Lyin’ Lyons

Well, it looks like the beat keeps going on and on, to paraphrase that great old-time poprocker and Republican Congressman, the late Sonny Bono.

Salon.com continues its moral conflicting over the Melissa Harris-Perry article, the one where she wonders if racism is at the core of a lot of faux Progressive discontent with the President.

Gene Lyons weighed in last week, with his response to Elon James White’s response to Lyons’s original article.

You’ll remember Lyons’s hit piece, which dripped blood in blatant racism and sexism.

Since writing that article, Lyons has given an interview to The Grio’s Joy-Ann Reid, and finally, he’s goten around to responding to White’s rebuttal.

Unfortunately, both efforts fall short of what Stephen Colbert would call “truthiness.” In short, Lyons resorts to a pack of lies in justifying his original article; and that’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because I used to admire this man’s talent and his work; it’s also unfortunate, because he and I being alumni of the University of Virginia, I know that if we’d both still been students when he’d written his latest piece, I’d have to accuse him of an honor offence and give him the requisite 24 hours to leave the University, or else risk an honor trial.

In point of fact, Lyons hits the ground running in lies, right from the first paragraph:-

As an honors graduate of the prestigious Gov. Chris Christie School of Charm at Rutgers University, I’ve got a thick hide. Also a satirical bent. Both prove useful in my line of work. Nothing makes me happier than reading angry letters and online fulminations calling me bad names for lack of a coherent argument. Hey, knock yourselves out. Insensitive? It’s my middle name.

This is an outright lie. Lyons is as thin-skinned as they come – or rather, he’s as thin-skinned as his Celtic cohorts Joan Walsh, Charlie “Obama-is-Shaft” Pierce and Bill Maher. Disagree with what they perceive to be the correct opinion (theirs), and they block you from the content of any of their social network pages. Also, Lyons fretted publically on his Facebook page about the repercussions of having written his article.

On the 1st of October, in reply to remarks posted on his Facebook page, Lyons wrote:-

It appears the article could cost me the Salon gig. They posted a rebuttal by a pal of hers whose idea of an argument was to call me a motherfucker, invited a reply, but haven’t used it.

The referred “pal of hers” was Elon James White, and Lyons was either being disingenuous in casting himself as the victim or else he didn’t read White’s article properly. Either way, his rationale here amounts to a blatant lie. White categorically did not refer to Lyons as a “motherfucker” – either directly or by implication.

First of all, here is what White had to say about the actual concept that racism exists on the Left:-

You can like Dr. Harris-Perry’s theory or not, but 1) its a theory not an etched in stone condemnation and 2) it’s based in reality. It’s based in feelings many in the Black community have wondered when hearing attacks from White liberals. It’s based in issues that have been previously pointed out within the progressive movement. You could make the argument that race has nothing to do with White liberals issues with Obama and I wouldn’t have an issue with that. But to dismiss one of the great Black public intellectuals of our time because it made you feel uncomfortable is completely ridiculous.

And that’s the problem. Dr. Harris-Perry made folks feel uncomfortable.

White liberals enjoy the concept that they are immune to accusations of racism. They’re LIBERALS. They obviously are totally and completely not racist so how could you ever dare even pose the possibility of such a thing? Matter of fact? Since White liberals are so “obvi” not racist they can dismiss this feeling amongst Black folks as silly and tell them to stop it. You can even get all Dave Sirota on us and say how this hurts the civil rights movement. Because questioning the possibility of racism obviously makes equality harder right?

You have no idea how many times I’ve actually had people from the left – and I consider myself, definitely, politically left – adamantly declare that there was no way possible anyone who identifies with the left or leftwing causes could ever be consider racist. Racism simply does not exist on the left.


It actually doesn’t exist on the left, because the Gary-Hart-for-Lunch-Bunch of affluent and entitled upper middle class (that’s middle class, in the old, original sense) elitists who appropriated the Democratic Party in the early 1970s, effectively purged the party of that element they perceived to represent racism – specifically, the poor, working class and white rural Southerners and Midwesterners, traditional Democrats, as well as the white ethnic manual labourers of the Rust Belt … and the unions of the day.

