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August 4, 2006

Sambo Joe And The Visual Blogosphere


If you missed the brouhaha, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake briefly became a subject of controversy in the Connecticut senatorial primary yesterday morning.  Having spent the last two weeks traveling with the Lamont campaign while blasting at Lieberman on her blog, Hamsher led off her most recent campaign update at HuffingtonPost with the image above.

What “inspired” the visual was the scramble for Connecticut’s black vote, and what Hamsher pointed to as Lieberman’s crass appeal for it.  (John Dickerson of Slate has a good summary of the whole affair, including Lieberman’s bloviating indignance, and Lamont’s amateurish reaction, distancing himself from both Hamsher, and the blogosphere.)

Obviously, this story is full of visual angles.  There is Hamsher’s role (and the “photo-editorial” responsibility of the blogger), there is the image itself (which, after posting, was quickly withdrawn), and there is the peculiar light this illustration cast on the newswire photos of Lamont’s campaign day.

What follows is a snippet of Hamsher’s apology (or, “non-apology,” according to Dickerson) for the photo-illustration (also featuring a link to a Connecticut site documenting a racial flier allegedly circulated by the Lieberman campaign).  What makes the response particularly BAG-worthy, however, is the question Hamsher poses about the relevance of her choice of images.  She writes:

For weeks, Senator Lieberman has attempted to woo African Americans by pretending to be someone he clearly is not.  Meanwhile, his campaign has liberally distributed race-baiting fliers that have the “paid for by” Joe’s campaign disclaimer at the bottom, lying to the press about their intended recipients.

But for some reason, more questions have been asked about me, a blogger.  With so much at stake this election, is the choice of images used by a mere supporter really newsworthy?

First off, Jane needs to step a little closer to the plate.  This “mere supporter” just happens to attract about 450,000 page views a week.  Also, excuse me for being technical, but the phrase “choice of image” is not that forthcoming, either.  As I understand it, Hamsher didn’t just choose this illustration — she conceived it.

More important, however, is the question of whether a blog image is newsworthy.  Interesting question coming from a site that leads nearly each post with an image, a great many of which constitute strong parody, or almost stand-alone op-ed.

Regarding the image itself, it doesn’t make much sense unless you’re following this contest as closely as Hamsher is.  Beyond that, you have to wonder how much the race question — in a contest between two well-off white guys in Connecticut — really involves platforms and qualifications, so much as it does a (Rovian-style) appeal to a strategic voting niche.

On the visual alone, the use of “black face” is so culturally loaded, it’s hard to believe Ms. Hamsher wouldn’t see this coming back at her.  But then, maybe she truly is missing the visual dynamics of the sphere.  (As a further reflection of the mindset, FDL — in spite of its prominence and heavy use of graphics — has yet to adopt photo or illustration credits as standard practice.)

Finally, doctoring Lieberman side-by-side with Bill Clinton only heightens the blasphemy.  But it’s based on the controversial campaign flier, you say?  Sure.  But, because Hamsher’s post made no mention of the flier, and had nothing to do with race, how were Huffington Post readers supposed to “appreciate” the context?  On the other hand, Clinton’s affinity for the black community and black churches is so widely known, it lends an even harsher edge to Sambo Joe. 

(Because the post did have to do with Wal-Mart, maybe a better choice might have been to make Lieberman’s head an oversized smiley face.)

Lamont-Sharpton  Lamont-Jesse

(click to expand)

Finally, I’m wondering how much Hamsher’s inside knowledge of Lamont’s schedule this week inspired this illustration.  Perhaps Jane’s (unconscious) motivation was to run interference while Lamont played his own race card.  Either way, as the visual fancy of “one blogger out there,” it sure doesn’t make these “other” images seem any more natural.

(image 1: Douglas Healey/AP.  Aug. 2, 2006.  Stamford, Conn.  Via YahooNews.  caption: Ned Lamont center, embraces Tommie Jackson, pastor of the Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at a breakfast with Rev. Al Sharpton.  image 2: Bob Child/AP.  Aug. 2, 2006.  New Haven, Conn.  Via YahooNews.)

  • DonS

    My guess, Jane is so close to the action that, brilliant though she may be, she could not properly evaluate the wider context.
    A stupid image all things considered, with little upside except among the congnoscenti, many of who who probably disassociate with it.

