CNN aired a segment Tuesday afternoon pitting a martial arts expert/rabbi against the network's own Don Lemon. It was the network's attempt to tap into the racial fears driving interest in the so-called "knockout game," pushed by blatantly racist coverage from the site World Net Daily. CNN's efforts to obscure the undertones, however, were somewhat undermined by their main guest, who explained that the (black) perpetrators of the game are "attacking weaker people; it's very much like the animal kingdom."
The network is actually somewhat late to the issue, which we wrote about last week. CNN began its coverage by showing video of some of the isolated incidents, showing black men and teens sucker punching people. The idea that this is happening with any frequency has been largely debunked, including by New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at the start of the CNN segment. But CNN wants to talk about it, so they invited Rabbi Gary Moskowitz on to show off his black-belt skills. Moskowitz has a vested interest in promoting the idea of the "game;" he's offering his services to train New York's Jewish community — which he says have been particular targets — to employ against the (nonexistent) threat. His comments start about 45 seconds in.
The issue is ... they're not just attacking Jews theologically. What they're doing is, they're attacking weaker people. It's very much like the animal kingdom. They're attacking weaker people. So they attack elderly women, they attack children. And Jewish people, unfortunately, especially in the Orthodox community are considered weak.
This, he says, is because members of that community "don't eat right and work out."
The "they" in Moskowitz's comments that are acting "like the animal kingdom"? The alleged perpetrators of the attacks: black people. That's why this is "news" worth covering — it taps into the poorly-veiled fear white people have of black people on the street, the source of so many similar "news" stories for decades past. Usually, though, the people talking about the issue refrain from comparing black people to animals.
Lemon was there ostensibly because he is doing a report later tonight about the knockout game. But it was an odd choice, made obvious once Moskowitz started demonstrating how to repel an attacker. Here's Lemon, awkwardly throwing punches at a Jewish man as the man fights back. In the background of the interview, the three or four attacks that have been caught on video played in a loop, reminding the viewer of what these attacks look like. Black men are attacking you. Here's how to fight back. (Lemon noted, correctly, that one video that was shown was from 2012 — hardly contributing to this current sense of panic.)
Among those championing Moskowitz for fighting back against the scourge of the knockout game is World Net Daily, the arch-conservative site that takes credit for starting the media narrative in the first place. The site's Colin Flaherty is proud of his role in bringing these attacks to the public's attention, in part thanks to his book 'White Girl Bleed A Lot': The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It. The book paints racial violence with a very broad brush; Flaherty's columns are more specific. Each of his knockout game columns are preceded with an editor's note: "Colin Flaherty has done more reporting than any other journalist on what appears to be a nationwide trend of skyrocketing black-on-white crime, violence and abuse. WND features these reports to counterbalance the virtual blackout by the rest of the media due to their concerns that reporting such incidents would be inflammatory or even racist."
Because they are. Flaherty's mastered the art of isolating individual assaults committed by black men, tagging them as "knockout attacks," and adding them to his collection. It's confirmation bias; none of his columns mention the countless times a white person has attacked another white person or person of color. That's not the story he wants to tell.
And it's not the story CNN wants to tell either. The idea that these attacks are happening is titillating. Showing a demonstration of how to fight back makes for better television than Ray Kelly's dismissal, and it's definitely better than just ignoring the meme altogether. But if you're trying to get away with a little racial pandering, it's better when your guests don't give the game away.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.