Were Reporters Used to Spread 'N-Word' Narrative?

Ever wonder what it must be like to be standing right in the middle of the action when a huge story breaks? Thanks to Kerry Picket at the Washington Times, you can come close to that experience. Except, in this case you can hear how events transpire when an unproven rumor gets spread to reporters and then gets promulgated as if it were a huge story.

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Pickett has the audio of the very moment Rep. Andre Carson (D, Ind.) breathlessly relayed the dubious claims that racial epithets were hurled at the Congressional Black Caucus fifteen times on the day the Health Care Bill was being voted on . The exchange between Rep. Carson and the group of reporters makes a few important points quite clear:

  1. Rep. Carson has a very specific story he wants to get out and he keeps repeating the same bullet items, as if they might be talking points.
  2. No reporter ever actually heard the alleged racial epithets.
  3. Any report that stated as fact that racial epithets were hurled fifteen times should have been qualified with either an “according to Rep. Carson” or an “allegedly…” For reports and headlines to state that these charges are fact without any kind of qualifier is misleading, at best.
  4. Rep. Carson is not known to these Capitol Hill reporters. Was he the one sent out to tell this story for a reason?

Due to the tireless reporting by blogger Doug Ross on the timeline of the story, it seems clear that the first report of these charges came from the self-proclaimed “un-official blogger of the Congresional Black Caucus,” Lauren Victoria Burke. Her matter-of-fact report on Twitter that day ended up being the catalyst for many reporters to go with the story, and to launch copy-editors’ headlines that removed the attribution:

Rep Andre Carson told me that teapartiers yelled the N word at him and John Lewis on their way to the last vote. The Hill about to report.

[audio: http://media.washingtontimes.com/media/audio/2010/Apr/06/a_carson_intvw.mp3]

Here is the transcript of the audio. I have highlighted what I consider to be the “talking points” that Rep. Carson insists on circling back to.

REP. CARSON:John Lewis…n – word, n – word at least 15 times…hundreds of people, and Capitol Police finally became aware and started protecting us. I want to know…those people who had cameras. I would love to get the actual .

REPORTER: When did this happen…just now….right before votes?

REP. CARSON: Just now.

PICKET: What exactly happened? I’m sorry. I came in late here.

REPORTER: Outside of this building?

REP. CARSON: Cannon….coming out with John Lewis out of the elevator with his chief of staff, and it was just the three of us walking down the steps — ‘kill the bill’, ‘kill the bill’…n – word fifteen times.

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REPORTER: How many people were saying it?

REP. CARSON: Maybe out of…how many people are out there?…four hundred? Maybe fifteen people about fifteen times.

REPORTER: What were they saying? Just ‘kill the bill’?

REP. CARSON: ‘kill the bill’ and then the n – word (imitates crowd yelling racial slur) Lewis, his chief of staff, and myself (a former cop) I’m closer to Lewis… [we were] very stoic, looked straight forward, and Capitol Police got the idea. They started surrounding us. It was like a page out of a time machine.

PICKET: What are your thoughts on the crowd outside in general?

REP. CARSON: It’s America. Welcome to America.

REPORTER: I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.

REP. CARSON: Congressman Andre Carson…Indianapolis, Indiana seventh Congressional district–myself John Lewis and his chief of staff. It was unbelievable.

REPORTER2: Coming out of Cannon?

REP. CARSON: Yeah, I expected rocks to come. I mean…I’m walking with John Lewis who walked with MLK. It was bizarre, but he’s been there done that.

PICKET: You were scared of the crowd?

REP. CARSON: Me? No, I’m a former cop, but I became protective of Congressman Lewis, and a person said, ‘I’m being reminded of another time’ as we’re walking. It was like an old sage. For him to say that is (inaudible) been there done that. A young 35-year-old like myself, I’m being protective of the older sage along with this chief of staff. We kept walking. The walk usually takes a couple of minutes. It felt like ten minutes.

PICKET: Do you think the people outside are generally dangerous or no?

REP. CARSON: Oh absolutely. I worked in homeland security. I’m from intelligence, and I’ll tell you, one of the largest threats to our internal security…I mean terrorism has an Islamic face, but it really comes from racial supremacist groups. (inaudible) Its the kind of thing we keep a threat assessment on record [for].

PICKET: From groups like this?

REP. CARSON: Oh absolutely.

REPORTER: Was there any physical? Did they touch? Did they push? No one threw anything?

REP. CARSON: No, no, no. I heard one ‘go Carson’–obviously a Hooiser. It made me feel a little better, but then the Capitol Police finally got the idea–remember, it was just the three of us…my police instinct kicked in, (inaudible) and they got the idea.

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