Few things annoy me more than the accusation that financial winds caused a change in my worldview. My critics allege the tone, point of view and subject matter of my columns have pivoted from my days at the Kansas City Star and ESPN.
My casual detractors complain that I sold out to the political right, to FOX News, to the almighty dollar. My harshest reviewers say my work brings shame to my departed mentor and friend Ralph Wiley and contradicts my two-decades-long assertion that the David Simon-created crime drama, The Wire, explains my worldview.
Late last week, the Washington Post published a profile story on Clay Travis and the work we’re doing at Outkick. The writer of the piece, Ben Strauss, politely insinuated that I massaged my writing perspective to fit an alleged business strategy geared toward appeasing politically conservative sports fans.
Via email, Strauss asked me: “Is there anything you’d like to say about your evolution from The Undefeated to your views today?”
Strauss did not publish my response. He instead wrote his own interpretation of my alleged evolution, writing:
“Whitlock, like Travis, has had his own evolution. Five years ago, he was tasked with building ESPN’s The Undefeated, a site designed to cover the intersection of race and sports. After Deadspin exhaustively reported on his clashes with staffers, he landed at Fox Sports, where he devoted himself to speaking out against athlete activism and the ills of social media.”
My worldview has not evolved. It’s sharpened. My previous work does not contradict my work today. Great journalism follows the truth wherever it leads. The truth does not have a political point of view or political party. It’s why I reject politics, the distorter of truth.
Reject does not mean ignore. When it comes to criticism, I’m a political free agent. Sarah Palin’s substance-less bid for the vice presidency repulsed me, and I frequently expressed my revulsion via social media and in my written work. In 2008, I wrote a column for the Huffington Post celebrating my disdain for Palin.
Why am I not equally repulsed by Donald Trump’s acquisition of the presidency?
Am I sexist? Have I changed? No and no.
Circumstances have changed. Political corruption and media malfeasance elected Donald Trump president. His rise is a consequence of the media’s abandonment of truth. Constitutional democracies cannot function properly without the aid of a free press exploring and exposing truth.
Thomas Jefferson rightly believed a free press was more important than government. Good, truthful information powers sound decision-making.
The Wire, the greatest piece of journalism in television history, foreshadowed everything we’re experiencing today. The show spelled out how politicians pit the police against black citizens for political gain. And in its final season, The Wire showed the American media’s complicity in political corruption and its affinity for false narrative over facts.
Fictional Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Templeton sold Detective Jimmy McNulty’s serial-killer narrative with the same enthusiasm reporters now sell the police serial killing of unarmed black men. McNulty and his peers complained that their bosses, politicians and the media “juked” the violent-crime stats to advance their careers.
TV critics say the final season of The Wire is the show’s weakest because of the serial-killer storyline. Now, after watching the media and politicians “juke” and racialize unarmed shooting stats, Season 5 of The Wire gets better and better.
Working-class police and poor black people are pawns in a political game being played by politicians and the media. It’s repulsive. It’s a threat to our way of living and freedoms we’ve grown to take for granted. A large segment of Americans have justifiably given up on politicians and view the media as enemies of the people.
I don’t blame them. Racial tension in this country is bubbling toward Civil War levels because a tiny handful of criminal suspects have refused to comply with police instructions and an even smaller handful of police have responded with excessive deadly force. The media and Democratic politicians have spun these rare occurrences into a fundraising/political campaign and clickbait machine titled Black Lives Matter.
Until the media follow and report the truth, many Americans will continue to look for presidential candidates willing to call out the liars above all else.
My entire column-writing career has been built on calling out false media narratives because I know the danger of lies. Have I changed?
I won the Scripps Howard Journalism Award for Commentary in 2007 primarily on the strength of two columns. 1) The column I wrote stating Don Imus’ insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were irrelevant in comparison to the misogyny found in commercial rap music. 2) The longform, reported piece I wrote exposing the false narrative of the Jena Six case.
Have I changed? The mainstream media changed. I wrote those pieces for the Kansas City Star. Shortly after I left the Star in 2010, the newspaper deleted the pieces from the internet. American newspapers are ashamed of the truth.
Have I changed since leaving ESPN and The Undefeated project? My critics send me the column I wrote in 2014 “Why Black Folks Can’t Breathe.” They point to it as proof that my criticism of LeBron James’ social activism is dishonest. The piece explores the ramifications of America’s drug war and subsequent mass incarceration of black and brown men
I’m not sure my critics read the column. They certainly didn’t comprehend it. Here are a few excerpts:
*Segregation by incarceration (SBI) has pitted the African-American community vs. the police. Segregation has never been a shadowy, impossible-to-pin-down conspiracy. It’s been an American way of life. The people who opposed the Civil Rights Movement and the end of segregation did not hold a news conference, concede defeat and pledge support for racial equality. They hatched a new strategy.
*Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice — God, rest their souls — are symptoms of a far more insidious crime. At this point, Brown, Garner et al are more media distraction than useful symbols. Capitalism and television can be quite undignified. They routinely transform victims into props, ratings-driving talking points for Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow and Charles Barkley and megaphones for opportunists masquerading as heirs to Dr. King.
*Dumbed-down, irresponsible Twitter hashtags won’t stop segregation by incarceration. They empower it. They keep the national conversation steered away from the real problem and real solutions.
You want to curb police brutality? The American media have to prioritize discussing complicated issues in a nuanced, informed and transparent fashion.
Our republic fails without an informed public. We’re not informed. We’re entertained.
Every theme that I write about today is mentioned in the piece I wrote in 2014 for ESPN. The entire conceit of the column is that the media are misleading the public about what’s really fueling the emotions and actions of black athletes. The athletes don’t understand what’s driving their behavior. That’s not a critique of athletes. Human beings often do not understand what motivates them. We often pay therapists thousands of dollars to help us figure it out.
Journalists are supposed to serve as America’s therapists. We’re derelict in our duties, and our country is failing because of it.
If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact email@example.com.