  • wiesseharre


  • Karen M

    What has struck me most about this controversial image (besides the poor judgment of using the image in the first place) is that its defenders keep insisting on putting it in the context of a reasonable response to Lieberman’s race-baiting.
    However central Lieberman’s perceived strategy may have been at the beginning, it became a tangent when no one stopped to consider the impact of that image on the very demographic that is being sought. In fact, I haven’t really seen anyone comment on that, with the exception of a few African-Americans who, understandably, complain that we still don’t get it. Nor have I seen a genuine apology.
    Why was there no thought to how African-Americans would feel or react to this piece, which was destined to become a news story of its own, while hijacking the agenda of Lamont’s campaign? A profound lack of racial insensitivity, I guess. Surprising, isn’t it? And from a non-racist, progressive blogger.
    It occurred to me that perhaps the best question progressive campaigners can ask themselves and each other is: What would Bill Clinton say or do? One thing is for sure, neither he nor his campaign, whatever mistakes they did make, would ever have allowed such a thing to happen. I can only imagine how he must feel as a “hostage” in that odious image. He certainly had enough empathy to feel anyone’s pain, a virtue that the GOP likes to mock. Would that the rest of us could be as consistently empathetic before causing our own such unnecessary pain just to make a sarcastic point.
    Of course, Lamont’s campaign did not allow the image, either, but FDL considers itself an arm of the campaign, if only an unofficial one. So, what does this brouhaha mean for other progressives in cyber-space who wish to help with future political campaigns? Will they be kept at more than arm’s length? Probably. That will be the real loss in this story.
    Why would we even want to approach the smear tactics that we criticize the GOP for using? Fighting back is one thing; adopting their ways is crossing the line.

  • wiesseharre


  • travy

    great points. had this image been posted on her site and attached to a piece that specifically discussed race and lieberman i think its impact would’ve been less harsh. i also think the quality of the image contributed to the blowback. the artist darkblack simply nailed this. his photoshop skills were very seamless, and the choice of images–a laughing joe and slick willy in shades–were deadly accurate and created an image that was immediately shocking.
    i’m a fan of janes and value her caustic tone in a world that clutches its pearls far too often. i do agree however that in the last week of the campaign where joe is on the ropes giving him anything to run with was short sighted. further, when dealing with anything race related–especially when one is not a member of the race being discussed–one should really take into consideration the feelings of others and act cautiously. i get what jane was saying with the image and even agree with it, but the chance that someone would be hurt by this image and the memories it can evoke within the black community is too great and clouds the message…

  • Middleagedhousewife

    Karen M, you’ve said it all for me — the photo seems grossly insensitive to the very community it means to support. While I dearly love Jane’s work 99% of the time, this particular job falls clearly into the 1% region and makes me cringe. It’s in very poor taste.
    As to the question of should Jane Hamsher be the news — no, the photo is creepy and egregious, does not apply to the situation particularly well, and Jane messed up (for once). She should appologize. That’s all that needs to be said.
    The Lamont/Lieberman primary, as close as it is, and important as it is to the people of Connecticut and, less so, the rest of the Dems in the US, should be the focus right now.

  • itwasntme

    I agree the image should have been used with a post about the racial vote-getting angle, but otherwise, it doesn’t get me in the gut, as it seems to get some people. When confronted with a possible prejudicial issue, I reverse it, and see how it feels emotionally. This has given me a very good way to detect real hatred vs editorial comment, and Jane’s is clearly editorial. I’m white BTW, but would never find it offensive to portrayed as black, brown, asian, fat, etc. Myself portayed in condemning blackface might be right on if I was pandering specifically to people of color when I’d given their specific issues a pass in my thinking previously. I think Jane missed how “emotion laden” this image might be for some people precisely because she’s without racial prejudice herself, and it didn’t hold those emotions for her (or for darkblack, who I’m assuming put the image together).

  • margaret

    Hamsher’s motivation was, no doubt, to get attention for herself, which she did get, a photo in the NYTimes. She has made many mean-spirited attacks on her political opposites, and while paraody and satire are valid forms of attack, meaness says more about the perpertrator than the opponent. She did Lieberman a big favor with this image, and insulted African-Americans who have worked hard for decades to eliminate “black face” in American entertainment.
    She is not only mean-spirited, she is insensitive to how other people perceive what amounts to sometimes what seems to be personal vendettas. The language she uses on her website, which is at the gutter level, insults her readers, as well. She has no credibility, as far as I am concerned. I suspect that she is using the Lieberman campaign to further her personal ambition.

  • SEAS

    I think the reason there is so much handwringing about this image is that it is so sledgehammer effective at making its point. When the Rs say the most outrageous things (swiftboating Kerry, e.g.) Ds essentially note how effective it was while sniffing how above such childish things the civilized Ds are. When a D makes an attack in kind, and her own side is so quick to trash her, perhaps it more than anything else explains why the Rs are still in charge. This image wouldn’t be such a flashpoint if there weren’t so much truth behind it.

