Mediaite was the first to draw attention yesterday to a questionable statement of fact made by longtime White House correspondent April Ryan. Ryan told Sean Spicer that while on the campaign trial, Donald Trump “said things like, you know, ‘We made this country,’ meaning white America, not necessarily black.” When Spicer denied he had said any such thing, Ryan insisted, “No, no, no. He said that. I heard him say that.”
Looking back at that piece yesterday, I gave Ryan the benefit of the doubt. I thought she perhaps had made a mistake and this would be quickly corrected. I even left open the possibility that I was the one in error. “I certainly don’t think there was any malice,” I wrote.
That was a mistake on my part. The American Urban Radio Networks bureau chief came out and defended herself on Twitter, posting a link to a video that she claims backs up her accusation. I simply don’t know how you could present this video and accuse the president of racist language without malice.
— Lauren Victoria (@LVBurke) February 22, 2017
We cannot let our First Amendment rights be taken away from us from us. We can’t let it. We have the right to speak, we’re law-abiding people, we’re people that work very hard. We’re people who’ve built this country and made this country great. And we’re all together and we want to get along with everybody, but when they have organized, professionally staged wise guys, we’ve got to fight back, we’ve got to fight back.
You could only read and hear the above and come away with a racially exclusionary message if you were already convinced Trump was a racist and was ready to see racism in any mundane statement he made. There’s just nothing in it to suggest he was speaking specifically about “white America” as Ryan claimed at the White House.
“This rally happened right after the cancellation of the Chicago rally due to violence,” Ryan tweeted in her defense. She also told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple that “the audience for the event was predominantly white” and that “he said that on that highly charged event.”
This seems like a stretch to me. When a Trump rally is shut down by violent protests and a week later he goes on about how “we” are being denied First Amendment rights and “we” are law-abiding, the clear meaning of “we” is his supporters. And in a country that is “predominantly white,” politicians will give speeches before predominantly white audiences all the time. There were some pretty lily white Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders rallies as I recall. How many of those contained coded racism?
“I heard him say that!” Ryan insisted. I don’t doubt that she heard exactly what she wanted to. But I can’t turn up any evidence that Trump’s comments at the time were accused of having a racial tinge even by liberal pundits.
Ryan is of course perfectly at liberty to listen to a Trump speech and imagine all sorts of things. But she brought her assumptions into her reporting, and threw them at the White House as though they were facts. It simply is not clear that Trump said, “’We made this country,’ meaning white America.” That’s Ryan’s highly subjective interpretation, and a dubious one at that.
What irks me is I guarantee less time and effort will be spent by the media denouncing this factually-challenged question than was spent complaining that conservative media outlets asked accurate questions, but “the wrong questions.” Ryan is a veteran reporter, well-respected in the briefing room. As such, she’ll receive deference and benefit of the doubt that almost certainly would never be given to a blatantly false question from, say, Katie Pavlich.
What irks me even more is that I gave her benefit of the doubt. Ryan made a deeply-flawed accusation of racism against the president with nothing to back it up but her own biases. Her response shows she is not taking the issue even remotely seriously. She should know better.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.