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Cable TV talks race - We get more agitated, confused

I used to believe a national, media-driven conversation about race would make us smarter and more tolerant as a society. I really did. But that was in the good or bad old days -- depending on your point of view -- when legacy media like network news played a leading role in setting the national agenda.

Now, it's 24/7 cable news and the Internet stirring the cocktail that fuels our nation's after-dinner conversation, and you can see for yourself what a national conversation about race looks and sounds like.

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It's Megyn Kelly, on Fox News, pounding away at the tape of two members of the New Black Panther Party, one armed with a billy club, outside a polling place in Philadelphia in 2008 looking as if they might be agents of intimidation. And it's Kelly leveling reckless charges against other broadcasters, like Bob Schieffer, of CBS News, for not acting on her interpretation of the tape.

Meanwhile,it's MSNBC and even CNN showing the same images over and over of inflammatory, racially-charged, anti-Obama signs from what are described as Tea Party gatherings.

So much heat, so little light, and it all makes the blood boil while driving us deeper into one racial camp or the other -- my cave versus your cave here on the banks of the primordial ooze that it feels like we have barely crawled out of these days and nights when I am watching cable TV news.

We are deep in the midst of a mid-summer conversation about race just as we were last July after Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested in his home by a white police officer. For all the Sturm und Drang and endless hours of cable TV coverage of that event, I now think we learned less than nothing from that one either. Come on, be honest, did anything you read or heard about that incident change your mind one whit from where it was when you first got the sketchy details?

I think part of the problem in the Gates' case was President Obama weighing in without all the facts and then offering a lame it-can-all-be-solved-with-a-shared-bottle-of-beer solution. That's the kind of ending you have on phony, prime-time TV dramas, not when you are dealing with a real-life event and presidential comment that somehow opened the floodgates of repressed feelings about race from coast to coast.

What I'm saying here is the Gates' incident got political at the highest level, and once the spin doctors of Pennsylvania Avenue got involved, the nation only got more confused about what happened between Gates and the cop -- and what the president said, didn't say, or actually meant to say. It was cable TV ping-pong with viewers heads snapping left to right from MSNBC's angry liberal voices, to the equally angry conservative voices on Fox News.

Beyond the New Black Panther Party and an NAACP resolution demanding that the Tea Party purge itself of racist elements, as of today, we now also have the grainy, echo-chamber-like video of an African-American, federal farm official from Georgia telling an NAACP group how she gave a white farmer less help than she could have when he applied to her for financial aid because he was white. She has since resigned. The video, which was copied from YouTube as it appears there, is included with this post. It appeared everywhere from CBS.com to Huffington Post, but who knows for certain the context or editing of these images and words? The video, which started at the conservative site breitbart.com, was under attack almost immediately at liberal mediamatters.org.

There will be more of this ideological, racially-charged back and forth, I believe, before this latest volley ends. You have right-wing and left-wing websites and pressure groups working overtime trying to control the images and narratives -- posting, attacking, discrediting and counter-posting. I know, because my inbox is filled with their releases, links, embeds and jpegs. Such is the new "journalism" of new media, and the video of the former federal farm official who was forced to resign is today's Exhibit A.

And the fact that the resignation was demanded by an Obama cabinet official, along with First Lady Michelle Obama appearing at the convention last week where the NAACP resolution was passed, takes this summer's conversation about race once again to the highest political levels.

How about you? How are you responding to this great and enlightened national dialogue that goes something like this: "Your organization is filled with racists. No, your organization is the racist one. Here I have video to prove it -- and look, here's my favorite cable ideologue interpreting the video just as I do."

Be honest, how do these images and words make you feel? I would love to hear someone say they feel more tolerant than angry. But I do not think that's the level at which cable TV news is now conducting this conversation.

We clearly can't control the runaway train that is the world of new media, but we can reflect on and try to control the visceral reactions some of the more reckless new media programmers seek to exploit.

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