Wal-Mart "racist" links & CNN – sensitivity makes Soledad stupid

CNN this morning picked up on a story floating around the Internet about how a Planet of the Apes DVDs page at walmart.com suggests MLK and other black-interest titles in its list of “similar items”.

Wal-Mart quickly removed the “offensive combinations” and had a flack say “we are heartsick that this happened and are currently doing everything possible to correct the problem.”

The story I”ve linked to and others I”ve seen don”t say why it”s “offensive” to associate Planet of the Apes with black-interest titles.

I have to assume this is offensive because racist whites often like to compare black people with monkeys. Planet of the Apes = monkeys; MLK = black; Planet of the Apes + MLK = racist. But apparently journalists in America today aren”t allowed to mention this as the “offensive” meaning of the story.

What are the writers afraid of? That somebody who otherwise wouldn”t make the association might go “hey, now that you mention it …”? Or has society become so afraid of rocking the racial boat that now it”s not only forbidden to say anything that could be considered bigoted or racist, but it”s also forbidden to say that somebody said something that could be considered bigoted or racist?

The writers/editors of this story are making an editorial judgment in not explaining why this is “offensive”. Whatever the motivation, it boils down to “we”re not going to perpetuate this perception by telling you what it is.” They might have gone the other way and written “Racist groups often use a baseless comparison of African-Americans to monkeys to further their white supremacist agenda” or something that would both explain and discredit this line of thinking, but they didn”t.

And this effort to condemn without giving context made Soledad O”Brien look like a moron this morning. On their “Minding Your Business” segment – which, by the way, is the poorest excuse for “business” news on televison – Andy Serwer reported that the Planet of the Apes DVD page as well as one for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had the “offensive” links.

Soledad jumped in with the sarcastic quip [paraphrasing] “Gee, why would they link Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the MLK DVD. Why would they link to it from Planet of the Apes? There are no black actors in those films.”

OK, I thought to myself, I get the Planet of the Apes thing. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Yeah, why would they link that to MLK to be “offensive”. Is it because chocolate is brown? Are the Oompah Loompahs simian? The connection was beyond me.

Then I discovered that Serwer actually mis-reported the story. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn”t linked to the MLK stuff like Planet of the Apes. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the MLK DVD (as well as other seemingly random stuff) all linked to the same “similar” titles.

The stories mentioned those other connections as a way of giving context to the screw-up, which appears to be more of a technical SNAFU than any kind of racist statement.

Of course, CNN not only glossed over that possibility, but Soledad jumped right on the Bandwagon Of The Offended and tossed out that Charlie bit. She didn”t stop to think if there”s a reason a Charlie / MLK link would be “offensive”, she just reacted with her non-specific outrage.

Maybe if reporters hadn”t shied away from providing some context, she might have realized where to place her anger.

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