  • Nezua-Limón Xoloquinta-Jonez

    itwasntme: You cannot “reverse it” to understand. That assumes that the White race has the same history as the brown races or non-white races. If you are to “compare” how you would feel, there must be a conversation taken into account in your mental comparison. A translation/conversion that takes into accout, O, manifest destiny, genocide, lynchings, oppression by means of psychological undercurrent in the media, schools, and history books, etc. Of course you wouldn’t mind being brown. Brown people are beautiful, and they are the underdogs (We are) who have to struggle against idiotic and aggressive and cruel racism and inertia of racism.
    I disagree that Jane used the image because she is “without racial prejudice.” What she is, what she has demonstrated she is, is “without awareness of her racial ignorance.”
    I understand the point she was getting at. But intelligent people understand the collective image pool accessed by the public, the history of those images, and the resonance of such. Ultimately, only a White person would think of using this image here in America to further any point. Period. That tells you all you need to know about it.

  • Karen M

    “Ultimately, only a White person would think of using this image here in America to further any point. Period. That tells you all you need to know about it.” I second that. And I am a white person.
    I would just like to add one thing: if I had made the comment that I made above on FDL, I would have been branded a Troll, and it most likely would have been deleted. Just something to ponder…

  • readytoblowagasket

    Jane Hamsher said: “With so much at stake this election, is the choice of images used by a mere supporter really newsworthy?”
    This is a classic sentence only a true asshole can utter. With “so much at stake” in this election for whom? For Jane, obviously, since she is compelled to downplay it.
    What makes it newsworthy is that Jane’s “choice” reveals her to be a SPECTACULAR idiot. Then her inability to see her mistake reveals her to be an asshole squared.
    Yep, it’s newsworthy, Jane. Just not in a good way.
    Oh, and it says something about Ned Lamont, too.

  • Lindsay Beyerstein

    Honestly, I can’t believe Jane thought this one would fly. She must remember the scandal that broke out when Steve Gilliard dressed up a pol in minstrel garb before an election.
    I have to admit, the image cracked me up, but it’s only funny if you’re following the Lieberman/Lamont race minute-by-minute. The gag is that Joe painted himself in blackface and that Clinton played along. This is a good metaphor for the offensive, condescending way that Joe Lieberman is courting the African American vote in CT.
    Still, the use of blackface for a cartoon aimed at a general audience is insensitive and inappropriate.

  • King of Pants

    Firedoglake has always has a faint Committee for Public Safety vibe emitting from it; whoever the Enemy of the Day is, they go after with no holds barred. The problem isn’t that Jane’s mean, it’s that she’s not mean enough; to really give into the full spectrum of rage (a lot of it warranted by current events, IMHO) would mean having to look at the Democratic side of the six-year clusterfuck we’ve been involved in.
    More than anything, though, it proves that bloggers are starfuckers. Groupies. Sure, you can throw up a blog and think you’re running with the big boys, but to politicians, bloggers are usable at best. Useful idiots, I believe the phrase is. I think that Jane realizes this, and she wants to get a piece of the action (just like Markos). The problem is that she has absolutely no clue what her actual role is, merely her own perception of it. And yeah, Ned’s happy to have supporters and such, but slightly off-kilter woman making bizarre blackface Photoshops to “help”? Why don’t you just throw a Nazi armband on one of them while you’re playing with unbelievably loaded racial imagery? Never mind the minutae of Lieberman’s race-baiting or whatever; it is politically stupid to go near blackface.
    And that’s what’s going to keep people like Hamsher on the outs: they have no clue how the game is played. And if she (or anyone else) thinks the game is going to be changed because people discovered Blogger…then, well, bless her deluded little head.

  • travy

    say what you will about the wisdom of using the image or the sharp elbows at firedoglake, but to claim jane is a self-promoter, star fucker, or anything else beyond a genuinely concerned progressive activist is ignorant. sorry guys, but you’re wrong on that account…

  • black dog barking

    Two months ago, just before the runoff election for Duke Cunningham’s congressional seat the Democratic candidate for that seat answered a question from the audience that may have cost her the election. Subsequent Republican ads claim she advocated voter fraud by non-citizens, a ludicrous charge. The loudly trumpeted (ludicrous) charge deflected enough attention away from Congressman Cunningham’s confessed short comings to keep the seat Republican.
    Methinks this “controversy” is taken from the same playbook. I’ve been around for a while (graduated high school at the height of the Vietnam war) and the only instance of contemporary blackface I recall is from Spike Lee’s brilliant Bamboozled, 2000. For me whatever outrage the Clinton / Leiberman image conjures is trifling compared to what I feel looking at nearly any picture having anything to do with Mr Bush’s war in Iraq, an endeavor that commands unflinching public support from old Joe. I can understand Senator Lieberman wanting to change the subject.