Were these people racist? Undoubtably there were racists amongst that lot, some overtly so; but many were not; and what this lot of smug appropriators achieved was merely to replace one lot of racists with a different lot, who practiced a subtle and patronising form of racism, but racism all the same.

They just hid it better.

And White ends his rebuttal by referencing Lyons’s unflattering comparison of Melissa Harris-Perry to Michele Bachmann, and, herein, comes the “motherfucker” allusion:-

Lyons compared the Scholar Harris-Perry to the publicly mocked known idiot Michelle Bachmann. How did Lyons think that was going to work out? You mock the concept that as a White man you might not always understand everything about racism, then you degrade a brilliant Black mind and compare her to a wilful White idiot who has said websites full of dumb shit. Oh yeah. You’ve just won me over. White Liberals are sooooooo not racist.

I’d like to point out that I know Dr. Harris-Perry. She’s been a supporter of my work and even appeared on my show. I also have worked with Salon, where Gene Lyons wrote this trash and they’ve allowed me a platform for This Week in Blackness. Fact is, my working relationship with Salon probably influenced this article. Because of it I deleted all of the instances of “Muthafuckas” in this piece out of professional courtesy. Referring to a place you contribute on occasion as “These Muthafuckas here…” is probably a good way not to contribute there anymore.

But seriously. These Muthafuckas here need to stop it.

Does Elon James White call Gene Lyons a “motherfucker?” No.Does he imply it? Not directly. His final sentence “These Muthafuckas here need to stop it” could easily refer to the triumvirate of Salon shills writers who chose to respond to Harris-Perry’s article – Joan Walsh, David Sirota and Lyons – each response, respectively, trying to outdo the previous in snark, snideness and utter contempt. (And each response convincing a tranche of reader even more fervently that these people, these “mothafuckas” were, themselves, the worst sort of closet racist).

After that introductory foray, the whole Lyons has dug for himself quickly becomes a trench:-

Occasionally, my instinct for comic exaggeration leads me astray. That happened when I recently lampooned a column by Melissa Harris-Perry charging President Obama’s liberal critics with covert racism.

“This unfortunate obsession,” I wrote, “increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought … Harris-Perry’s becoming a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV.”

The KKK line was definitely over the top, a violation of the “Hitler Rule,” which holds that the first person to call somebody a Nazi loses by default. My goal was to make people think, not emit steam from their ears.

What I should have written is that reducing President Obama to a racial symbol is both politically self-defeating and “resembles a photo negative of white racist thought.”

Turning everything into an issue of ethnic identity contributes nothing but bad feeling: All heat, no light. It’s a gift to right-wing hysterics portraying Obama as a Muslim extremist, a Socialist one-worlder, etc. It also appears to be Professor Harris-Perry’s stock in trade, about which more later. Maybe academia isn’t the only place in American life where it’s possible to call people bigots and expect them to prove their innocence. But it’s definitely one of a very few.

The bold script is mine.

First, Lyons attempts a walk-back of his original article, by saying it was a “lampoon.” Now, Lyons, himself, has a PhD in English, of all things. Surely, he, more than most would know that a “lampoon” is an extreme form of satire; and his article was no satire. It was vicious, vindictive and mean.

And his assertion that his aim was to make people think, rather than anger them, is a walk-back too.

The first two responses to Harris-Perry’s article, Joan Walsh’s rebuttal and that of David Sirota, appeared almost simultaneously and within hours of the original article appeared on the internet. They were essentially gut reactions made in response to an article which obviously struck a nerve. In short, these two felt high umbrage at having what they felt to be their personal prejudices exposed, even though Joan Walsh has been regularly called out in her racism by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the past three years and Sirota is on record as comparing supporters of the President to KKK members.

But Lyons wrote his article in response, not to Harris-Perry’s original article, but rather to her rebuttal of Joan Walsh’s meandering and mean response, speficially to this observation by Harris-Perry regarding remarks made by Walsh:-

I believe we must be careful and judicious in our conversations about racism. But I also believe that those who demand proof of interpersonal intention to create a racist outcome are missing the point about how racism works. Racism is not exclusively about hooded Klansmen; it is also about the structures of bias and culture of privilege that infect the left as well.

