“All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” (Alexander Pope, 1711) could have been written about the media handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. To conservatives, it is ominous proof of race-conscious law enforcement in the Obama Justice Department. To liberals, it is more proof that the Right is determined to stir up racial suspicion about Barack Obama’s administration.
I don’t think the incident proves anything conclusively at this point, except this: liberal journalists and commentators are embarrassing themselves and misinforming the public by arguing that the case is trivial, and employing intellectually dishonest arguments to do it.**
Whatever the case is, it isn’t trivial. Voter intimidation isn’t trivial; it strikes at the core of our system of government. I would argue that the government should be unequivocal, strict and unyielding regarding the prevention and punishment of it, by white or black, no matter how manifested. If you don’t think so, then I challenge you to explain why. If there is any conduct that should receive no tolerance by law enforcement, this should be it. There is no excuse for it.
Nevertheless, supposedly respectable commentators like columnist E.J. Dionne feel compelled to make excuses for the Justice Department’s actions while intentionally or incompetently misrepresenting the facts. In last week’s column, he wrote,
“Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines. Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on ‘the Justice Department’s decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.’ Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting.”
That’s right: never mind. There is no crackpot exception to the voter intimidation law, or to any Federal laws that I know of. Is Dionne maintaining that voter intimidation is only worth addressing when substantial, distinguished thugs engage in it? What does “tiny” have to do with the issue, exactly? President Lincoln was assassinated by a tiny group of crackpots; the Watergate burglary was committed by a tiny group of crackpots. Yet Dionne writes, as if only idiots could disagree, that a violation of a law is rendered de minimus by the size and mental state of the group violating it.
Meanwhile, the law in question does not require that voter intimidation has to actually stop anyone from voting to constitute a violation, nor should it. The crime is the attempt at intimidation, because Americans should not have to endure armed, angry, paramilitary individuals shouting epithets in order to cast their votes as citizens. Dionne’s dishonest characterization is a standard talking point of journalists who want to deceive the public into believing the matter is a Right wing fantasy. “There is not one shred of evidence of voter intimidation!” shouted a guest commentator on CNN. That is no less than a lie. The video is what the law terms res ipsa loquitor—it speaks for itself. The commentator, like Dionne and others, either hasn’t read the law he claims wasn’t violated, which is unethical for someone commenting on it (a bit like President Obama and Eric Holder characterizing the Arizona anti-illegal immigrant statute without reading it, or he’s intentionally misrepresenting what it says.
Here’s the relevant provision of the law:
(b) Intimidation, threats, or coercion
No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, presidential elector, Member of the Senate, or Member of the House of Representatives, Delegates or Commissioners from the Territories or possessions, at any general, special, or primary election held solely or in part for the purpose of selecting or electing any such candidate.
Got that, E.J.? It’s the action of intimidating, not actually stopping voters, that constitutes the crime. That’s why the video is convincing evidence….because two New Black Panthers in uniform, one carrying a club, the other huge, standing outside a polling place, is an obvious and unequivocal attempt to intimidate that any honest, unbiased commentator, white or black, liberal or conservative, should be able to recognize and admit is wrong. But Dionne, and Chris Matthews, and Keith Olberman, and the editors of most U.S. dailies, won’t do that, because they are biased, and it is more important to them to deflect and ridicule legitimate allegations of misconduct by an administration they favor than to do their jobs and ask some obvious question like,
Why wouldn’t Holder’s Justice Department prosecute all three violators: the two men, and the organization that sent them?
Who made the decision to drop a case that was already won?
What is so important about the New Black Panthers that would justify undermining the nation’s trust in the judgment and fairness of the Justice Department?
Why hasn’t the individual responsible for indefensible decision this been sent packing?
Finally, why is the Obama Administration so insensitive to its duty to appear race-neutral in prosecuting the law of the land?
Newsweek similarly misrepresented the issues and the law, saying:
“While there’s little doubt that the NBPP is a fringe group, critics of the decision to drop the suit have a tough case to make. The problem is that although it may look like voter intimidation, there aren’t actually any voters who filed an official complaint claiming to have been intimidated. As Adam Serwer writes, a polling station in a predominantly black neighborhood isn’t the best place to go if you’re trying to scare white voters off: “I imagine that the New Black Panthers thought they were protecting black voters from some phantom white-supremacist conspiracy (their public statements say as much).” And Weigel, who’s followed the case, has suggested there’s not much to it either—plus, “there’s no evidence the NBPP’s clownish Philadelphia stunt suppressed any votes, or that they’ll try such a stunt again.”
Again, misleading, dishonest, and wrong:
1. The video makes a prima facie case all by itself. There do not have to be official complaints. If it “looks like intimidation,” it is intimidation.
2. There is no requirement that the intimidation be “in the best place to go.”
3. There is nothing “clownish”—is this characterization not deliberate misrepresentation?— about two threatening New Black Panthers. Now, two guys in hoods and sheets might be “clownish,” but somehow I doubt Holder, Dionne and Newsweek would laugh off their appearance at a polling place.
4. There is nothing in the law that requires votes to be suppressed, or evidence that the incident will be repeated.
5. Calling what happened in Philadelphia “a stunt” is disgraceful journalism. Conservative defenders who dispute claims that Congressional Black Caucus members were called racial epithets when they passed through the crowd to vote for the health care bill have argued that the incident never occurred, but they haven’t denied that such conduct was serious by describing it as a “stunt.” Yet even if that despicable conduct occurred, at least it was legal. What the two Black Panthers did was not.
