Accuracy in Media

The coverage of presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden’s racist remarks about Senator Barack Obama demonstrates a blatant media double standard. If a Republican had condescendingly referred to a black person as “clean,” “bright” and “articulate,” he or she would have been branded as a racist and banished from public life. But Biden’s political career had to be saved at any cost. Why?

A quick look at the news from the past week provides an answer. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been organizing opposition to the Bush Administration’s policy in Iraq. That means he has to be given a pass, even though this is the second time in less than a year that he has made disparaging remarks about a member of a minority group. He previously claimed that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” This comment was caught on C-SPAN and can be seen on YouTube.

For our media, destroying the Bush policy in Iraq takes precedence over making an issue of Biden’s racism.

Biden has been described by Robert Guttman, the Director of the Center on Politics & Foreign Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., as “the most knowledgeable, articulate and concerned” spokesman for the Democratic Party on foreign policy.

On the Huffington Post website, Guttman declared that “no one doubts he has the expertise in foreign affairs to hit the floor running if he became our next president.”

For these reasons, which are shared by many in the liberal media, Biden’s racism must be excused. That is why this supremely articulate individual must now be transformed into someone who makes “verbal slips” on race. Even on the “conservative” Fox News, Brit Hume said Biden’s problem was that he talked too much, not that he was a racist.

However, when then-Republican Senator and candidate George Allen called an Indian-American a “macaca” during a campaign rally, he was hounded by the media to the point where the controversy contributed to his eventual defeat. Republican Senator Trent Lott’s joking comments that one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond would have been a good president were covered so extensively by the media that Lott was forced to step down from his post as Senate majority leader.

Lott’s “offensive” comments included the remark that “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” It was obviously intended to make an old man feel good, in contrast to Biden’s denigration of a whole race of people by singling out one as civilized.

Clearly, there is a lower media standard for Democrats, who include Senator Robert Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, and Howard Dean, the Democratic chairman who once remarked that “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.”

But Biden’s big mouth does stand out. His rhetoric suggests that he pays close attention to how members of minority groups look, smell or sound. He exhibits the classic behavior of a racist.

At least it can be said in this case that Biden was speaking his own mind. He was forced out of the presidential race in 1988 when he was caught plagiarizing a speech from a British politician. That scandal is rarely, if ever, mentioned by the media when discussing Biden’s record and career as an “articulate” foreign policy spokesman.

Biden’s attack on Obama was reported in the February 5, 2007 issue of the New York Observer. Biden discussed the war in Iraq, Democratic presidential hopefuls, and his plan to divide Iraq along ethnic lines between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Iraqis. But when talking about Obama, Biden said, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” The audio of Biden’s comment about Obama from the Observer interview can now be heard on YouTube.

The Associated Press, which distributes stories to newspapers around the country, played down Biden’s racist comment. In the AP article picked up in the February 1, 2007 Detroit Free Press, Beth Fouhy wrote that Biden spent the day “regretting his description of Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama as ‘clean,’ and explaining why he had dissed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.”

So his racist remarks had become a mere “description” of Obama.

The Fouhy AP story focused heavily on excusing Biden’s remarks. She noted that Biden claimed that he used the word “clean” to describe Obama because he regarded the candidate as “fresh and new,” and that the choice of words was not meant to disparage other black candidates who had run for president in the past, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Biden was quoted as saying that Obama understood what he meant.

But what did Biden mean about Obama being “articulate” or “bright?” Unfortunately, the AP offered no explanation. It would appear that only Biden’s comments about Obama’s personal hygiene required clarification and apology.

Another story, in the February 1, 2007 edition of the Washington Post by Dan Balz, said Biden had “issued a statement of regret” about his remarks, that he called Obama to apologize, and Obama “had taken no offense” from the remarks. That was supposed to be the end of it.

Clearly, the media wanted to move on so that Biden could get back to the business of undermining the President’s Iraq policy.

Balz’s article in the Post did include a mention of Biden’s previous racist remarks about Indian-Americans. However, Balz referred to them as having been “interpreted as racially insensitive.” So it was all a matter of interpretation. However, the fact that “Macaca” was a matter of different interpretation didn’t stop the Post from pounding George Allen.

But citing a personal statement later released by Obama, Balz wrote that it “absolved Biden only in part” because his remarks were seen as “historically inaccurate.” Obama declared that, “African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.”

Balz and Fouhy allowed Biden the opportunity to explain himself and to make the whole controversy seem like water under the bridge. As we saw in the Allen and Lott cases, such treatment is not extended to Republicans making similar racial remarks.

One factor in this coverage was the decision by black Democrats to excuse Biden’s racism. The AP story reported that Jesse Jackson said he believed Biden’s comments were “a gaffe,” and added, “I know Joe Biden is a smart, decent guy. I hope this doesn’t diminish the light he brings to future debates.” This was a tip-off that Biden was being let off the hook because of his anti-Bush policy on Iraq.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote that when Biden called Al Sharpton to apologize, Sharpton replied, “I take a bath every day.”

So the racist comments had become a big joke, not something to get alarmed about. But we don’t remember Sharpton making jokes about “Macaca” or Trent Lott’s tribute to Strom Thurmond.

However, Robinson, who is black, found Biden’s crack about Obama being “articulate” to be offensive. He said the term “is often pronounced with an air of surprise, as if it’s an improbable and wondrous thing that a black person has somehow cracked the code.” Robinson wrote that, “Articulate is really a shorthand way of describing a black person who isn’t too black?or, rather, who comports with white America’s notion of how a black person should come across.”

In the end, however, Biden will not be designated as a racist by his colleagues or the media. They have too much at stake in his position as point man in the campaign to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The lesson of the coverage is simple: Bush and the Republicans must be undermined at any cost, even if that includes maintaining a racist big-mouth in his position of power in the U.S. Senate.

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