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Part II: Joe Williams, the NAACP, and the ‘Rush Sununu’ White Power Hour

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

When aggrieved conservatives — those harboring “white resentment” over perceived preferential treatment of minorities — denounce African-Americans as “racists,” they are generally not referring to any actual assertions of “anti-white” sentiment by their targets. The predominantly older group of white Republicans who hate Barack Obama’s race, while insisting they only hate his policies, are, not surprisingly, the same folks who rail about affirmative action and government handouts. Having grown weary of being branded racists,  they’ve resolved, as blogger Imani Gandy of “Angry Black Lady Chronicles” explains in exasperation, “to define racism as ‘including race in the consideration of anything’ — and therefore that means all liberals are racists.  ‘We win,'” they jeer. ‘What are you going to do about it?'”

Joe Williams

Just dare to mention the words “white people” in passing, and the right’s favorite bullies will track you down with hysterical rhetoric designed to sabotage your career by mounting a coordinated campaign of zero-sum character assassination. The white rage complex can annihilate black pundits with words alone, as former Politico reporter Joe Williams recently learned the hard way.

What Williams calls “the Right-Wing Noise Machine” will not stand down, in fact, if anyone on the left brings up this demographic, not without unleashing the full force of their collective virtual artillery — a week-long barrage of hate tweets, blog bombs, and unmanned drone texts.

‘Politico didn’t hesitate to cave to right-wing pressure’

Ann Romney, The Daily Caller, and tag-teamed Joe Williams’ “white folks” quote — distorting what he said about presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney being “comfortable around people like him” into Romney being “uncomfortable around black people.” To further muddy the waters, the bloggers produced a detailed study of the reporter’s Twitter feed, in which he made questionable (supposedly private) remarks about his employer and retweeted a snarky penis gag a friend made after Romney’s wife, Ann, joked about her husband’s “stiff” demeanor: “I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.” The bloggers, of course, the ones who could demagogue in their sleep, said Williams had written the tweet.

After the wingnut blogosphere succeeded in making a fine fricassee of Joe Williams’ professional credibility, Politico suspended him almost without blinking. “Politico didn’t hesitate to give in to right-wing pressure and call into question this man’s stellar journalistic career,” observed Nida Khan at The Huffington Post.

Eliot Spitzer

Over the past few weeks, Williams has begun appearing almost nightly on the Current TV cable show of a fellow “outcast,” former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer. After the New Unzipped Mitt’s controversial speech before the NAACP convention, where black leaders lustily booed the candidate’s testy “Obamacare” slurs, Mitt jetted off to a Montana fundraiser to boast about the reaction he had gone there to provoke. “If they want more stuff from the government,” he told his upscale audience (emphasis mine), “tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

“Politico’s Joe Williams was fired for saying that Romney couldn’t relate to black people. If he’d said that tonight, he might still be employed,”Andrew Sullivan summed up in a post titled “Can I Have My Job Back Now?”

‘Mittmobile’ detours into murky ‘foreign’ terrain

Rush Limbaugh

Believe it if you dare, but Mythological Mitt tried to deflect the Bain barrage (and persuade members of his own party to back off the drip, drip, drip of tax-return demands), by resurrecting Barack the Magic Muslim’s “Back-to-Birtherland bio” — without Donald Trump’s help this time. (Mitt still lost the round; he actually consulted instead with Senor “Oxycontin Rush” — a genuine pharmacological phenomenon, BTW — for advice on dirty-tricks strategery.) Mitt may rue the day he embraced El Rushbo’s proffered “Tall, Dark, Shiftless ‘Furriner’ Who Never Worked a Day in his Life” routine. Wimpy Willard was too “chickenhawk” to deliver on Limbaugh’s bully-boy script himself, so he got Big John “The White Rhino” Sununu (please note the silent “h”; they pronounce it “RINO”) to reenact Rush’s hard-boiled role instead.

