Colbert King is 80 now, but he is still a regular columnist with the Washington Post. As a recent column demonstrated, he has finally fallen prey to the Post culture and no longer is what he once was: the rare pundit, in his case, a liberal one, who could be counted upon for fairness and integrity regardless of the topic. The one-two punches of Barack Obama and Donald Trump showed how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias can corrupt the best of us, and make no mistake about it, King was once one of the best.
Although he is an African-American, he stood out for decades among his corruption- enabling black colleagues in consistently calling out the D.C. government’s corrupt leadership—notably Marion Barry but many others—on their arrogantly dishonest, venal and untrustworthy practices and attitudes.
Then Barack Obama happened. I listened in surprise on a local Sunday talking head show as King defended Barack Obama’s quiet, decades long assent to the black liberation (that is, anti-white, anti-American rantings of Reverend Wright, Obama’s “spiritual mentor.” Were these rationalizations I heard Colbert King uttering? King reliably mocked rationalizations, and yet here he was using them, notably “Everybody does it,” to defend a black Presidential candidate’s approval and association with a black racist and demagogue.
Once Obama was elected, King got worse. Not only could Obama do no wrong, but those who criticized were enemies in his eyes; worse, King treated Obama’s appointees and cronies with similar reverence, a complete reversal from his approach to the parade of incompetent or criminal black politicians in D.C. Notably, he defended Obama “wing man” Eric Holder, the racialist Attorney General, when he was refusing to comply with a legitimate Congressional inquiry into the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious fiasco. His excuses for Holder and his attacks on Republicans were so redolent of partisan hackery that in 2012 I was moved to write my one-time Ethics Hero the “Open Letter”:
Dear Mr. King:
I am writing to see if you can help me understand your attitude toward the Fast and Furious scandal, as laid out in your recent weekly column in the Washington Post.
I can’t bring myself to make you an Ethics Dunce, because few journalists in any community have led such a relentless and powerful crusade against unethical government and corrupt public officials. Your columns have eloquently condemned the culture of corruption that has crippled the District of Columbia, and rallied the indignation and activism of citizens against the legacy of Marion Barry and the tolerance of public betrayal that he sowed and nurtured. You have cataloged, in shocking detail, the ethical rot that has infested the nation’s Capital, marked by lawlessness, cronyism, incompetence and greed. I respect you. I trust you. I think of you as the most credible and objective media advocate for good government that I know.
So I need to understand why you think it is fair and appropriate to call Rep. Issa a “devil” for insisting on transparency, honesty, accountability, and transparency from Attorney General Holder regarding the Fast and Furious fiasco, which left one American and untold Mexicans dead. It is the duty of Congress to exercise oversight over the U.S. government, and if there was ever an episode demanding oversight, this was it. The U.S. Department of Justice allowed the law to be broken, permitted dangerous automatic weapons to cross the border into Mexico and arm the most dangerous thugs in that country (without receiving the permission of Mexico or informing it), and then lost control of both the scheme and the weapons, with fatal results. You always write about maintaining the trust of the public in Washington, D. C. What is more fatal to trust than a law enforcement agency that intentionally allows laws to be broken without accountability? Don’t you believe that public trust in a nation’s Justice Department, its agents, policymakers and leadership is as important as public trust in the D.C. City Council? If you do, why is Issa, in your words, “engaging in cheap political opportunism” by insisting, along with others, such as the scrupulously fair Sen. Grassley, that Holder explain what happened, who was responsible, and what measures have been taken to make sure such an outrageous operation never happens again—beginning with, <gasp!>, firing somebody?
You are usually the most direct of writers, yet your column reeks of deceit. For example, in describing Fast and Furious, you say only that Fast and Furious was ” a venture of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” Most people still believe that ATF is part of the Treasury Department, as it was for decades. I know I did, until Fast and Furious came to light. It’s under the Justice Department now, which means that Holder oversees its operations, and is ultimately responsible when things go horribly wrong. Why did you leave that key information out? I don’t understand. I am trying to think of a reason, other than the obvious one…that it would undercut your column’s indefensible position that House Republicans holding Holder accountable is “loopy.”
Again, you have written movingly about the ongoing damage caused by the “culture of corruption” in Washington, D.C.’s local government. Surely you know how such a culture takes hold and spreads: when high officials lie, cheat, cover up and get away with it. Yet you write,
“….the 23-member Republican majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform…like to do devilish things such as recommending that the attorney general be held in contempt of Congress simply because they have the power and lust to do so.”
