Pittsburgh Post-Gazette executive editor Keith Burris, if you might recall, is America’s worst newspaper person, and the one responsible for the shit show at that paper this summer. On May 31, Alexis Johnson, a reporter who happens to be Black, tweeted an image of the Pittsburgh-infamous aftermath of the annual Kenny Chesney concert at Heinz Field—a cheeky reminder that one form of looting is definitely given much different media coverage than another. I live a half-mile from this stadium, and these pictures actually understate the mess they cause there every year.
Johnson was punished for this, as she was taken completely off the coverage of the protests. Colleagues who defended her were reprimanded too, including Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Michael Santiago, who was also taken off the protest coverage (and also happens to be Black). As the story became a national one (a “National Embarrassment” according to Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president Michael Fuoco), all Johnson and Santiago wanted the Post-Gazette to do was apologize for their treatment. Burris refused, Santiago eventually quit, and Johnson is suing the paper she still works for.
During this time, Burris has gone on a one-man grievance tour, appearing on Fox News to defend his whiteness, and occasionally writing op-eds so terrible, so clueless, so funny, that you could step back and appreciate them for the performance art it is. I’d be fascinated with how his brain works if I wasn’t already convinced it was just an arbitrarily racist hedgehog with a pinball machine.
Burris’s latest piece begins how most Serious Newspaper Thoughts by Serious White Men With Dire Concerns About the Death of Editorial Objectivity and Totally No Concerns Whatsoever About Their Pathological Inability to Do Their Fucking Jobs do, and that’s with some flaccid, self-congratulatory pablum about Dr. King and dreams and shit.
A friend called me the other day excited about new support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He said he has not felt so hopeful since the 1960s.
Former President Barack Obama says he, too, is buoyed, especially by a new generation of young civil rights leaders.
There is great hope in this moment. It is a movement and moment that could change America.
But there is also a current of exclusion and intolerance afoot in America today, and it is deeply troubling.
Martin Luther King Jr., and many others — Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks, to name a few — built a movement of brotherhood and mercy.
The question is: Will the impulse to build carry the day, or will the impulse to condemn and destroy prove dominant and irresistible?
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This, so far, is standard privileged white male editorializing. Nothing you haven’t read a thousand times before. Bret Stephens burps this in his sleep. But then, a few paragraphs in, it changes form and becomes…something else. Something greater. The world’s whitest butterfly, emerging from a friendless racist caterpillar.
Fascism can come from the far right or the far left: Authoritarianism from the right, and purges of thought, people and speech from the left. Through most of my life in newspapering, most of the bullies came from the far right. Today, in America, they come from the far left, though the fascist impulse is still from the far right in most of the world. But here, today, it is the “woke” who speak openly of silencing potential apostates.
Let me tell you about a few of the tactics of the current woke mob: They bomb your e-mail with what can only be called hate speech. They twist your words and actions. They make up things that you allegedly said and did that you never said or did. They target you and your family on social media. They bully those in their number who seem not angry or destructive enough into submission. They leave anonymous phone messages during hours when they imagine you are not in (they hang up when you answer), and they say things like this: “I am so happy you are suffering. No one deserves it more than you. I want you to suffer more. I know that you will be fired soon and that your name will be besmirched forever. This makes me very happy. I hope all this makes you sick and you die.”
Let’s forget, for a moment, that the greatest bully in America today, with the largest platform and the most power, ain’t the “woke mob” but the actual, literal president of the United States. Instead, please join me in marveling at the fact that the millionaire head of a major newspaper—one whose incompetence and ego might very well end the paper—wrote a whole-ass paragraph in a whole-ass op-ed about his feelings getting hurt by meanies with memes.
I can almost imagine young Keith talking to his mom about neighborhood bullies:
Mom: Yes, son.
Keith: The kids, they’re teasing me again.
Mom: How old are they?
Keith: 11 and 12.
Mom: How old are you, again?
Mom: Just making sure. (Sips whiskey.) What did they say this time?
Keith: That I’m racist. And dumb!
Bullying is bad! It really is! Seriously! There are anti-bullying commercials and everything. But I’m going to make an emergency ruling here, and declare that the bullying of Keith Burris is not bad, but actually good. And not only just actually good, but necessary. Please, I demand you, tease and roast this motherfucker into the cosmos. Shame his shoes. Tell him he smells like rice. Find some pigeons, learn how to speak pigeon, train them, and urge them to shit on his shoulders. And then, from that moment forward, we’ll call him Pigeon Shit Shoulder Boy.
In fact, let’s not even wait for the pigeons. I’ve never trained one, but I assume it can be time-consuming. From this moment forward, Keith Burris shall be named Pigeon Shit Shoulder Boy.