The bizarre conduct of the Obama-Holder Department of Justice in refusing to to fully prosecute a 2008 instance of blatant voter intimidation at the polls by members of the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia has been denied by D.O.J. (despite a video that proves the Voting Rights Act violation ), ignored or buried by most major news sources (despite Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander chiding his own paper for failing the public with inadequate coverage of the story) and attacked as manufactured by Republicans by partisan Obama defenders (despite the fact that, well, it just isn’t.) It is both disturbing and depressing that this conduct persists, long after the event itself, months after one Justice Department Civil Rights attorney quit to expose the episode publicly, and while the non-partisan U.S. Commission Civil Rights holds hearings on the case.
At issue is racial bias in Attorney General Erik Holder’s Civil Rights Division, which the Obama Administration must not permit, tolerate or excuse, but appears to be anyway. On Friday of last week, Christopher Coates, a veteran Department of Justice attorney who had previously headed the section of D.O.J. that originally brought the case against the voter-intimidating Panthers and their organization, testified before the Commission and confirmed the earlier allegations of J. Christian Adams. The Post, to its credit, put the story on the front page where it belonged. The New York Times placed a short and misleading account on its page 18. Other “non-partisan” papers and cable stations? Virtually no coverage at all. After all, they were too busy covering comedian Stephen Colbert’s gag testimony on the Hill.
This is, however, a serious and important story, and the media’s continuing effort to characterize it as a conservative, partisan, Fox News fantasy only converts it into as much of a journalistic scandal as a political one.
Coates had to testify in defiance of his Administration supervisor’s demands and has been granted whistleblower protection. He criticized the “gutting” of the New Black Panthers case as part of “deep-seated” opposition among the department’s leaders to filing voting-rights cases against minorities when their conduct intimidates or threatens to intimidate white citizens.
“I had people who told me point-blank that [they] didn’t come to the voting rights section to sue African American people,” said Coates. “When you are paid by the taxpayer, that is totally indefensible.”
Yes, it is. And the fact that a distinguished and credible attorney like Coates made this statement under oath (lawyers who commit perjury get disbarred) should signal to all that racism is flourishing at D.O.J. A journalistic establishment with integrity and a commitment to the truth would be competing to get to the bottom of this matter. Instead, most of the few papers covering it at all are apparently trying to minimize damage to the Obama Administration. The Times and others misleadingly described Coates as a Bush appointee, allowing critics to continue the argument they have used to dismiss Adams: “it’s all a partisan hit job.” As the Washington Post correctly noted, however, Coates cannot be fairly characterized as partisan. He joined the Department of Justice under President Clinton, nor Bush, and previously had worked as an attorney for that bane of the Right, the American Civil Liberties Union. His testimony cannot and should not be dismissed as partisan, because he isn’t partisan.
Here is what should have happened with the New Black Panther case, after questions were raised about why Holder’s Civil Rights staff pulled back from the full prosecution of the Panthers even though the case was already won. Holder himself should have ordered a full investigation, with the intention of making sure that no D.O.J staffers had the biased philosophy described by Adams and Coates. The media should have pursued the story with the same vigor they attacked the politicizing of Bush A.G. Alberto Gonzalez’s Justice Department, and should have kept pushing for answers from an Administration that had pledged to be “post-racial” and committed to equal justice for all. Once the individuals dictating the withdrawal of the charges were identified, they should have been removed by Holder, if for no other reason than for calling the integrity and fairness of the D.O.J. into question.
Instead, The Department of Justice has continued to deny and stonewall. Most telling of all, it has fallen back on the attention-shifting tactic—a favorite of the Obama Administration, unfortunately—of arguing that Republican Departments of Justice were just as bad if not worse, and that it is hypocritical for Republicans to criticize similar conduct by the Obama D.O.J. I have written about this dishonest and illogical argument before: it is the “Favorite Child” rationalization, and it is both an admission and an assertion that two wrongs make a right. Here is the statement of D.O.J. spokesperson Tracy Schmaler (my comments in brackets):
“As even one Republican member of the commission has acknowledged [ The dissenting argument of Commission member Abigail Thernstrom was not an acknowledgment, but a personal opinion that the Commission had bigger fish to fry. She is wrong, she is not the official arbiter of this matter. Republican contrarians are suddenly cited as authorities when they back an Administration’s position, and are ridiculed when they don’t. This is hypocrisy.], this so-called [ So-called? The D.O.J. is supposed to be non-political. It is an investigation, and Schmaler is using political rhetoric to suggest some kind of witch hunt. Foul!] investigation is thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric. [No, it is thick on authentic videotape showing a per se, prima facie, res ipsa loquitur example of voter intimidation under the established standards of the Civil Rights Act. At this point the statement passes into intentional disinformation.] The Department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. [If true, then why was a clear example of voter intimidation by the New Black Panthers treated with kid gloves? Why wasn’t the default judgment against both Panthers and the organization that sent them to a polling place with a club allowed to stand?] We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation. We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that Americans can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats. [Boilerplate. President Obama asked Americans to judge his Administration on its actions, not its words.] Let’s not forget the context in which these allegations are being made. [Here it comes…] The politicization that occurred in the Civil Rights Division in the previous administration has been well documented by the Inspector General, and it was a disgrace to the great history of the division. [ So what? How does that mitigate the handling of the New Black Panther case by this D.O.J.? ] We have changed that. [ Not based on the evidence so far.] We have reinvigorated the Civil Rights Division and ensured that it is actively enforcing the American people’s civil rights, and it is clear that not everyone supports that. [ No, it’s clear that fair-minded people and some of the D.O.J’s own attorneys object to selective enforcement according to race.] We are committed to enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, and we are going to continue to do so without respect to politics. [Then why is this such a nakedly political and partisan statement?]
When the first objections to Holder’s D.O.J.’s handling of this case was raised, the media dismissed it as a “conservative story.” When the first attorney broke ranks, the media followed the Administration’s talking points that he was a disgruntled employee. Adams was even attacked for his characterization of Coate’s objection to the withdrawal of charges. Then Coates, an attorney with impeccable credentials and a non-partisan record, confirms Adams’ account….and neither the Obama Administration nor most of the media changes its approach. Both try to bury the story.
In one of his more obnoxious comments of late, Sen. John Kerry attributed the failure of the public to fall down on their knees and thank Obama and the Democrats for their obviously exemplary performance to the public’s ignorance and inattention, saying,
“We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening.”
I have two thoughts on that for Senator Kerry. First, it would be easier for the public to pay attention to the truth and facts if they were fairly, accurately and quickly reported even when they make Obama and Erik Holder look bad. Second, we could take his complaint more seriously if his own party members and Kerry himself demonstrated integrity and paid attention to facts and testimony that suggest racial bias in Obama’s Department of Justice.
I have to say that I am thoroughly sick of writing about this story, just as you are probably sick of reading about it….which I suspect is what the Administration wants. But I am offended by it. I am offended that it happened at all, but especially offended that the Obama Administration has gone to such lengths to avoid admitting a foolish gaffe that appears to raise questions about the politicization, integrity and competence of the Department of Justice, and doesn’t respect the role and image of the Department enough to address it openly and directly. I am also nauseated at the inexcusable bias of the news media, and the degree that it will compromise all journalistic ethics to minimize one more self-inflicted wound by the Administration it worked so hard to elect.