  • Mark Denney

    I think the image is spot on. Lieberman is a poser of the worst kind – he’s posing as he panders while being a guy who’s done nothing significant for blacks. He’s trying to pander votes because he can’t face the real issue (and the one that is dropping his numbers) – his position on Iraq. As long as the current mess is going on in the mid-east, his numbers will continue to drop.

  • mugatea

    It’s really fun to watch people using modern tools such as Photoshop to express themselves.
    The production quality on this is poor,
    but the impact is,
    like, holy Joe!

  • Rafael

    I feel the sentiment, but Jamie ended up shooting herself on the foot. First it makes Clinton look bad (Bill that is) and Dems are not allowed to do that (even when old Holy Joe did it himself back in the day) and second “Black Face” as in WTF!?!?! Had she used words intead of images, it would probably worked better, but then it would not be in theBAG.

  • catfood

    I think Jane’s heart was in the right place but her judgement (in this case) was poor. She’s old enough to have known better. On the other hand, if she ever encounters Ted Danson they’ll have something to talk about…

  • MB

    Itwasntme wrote:
    Hamsher’s motivation was, no doubt, to get attention for herself, which she did get, a photo in the NYTimes.
    I’ve been watching this whole mess with a mixture of Cassandra-esque horror, since, as both a long-time blogger (now on hiatus) and a political operative (the reason I’m on hiatus), I sadly worried about this eons ago. But this morning’s NYTimes piece really knocked me for a loop, as it obviously was penned _after_ the controversial event. The photo in the Times was not a “stock” photo – it appears, at least from the article, as one taken to supplement the Times piece.
    As a 20 year operative, I just have to say, WTF? Has the Lamont campaign not laid down the law? I’m not saying drop Hamsher like an anchor (that would only keep the story in the cycle for another day or so,) but make sure she now treats the press as if they had avian flu. No one associated with a campaign, even well-placed “volunteers”, should speak to the press without the knowledge and/or approval of the offical campaign press secretary. So what was with the story in the Times this morning? This is now the third news cycle running focusing on the event. Hasn’t anyone figured out you don’t continue to feed a story if you want it to die, especially the weekend before the election? (…insert Dean scream here…)

  • Carolyn Kay

    Jane Hamsher is one of the reasons that we netizens are considered “crazed”. Here’s an example.
    Carolyn Kay

  • dead earl

    i don’t understand what everyone is going on about. Has this image been Photoshopped in some way?
    Why is no one mentioning Lieberman’s secret stash of fake faces he keeps around? There’s a natural explanation for everything.

  • cfinstr

    It shows the world at large that a significant portion of the Democrat/Socialist party thinks nothing of poking fun at people using racially divisive caricatures because they theink that the rules of basic human decency do not apply to them in their superior self-deluded “ivory towers”. Pretty pathetic display. A sort of “visual fruedian slip”….
    The media is working hard at saying…. “Nothing to see here… Lets move along…”
    A really funny event…

  • Rafael

    Rule # 1 of the Internets: DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS!

  • Bob

    Had this been a political cartoon rather than a PhotoShopped photo, I suspect the uproar would have been just a murmur.
    The racial slur, if there is one, consists of an attack on white people who pander to an audience by trying to create an image of something that does not exist. The minstrel shows of the last century pandered to a white audience, while Lieberman is pandering to a black audience. Should that make a difference, in a non-racist society?
    Or is it an ethnic slur because Lieberman is Jewish? Arab protests show photos of Israeli leaders with Hitler mustaches added. Whose line does that cross? At least they make their point.
    Has anyone asked any black Connecticut voters how they feel about this artwork? I guess we’ll find out Tuesday, how they feel about Lieberman.

  • Cactus

    I’m not an FDL reader, but it appears Ms. Hamsher should take a couple of steps back and look at the reality around her. Anyone over 15 should remember the flack directed at Ted Danson (and Whoopie) when he did a black-face routine at a roast. So even a black woman can misjudge the effects of black-face. But Hamsher should have taken note of it. It smacks of willful ignorance.
    Incidentally, she is also slamming Clinton by depicting him with ’sambo’ when, as The Bag states, his affinity for the black community is so widely known. The Bag also alludes to Hamsher ‘running interference’ for Lamont. If indeed this is what was going on, I believe she should choose between campaign participant or blogger. As MB said, If hamsher is getting THAT involved in a certain campaign, she should relinquish blogging for the nonce.
    I also don’t believe any one born in this country (or anywhere else, for that matter) is without prejudice. The best we can hope to do is to recognize it, be sensitive to it and behave above it. If Hamsher had more sensitivity about the feelings of others and less about her own, I don’t think this would have been an issue: she just wouldn’t have done it.

