One of the worst things about the 24-hour news cycle is that, because it occurs in real time, and because it is always under pressure to keep audiences tuned in, if not entertained, it demands a lot of jumping to conclusions.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love conclusions, and believe they ought to be a necessary part of journalism, with the proviso that as news develops, conclusions should always be considered provisional.
Alas, rarely are they presented that way. Usually a conclusion is itself conclusive, as in ending a conversation: BREXIT will eat your children for breakfast. More after this.
The chances that a conclusion will end badly rise sharply when said conclusion is jumped to. The swift leap to judgment frequently jumps over things like evidence, context, logic and truth.
Take several conclusions drawn from one memorable episode on the 2016 campaign trail. On June 3, at a rally in Redding, California, when presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump spotted a dark face in the crowd and pointed and exclaimed: “Look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Aren’t you the greatest?”
According to Gregory Cheadle, the African-American in question, the first mistaken conclusion was the one Trump leapt to: that he was a Trump supporter. Cheadle says he has not made up his mind yet on Trump, that he was at the rally because he is a long-shot candidate in a five-way race for the Republican nomination for the local Congressional District hoping to win over some voters.
You can understand Trump’s mistake. Cheadle was carrying a sign that said Veterans for Trump, but he told his hometown newspaper, The Redding Record-Searchlight, both implications were false: he’s not for Trump and he’s not a military vet…he was using the sign to shield his bald head from the hot sun.
I can sympathize.
Here’s a funny thing, Trump blurted his “My African-American” greeting in the middle of an anecdote whose point was the danger of jumping to conclusions. The story, which Trump greatly enjoyed telling, was about another African-American at another Trump rally a few days earlier who had punched out a protestor who Trump says was wearing a Ku Klux Klan suit. Because of that, Trump was saying, people assumed the protester dressed as a Klansman was a Trump fan, and the African-American punisher was anti-Trump because…well, because he was African-American.
That same illogic seems to have shaped news coverage of the Redding, California incident. Trump’s locution, “My African-American” was proposed to be racist condescension. Gregory Cheadle, it was proposed, was humiliated. That conclusion completely overleapt Cheadle’s reaction, expressed to NPR, “I was not offended by it because he had been speaking positively about black people prior to that statement. People around me were laughing that he noticed me, and everybody was happy. It was a jovial thing.”
Far from humiliated, Cheadle told the Record-Searchlight he was gratified and “proud that someone like Trump would acknowledge him in an audience that was 99.99 percent white,” he said. “To give the black folk the time of the day, I was happy.”
By the time the videotape got to CNN, anchor Erin Burnett reported in the no-verb-in-the-sentence style of breathless broadcasting: “The reaction fast and furious.” Adding: “Those comments creating a massive firestorm.”
John Gibbs (@realJohnGibbs) has worked at Apple as an engineer on the iPhone, and has taught technology in Japan, being fluent in Japanese. John holds a B.S. in computer science from Stanford University and a master in public administration from Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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