NYT headline: Blackface worn by Virginia AG was "dark makeup"

In fairness, I believe “dark makeup” is official AP style for “blackface worn by a Democrat.”

That headline produced an instant outcry on social media, leading the Times to quickly replace “dark makeup” with the proper terminology.

It’s curious that they avoided “blackface” in the headline to begin with since they’ve been fine with using it in headlines involving another Democrat, Ralph Northam. Maybe the copy editor’s instant reaction to the Mark Herring news this morning was that the circumstances Herring described weren’t as obviously malicious as the photo in Northam’s yearbook. If you’re wearing, ahem, “dark makeup” and standing next to a dude in a Klan outfit, your intent to demean blacks is safely presumed. That’s minstrelsy. If you’re wearing “dark makeup” because you’re an earnest Kurtis Blow fan and lack the rudimentary good sense not to go the whole nine yards in dressing up as him for a party, that’s … stupid and unlikely but maybe not as malicious.

But that’s a fine distinction to make, particularly when the point of the Northam backlash is to inculcate a zero-tolerance ethic towards blackface. It wasn’t just righties who cried foul on the NYT headline above due to perceived bias, it was lefties who detected some backsliding on that zero-tolerance approach by the media. Start describing allegedly “well-meaning” blackface in more innocuous terms like “dark makeup” and you’re bound to lessen the cultural taboo against it, whether you mean to or not. Besides which, it’s poor writing. “Dark makeup” doesn’t inform the reader of what Herring actually did:

That’s the charitable view of the Times’s motive in the original headline, that they were trying to capture the possibility that Herring’s mistake *might have been* less pernicious in intent than Northam’s. The less charitable view is that it’s pure politics. Northam is already damaged goods, with the party having turned against him from top to bottom. He’s even considered becoming an independent since his scandal broke, for cripes sake. Democrats aren’t invested in him anymore — but they are still sort of invested in Herring, just in case Northam finally ends up quitting and Justin Fairfax’s sexual-assault scandal metastasizes. Gotta protect Herring, at least a little. Perhaps that was the initial impulse for the headline, with the NYT forced to beat a quick retreat after the Twitter outcry.

Speaking of double standards and Virginia, meanwhile:

If someone in Kavanaugh’s inner circle leaked that he had spoken that way about Ford, that fact alone would have been cited as a reason to bork him. “Forget Ford’s accusation for a moment,” we would have been told. “Any man who could speak so viciously about a woman alleging sexual assault simply can’t be trusted with power over women’s lives.” Well, Fairfax will have plenty of power over women’s lives in Virginia as governor. What shall we do about it, progressive friends?

By the way, not one of these losers is going to end up resigning. Northam, Fairfax, Herring — it’s a Mexican standoff now.