Why Isn’t the Attack on Larry Elder the Biggest Story in America?

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder speaks during a campaign stop outside a restaurant in San Diego, California, September 3, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A white woman in a gorilla mask threw an egg at a black man seeking to become the first non-white governor of our largest state, and the media shrug.

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A white woman in a gorilla mask threw an egg at a black man seeking to become the first non-white governor of our largest state, and the media shrug.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE {D} o a search for “Larry Elder” and gorilla on the CNN website and nothing comes up. Washington Post? Zilch. Nothing comes up on the New York Times site either, although if you make it to the 15th paragraph of a story entitled “The Vice President pushed back against the effort to recall Newsom in the Bay Area,” you will find a bland passing reference to Wednesday’s disgusting incident. According to our nation’s media leaders, it’s not a story that a white person wearing a gorilla mask attacked Larry Elder, a black man seeking to become the first non-white governor of California, by hurling an egg that touched his head.

If Elder were a Democrat, the attack would have been instantly and with good reason dubbed racist. It would not only be front-page news, it would be just about the only news you were hearing about today on CNN and MSNBC. Charles Blow, Perry Bacon, and Jamelle Bouie would each be writing the first in a series of angry columns about it. So would Gail Collins, Jonathan Capehart, Jennifer Rubin, Michelle Goldberg, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Dana Milbank, and Ezra Klein. We would be treated to multiple news analyses about the history of the usage of gorilla tropes against blacks. Joy-Ann Reid, Rachel Maddow, and Don Lemon would be doing hour-long broadcasts on the attack, convening panels discussing just how the attack pulls the scab off racism in America, and proves we have so much work left to do in dealing with the problem. Vox would commission a series about California’s grim history of racism dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Asian-American and Latino writers would hasten to explain that California’s historic hostility to all sorts of persons of color is as traditional as its Tournament of Roses parade. Three-thousand-word essays about the brutal, unknown history of lynchings in the Golden State would be published in The Atlantic and/or The New Yorker. Al Sharpton, exhibiting a combination of exhaustion and despondency, would be a guest on half a dozen cable TV shows.

The woman who threw the egg at Elder would find her picture, her name, and everything she’d ever said on social media scrutinized at great length and on the home pages of the leading news sites. Her appearance would be mocked by late-night comedians. Dozens of reporters would be sent out to learn this woman’s story, to check out where she lived, where she worked, and where she went to school.

Remember what happened when a white woman in Central Park told a black man she would mention his race in the course of reporting his threat to her dog on a 911 call? That was a huge nationwide news story, despite having happened the same day as the murder of George Floyd, and even though the people involved were just ordinary New Yorkers — neither of them an important candidate a step away from one of the highest offices in the country. If Elder were a Democrat we’d be told there is a vast and wide-ranging racist plot to stop California from electing its first black governor. The stakes are a bit higher than “white dog lady calls cops on black bird-watcher.” Isn’t our democracy itself imperiled when a white person in a gorilla mask tries to leverage racism against a popular black candidate?

To its credit, the Los Angeles Times did mention the attack on Elder, although its headline elided the nastiness of what occurred in what smacked of victim-blaming: “Larry Elder cuts short Venice homeless encampment tour after hostile confrontation.” If Elder had been a Democrat, I suspect the headline would have been “Racist attacker in gorilla mask lobs egg at Larry Elder.” After burying the lede — the California paper mentioned the attack in the second graf, the race and costume of the person attacking him in the fourth — the report did say “ape characterizations have been used as a racist trope for centuries.” But that was it, the sole reference to racism in the story. The LA Times didn’t bother to investigate Elder’s attacker, nor even provide her name.

Please do not insult me by pretending that you do not understand the context and history of black folks being subjected to gorilla references. Please do not tell me that a person wearing a gorilla mask who targeted a Democrat would not be tagged as guilty of the most vicious variety of racism. Please do not tell me that progressives can’t be racist.

Pause for a second, just a second, and consider what might have happened in this country if a white person wearing a gorilla mask had nearly hit Barack Obama with an egg during his 2008 campaign. (And then punched a member of his security detail who intervened, as the California woman did.) Do you think perhaps that CNN might have been able to squeeze in a mention or two? Is there any possibility at all that some New York Times columnists might have weighed in on the matter? Do you think the Washington Post might have noticed?

Editor’s note: The first paragraph of this post was updated to reflect the New York Times mention of the incident in its story on Kamala Harris’s visit to Northern California.

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