PBS Doc Falsely Blames Big-Spending Nixon for Punitive Repression of Blacks

News & Politics

The Riot Report,” the latest entry in PBS’s historical documentary series American Experience, regrets the lack of influence of the radical 1967 government-issued report on race relations, widely known as the Kerner Commission Report. The report’s infamous concluding statement encapsulated liberal pessimism on race, and that the billions of dollars spilled out for anti-poverty programs wasn’t nearly enough: “This is our basic conclusion. Our nation is moving toward two societies. One black, one white. Separate and unequal.”

The two-hour PBS program was larded with left-wing voices like Elizabeth Hinton of Yale University, and Jelani Cobb, dean of Columbia Journalism School. Before the main course, a small sample platter was another cold serving of misguided Nixon-bashing.

Hinton came out against preventive policing designed to keep crimes from happening. ”The police also supported tactical patrol units who walked the streets in order to prevent crime before it occurred. Essentially subjecting people of color to a set of laws that people in middle-class suburban and white communities would never be subjected to,” she said.

Later, she enthused the Kerner Commission wanted even more spending to address the inner city “rebellions” (don’t call them riots).

Jelani Cobb of Columbia was pleased that the report led to more media diversity and coverage of urban issues “with more nuance, and more balance” — in other words, the coverage became even more liberal as the 1960s and 1970s wore on.

In February 2023, Cobb appeared on PBS to forward the wild argument that the five black police officers who killed Tyre Nichols could have been motivated by self-hatred, having internalized “white supremacy.”

Robert Kennedy, who would run for president in 1968 before being assassinated in Los Angeles, was lauded by another hand-picked liberal historian, John Powell of the UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute (gee, wonder which way he leans politically?):

I think Robert Kennedy really cared about the country. And increasingly to him that included marginalized people, including African Americans….I have to believe, maybe ’cause I wanna believe, that if Kennedy had lived, the Kerner Commission would’ve lived and the country would be in such a different place. But instead Nixon comes along and says, we’re not doing this.

The producers found a convenient long-time liberal bogeyman in new president Richard Nixon.

President Nixon, archive: For the past five years, we have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed, programs for the cities, programs for the poor, and we have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustration, violence, and failure across the land. I say it’s time to quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed in the United States of America.


Hinton: Lyndon Johnson had introduced a new punitive element in national policy. Of course, Johnson did this alongside his ambitious social welfare program. But when Richard Nixon took office, he abandoned the social welfare part and really seized on the punitive elements of the Great Society and expanded them.

Over the scene of Nixon being sworn into office, Hinton lamented: “So we begin to see even more aggressive policing tactics being embraced by national policy makers. We begin to see more draconian laws and sentencing provisions being enacted. And the carceral state continued to expand.”

Commission staffer David Boesel huffed that the riots ushered in “a racially conservative political era in which law and order and repression pretty much prevailed, and that suited most of the white citizenry of the country.”

Despite the liberal conventional wisdom spouted on PBS, Richard Nixon, his administration actually proposed a precursor to the left-wing notion of Universal Basic Income and ended up expanding the welfare state, according to scholar Richard P. Nathan: “Over the six years Nixon held office, Nathan writes, total domestic spending rose from 10.3 percent of the gross national product to 13.7 percent.”

No such inconvenient thoughts pieced the left-wing tax-funded bubble.

Columbia’s Cobb paid tribute to Kerner via a left-wing “touchstone,” the 1992 Rodney King “uprisings” (or as normal people know them, riots): “My first serious engagement with the Kerner Report was in 1992, in the aftermath of the Rodney King uprisings in Los Angeles…”

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