Earlier this week, conservative media figure Andrew Breitbart seized upon a New York Times story correction as proof that Civil Rights hero John Lewis (D-Ga) and others were “lying” when they claimed that a crowd of protesters had hurled the “n-word” at them as they walked to the Capitol to vote on health care reform.
Breitbart supports his claim by submitting “conclusive” video “evidence” that nothing “racially charged” occurred on March 20, 2010. I took a closer look at the NY Times correction, and Breitbart’s video, and it doesn’t take much to poke some pretty big holes in Breitbart’s basic claim, which somehow presupposes that the failure to meet a burden of proof is, in and of itself, “conclusive evidence.”
Before we get to either Breitbart’s video, or the Times‘ correction, its important to go over the other evidence that the incident did occur, at least as told by the corroborating testimony of three credible eyewitnesses. In a court of law, that’s called evidence. Hell, their testimony was even good enough for John Boehner and Michael Steele. But let’s focus on the credibility of one particular witness, John Lewis.
By all accounts, John Lewis is a hero of the Civil Rights movement who suffered many beatings by white racists, including a skull fracture at the hands of Alabama State Police during the 1965 march on Selma. He also publicly forgave a former klansman who confessed to, and apologized for, participating in one of those beatings.
While the events of 50 years ago do not immediately give any individual an honesty pass for life, given John Lewis’ hard-earned credibility on this very issue, one would think that proving him a liar should be a heavy burden to meet. With two corroborating witnesses, respected members of Congress, each of whom had little motivation to lie (as Breitbart himself pointed out, the optics were already pretty bad for the protesters). It would take one hell of a smoking gun to call them all liars.
Instead, Breitbart offered the thinnest refutation possible: there was no video of the incident. He was presumably able to do this perhaps due to the expectation that the mainstream media, cowed by their embarrassment at his hands over the ACORN controversy, to go along with it, or at least accept the premise that a lack of video evidence was somehow an equal counterbalance to the testimony of three members of Congress. Or that such evidence is somehow a prerequisite to reporting a story. By the way, that’s going to make a lot of print reporters very unhappy.
Sadly, this premise echoes the voice of every stereotypically racist sheriff in the 60’s who ever uttered “Nobody’s gonna believe you, boy!” Ironically, it also echoes the white grand jury who refused to indict the murderer of Shirley Sherrod’s father.
Breitbart now presents several crudely-shot, 5 to 7 second video clips of poor audio quality as proof positive that nothing happened that day. Although that idea is, at best thin on its face, even those cherry-picked snippets contain proof that Breitbart’s “proof” is in fact, false.
If Breitbart can’t tell me what those individuals were saying, he certainly can’t tell me what they didn’t say. All were within earshot of the Congressmen, and none were picked up on the various cameras’ crude microphones. Were they saying something racist? The only real truth is this: by watching this video we honestly have no idea what the protesters were saying.
The Political Times column last Sunday, about a generational divide over racial attitudes, erroneously linked one example of a racially charged statement to the Tea Party movement. While Tea Party supporters have been connected to a number of such statements, there is no evidence that epithets reportedly directed in March at Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, outside the Capitol, came from Tea Party members.
It doesn’t say the epithets never happened, or even that the Tea Party members didn’t say them. It simply says there’s no evidence they were Tea Party members. While that’s technically true, if a person heard someone yell “Red Sox suck!” at Yankee Stadium, a reasonable person could infer that it came from Yankees fans, without checking their fan club ID.
Breitbart is calling on the mainstream media to report on his video. As long as they do so with a critical eye, I absolutely agree with him.
Update: The man described as an “aide” in this video has since been identified as Rep. John Shadegg. We have reached out to his office to confirm his account of that day’s events and are planning a larger post in the coming days.
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