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NYT ‘Clarified’ Santorum’s ‘Black’ Quote

January 10, 2012

Exclusive: Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum is denying his slur about “black people” and “somebody else’s money” with absurd claims that the recordings of his quote aren’t accurate, now getting a sympathetic hearing from a New York Times reporter, writes Robert Parry.

 

By Robert Parry

New York Times political reporter Katharine Q. Seelye, who famously misquoted Al Gore during Campaign 2000, has now bent over backward to shield Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum from a real quote in which he disparaged “black people.”

Santorum has been running from his quote since he was caught on video discussing food stamps with a group of white voters in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 1 and telling them “I do not want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

New York Times correspondent Katharine Q. Seelye

The comment won Santorum a round of applause from his white audience – and may have helped him rally right-wing Iowans as he surged to a virtual tie with front-runner Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses two days later. But the former Pennsylvania senator began coming under criticism for his racially charged remark, which was replayed on MSNBC, CNN and other news networks.

Rather than stand by his comment or simply apologize, Santorum offered the risible explanation that he never said “black people,” that he had “started to say a word” and then “sort of mumbled it and changed my thought.” The word on the video wasn’t “black,” he said, but “blah.”

Traditionally, the role of the press in such cases has been to hold politicians accountable, not let them make a bigoted appeal to one group and then weasel out of it later. However, the Times and its reporter Seelye chose to buy into Santorum’s ridiculous explanation.

In a brief item in the Times on Jan. 10, entitled “Food Stamp Remarks, Clarified,” Seelye wrote that “some construed” Santorum’s comments to be “racially charged” though she noted that Santorum explained that he had “been tongue-tied and had not meant to refer to black people.”

When it came to describing the actual quote, Seelye wrote that Santorum “was reported to have said” the words, rather than note that the words — “black people” — can be clearly heard on the videotape. Santorum’s context, criticizing black people for receiving welfare, also was pretty obvious. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Fleecing the Angry Whites.”]

Seelye went on to write that Santorum “maintains that he did not say ‘black’ people’s lives but rather stumbled verbally when he was trying to say ‘people’s lives’ and uttered a short syllable that came out as ‘plives.’”

Acting as if this was a plausible explanation – and ignoring the fact that Santorum earlier had insisted that his word was “blah” people, not “plives” – Seelye added that “nevertheless, [Santorum] faced criticism afterward for apparently linking food stamps with black people.” Gee, how unfair to Santorum!

In the online version of the story, Seelye also wrote: “Moreover, he said he has done more in black communities ‘than any Republican in recent memory.’” She further quoted Santorum as responding to press questions about the “construed” quote on “black people” by saying, “You guys, you guys — it’s really sad that you are bringing this up. It’s just sad news.”

Misquoting Gore

Seelye’s excuses for Santorum were in marked contrast to her combative reporting regarding Vice President Al Gore during Campaign 2000 when she and Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly helped frame the destructive narrative that Gore was a serial exaggerator, ironically by misquoting him.

That “Lyin’ Al” narrative, especially in contrast to the mostly softball coverage of the well-liked Texas Gov. George W. Bush, cost Gore a significant number of votes, according to Election 2000 exit polls, and enabled Bush to narrow the gap with Gore enough so Republicans could steal that pivotal election – aided by Gov. Jeb Bush’s political cronies in Florida and five GOP partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court. [For details on the vote count, see Neck Deep.]

Perhaps the most memorable refrain from Election 2000 was the apocryphal quote attributed to Gore that he claimed to have “invented the Internet” when he never said that. But the national press corps also misrepresented other supposed examples of Gore’s “exaggerations.”

Indeed, some journalists behaved as if they were working out their disappointment that President Bill Clinton had survived impeachment by taking out those frustrations on Gore. Other reporters – sensing the “free-fire-zone” that was Al Gore – may have viewed it as an opportunity to demonstrate their toughness and build their careers.

Seelye and Connolly were at the forefront of this “war on Gore.” As I noted in an article in early 2000, “to read the major newspapers and to watch the TV pundit shows, one can’t avoid the impression that many in the national press have decided that Vice President Al Gore is unfit to be elected the next President of the United States.”

The article, entitled “Al Gore v. the Media,” went on to say: “Across the board – from The Washington Post to The Washington Times, from The New York Times to the New York Post, from NBC’s cable networks to the traveling campaign press corps – journalists don’t even bother to disguise their contempt for Gore anymore.

“At one early Democratic debate, a gathering of about 300 reporters in a nearby press room hissed and hooted at Gore’s answers. Meanwhile, every perceived Gore misstep, including his choice of clothing, is treated as a new excuse to put him on a psychiatrist’s couch and find him wanting.”

A key moment in this “war on Gore” came in December 1999 when the U.S. news media generated dozens of stories about Gore’s supposed claim that he discovered the Love Canal toxic waste dump.

In twin articles – by Seelye in the Times and Connolly in the Post – Gore was quoted as saying “I was the one that started it all.” This “gaffe” then was recycled endlessly and combined with other situations in which Gore allegedly exaggerated, thus persuading many voters that Gore was an inveterate liar or clinically delusional.

The media’s Love Canal stampede was allowed to continue despite the fact that the Times and the Post quickly learned that their reporters had misquoted Gore. Seelye, in particular, insisted that the inaccurate quote didn’t deserve correcting because she felt she had gotten the gist of it right, though that wasn’t true either.

Upside-Down Journalism

The Love Canal quote controversy began on Nov. 30, 1999, when Gore was speaking to a group of high school students in Concord, New Hampshire. He was exhorting the students to reject cynicism and to recognize that individual citizens can effect important changes.

As an example, he cited a high school girl from Toone, Tennessee, a town that had experienced problems with toxic waste. She brought the issue to the attention of Gore’s congressional office in the late 1970s, he said.

“I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing,” Gore told the students. “I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone, Tennessee – that was the one that you didn’t hear of. But that was the one that started it all.”

After the hearings, Gore said, “we passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country. We’ve still got work to do. But we made a huge difference. And it all happened because one high school student got involved.”

The context of Gore’s comment was clear. What sparked his interest in the toxic-waste issue was the situation in Toone – “that was the one that you didn’t hear of. But that was the one that started it all.” After learning about the Toone situation, Gore looked for other examples and “found” a similar case at Love Canal.

Gore was not claiming to have been the first one to discover Love Canal, which already had been evacuated. He simply needed other case studies for the hearings.

The next day, Seelye and Connolly altered Gore’s quote, changing the word ”that” to “I,” so that Gore was boasting “I was the one that started it all.” The context was also stripped away to make Gore’s praise for the girl from Toone, Tennessee, into a supposed example of his self-aggrandizing, thus fitting the narrative of Gore the Exaggerator.

SNIP>

 

 



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