Several outlets yesterday mentioned a pro–George Zimmerman demonstrator in Houston who carried a sign that read, “We’re Racist and Proud.” As Breitbart’s Brandon Darby makes abundantly clear, the sign was actually the work of an anti-Zimmerman protester (identified by the Gateway Pundit as Renee Vaughan, a progressive activist from Austin). Vaughan intended the sign as a sarcastic reference to Zimmerman supporters, a group of whom were present along the route of an anti-Zimmerman protest march through the city’s elegant River Oaks neighborhood last Sunday. Darby notes that one source of honest confusion about the sign may have been the vague wording of a Houston Chronicle article about the competing protests, which did not mention the sign but included the following sentence:
At one point, Renee Vaughan of Austin mocked protesters by chanting, “We’re racist. We’re proud. We’re better ’cause we’re white.”
Yet a single, somewhat vague sentence does not excuse the rapidity with which mainstream media outlets picked up on the photograph and the theme of pro-Zimmerman white racism. The New York Daily News carried the photo above with a caption describing Vaughan as “a George Zimmerman supporter” and mischaracterized the original Chronicle story; the U.K. Daily Mail screamed “We’re Racist and Proud” atop its rundown of the weekend’s protests; and Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell mentioned the sign (again, without referencing Vaughan’s anti-Zimmerman sympathies) while appearing last night on Hannity. The News and Mail stories are still up, as of this posting.
In fairness to Vaughan, there is no evidence that she was a “left-wing plant,” as alleged by the Gateway Pundit (which, adding to the confusion, also misattributes a quotation from the Daily News story as being from the Chronicle). In fact Vaughan made quite the opposite clear, telling Breitbart’s Darby, “This sign means that there are people here who are racist and apparently think that’s OK. I’m not one of them. I’m being sarcastic.” The blame for the distortion rests squarely on reporters and commentators who jumped at what they took to be a picture-perfect demonstration of the hateful backwardness of their ideological opponents.
The story of a proudly racist Zimmerman supporter is what some might call a useful heuristic. It suffers only from the sole defect of being untrue.