John Sununu

Sununu badly flubbed his cameo, calling out Obama’s imaginary cluelessness about “how the American system works,” placing him in the firmament of  the “political-slash-felon environment” of Chicago, and declaring that the president needed to “learn how to be an American” (a charge he later retracted, apologizing for questioning the president’s patriotism).

Meanwhile, Meandering Mitt took a risky detour onto the “extraordinarily foreign course” he claims Obama is following. Limbaugh chimed in, stating unequivocally that, “It can now be stated without equivocation — without equivocation — that This Man HATES This Country.” Sununu and his birther retinue soon crawled back under their customary rock and managed to stay there, at least for now. (A comment on read, “Sununu and Romney, both young men during the Vietnam war, found a way to escape serving their country. Now they are lecturing others on how to be American? Shame on you pathetic losers!”)

As for deflecting attention from Mitt’s Jumbo the Elephant-sized tax impasse, the mission’s histrionics merited a resounding FAIL. A total of 15 conservatives are now clamoring for the Blue-Blooded Blunderbuss to release his tax returns without further incident or delay.

Multimillionaire Mitt keeps his eye on the prize
The freedom of opportunity that Mitt extols (primarily for “wellborn,” patrician white guys like him) to scale the lofty peaks of achievement, success, and entrepreneurialism is not really an option for the underprivileged, the way he’s always looked at it.  Mitt shouldn’t be forced to divulge whatever advantages and hypocrisies and moral shortcuts inhabit his tax returns, offshore tax havens, and Swiss bank account — not to mention the mystery gazillion-dollar IRA that would have taken a “working stiff” 73,000 years to amass (its grand total jealously guarded by the Trust Fund Manager from Hell, who hasn’t imparted one iota of info about them to poor, bullied Mitt in 25 years!).

So Romney wants America’s “huddled masses” — including Barack H. Obama — to just back off and allow him the huge head start he is accustomed to, so he can add the bauble of the U.S. presidency to the priceless collection of mansions, boats, dressage horses, and other hidden pleasures that he and his immediate family enjoy. Don’t pass “GO”, don’t collect $200; just keep your eye on the prize, Mitt, and exclude all the unworthy riffraff you possibly can — especially the “Halfrican” (Rush’s word, not mine), Kenyan, Indonesian Muslim who’s been blocking Mitt’s path to glory since early 2007, when both of them announced their candidacies — the privileged, entitled white man and the genial, pragmatic black man who saw his own opportunity flicker in the 21st-century political groundswell and seized it, before the flimsiest outside chance in American history could flame out just as abruptly as it had appeared.

‘But the God I don’t believe in is a merciful God’

Louis XVI of France

What would Jesus do? Don’t even ask — but I’m sure it would have a lot more to do with camels wedging their massive humps through the eyes of size 8 embroidery needles than rich guys breezing past the Pearly Gates, brandishing their “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. Mitt’s birthright, indeed, includes the precious liberty once afforded to France’s last “absolute monarch,” Louis XVI, an ineffectual ruler who tried but failed to remedy widespread hunger among the disgruntled masses, as well as make a stab at repaying a soaring national debt brought on by inadequate tax revenues and the enormous costs of  foreign wars (Aux armes, citoyens!) — in the brief decade before the impatient rabble rose up and chopped Louie’s entitled freaking head off.

Mitt, on the other hand, believes he’s earned the cherished freedom he so covets from being “shamed” by lesser mortals’ envy or unAmerican sniping or Marxist denigration (Glenn, take a bow!) into sharing one thin dime of his stupefying fortune with anyone — except for an obligatory pittance to the Mormon high mucky-mucks whose sole utility to Mitt is to make sure he squeezes through the eye of that needle with all of his secret lucre intact.

(And how about Joe Williams — what would he think? Sadly, I haven’t been able to ask him, since he closed his Twitter feed when the Politico controversy began, and nobody new — that would be me — can follow him.)

