powerful legs tliat the network tele’rngan e.rnvision news predictably be-rn:ach evening with Dan Rather or one of his clones standingrngrim-faced in a field somewhere announcing the latest dav’srnoutrages. Deval Patrick, the assistant attorney general for cixilrnrights, described the burnings as “an epidemic of terror.” At thisrncritical juncture, the U.S. Congress demonstrated its courageousrnleadership by unanimously passing the Church ArsonrnPreveuHon Act: huagine going on record with a vote againstrnthat one!rnNewspaper headlines consistently portrayed the attacks asrnsymptoms of social crisis and, frankly, of white malfeasance.rnThe San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “Racism’s SparkrnGlows in Church Ashes” (July 16, 1996), while the WashingtonrnPost noted that “Church I’ires Said to Reflect Racial rension;rnProblem Deep-Rooted, Rights Agency Asserts” (October 10,rn1996). The Seattle Fost-Intelligencer ran a cartoon showing anrnarsonist escaping the black church he has just torched, whilernthe flames throw a vast shadow of the culprit, whose headrnsprouts prominent horns. The New York Times remarked, “Asrnarson cases mount, the burning of Southern black churchesrncauses outrage and recalls a violent past” (June 23, 1996). AnotherrnTimes columnist asked, as “church after church in thernsouth has been destroyed by fire . . . I ask my father across thernoid, who will put out the flames now. Dad? Wlicre can we gornnow to be safe?” How, indeed, could any black person be safernwhen every white had murder in his heart, if not genocide?rnThis was preth much the lesson of the farcieallv melodramaticrnfilm Rosewood, which was released shortlv afterward.rnThe stor)’ culminated widi the mass arrests and reeducationrnof all die people who were practicing hatred in the great republic,rnwhereupon there dawned a new age of peace and jushee: Asrnthe children of the future plaed together free of prejudice orrnintolerance, onlv very old people recalled a bleak time whenrnpeople had been judged by anything less than the content ofrntheir character, or when so vile an implement of hatred as arn”gun” had been owned by a private citizen. 1 he previous sentencernis cnfirely bogus, but it is scarcelv more improbable thanrnanvthing else in diis unhappy stoiy, with all its images of shadov’-rndemon figures assailing the communih in the night: Rememberrnthe medieval notion of Jews poisoning the wells?rnEverything about the church arson stor’ vas concocted. Ofrncourse, black churches were burning in 1996, as were whiternchurches and Chinese churches, Korean-owned conveniencernstores, and Latino gas stations. There is no evidence thatrnchurches were more likely to be the targets of arson than hitherto,rnnor that congregations of any parfieular edmic hue w erernAutumn Chorernby Richard MoorernWould that I could inside, tucked in, doze:rnnot wrestle old, rotting storm windows.rnWell, if s appropriate, it’s true.rnThe old wrestler’s rotting too.rnI can see, through them, death draw near.rnThis job measures me ever)’ year.rnvictimized more than any other. In fact, arson is a very distinctiverncrime, in that perpetrators normally share certain characteristicsrnin a way that is not true, for instance, of robbery. It isrn’ery often an internal crime: Buildings or institutions are frequentlyrntargeted by people who are involved in a particularrncommunity—white church fires are usually set by whites, blackrnchurches are burned by blacks. In examining any church arson,rnthe first suspect would generally be a member of that congregation;rnthe second focus of suspicion would invariably be arnlocal volunteer fireman, since this line of work so notoriously attractsrnfirebugs—ask any cop.rnArson is rarely associated with political iolenee or terrorism,rnbut is commonly the work of disturbed offenders suffering fromrnsome degree of personality disorder. Incidentalh’, these are justrndie sort of individuals likely to respond endiusiasticallv to a publicity’rnwave b’ committing copycat attacks: Did die media realizernthat their barrage of nonsense might create a self-fulfillingrnprophecy?rnFA’CU if the arson attacks were raciallv mofivated, a nafionalrnconspiracy remained wildly unlikeh, since groups like thernKlan’s Invisible Empire have long been so heavily penetratedrnby law enforcement. Remember the old joke that Germanyrnwould never have a revolution because the police would notrngrant the permit? It is equally improbable that die FBI wouldrnever permit the rightist bands which it controls so tightly to unleashrndie racial holy war for which the militants yearn so passionateh’.rnIn aii’ event, the arrests made in connection widi diernvarious church fires were extremclv dierse: While a handful ofrnculprits were Klansmen, the ast majority had no political tiesrnwhatever, and a good number were black. Some offenders, too,rnw ere certainlv acfing for financial mofives, using die social panicrnto collect insurance claims. There was no evidence of anyrnconspiracy, or at least nothing which went beyond a single townrnor count}’.rnWhy did die media easily buy into the conspiracv stor’?rnDo reporters just grasp at dramatic and emotive storiesrnregardless of political content, or do tlicv demonstrate a consistentrnpartisan bias, on the lines we liae come to expect fromrnhate-crime stories? On the surface, die arson conspiracy narrativernwas appealing, with its images of vicious terrorists attackingrninnocent citizens bv violating cherished places of worship, butrnit was not necessarily any more attractive than a dozen otherrnconspiracy stories in recent years which were far better substantiated,rnand which die media had successfully buried. It still defiesrnbelief that, of all the skeletons in the Clintons’ polifieal closetrnin Arkansas, the media spent their time on the trivial issues ofrnbimbos and $50,000 land deals, while ignoring the abundantrnevidence that Clinton cronies were dealing drugs, runningrnweapons, and generally operating the Arkansas state governmentrnas a crime syndicate. Of course, die media would not berngullible enough to accept wild conspirac’ dieories peddled byrnspecial-interest groups: Reporters were far too busy huntingrndown the countless legions of hooded night-riders wanderingrnthe country to burn black churches. I am sure we have all metrnthem on the roads some dark night.rnThe dicon,’ of deliberate media bias gains some eonfirmationrnfrom the timing of the initial cliarges which detonated the panic,rncoming as they did so eonvenientlv before die 1996 presidentialrncampaign: It is difficult to avoid the conclusion thatrnsome media oudets were running the story to generate supportrnfor liberal and Democratic causes, while odier sources werern14/CHRONICLESrnrnrn