VIEWSrnA Vast White-Wing Conspiracy?rnThe Media and the Race Cardrnby Philip Jenkinsrn^^^^rn1Mrn/rn^^^SS^rn^^^^1^rn~SB^rn^rn/^Arn’Wi N^rnmrn^ ^ ^ ^ ^rn^•^^^^;-> -rn^ ^ ^rn rnI like reading about hate crime: It is such a cheering feature ofrnAmerican life. And while I am always happy to see the excellentrnnews about this kind of offense—ever-rising numbers,rnmore and more crimes in ever-broader areas of the country—Irnvish we could get those statistics even liigher. The reasons forrnmv sahsfachon should be obvious, hi 1950 or 1900, ver’ fewrnpeople cared about the acts that today we call “hate crime.”rnWhile many did agonize over the enduring curse of lynch law,rnnobody paid serious attention to the countless acts of petty malicerndirected against other racial or religious groups, the sort ofrngraffiti and name-calling that today swells our hate-crime statistics.rnAs societv’ became ever more sensitive to these hostilities,rnthe number of attacks and insults declined steeply, and for thernfirst time, it became politically conceivable to count thesernevents. The more hoshle societ)’ becomes toward intolerance,rnthe higher the statistics for recorded hate crimes, which thus becomernan excellent barometer for inter-group tolerance and generalrncivilit}’. I like hate crime for the same rea.son that I likernchild abuse: The less frequently it occurs, the more we see it,rnand the ver’ fact that we are counting it means it is declining.rnIhe virtues of hate-crime figures seem so obvious that it isrnhard to believe anyone coidd take them negatively, but ofrncourse, some do. Whenever the mass media report on haterncrime, it is always in tones of affected shock and horror, and usuall-rnin ludicrously overheated terms—the figures represent anrnepidemic of hate, hate crimes are spiraling out of control, andrnso on. If the federal government records ten percent more haternPhilip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History andrnReligious Studies at Pennsylvania State LIniversity.rncrimes than a couple of years ago, this means that, well, there isrnten percent more hatred. Logically, then, back in the 1950’s,rnwhen the number of recorded hate crimes was zero, there wasrnno hatred, and we all lived in the terrestrial paradise. A moment’srnthought should put that deduction in its proper context.rnIf wc belie’e the media, then at the start of the new millennium,rnafter decades of civil rights and affirmative-action legisla-rnHon, race relations in the United States are getting ever worse —rnworse than the times of lynching and segregation, worse thanrnthe bloody riots of 1919 or 1967: We are living through an epidemicrnof hate. The whole idea is so bizarre as to raise doubtsrnabout the sanit’, or at least the integrit)-, of the news organs presentingrnsuch a picture; Just walk down your street, look aroundrnat your place of work, and you will know it is not true. And yetrnthe overblown coverage of hate crimes is of a piece with howrnthe newspapers and the television news programs represent racernrelations in this country: as a viper’s nest of seething racism andrnbarely restrained white violence. In short, if your view of racialrnconditions in modern America is utterly wrong, quite tainted atrneven’ point, then vou nrust have been following the mass media.rn’rnOne noteworthy example of the media’s hair-trigger responsernon racism was ffie church arson non-crisis which occurred duringrnthe spring and summer of 1996. The story can be told simplyrnenough. Early in ffiat year, fires occurred at a number ofrnpredominantly black churches, mainly in the South, and byrnMarch, media reports were construing the discrete incidents asrnpart of a national wave of attacks by hate groups: There was almostrncertainly a nahonal conspiracy, probably involving the KurnKlux Klan. Within a week or hvo, the stow had developed suchrnMAY 2000/13rnrnrn