In Joseph Heller’s magnum opus Catch-22, Yossarian asked Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife what the hell she was so upset about when, as he reminded her, “‘I thought you didn’t believe in God.’ ‘I don’t,’ she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. ‘But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be.’ Yossarian laughed and turned her arms loose.’“Let’s have a little more religious freedom between us,’ he proposed obligingly. ‘You don’t believe in the God you want to, and I won’t believe in the God I want to. Is that a deal?’”

Deal — if only the God I don’t believe in would find a new job for Joe Williams, working for reasonable people, as soon as possible, and keep Mitt’s greedy fingers from getting a good grip on the brass ring. After all, he’s greased his palms with so many other people’s accumulated misery. I think just a little dab of heavenly Brylcreem would do him, like the jingle said — and if we’re lucky, do in his ill-advised campaign for good.

Keeping the White House white, withholding new ingredients from America’s historic melting pot — no matter who’s been scheming to restore the tradition and for whatever nefarious reason — was a really rotten idea in the first place.

The ‘Reverse Racism’ Police, Part I

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

Barack Obama

The night America celebrated the election of the first African-American president in history, no one really imagined what Barack Obama’s opponents – the ones who took his victory as an affront to truth, justice, and the American way – were capable of.

For many Republicans, the sting of defeat and the political imperative of surrendering the executive branch to another “Democrat” administration were reason enough to begin scheming in earnest to regain power. For others, however, the collective recoil of the right from Obama’s election signified something more visceral. The mere fact of the new president’s race was an affront that people inclined to mistrust or malign minorities couldn’t abide.

Obama the first black president would soon live with the first black family in “the people’s house” – the American version of a palace, whose occupants had always resembled the now-ebbing white majority. The ugly legacy of racial animus bubbled up from hibernation, to remain just beneath the surface of the national dialogue.

By 2010, it had coalesced into an obsessive goal – not for all conservatives, certainly, but for the white supremacists in their midst. Of utmost importance to both the biased politicians who wouldn’t come right out and say it and the very vocal portion of the populace who would: getting the black guy out of the White House (only the racist signs and posters and websites didn’t couch that sentiment in such bland terms, with all the banality of evil even the milder words convey).

Reince Priebus

As Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, demagogued the issue’s urgency the other day in apparent racial code that would have done Scarlett O’Hara proud: “We have to put an end to this Barack Obama presidency before it puts an end to ‘our way of life’.” (That expression, once widely employed in the antebellum South, is a paradigm of dog-whistle politics: It’s too high-pitched for human ears, but them good-ole-boy redbone coonhounds can hear it a mile away.)


Beck calls Obama a racist, and the floodgates open

Glenn Beck, the zookeeper at Wingnut World, played the “reverse racism” card against Obama early on, inexplicably calling a biracial man raised by his white mother and grandparents “a racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people and the white culture.” The right seized on it, venting their post-election fury by attacking a succession of black “proxies” for the then-Illinois senator who dared to attempt “running for president while black” – and soundly beat them.

Andrew Breitbart

First, congressmen and talk-show hosts scapegoated ACORN, sabotaging an organization devoted primarily to registering minority voters. Later, far-right bloggers targeted Van Jones, the president’s “Green Jobs” czar, and smeared Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the Department of Agriculture whose remarks about helping a white farmer were distorted by “creative” videotape editing to make her look like a racist.

The attack dogs’ fearless leader, Drudge Report protege Andrew Breitbart, purportedly “died of hostility” (as Robert Wright of The Atlantic suggested) on March 1 at the age of 43, yet was survived by a cadre of fanatic “Breitbots” dedicated to carrying out his mission here on earth.


