In the wake of Politico White House correspondent Joe Williams‘ suspension for commenting that Mitt Romney felt “relaxed” in the company of the “white folks” at Fox and Friends, I asked if a white reporter would have been suspended for the same remark. A guest blogger at Angry Black Lady Chronicles looks more deeply into that question, comparing Williams’ remarks with other Politico commentary, and his suspension with consequences for white commentators.
Joe Williams was suspended by Politico following outraged reaction from the conservative blog Breitbart.com, ironically just days after Williams copped to the mainstream media’s capitulation to right-wing noise, which he then identified as a determining factor in his suspension. ABLC guest blogger April (@ReignOfApril), a self-described Washington, DC-based lawyer and Obama supporter, starts out with a critique of Politico‘s release of an internal memo announcing Williams’ suspension as “disrespectful.”
She makes it as a sidenote, but it’s not a minor point. Internal memos are usually leaked to pimp new hires, or to promote some new feature or event. Disciplinary actions like this are normally handled with a prepared statement of some sort. Politico hasn’t responded to say whether internal memos are standard procedure in cases like this, but they dealt with the firing of another reporter for plagiarism with a prepared editor’s note.
April then compares what Williams said with other recent commentary and analysis from Politico:
For example, on October 20, 2010, Politico reporter Glenn Thrush wrote an article entitled “President Obama’s White Working Class Problem.” Not just working class, mind you – white working class. In the article, Thrush states,
“the president has been forced to stick, for the most part, to college campuses and big cities, like Seattle, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Madison and Portland, Ore., where he is heading Wednesday. Meanwhile, the white, blue-collar bastions such as Youngstown, Scranton and Louisville have been outsourced to surrogates like Vice President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.”
Thrush’s implication was that African-American President Obama is either unliked or unwanted in “white, blue-collar bastions,” and is forced to send his white surrogates. And, before you ask, no, Thrush was not suspended. Surprised? Let’s keep reading.
Remember Politico founding editor Jim VandeHei who co-wrote the Williams suspension memo and touted Politico’s “clear and inflexible responsibility to cover politics fairly and free of partisan bias?” On June 19 – the day before Williams said that Mitt Romney is most comfortable around white folks, VandeHei said the following:
“The truth about politics is that Republicans — regardless of the nominee — are a mostly white party, and have been for decades. They get roughly 87 percent of their votes from whites — and rarely elect minority candidates at the national level.”
The difference between VandeHei’s statement and Williams’ statement is marginal at best. While VandeHei’s statement speaks to a larger issue – the composition of the Republican party and not to Romney’s personal comfort level around people who are “like him” – doesn’t VandeHei’s statement dovetail with Williams’ statement? Given the context of both Williams’ and VandeHei’s statements (Romney’s struggle to court Latino voters), don’t both statements indicate that Governor Romney would be most comfortable around Republicans and that those Republicans are, according to the numbers, most likely going to be “white folks”?
Now, Williams (and ABLC’s guest blogger) cop to his poor word choice in describing Romney’s comfort with the “white folks” of Fox and Friends, but given the context of that discussion, and the larger, freer context of discussions about race in this election, was a suspension warranted? There was copious discussion by white cable news commentators about President Obama’s informal speech patterns while addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, and I don’t recall any suspensions resulting.
In fact, I observed several times that the racial makeup of that audience likely played a part in the President’s manner of speech, and I didn’t get suspended. I’ll do it right now. I bet President Obama is more relaxed in the company of black folks, and I’d love to test that theory, as soon as three black people get to host a morning cable news show.
April also compares Williams’ suspension with a few other recent controversies:
Neil Munro shouted down the president on June 15 during a press statement and was lauded by his employers, Tucker Carlson and The Daily Caller. Munro wasn’t providing his opinion on a news and analysis program the way Williams was. Munro stood in the White House Rose Garden and shouted down the leader of the free world – more than once. Instead of suspending Munro, The Daily Caller, tweeted they were proud of him for “doing his job.”
Roland Martin, a black journalist, was suspended by CNN shortly after SuperBowl Sunday for an allegedly violent and/or homophobic tweet. Meanwhile, CNN contributor and conservative radio host Dana Loesch said on her show that she not only thinks the Marines who urinated on dead Taliban soldiers are cool, but she’d be willing to join them. She wasn’t suspended. Instead, CNN released the following statement: “CNN contributors are commentators who express a wide range of viewpoints – on and off of CNN – that often provoke strong agreement or disagreement. Their viewpoints are their own.” Apparently this same policy doesn’t apply to Mr. Martin, only Ms. Loesch. Double standard much?
The crucial distinction that I see here is not that Politico was necessarily motivated by race in its suspension of Joe Williams, but that the “working the ref” phenomenon that Williams identified originates from a sector of the conservative media that thrives on racial resentment, and is obsessed with collecting the scalps of so-called black racists. Breitbart.com made its bones taking down ACORN and Shirley Sherrod, attacking those lying black congressmen, and continues to go after President Obama by smearing people like the late Harvard Professor Derrick Bell, or by trying, along with Munro’s Daily Caller, to manufacture a connection with Scary Black Menace The New Black Panther Party.
In Joe Williams’ case, their consciousness of guilt is apparent in their attempt to pad the complaint by claiming that Joe Williams tweeted a “dick joke about Ann Romney,” when in reality, Ann Romney made an inadvertent dick joke about Mitt Romney, and Williams made his own comment about it. Why the attempt to pretend that Joe Williams was making a sexually-charged attack on Ann Romney?
The time has come for media outlets like Politico to decide that whatever principle they think they’re protecting by suspending Joe Williams is dwarfed by the need to stand up to the lying, race-baiting corners of the conservative media that has no interest in protecting journalism, but only in discrediting it.
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