Last night on Anderson Cooper 360, there was a political panel discussion that focused on the growing doubts over whether racial epithets had, in fact, been hurled at members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the day of the Health Care vote in Washington, D.C. The segment led with video of Andrew Breitbart repeating his offer of $100,000 to be donated to the United Negro College Fund if anyone provides video and audio proof of the alleged event.
The exchange that follows is notable for a handful of reasons. First, the way Cooper frames the subject and introduces the discussion:
COOPER: On March 20th, near the end of the bitter health care debate, Representative John Lewis, Andre Carson, Emanuel Cleaver say that some demonstrators, many of them Tea Party activists, yelled the “n” word as the Congressmen walked from House office building at the Capitol…
… Roland (Martin, CNN Political Analyst), what about that? I mean, if — if this happened, you would think there would be video by now. Does that — the fact that it is still being discussed. Is that a win for the Tea Party?
This is a new direction for CNN, which is desperately trying to reposition itself between Fox and MSNBC as the “objective” alternative, as well as other news outlets. Until recently, the “N-word” slur has been reported as engraved-in-stone fact. Now, the discussion is no longer about the alleged racism of the activists as much as it is about the validity of the charges.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALSYT: No, I think it’s — I think it’s dumb on the Tea Party’s part to be focusing on this. I mean, if you are trying to create an actual movement, this is the last thing you want to continue talking about. You want to be talking about policy. You want to getting folks involved. You don’t want to be constantly reminding people of the possibility that the “n” word was used because all you’re simply doing is having a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it just makes no sense if you’re trying to create an actual movement.
First of all, tea party members taking advice from Roland Martin is about as wise as Code Pink taking advice from Karl Rove. But notice that Martin’s response is not an indignant denial of the validity of the question itself. He doesn’t jump on the “if Lewis, Carson and Cleaver said it happened then it happened, no video proof is necessary” talking point. No, he seems to want the subject changed. Given that Mr. Martin is practically a cheerleader for President Obama, one has to wonder why.
Then, as the conversation moves to David Gergen (CNN’s version of a conservative) Gergen does something very un-Gergen-like. He actually thinks for himself, instead of spouting conventional wisdom:
I do want to disagree with Roland about the point about — about the Tea Party and the question of Congressman John Lewis walking across that street. That was an important moment. The accusation that he had been called the “n” word and spit upon was a searing moment during the health care debate. And many of us took it as sort of like that’s what happened. Now, if it didn’t happen, I think it’s important to know that or if somebody was an impostor. Now we’ll have to — maybe we’ll never know. But I think it and the Tea Party has every right to sort of say, “Hey, wait a minute” or Andrew Breitbart just said, “Wait a minute, if it didn’t happen. Let’s get that clarified.” Because it did turn off on awful a lot of Americans.
Indeed. One might characterize that kind of hunger for the truth as journalism.
Yesterday in the Washington Post, columnist David Weigel (yes, the guy who’s always on with Keith Olbermann) continued to validate the concern over how this story was fed to the press and why they ran with it:
I think we’ve seen a paradigm shift, and that the March 20 story will be remembered by conservatives as evidence of how the media accepts attacks on conservatives without due diligence.
Now, as we read quotes from Rep. Carson asking not to dwell on whether the incident actually occurred but instead to “move toward a dialogue that explores why this kind of divisive and reprehensible language is still making it into our political debate,” and as Rep. Cleaver backs off of his claim of being spat on (now that the whole world can see that it was inadvertent spittle from a shouting protester) we can see that the people who first made these allegations are now trying to change the subject.
But, for Rep. Carson to claim that we must “move toward a dialogue that explores why this kind of divisive and reprehensible language is still making it into our political debate” is asking those with whom he wishes to “dialogue” to accept the premise that the divisive and reprehensible language actually occurred.
Let’s have that dialogue, Rep. Carson. But instead of the conversation you wish to have, let’s instead explore why in the course of a political debate your side of the argument continually and relentlessly and without any basis insists on labeling your opponents as racist?