Revisiting race and religion

1969TimeYesterday we looked at that Pew report which criticized the mainstream media's coverage of Obama's speech on race and religion. The report claimed that the media got the race angle at the expense of the religion angle. I thought of that when reading about the absolutely horrific Democratic primary campaign that was waged by Nikki Tinker against incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen. Tinker is black, Cohen is Jewish and the district is majority black. Ben Pershing of the Washington Post's Capitol Briefing blog reported on recent ads from the Tinker campaign:

Tinker's last two TV ads have been particularly rough. In a spot released earlier this week, a black local former county commissioner criticizes Cohen for not supporting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The ad includes images of a hooded Klan leader and a burning cross.

And Tinker's most recent ad accuses Cohen of voting against allowing children to pray in schools -- a charge his campaign denies -- even "while he's in OUR churches slapping hands and tapping his feet." Is the "OUR churches" line a reference to Cohen being Jewish? It's not exactly clear, nor is it clear whether Tinker's late attacks will do her campaign any good.

She lost. In a landslide. But while Pershing reported, correctly, that the contest focused heavily on race, gender and religion, other media reports emphasize race -- even while reporting about anti-Semitic fliers being distributed. One was titled, "Why do Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus?" If you can't find a religious angle in that, you should have your vision checked. Still, the New York Times report by Adam Nossiter began this way:

Race Takes Central Role in a Memphis Primary

In the culmination of a racially fraught Congressional campaign in Memphis, a black candidate is linking her liberal-leaning white primary opponent in Thursday’s contest, Representative Steve Cohen, to the Ku Klux Klan in a television advertisement.

Similarly, U.S. News & World Report called the tactics "race-baiting." (It strikes me that this is inopportune timing for Matt Bai's upcoming piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.)

No one would deny that Tinker ran a racist campaign, but the means by which that racial message was targeted to voters was through religion. Forgive my editorializing here, but it's wonderful that such a campaign would fail. But that some campaign strategists thought religion was a good carrier for the message -- and that voters disagreed vehemently -- is an interesting angle that is mostly lost in the coverage.

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