On Tuesday night, the House voted to condemn Donald Trump’s horribly racist Sunday tweetstorm in which he irately demanded four high-profile Democratic congresswomen of color “go back” to their home countries. Even though this is literally one of the oldest racist tropes in the book, only four Republicans and one Republican-leaning independent voted for the resolution. Most of their colleagues–including some who denounced the tweets–tried to spin the resolution as a political stunt.
At first, it was hard to understand why. After all, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission considers “go back where you came from” so egregiously racist that it explicitly deems the insult to be prima facie discriminatory. But it didn’t take long to get an answer. Apparently the Republican National Committee would not only have us believe that Trump’s tweets weren’t racists, but that the Democrats are the real racists.
Hours after the vote, the RNC dispatched its national spokeswoman, Elizabeth Harrington, to defend Trump. Tellingly, though, she did so on “Breitbart News Tonight.” Listen here.
As you might expect, it didn’t take long for Harrington to enter the Full Spin Zone. Host Joel Pollak recalled that Trump wanted a list of supposedly anti-American statements from the four targets of his racist ire–Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, better known as “The Squad.” Harrington obliged on Tuesday afternoon.
However, serious analysis reveals that this thread was a comedy of alternative facting that would have done Trump proud.
For instance, Harrington scorched Omar for suggesting that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.” But she left out that Omar unreservedly apologized for doing so. That’s far more than can be said for the GOP’s most virulent white nationalist, Steve King–a man who once literally yelled “you will not replace us!”
Harrington also tried to go after Tlaib for claiming that she felt a “calming feeling” about the Holocaust. One problem–that’s not what Tlaib actually said. She was actually referring to how she felt that her ancestors in Palestine gave up their land in order to provide “a safe haven for Jews” in the wake of the Holocaust.
But then again, such little things as facts never got in the way of a Republican spin campaign. And Pollak was certainly not the man to call Harrington on it. So it came as no surprise when he sat there and twiddled his thumbs while Harrington accused the media of not having “any journalistic standards” by failing to present “both sides” of the issue.
Harrington must not have been paying attention. As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan noted, the over-the-air network news outlets were remarkably guarded in their coverage of this tweetstorm, apparently because they feel they must “appeal to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.” So, Sullivan wrote, were some national print outlets–at least at first. Other national print outlets, as well as cable news channels, had no qualms about calling those tweets racist.
Sullivan believes that journalists have to remember their primary job is “truth-telling”–and that often means saying “obvious things in plain terms.” Or, as I was told in my days in journalism school at the University of North Carolina, there is no bias in calling a spade a spade.
So let’s see if we’ve got this right. The RNC would like us to believe that when the president of the United States uses one of the oldest racist tropes in the book, one recognized as such in federal non-discrimination policy, the media is wrong to call it racist. In other words, the RNC apparently thinks that we’re stupid.
Just before the vote, the House Republican leadership tried to convince us that since the GOP was the party of Lincoln, Trump’s tweets couldn’t possibly be racist. Well, considering that McCarthy’s forebears welcomed segregationist Dixiecrats into their ranks with open arms, that legacy had been smothered with a pillow long before Tuesday. Harrington’s blatant spin amounted to stabbing the Lincoln legacy with icepicks and throwing it in a river.
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