  • Cactus

    Does anyone understand the comments by wiesseharre?

  • readytoblowagasket

    I thought Hendrik Hertzberg’s single short piece in The New Yorker did more to effectively blast Lieberman than any verbage Jane Hamsher has spewed like a manic double-fisted-venti-cap addict in two weeks of nonstop blogging or Photoshopping this picture. Besides Lieberman’s support of the Iraq War and his condemnation of Bill Clinton, there’s this little-cited fact about the 2000 election, which to me, is Lieberman’s worst offense of all:
    “Lieberman’s seat was up that year, and he decided to run simultaneously for senator and Vice-President. Lyndon Johnson had taken out a similar insurance policy forty years earlier, but there was a difference. The governor of Texas in 1960 was a Democrat, so when Johnson resigned his Senate seat after the election a Democrat was appointed to replace him. The governor of Connecticut in 2000 was a Republican. If Lieberman had made way for the state’s popular Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, who would have won easily, and if the Supreme Court had allowed Gore to take office, then the new Senate would have split 50-50, with Vice-President Lieberman breaking the tie in favor of the Democrats. But, by insisting on having it both ways, Lieberman single-handedly guaranteed that the new Senate would be Republican—either by a 51-49 margin under a Gore Administration or (as it turned out) by the tie-breaking vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney.”
    I don’t think Lieberman is going to win the primary, but I also think Hamsher fantasized a racial issue where there wasn’t one. It isn’t racist to “pander” to black or any minority voters (if it were racist, there’d be a whole bunch of politicians in jail for doing it), and the term “race baiting” doesn’t even mean what ConnecticutBLOG thinks it means. However, creating and distributing an image that depicts a public figure linked to a racist reference is a shocking no-brainer no-no (unless you have hard proof that would hold up in court). That’s not momentary thoughtlessness; that’s frighteningly stupid. I don’t care how “progressive” Hamsher is.
    Hamsher may have removed the photo-illustration from her piece at HuffPo, but happily she forgot to remove the credit:
    (Graphic by DarkBlack)
    I think DarkBlack did a genius job on the illustration, btw.

  • putnam

    This image is worse than I could have imagined. It’s in shamefully bad taste. It’s an insult to blacks, to Clinton, to Liberman, to Democrats. We’ll see it again, in other hands and other contexts. Publishing it during a political race was a terrible misjudgment, and damaged the candidate. The creator of it will be radioactive politically. The editor who permitted its posting on another website should also be accountable – if there was an editor.
    I kept seeing good things said about firedoglake as a new political website some months back, but after logging onto it a short while, I was disappointed. It was all-Happy-Fitzday-all-the-time, about the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, the source for all the latest lengthy speculations, beyond all sense of proportion. Look what that hubbub came to… and it’s all we’re gonna get, too. Here’s hoping the constant Lieberman/Lamont hubbub has a better outcome, despite this image.

  • black dog barking

    Anyone over 15 should remember the flack directed at Ted Danson (and Whoopie) when he did a black-face routine at a roast.
    I’ve been over 15 for quite a while and Danson’s blackface appearance at the 1993 Friar’s Club Roast hosted by then paramour Goldberg had gratefully slipped conscious memory. Dredging (and Googling) the Danson self-shaming was more cultural than political, this account cites N-bombs and references to the couple’s carnal relations along with Danson’s blackface makeup.
    Does anyone understand the comments by wiesseharre?
    I read weisseharre’s comments with ee cummings in mind, a Scrabble-like remixing of word, definition, and connotation. “Understand” may overstate my appreciation but I’ve found them useful / interesting. Example: the one word “gingersnopes” comment on Karen Hughes’ dancing diplomacy. Syllables speaking volumes.

  • black dog barking

    Link to Danson blackface with working url

  • jt from BC

    Does anyone understand the comments by wiesseharre?
    As, ee cummings is more work than reward for me, I get about two percent of wiesseharre comments, perhaps if I liked puzzles, scrabble or allotted more time, I might do better.
    “Massa-ch(us)E-t(T)’s(?)” –I get the color inference and the State after that I’ve moved on…

  • Cactus

    Ya’know guys, another thought occurs. I remember reading somewhere in the MSM a few weeks (months?) back an article about bloggers and Hamsher/FDL was featured (among others). Now I wonder if, having interviewed her, the reporter sensed some flaw that would lead to a melt-down. One of those put-em-up then knock-em-down operations. In fact, it may have been through a BnN item link.
    Or am I just being abnormally paranoid……….

  • Karen M

    Sorry, Cactus, but I think you’re being paranoid this time. Not that I don’t think there are plenty of good reasons to be paranoid… I have read some of those stories.
    Possibly a reporter may have sensed such a flaw, but that would not be so surprising, because I could see it, too, clear as day, and I started out as a big FDL fan. Sometimes, you can just see what’s coming and know that it is inexorable.

