Dazed and Confused

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 15, 1999

LEE DRESSELHAUSL’Observateur / September 15, 1999

So.. The other day I was reading the section of a local newspaper that iseuphemistically called the “People” section. It’s really the gossip sectionof the paper, the place where you can read all about Liz Taylor’s surgery and/or the latest tantrum of one spoiled, overpaid star or another who is demanding a lot more money than they’re really worth for doing very little other than being able to memorize lines and looking good. Anyway, whilereading this section I came across a paragraph about the comedian Chris Rock. It said that, in a Playboy magazine interview currently on thenewsstands, Chris Rock stated and this is the quote from the paper “I could probably hate white people as a group.” Well, now. That’s quite a statement. I happen to like Chris Rock. He’s noton my “A” list, but he’s talented and crisp and I enjoy watching him perform. So it was with a certain amount of dismay and buddingresentment that I read what is apparently a profoundly racist and inflammatory statement from a very public figure. It was reported inquotes in a newspaper, so it must be true, right? My fingers itched in anticipation of the column I would write about this.

Boy oh boy, I had some things to say about that statement. My resentmentlevel went from the first initial blossoming to full-blown red hot resentment. How could anyone in this day and age say anything like that?Anyone who hates any particular group of people is a moron, and a close minded moron at that.

So, purely in the interest of research I went and bought the September issue of Playboy. I wanted to read the full interview so I could reply in myusual tactful manner. I opened it up, going straight to the notoriousinterview, of course. Now I would get the whole story and be able to replyin kind.

Know what? That ain’t what he said. Or, more correctly, he said it, but notin the context reported in the paper. In reply to a question about racismand his how he felt about white people he said and this is directly from the interview ” I look at the individual. I probably could hate white peopleas a group because when I went to school white kids would get together and beat the **** out of me. I’m still a little scared when I see whites ina group because I’ve learned that all groups are stupid. What I hate isanyone who knows better yet chooses to be racist. On the other hand, ifyou don’t know any black people and all you get is what you see in the news, I almost don’t blame you for being racist. But if you know a coolbrother down the block, if you know me and you’re still a racist, then you’re a ******* idiot.” Whoever had written that little blurb on the gossip, er, People page had taken one part of that sentence and reported it as a standing statement, a byte, without qualifying or completing it with the rest of the quote. If youlet that part of the paragraph stand by itself it means one thing. If youbother to read or report the whole paragraph it comes out as something very different. It becomes a simple statement relaying the fear we’ve allfelt when confronted with a group of any kind. Well, this shows one thingfor sure: Like Chris Rock said, if all you see is what they report in the news, then no wonder there is a racial problem in this country.

Sadly it seems that print news reporting, like the other aspects of the news media, is beginning to look more like the tabloids (My Cat Is An Alien Love Child ) and less like the solid, dependable news source we’ve grown to expect. And deserve. To take a small word byte and let it stand by itself is at best irresponsible and smacks of sensationalized journalism. It’s like somemovie critic saying a movie was just terrible and it wasn’t worth watching. A spin doctor could take that critique and report just the bytethat says it’s “..worth watching.” Another critic could say that he wouldrather jam two thumbs up in his eye sockets than see this movie again.

The byte on this would be, Critics rave “.two thumbs up!” You’re certainlyquoting what they said. Just not all of it, and it changes the whole flavorof its meaning.

One would think that the people who write things like this (and things like stories about drug abusing politicians) would check their sources before their stories saw print. And that they would report the whole story. Ornone of it. We readers need to be aware of bytes like that before drawingour conclusions. Bytes bite.I’m glad I bought that Playboy to check the facts before I went off half cocked and inadvertently committed the same offense I’m raving about.

And this time I really just bought it for the article. Honest.

Lee Dresselhaus is a regular columnist for L’Observateur

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