August 13, 2018

Ignoring the White Nationalist Rallies

Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally (35780274914)
By Anthony Crider [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is not difficult to understand why the mainstream news media would choose to devote so much coverage to White nationalist rallies. The presence of open racism and hatred has long been regarded as newsworthy, and one could argue that they are serving a public interest by covering it. If we wanted to be a bit more cynical, we could point out that they know their audience well enough to know that outrage is good for ratings. Either way, I'm not surprised that they have been devoting considerable resources to covering these rallies.

I cannot help wondering, however, if choosing not to cover these things might sometimes be a better option. Assuming that the people organizing these rallies want to provoke outrage and attract media coverage, why give them what they want? If the counter-protestors decided not to show up, there would be a handful of angry White guys in silly costumes, some police to make sure they behaved themselves, and that would be about it. It is hard to imagine there would be many rallies if they were ignored.

I know some people are convinced that they have to show up at these things to counter-protest to show the world that "this is not us" or something. I can see why those who live in the particular community where the rally was taking place might feel this way. But if they stayed away, the news media would probably stay away too. And if the news media stayed away, there wouldn't be a need to show anybody anything because nobody would be watching. I'm sure that counter-protesting these things feels good to many of those who do it, and I can understand that too. I'm just not sure the counter-protests accomplish much more than giving the White nationalists what they want. I don't see why those opposed to the rallies would want to do that.

Would the White nationalists continue to have rallies if almost nobody showed up, including the TV cameras? They might initially do so because they'd be confused about what was happening, but I suspect they would not continue for long. How realistic is it to expect the news media not to show up? I think that probably depends a great deal on the presence of counter-protestors. I may be completely wrong about this, but I'd guess that members of the news media would quickly decide not to bother with these things if they knew there weren't going to be any counter-protestors. Without the conflict, it probably wouldn't be as appealing.

No, I'm not suggesting that we should just ignore racism and hope it goes away. I am suggesting that this could be one case where depriving a certain group of people of the attention they crave might lead them to hold fewer of these rallies.