Fox News claims NPR wants to ‘cancel’ Tom Hanks over Tulsa op-ed

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<span>Photograph: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP</span>
Photograph: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Tom Hanks remained uncanceled on Tuesday despite a push by Fox News to say he had been, in the latest episode of a brewing controversy over how history is taught in America.

Related: The fight to whitewash US history: ‘A drop of poison is all you need’

Online and on air, Fox News focused on a column by Eric Deggans of NPR, written in response to the actor’s well-received New York Times essay about the Tulsa race massacre and other atrocities and headlined: “Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.”

Hanks’ essay focused on how he was not taught and did not know about Tulsa, in which as many as 300 people were killed in 1921 when a white mob destroyed a prosperous neighbourhood known as Black Wall Street.

The piece was published amid commemorations including a visit and speech by Joe Biden. Hanks appealed for changes to the way history is taught in schools and by the entertainment industry.

“These are wise words,” Deggans wrote. “And it’s wonderful that Hanks stepped forward to advocate for teaching about a race-based massacre – indirectly pushing back against all the hyperventilating about critical race theory that’s too often more about silencing such lessons on America’s darkest chapters.

“But it is not enough. After many years of speaking out about race and media in America, I know the toughest thing for some white Americans – especially those who consider themselves advocates against racism – is to admit how they were personally and specifically connected to the elevation of white culture over other cultures.

“But in Hanks’ case, he is no average American. Or average Hollywood star, for that matter.”

Deggans said he was not calling Hanks racist. “But … in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer, I spent a lot of time investigating the difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist. Anti-racism implies action – looking around your universe and taking specific steps to dismantle systemic racism.

“So I am saying it is time for folks like Hanks to be anti-racist.”

Fox News, however, decided that Deggans was calling Hanks racist, and was calling for him to be “cancelled” – excluded from mainstream culture for holding views deemed unacceptable by the left, a shibboleth of the American right.

An article on the Fox News website noted conservative indignation, quoting Tom Bevan, the founder of RealClearPolitics.com, who wrote: “No good deed goes unpunished. Tom Hanks writes op-ed urging coverage/teaching of Tulsa massacre. Black columnist says, yeah, but when are you going to apologize for making a career out of ‘amplifying ideas of white American exceptionalism and heroism’.”

On-air talent weighed in. News anchor Bill Hemmer discussed the column with contributor Joe Concha. Deggans, Concha said, “deserves all the criticism he gets. And here’s the thing, Bill. NPR, Deggans and perpetual protesters – no matter what Tom Hanks does, it will never be enough.”

Related: ‘There’s a concerted backlash’: Ibram X Kendi on antiracism under attack

Hemmer said: “Well, if he was looking for attention, he’s getting it – but being white in America apparently has a lot of pitfalls.”

Progressives responded. The actor Rosanna Arquette said cancelling Hanks “won’t happen. He’s beloved and a good man and these insane despicable lies about him from lunatics will never stick because they are indeed lies. Fox spews lies daily.”

Deggans said: “Fox News associating my column with cancel culture is disingenuous and inaccurate. And now I have a new deluge of Fox fans who haven’t read my column objecting to something I haven’t said.

“I think it’s obvious that one of the world’s biggest movie stars can make any film he wants to. But my point was that, if he wants to help solve the problem he identified in his own essay, then he can and should take action to do it.”

Hanks did not immediately comment.

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