Other common rationalizations from Holder’s shameless defenders:
- “The story must be illegitimate because it is being aggressively reported by Fox.” A cyclical rationalization: if it were not for Fox, the story would have been buried by the liberal media. Fox’s legitimate stories are not magically transformed into hype just because Fox reports them.
- Breitbart has pushed the story, and since he promoted the misleading Sherrod video, this is misleading too. Except that nobody has alleged that there is anything misleading about the voter intimidation video, which shows two individuals acting in an intimidating manner outside a voting place. Breitbart’s motives, methods and transgressions are completely irrelevant.
- J. Christian Adams, the Justice Department attorney who resigned and revealed the story was hired in the Bush administration and is an outspoken conservative. Three words: “Attacking the messenger.” It isn’t surprising that a Republican D.O.J. attorney would be the one to break ranks with a Democratic D.O.J. cover-up; in fact, it’s the most likely way for such a story to come out. His political views and biases, whatever they may be, don’t change the core evidence, nor should his testimony be discounted by the media because of his stated political beliefs. Unlike journalists, lawyers can be formally disciplined for lying: the legal profession requires that its members tell the truth.
- Abigail Thernstrom, a conservative member of the Civil Rights Commission, dismissed the incident as insignificant, which proves that it is. This absurd argument is the smoking gun of bias. To those who see the world through the prism of ideology, it seem obvious that everyone else does the same. Since biased liberal media mouthpieces like Dionne find it difficult to be fair and open-minded, they presume all other commentators have the same malady. Thus a conservative must and always will see an issue in exactly the same lock-step way his or her ideological colleagues do, or it is proof that there is nothing to see. Well, Abigail Thernstrom is one person, and she has the independence and integrity to come to her own opinion. The fact that it differs from those of other conservatives doesn’t make it right, however; nor does the fact that it is consistent with the goals of the liberal media’s whitewash. The same journalists who are citing Thernstrom as the decisive arbiter in this matter have ridiculed her in the past. The published conclusion of the moderate Washington Post ombudsman that the story is significant can be brushed away, but one contrarian conservative voice arguing otherwise is decisive—in the view of those who routinely accord no respect to the opinions of conservatives!
The Newsweek piece compares the New Black Panther cover-up to the ACORN controversy. It is correct, but not in the way Newsweek asserts. Both were troubling examples of the current government tolerating intolerable conduct from African-American organizations; both stories were unethically, incompetently and arrogantly ignored by most of the news media; and both stories were systematically distorted to make it look as if they were Fox-driven witch hunts.
In the case of ACORN, a non-profit organization that was so ineptly and corruptly operated that it kept its treasurer in office for years after he had admitted embezzling millions of dollars, cried “racism” when critics logically demanded that tax-payer funds not be entrusted to it. When some ACORN employees were recorded on video giving advice on how to defraud the government, media defenders focused on the dubious ethics of the taping itself. Any fair liberal journalist, looking at ACORN’s record, would look past the group’s admirable mission and past accomplishments and conclude that it was hopeless incompetent, politicized, and corrupt. Few were able to do so.
Any fair liberal journalist, looking at the 2008 video of the New Black Panthers, would look past his distaste for the ideologues using the story, seek the truth, and hold the Obama DOJ accountable. It is not just the Department of Justice’s duty to enforce the law fairly, equitably, and diligently. It is also the Department’s duty to act in a way that gives Americans confidence that it is dedicated to enforcing the law fairly, equitably, and diligently, and can be trusted to do so. That, more than anything else, is why the New Black Panther case is disturbing, serious, and important.
The biased media needs to stop looking for rationalizations and to start asking questions.
**UPDATE: In the July 31, 2010 New York Times, the paper’s Op-Ed page designated race-baiter Charles M. Blow wrote this about the New Black Panther case:
“There’s also the charge that the president is protecting the New Black Panthers from voter intimidation charges. This nonstory has been knocked down more times than a blind boxer, but the right keeps pushing it.”
His link to how the “nonstory” has been “knocked down”—it is to a post by Media Matters, an openly Far Left “media watchdog” that tries to prove the obviously untrue proposition that any criticism of Democrats, progressives, liberals or Obama is per se biased and false— includes all the rationalizations listed above—Adams is a conservative, Thernstrom, etc.—plus another irrelevancy: the fact that it was the Bush D.O.J. that decided to pursue a civil rather than criminal case against the Panthers. (This has been popular among Holder defenders because Bill O’Reilly erroneously stated otherwise.) This is called “changing the subject.” (Blow also deviously misstates the charge to make it seem unreasonable: no one has accused “the president” of protecting the New Black Panthers.) The question is why the Obama-Holder D.O.J. dropped the civil case against the second thug and the organization that sent the two New Black Panthers to add hostility to a polling place despite an (undoctored) video that showed a clear-cut effort at voter intimidation.
It is dishonest to call this a non-story. Is it the most significant story in the world? No—but the cover-up and denials by Obama acolytes like Blow make it bigger. Watergate was a “third-rate burglary,” after all, that could have been dispensed with by some official candor. Candor is also called for here, as in: “You’re right; this was a dumb decision, and the political hack who pushed it needs to be re-assigned.” Instead, the public is getting misinformation, sputtering denials, “blame the messenger,” and rationalizations, while a videotape shows two New Black Panthers in front of a polling place behaving in a manner that would never, never, never be dismissed as a non-offense or a “non-story” if they belonged to an equivalent white hate group.
Blow says Fox has over-hyped the story. Nonsense. Fox should keep hammering the story until the news media gives it the coverage it deserves and gets to the bottom of it. If the rest of the media was responsible, it wouldn’t make an often irresponsible network look diligent by comparison.