  • jt from BC

    cfinstr…> “Democrat/Socialist party”
    You’ve stumped me again, how can Joe Lieberman’s support and voting record be considered socialism or even represent a smidgen of socialistic behaviour ?
    [socialism - a political theory advocating state ownership of industry]
    “This year The Chamber of Commerce endorsed many Republican Senators, but only two Democratic Senators – - Senator Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (Conn.).
    In supporting Senator Lieberman, the Chamber wrote that “his cumulative voting score with the Chamber is the highest of any Democratic Senator in the Northeast.”
    The Chamber praised Lieberman for supporting the latest globalization boondoggle – - CAFTA – - a cousin of NAFTA – - and for backing one of the Chamber’s top priorities – - so-called “class action reform.” This law allows corporate defendants to move most state class action lawsuits to federal courts in ways which place aggrieved consumers and workers under serious disadvantages.
    Senator Lieberman is the Chamber’s favorite Democratic Senator east of the Mississippi. He voted with them for the notorious Cheney/Exxon energy bill, prompting one political observer to say “he cannot be both against global warming and for this energy bill.”
    He supports every globalizing, outsourcing, pull-down trade agreement – - NAFTA, WTO and CAFTA – - notwithstanding their rejection of labor, consumer and environmental safeguards for the American people.
    Senator Lieberman is waffling on asbestos legislation (pending) that would drastically reduce the financial liability of corporations for this long epidemic of cancer and lung disease and would create a large corporate bailout of liability, with costs to the taxpayers.
    In 1998, he voted to give immunity to the tobacco industry in return for weak FDA.”
    extract from Ralph Nader article

  • Karen

    jane is a great blogger, but clearly screwed up. I hope it blows over, but it would have been better to issue a straightforward apology.
    I can’t imagine what she was thinking.

  • itwasntme

    MB, you’ve confused me with another commenter somewhere above. N Limon X Jonez, I can too reverse it – I’m a white person who has been depicted in blackface (in other words, putting myself in Leiberman’s position). Simple as can be. I think some commenters are confusing a person in blackface with an actual black-skinned person, which goes to show just how far along we all are, or are not, on the scale of thinking about and depicting skin color.
    Jane is a blogger with a lot of readers. She got them by saying what many feel, and had found nowhere else to say it. If she goes too far off the rails, she will lose readers. Also very simple.

  • donna

    Oh, please. In a country where Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are given free reign and mainstream media time to say any crazed stupid thing that comes into their heads, this is ridiculous.
    Yes, Jane posted a stupid picture, she apologized for it and took it down. Get over it.

  • ummabdulla

    I had forgotten about Ted Danson, but I didn’t need to remember that to know that blackface is offensive. She should have known, and so should anyone else who saw that picture before it went public; maybe they did know and did it anyway. And even if she was so ignorant, she should have apologized quickly once she realized.
    Also, I didn’t think that “race-baiting” pamphlet was all that offensive, or that it was race-baiting, for that matter.

  • mdhatter

    FDLs choice of images is no different than a cartoon depicting the same.
    Lieberman is playing politics 70’s style. All dirty tricks and faux indignation.
    Joe brought this on himself. He hasn’t asked a single democrat (not named Joseph Lieberman) what he should be doing to REPRESENT THEM for at least 6 years.
    Self importance only impresses the impressionable.

  • Franklin

    It’s a horrible image, and had no relevance to her post. Posted by someone who lives her life as publicly as JH, of course it is fodder for journalists.
    I love her politics, but Jane’s a bully. Maybe she feels she has to be a bully to be effective–many do–but bully’s, in the end, always do more harm than good.

  • PTate in MN

    She must have been so focussed on making her point that she didn’t think about the context, but how interesting that she came up with the image of Liebermann in blackface to communicate “despicable, untrustworthy.” I use analogies to reason all the time, and I can’t remember a time when a “blackface” analogy occurred to me.
    What does blackface evoke for me, a white American? It disgusts me. It reminds me of something terrible, something immoral, a historical power dynamic between whites and blacks in America that was deeply destructive to both parties–the one side exploitative and unjust, the other side humiliated and abused. My reaction is the swift, hot emotional responses associated with shame: an inarticulate feeling of ewwww, a longing for the wrong to be remitted and embarassment at the public exposure. Then, secondarily, I feel anger at the person who provoked these negative feelings in me.
    I project–and could be totally wrong–that an African-American viewing this image would experience similar emotions from a mirrored perspective. I experience the shame of the perpetrator. I project that an African-American would feel the shame/anger of the humiliated.
    But blackface itself is even more complicated. In a highly segregated world, white men painted their faces black to amuse white audiences with racist stereotypes of (from wikipedia) lazy, superstitious black characters who were cowardly and lascivious, lusted after white women, who stole, lied pathologically, and mangled the English language. This is painful stuff. Today, we are appalled to look back at this music hall tradition.
    This conversation has emphasized how offensive this image must be to African Americans: I would like to point out that the image is also offensive and painful for white Americans, for different reasons.
    Apart from being wholly offensive, I think the image is brilliant. By portraying Lieberman in blackface, the audience–white and black–immediately responds with hot emotions: shame, anger. The image immediately conjures a multi-layered, ugly power dynamic we instinctively want to reject. The simple association–classical conditioning at work–is to reject Lieberman.

