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Harry Reid: Obama 'Light-Skinned' 'with No Negro Dialect'



Saturday is my favorite day to read the newspaper. That’s the day reporters and editors print stories they know they have to cover but don’t want to get wide attention. The latest evidence for this theory is the Washington Post’s treatment of the revelation of remarks made by Sen. Harry Reid during the 2008 Presidential campaign:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apologized today for referring to President Barack Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect” in private conversations during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” said Reid in a statement. “I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.”

Poor choice of words? Exactly what other combination of words could Sen. Reid have used to convey his point? And what, exactly, was his point anyway? What was the relevance of these observations? We don’t have the full context for the remark in the Post’s reporting. It simply notes that Reid’s comments are revealed in a new book, “Game Change”, authored by reporters from Time and New York magazines.

Interesting that the two magazine reporters, Mark Halperin and John Heileman, have been sitting on their knowledge of Reid’s remarks for so long. Holding onto such a scoop to promote book sales would be understandable, except that the incident doesn’t even make it into the promotional blurb for the book. Just move along, nothing to see here.

Which got me thinking about Trent Lott.

You remember him, right? The former Mississippi Senator was Senate Majority Leader back in 2002. Attending a birthday party for then Sen. Strom Thurmond, Sen. Lott made an idiotic statement:

‘When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

In 1948, Strom Thurmond ran a third-party campaign for President, based largely on a pro-segregation platform. As you can imagine, a firestorm ensued. Kweisi Mfume, then President of the NAACP said that Lott’s remarks were:

“the kind of callous, calculated, hateful bigotry that has no place in the halls of Congress”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said:

“It was shocking…a piercing voice through the fabric of black America”

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) went even further:

”I simply do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements again and again be the leader of the United States Senate”

It will be curious to see if Sen. Kerry thinks the country can afford to have Sen. Reid as leader of the Senate.

Reid’s remarks also got me thinking about former Virginia Sen. George Allen. Running for reelection in 2006, the called out to a Democrat campaign operative at an event, calling him “macacca”, an obscure french-colonial insult, generally thought to mean “monkey.” (The operative was of indian descent.)

The Washington Post, in particular, seized on Allen’s weird comment and made it a major issue in the Senator’s reelection. They fanned the flames of the controversy so much that the paper’s ombudsman felt the need to review its coverage, noting:

Did The Post overplay the incident? Not initially, but the coverage went on for too long after he apologized. The news stories, handled by the paper’s Virginia political reporters, did not go overboard. An editorial was well done. Then the columnists weighed in, along with Style reporters and editorial cartoonist Tom Toles. No one piece was over the line. But when you put it all together, it looked like piling on.

In edition to extensive coverage throughout its pages, the Post ran at least six front-stage stories on Allen’s remark.

Today, Reid’s remarks warrant only scant Saturday-edition coverage. I should probably take this as a good sign that we’ve apparently moved beyond the issue of race.

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