Which brings us to a second common strategy of argument about one’s racial innocence: the “I have black friends” claim. I was shocked and angered when Salon’s Joan Walsh used this strategy in her criticism of my piece. Although I disagree with her, I have no problem with Walsh’s decision to take on the claims in my piece. I consider it a sign of respect to publicly engage those with whom you disagree. I was taken aback that Walsh emphasized the extent of our friendship. Walsh and I have been professionally friendly. We’ve eaten a few meals. I invited her to speak at Princeton and I introduced her to my literary agent. We are not friends. Friendship is a deep and lasting relationship based on shared sacrifice and joys. We are not intimates in that way. Watching Walsh deploy our professional familiarity as a shield against claims of her own bias is very troubling. In fact, it is one of the very real barriers to true interracial friendship and intimacy

I can well imagine Harris-Perry being livid at the way Joan not only presumed a friendship had developed from a professional association, but also used that “presumed friendship” as a credential for Joan’s increasingly shakier claims of being post-racial.

Lyons, ever the gentleman when the occasion suits him and benefits a sympathetic victim – or rather, someone adept at presenting herself as a victim in order to eke sympathy. Joannie had written a snotty-nosed, but nicely condescending response to Melissa; Melissa fired back, politely and professionally. And Gene took the gloves off. In doing so, he insulted Harris-Perry’s intelligence, her gender and her race. He was massa defending mistiss against the uppity black girl.

But just when you think Lyons couldn’t sink any lower, he does.

No, I shouldn’t have compared Harris-Perry to Michele Bachmann, a known politician. Ann Coulter would have been more apposite, but I find her singularly unappealing. And don’t tell me Harris-Perry’s winsome smile shouldn’t matter; it’s a TV show.

Anyway, if Harris-Perry expects people to defer to her Ph.D., she needs to raise her game. Even if comparing Presidents Clinton and Obama on purely racial grounds as “two centrist Democratic presidents who faced hostile Republican majorities” made any sense, her case fails to survive even cursory analysis.

Had she submitted her column to me in a seminar, I’d have handed it back marked “Be specific” and “Logic?” and urged a rewrite. She argues that President Obama’s record is at minimum “comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected.” However, she provides no examples of liberal bigotry directed against Obama. Not one. In that sense, there’s no argument to refute.

Not content with insulting this woman’s intelligence, race and gender, he goes further and insults her personality, before pulling rank on her in “age and experience.”

Ann Coulter is a nasty piece of work, the Rightwing ying to Bill Maher’s yang – not even factually accurate and guilty of saying the most despicable of things about innocent people. Melissa Harris-Perry is none of that, and the “winsome smile” reference is just plain sexism. But his assumption of the role of the patronising professor handing down a judgement on an undergraduate’s effort is appallingly condescending in a way Joan Walsh could never pretend to be.

Sorry, Gene, but Harris-Perry was never your student, and you have no right to lecture her intellectual content on this point.

You lose.

And once again he echoes Joan Walsh’s petulant demand that Harris-Perry prove evidence of liberal racism. He did that, himself.

In fact, he offered the cack-handed defence of his non-racism to Joy-Ann Reid in The Grio interview:-

In this case, everybody who’s angry about [the Salon column] is African-American, and everybody who’s favorable to it is not.

Once again, a blatant lie. Plenty people who aren’t African-Americans and who read Lyons’s despicable piece were repulsed by the obvious racism within. I’m even more repulsed by the latest attempt to mask this as the sort of banter that occurs regularly in academic circles.

It simply isn’t, and all this proves, ultimately, is that not only are the likes of Lyons and Walsh as racist as anyone they deride from the Right side of the political spectrum, but their attempts to hide what’s been exposed can only be seen as pure cowardice.

I suppose this is what Melissa Harris-Perry meant by insidious. I see now that Joan Walsh is subtly beginning to push Ron Paul’s positive points in her Twitter feed. I suppose Gene Lyons will follow suit.

Stormfront will be pleased.