  • black dog barking

    More blackface, this time Frank Zappa, 1979.
    In this context blackface presents as a socially permissible method of gaming the “institution” of segregation. The white artist can perform non-white music for white audiences, heavily seasoned with racial stereotypes of course.
    Which leads to a cultural artifact one might call whiteface where the white artist drops the makeup, offers sanitized versions of authentic non-white culture. The marketing success of Pat Boone’s interpretation of R&B in the 50’s is an example of this brand of cultural psychosis. Or maybe Dadaism, Andy Kaufman in white buck shoes.

  • anonymous

    jane is a moron – fdl is nothing but a collection of ill-informed snark. The only reason they are popular is because they promoted the idea of “fitzmas” last year and a set of blogs with extremely questionable “liberal” credentials endlessly proved links.
    Just like faux and cnn – this group of bloggers created a pundit – promoted the psuedo-intellectual rants of a no-nothing that was virtually always off-base on their analysis and just plain WRONG on their speculation.
    Just like the MSM – the incompetence of this new pundit did not matter – and now they are “holiday inn express” style experts.
    Jane and crew failed miserably in their promotion of fitzmas, failed even worse in their “grassroots” project lecture kansas on their backwards way, and are now becoming a liability to ned lamont.
    The endless circle of links that calls itself “advertise liberally” I can accept – but they do not represent liberal values or politics.
    Calling jane’s actions a “controversy” is extremely misleading – it is just another example of the incompetence that proves that the endless circle of faux liberal links has nothing to do with intellectual ability or even seeing positive change.
    Its all about self-promotion and trying to create the illusion of leadership. Just like chimpy and gang – it is a lie.

  • anonymous II

    Within minutes of seeing that image posted at Huffington Post, many horrified FDL commentors began to complain about it. Over a period of a few hours, it hit to quite a crescendo as people begged and pleaded for it to be deleted from the FDL servers, where it was hosted. Christy hardin Smith (curiously, Jane seemed to be out of reach, even by cell phone) became quite snappish and basically told everyone to shut up about it. I guess there were too many people to give them the full “concern troll” treatment and the complaining and begging continued. Even today, people are still condemning the image in the comments.
    In spite of this, Jane has not really apologized, which says that she still just does not get it.
    Whoever noticed the oddity of the timing of the NY Times peice is quite astute. I noticed the same thing — speculating that she did the interview w/out the knowledge of the Lamont campaign, who are after all ultimately responsible for the taking down of the image (complaints from some of her most loyal readers were not enough, apparently.) Hard not to conclude that doing it was a desperate ploy to recover something of her leaky sense of self-importance.

  • Stacia

    I have little to say except this: years ago I saw some talk show interviews with a woman who had written a gossipy book about a famous person. The woman was snotty, argumentative, and clearly riding on the coat tails of the famous person she had written about. I disliked her, and hated seeing her on the talk show circuit for a few weeks. The image of her snarking to interviewers when they asked moderately soft questions she was unprepared for stays with me to this day.
    Two years ago I started reading blogs and Jane Hamsher rubbed me the wrong way. She was always mugging for the camera, so to speak, wanting attention while contributing little of substance to the political discourse on blogs. A few months later I realized she was the lady I’d seen on the talk shows, the one who was riding on the fame of Quentin Tarantino by writing a book that even kind reviewers noted was ridiculous and unintentionally funny. According to what I found on the web, she and a collaborator even “coincidentally” showed up at an event Tarantino was at, and goaded him into punching her collaborator, garnering her a lot of free publicity.
    The woman has an agenda and with this photo she just proves it — she wants attention. She claims she doesn’t get it and she hasn’t apologized because she’s stringing this along as much as possible to get all the mileage out of it she can.
    It’s deplorable, but what bothers me is the way so many leftwing bloggers just fall at her feet. She’s a moderately attractive semi-celeb that they can’t get enough of. Well, this is what happens when you give attention to someone who so desperately craves it. Just like the leftwing bloggers now hate Wonkette, they’ll soon grow tired of Hamsher, and she’ll move on to something else to feed her ego.