You are a smart and fair man, so I can’t understand why you would write this. Holder is being held in contempt of Congress because he is in contempt of Congress. As your colleague Michael Gerson wrote today,
“In a February 2011 letter to Congress, the Justice Department denied any knowledge of “Operation Fast and Furious.” During May congressional testimony, Holder claimed that he had only recently learned of the matter. Both letter and testimony turned out to be false. Holder’s top aides had reviewed wiretapping applications containing specific details. Holder had received memos referencing the operation. Congress had been left under a false impression for nine months.
“The Justice Department’s response to this disclosure was to fight further disclosures — permitting investigation into the original program but not into the misstatements and corrections that followed. Holder has absurdly claimed credit for providing 7,600 pages (about 8 percent) of the material investigators have requested, as though the problem might not be found on Page 7,601.”
Exactly. This isn’t cooperative or transparent conduct, and it is inherently suspicious. It is the kind of evasive and combative conduct that liberal—or objective— journalists attacked during the beginnings of the Watergate investigation. Why should Issa, or Republicans, or the public, or you believe Holder, after such obfuscation?
I don’t understand.
I don’t understand why you would side with a high official who has failed the test of trustworthiness, the head of our justice system, no less. Holder’s department is charged with investigating ruinous leaks from the White House; he is challenging state laws as racist that claim only to be efforts to enforce the integrity of American citizenship and voting rights. It is essential that the public believe his motives are non-political, and that his honesty and competence is trustworthy and beyond reproach. Can you not see that the public must have assurances that such an official is not obstructing justice, hiding misconduct, and tolerating ineptitude for political reasons after a scandalous disaster like Fast and Furious?
I was stunned to see you adopt the cynical and hackneyed talking point of Holder’s defenders, that “This politically inspired dispute diverts attention from issues of real consequence.” The integrity of the Justice Department isn’t an issue of “real consequence” to you? The Congressional oversight function isn’t an issue of “real consequence”? The death of Americans and Mexicans as the result of reckless lawbreaking by U.S. law enforcement agencies isn’t isn’t an issue of “real consequence”? You have heard scoundrel after scoundrel in D.C., from Marion Barry when he was mayor to the current crop of felons on the City Council, make the same offensive claim again and again: “This focus on my personal life/my financial dealings/legal technicalities is just a distraction from the serious problems facing the people of D.C.” You’ve mocked this tactic as the mark of corruption, which it is, and now you are using it yourself! I just can’t understand it.
Please tell me that the reason isn’t so simpleminded and biased as the race of Eric Holder and President Obama, because your column sure makes it seem that way. You begin by recounting how you and other members of your church had recently gathered..
“…to hear the morning’s prized speaker: the 82nd attorney general of the United States, and the first African American, Eric H. Holder Jr….What a sweep of history: from bondage to the top suite in America’s Justice Department, in the space of a few lifetimes. It was a time of celebration, a moment to reflect on how far the church, and the nation, had come since 1867. No more separate pews in corners of the church for “people of color.” No more whites first, colored second when Holy Communion is served. No more separate Sunday school classes for white and black children. No more Washington as a bastion of segregation.”
But then, you say, “up popped the devil.” The devil—as in a Republican Congressman doing his job, and being opposed by an obfuscating, deceptive, uncooperative Attorney General.
This makes no sense, Mr. King. You don’t use race as an excuse in D.C., or party affiliation either, though you are African American and a progressive Democrat. The crooks of the D.C. government are all black Democrats, and this has never tempered your fervor or dedication to rooting out corruption at all. Why are you suddenly becoming a race-baiter and defending the intolerable from Eric Holder?
I don’t understand.
I did understand, though. The first black President had turned an objective, tough, smart African-American critic into a partisan fan, and King couldn’t help himself. We saw this throughout the disastrous Obama administration, as so many in the public who so passionately wanted Barack Obama to be a great one that they insisted he was great, even as he was botching the job and dividing the country. King’s colleagues at the Post and throughout the mainstream media, as we know, were the worst of this group, making Obama worse (and enabling his arrogance) by refusing to hold him to high standards.
Then came Donald Trump….
Part II is here.