debate with Brag Bowling. No surprise that Bowling was at times inarticulate, but Martin’s comparison of Confederate soldiers with Nazis and suggestion that they were “domestic terrorists” shut the door on any chance of rational debate. You can read Martin’s recent essay comparing Confederates with terrorists on the CNN site. It is one of the most incoherent arguments that I’ve seen in a long time; I would love for someone to explain it to me. Finally, check out Martin in this little clip with Republican adviser Mary Matalin, who retreats to the old saw that most white southerners were not slaveowners and that most northerners were not abolitionists.
Next, we head on over to Hardball where we find Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews in full combat. Neither of these guys is capable of doing much more than jabbing back and forth at one another and Buchanan’s constant referencing of the Founding Fathers as slaveowners makes little sense. Also on MSNBC is something called the Dylan Rattigan Show. I have no idea who he is nor can I identify the guests beyond their names. Regardless, there is almost nothing worth repeating from this interview. Finally, I share with you a real doozy of an interview with the chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Jeff Davis. Davis does a fabulous job towing the SCV party line and we learn from the woman conducting the interview that there were 500,000 slaves in West Virginia. Oh boy.
It’s hard to believe that with the resources available to these “news” outlets that this was the best they could do in communicating much needed information to the general public. I am tired of hearing those cries about how little our students understand about this nation’s history. If the rest of the nation’s understanding of the past is anything like what was presented as news on this issue over the past week than our children are the least of our problems. In the end our mainstream news reflects our mainstream culture.