  • Cactus

    Brilliant concise analysis by PTate. I can remember the ’30s and ’40s when black-face performances were still around. While I never saw one, I have a photo of my grandfather in black-face (he was in vaudeville) with his partner. Then there was Amos and Andy on the radio and we knew they were white actors pretending to be black. I remember thinking it was curious, but not funny. It did have all the stereotypes mentioned by PTate. The TV program was even worse because it seemed to me that the black actors were pretending to be white actors playing black folks. But maybe that’s just me.
    I also remember visiting “Santa” one year and getting a little book about “Sambo.” On the way back upstairs, a little black girl was coming down to see Santa with her mom. I was immediately embarrassed at having the book and tried to hide it. Don’t know if I even knew why. Guess that’s how racism shames us all.
    There is something to that unconscious perception. It’s out there in the ether (like the evil rantings of Coultergeist) and people can’t ever completely ignore it, good or bad.
    Piling on to what Stacia said, I wonder if this entire episode doesn’t highlight a flaw within the liberal blogosphere. Are we so hungry for dialogue on the left, for answers to the mess we find this country in, that we lovingly embrace anyone willing to boot-up and rant if they say what we want to hear. This might be a reminder that user has more than one meaning and comes in all political flavors.

  • Karen M

    Piling on a bit more after Cactus…
    I think our team has been so hungry, not just for dialogue, but for an equivalent answer to Rush, and Fox, and Hannity, and Coulter, et al, (as well as Rove) that people will latch onto someone with a little charisma and a lot of attitude.
    For some of us, hearing someone who is supposedly on our side use the kind of smears we don’t like receiving from the GOP… AGAINST the GOP… feels almost terminally embarrassing; for others of us, it feels invigorating.
    Couple that with Hamsher apparently wanting to be a rainmaker… or even a kingmaker.
    And it’s a bit like pathological velcro.

  • black dog barking

    jane is a moron – fdl is nothing but a collection of ill-informed snark. – anonymous, 11:41am
    Hard not to conclude that doing it was a desperate ploy to recover something of her leaky sense of self-importance. – anonymous II, 12:25pm
    The woman has an agenda and with this photo she just proves it — she wants attention. She claims she doesn’t get it and she hasn’t apologized because she’s stringing this along as much as possible to get all the mileage out of it she can.

    Just like the leftwing bloggers now hate Wonkette, they’ll soon grow tired of Hamsher, and she’ll move on to something else to feed her ego. – Stacia, 3:37pm
    Apparently Ms Hamsher has an enormous ego and is desperate to be the center of attention. Blackface Lieberman is proof of the magnitude of her need and the depths to which she’ll sink to satisfy her cravings.
    Interesting. I’ve been reading FDL daily since around the first of the year, since about the time Richard Bruce Cheney shot the lawyer Whittington in the face, and I’ve completely missed all the (obvious) self promotion.
    One thing I have learned online is that it is very easy to misread posts and comments and it is very easy to miswrite. Flame wars start quickly. My experience tells me to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to hold single items up against patterns and trends before drawing conclusions. In the case of the Hannitys, Limbaughs, and Coulters those patterns and trends are not hard to divine.
    In the case of Ms Hamsher I don’t see the trend lines remarked by the quoted comments. In geometry any single point portends an infinite number of lines on an infinite number of planes. A second point makes the number of possibilities much more manageable. If Ms Hamsher is so obviously self promoting show me the FDL posts I’ve obviously missed in the six months or so I’ve been reading FDL. She posts several times a day so there’s plenty of source material.

  • momly

    It’s deplorable, but what bothers me is the way so many leftwing bloggers just fall at her feet. She’s a moderately attractive semi-celeb that they can’t get enough of. Well, this is what happens when you give attention to someone who so desperately craves it.
    Is Jane Hamsher the left’s Ann Coulter?
    Maybe someone needs to say this to her and, as black dog barking has pointed out about patterns, maybe she will see the danger she has stepped into and back out of it.

  • Stacia

    blackdogbarking: My opinion of her intentions is based on a variety of sources, and not just on a tiny, limited sample of a few months of FDL posts. I’m not going to waste BAG’s blogspace going through her last 6 months of posts just because that’s all you’ve read about her. A Googling of “jane hamsher” and “publicity” comes up with plenty to chew on if you’re truly interested.

  • black dog barking

    Hey Stacia,
    Thanks for responding. The absence of specific examples of Ms Hamsher’s self promotion argues that, at the very least, it is not obvious self promotion.
    I’m still puzzled by the ferocity of the hue and cry provoked by this image.

  • wiesseharre


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