White-balling’ (reverse racism) vs. the media

Currently in the Breitbart scandal machine’s sights are members of the mainstream media or progressive blogosphere who dare to venture into “white-balling” territory. (That’s what I call the mythic “blackballing of white people” that the right wing calls 21st-century “reverse racism,” otherwise defined as any utterance, however non-judgmental, that causes white people to imagine that black people could possibly blame them or their ancestors in some way for Dred Scott, “whites only” water fountains, high-rise public housing projects, stop-and-frisk, Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima, America’s 70 percent non-white prison population, voter ID, or racial slurs, about the very worst of which – according to “Chris,” author of  the incisive and funny blog, “Stuff Black People Hate” – doofy white guys named Chad in too-tight pink polo shirts will ask you why, if black people can say the most awful word in the English language, they can’t.)

Joe Williams

The story of how the Breitbart bloggers brought down Joe Williams – the first black editor to be hired by the DC print/online enterprise Politico, in the wake of its confrontation by the National Association of Black Journalists because of a noticeable dearth of diversity in its newsroom – is instructive.

Joe Williams, according to Politico’s website, is “a veteran political journalist and telegenic analyst” whose credentials include a 1996 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and a solid 28-year career in newspaper reporting and editing, magazine writing, and newsroom management. As deputy chief of the Boston Globe’s Washington Bureau, he covered the 2008 presidential campaign and Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Politico hired him in June 2010 as deputy White House editor but, less than a year later, reassigned him to a reporter’s job – that of White House correspondent, “specializing in the intersection of race and politics,” according to Tracie Powell of the Poynter Institute.

The move (which Powell didn’t characterize as a demotion) gave Williams an opportunity to develop his broadcast skills while providing Politico with onscreen “proof ” of its diversity – yet his editor’s job went to a white female editor who still holds the position, so Politico’s management ranks are once again no more racially diverse than they were before Williams was hired.

“They said they wanted me as a reporter, which would get me closer to the action so that I could describe some of the things I would talk about on TV with more authority,” Williams told Powell. “They said I was good at it.” Williams’ supervisors also pointed him in the direction of cable news programs, many of which express a viewpoint, so Politico’s honchos can’t say they expected a correspondent stationed at the vortex of race and politics, during an election year this volatile, to appear on cable opinion shows and then clam up on the subject of race.


Romney ‘very, very comfortable’ with people like him

Joe Williams was indeed good at his job. I watched him frequently on cable news programs like Martin Bashir’s afternoon talk show on MSNBC, and Williams was thoughtful, knowledgeable about the presidential race, and insightful about the issues. Then one day in June, he appeared on Bashir’s program, gave a candid answer to a simple question, and returned to the office to find his life turned inside out.

Mitt Romney

Bashir had asked him why he thought Mitt Romney appeared so often on Fox News while avoiding network TV and other cable stations. “Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him,” Williams replied. “That’s one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in town hall settings, why he can’t relate to people other than that. But when he comes on ‘Fox and Friends,’ they’re like him. They’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.”

When Williams mentioned people who aren’t like Romney, he was referring to class differences (between Romney and white, conservative town hall attendees, or waitresses at a diner he visited, or the “hoi-polloi” in plastic rain ponchos at a NASCAR event), not racial differences. But by that time, it didn’t make any difference. Sharp ears at The Washington Free Beacon and pricked up when Joe Williams said “white folks,” and that seemingly innocuous expression was all they needed to hear. The “Reverse Racism Police” were off in their squad cars, sirens blaring, to bag another hapless suspect.

The bloggers blogged their inevitable tale of Joe Williams’ racist smear against Mitt Romney and perfidy against Politico, throwing in a few “raunchy” tweets they came across while trawling through the reporter’s virtual baggage. They dug up dirt about his personal life. And sure enough, they scored a bulls-eye: before the week was out, Politico had suspended its most conspicuous “diversity” hire.

Except for the fact that Joe Williams is not an employment statistic, a demographic profile, a notch in someone’s belt, or an object lesson in the pitfalls of political coverage. He’s a human being, not a scalp taken by vicious partisans with an ideology to flog.

Next week: Part II, “Reverse Racism and False Equivalency”