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Lotts of Distractions

The ConWeb would rather recount the alleged racial faux pas of Democrats than talk about Trent Lott.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/17/2002
Updated 12/18/2002

The most entertaining aspect of the ConWeb's coverage of the Trent Lott controversy is how much effort has been put into trying to distract readers from it all.

NewsMax, unsurprisingly, gets the above-and-beyond medal for its efforts. Its attempts at distraction are so furious, in fact, that they end up revealing just how craven and soulless NewsMax is.

The quote:

"I want to say this about my state. 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 these years, either."

— Trent Lott, Dec. 5

All the usual non-conservative bogeymen are dredged up to provide every conceivable distraction -- Robert Byrd's way-long-ago Ku Klux Klan membership gets frequent mention, as does the deceased Mel Carnahan's way-long-ago blackface performance (as ConWebWatch has noted previously, a person's recent death is no excuse from being misused as a object of political ridicule by NewsMax), demonstrating that NewsMax is unable to distinguish between events of 40 years ago or more and events of two weeks ago.

Byrd gets a particular beating, as last year's "white nigger" remark of his gets frequent attention. But NewsMax only sounds desperate when "Carl Limbacher and staff" devotes an entire article to pretending to be outraged that Byrd has merely expressed regret for his Klan association and not specifically apologized for it.

NewsMax also performs another policy shift, treating Cynthia McKinney with respect once more as her "low Negro tolerance" remarks about Al Gore get rehashed. The story of the Gore family's black maid allegedly having to sit in the car with the Gores ate at restaurants gets dredged up, too, again showing NewsMax's time-shift dissonance and also showing a bit of spin that two Gore biographers -- one published by the conservatives' favorite publishing house, Regnery -- couldn't uncover, as the Daily Howler reports.

And it wouldn't be NewsMax if a Clinton wasn't worked into this, and it obliges by bringing in ... Roger! The whole laundry list of questionably sourced allegations against the Clinton family, ancestors included, gets recited, including the Afro wig incident NewsMax has been trying to promote as a hate crime for years. It also wouldn't be NewsMax if Dick Morris wasn't worked in as well, and so we get treated to his words praising Lott's civil-rights record. (Note to Mr. Morris: If you're so ashamed of your work for Clinton that you're planning to donate "the written schedules of his daily meetings with ex-President Bill Clinton during the days when he worked to get Clinton re-elected amidst the swirl of scandals like Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate" to that silly Counter Clinton Library, why do you insist on people knowing that you're a "former Clinton White House political guru"?)

The most remarkable thing about NewsMax's Lott coverage, though, is that amid all this bluster, no NewsMax staff writer to date has explicitly criticized Lott's remarks.

The official NewsMax stance is best illustrated by a Dec. 11 column by editor Christopher Ruddy. He starts out by saying, "The liberals would love to see Trent Lott out as majority leader. But I am dismayed by the number of Republicans and conservatives calling for Trent Lott's head over his remarks about Strom Thurmond."

This sets off the irony warning bells because NewsMax has long been a critic of Lott -- not for any racial insensitivity, mind you, but allegedly being too nice to Senate Democrats. As recently as a month ago, NewsMax's Wes Vernon fumed that "Lott, who is only too willing to roll over for Democrats, plays hardball with his own troops when he has reason to believe that they will challenge him" and of trying to ensure his re-election as majority leader "before his troops have time to organize a rebellion" over an alleged deal with current Majority Leader Tom Daschle that kept Democrats in control of Senate committees during the post-election lame-duck session of Congress.

Vernon points out in another article that "Conservatives across the country remain steamed that Lott gave up the Republican committee chairmanships the minute Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the party in the middle of 2001" and that "Lott is also remembered for cutting short the Clinton impeachment trial."

Given this history, Ruddy ought to be jumping for joy at what appears to the perfect opportunity to force out a guy he doesn't like. But no -- Ruddy has suddenly decided he has principles.

"No, I am not participating in the sacrifice of Lott," he writes. "Lott may not be the savior of the Republican Party, but he doesn't deserve to be ruined by an ambiguous remark that some have deemed offensive." Funny, using NewsMax to try to ruin someone over ambiguous remarks hasn't bothered him before.

Ruddy makes an all-out effort to avoid criticizing Lott's statement. He notes that "Lott quickly, and decently, apologized for the remark" but then adds: "I believe Lott. For several good reasons, but one important one. He would have been crazy to want to imply he supported segregation."

In Ruddy's eyes, it's all about being decent and not "crazy" in public, not about the fundamental wrongness of Lott's words. One has to wonder if Ruddy secretly agrees with Lott's words and, if given the chance to be indecent and crazy, he would write an article defending Lott in the manner of one by Michael Andrew Grissom on the Web site of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an ally of Lott, who writes among other things that "Lott may never have meant, as happily charged in the press, that we would have been better off with a segregationist President, but I wish he had. It is true, and it is time someone says so."

Ruddy drags a few more distractions out for display as well, a vague reference to CBS' Mike Wallace using bigoted language and the Dan Rather "buckwheat" non-controversy NewsMax was parading before 9/11 obliterated it as an issue.

In contrast to NewsMax's wild spinning, WorldNetDaily has been almost silent. The first (and so far only) original story WND did related to the controversy to appear on the site's "news" side appeared a week after the remarks were made, putting it way behind the curve -- and it's not really a story at all, merely radio host-slash-White House correspondent Les Kinsolving's attempt to bait Bush press spokesman Ari Fleischer into comparing Lott's remarks with those of Bill Clinton praising former segregationist and distinguished senator J. William Fulbright. (Never mind that mere praise for a former segregationist is not the issue, and that unlike Lott, Clinton never implied he supported Fulbright's long-ago segregationist attitudes.) WND has devoted more news staff resources to a statement by radio commentator Paul Harvey saying something nice about Fidel Castro than it has to the Lott imbroglio.

The majority of WND's commentary has come down on the side of being critical of Lott, though, and an unusually insightful analysis by Michael Medved Dec. 16 is critical of what he calls "the so's-your-old-man argument" used by the NewsMax types and specifically points out the irrelevance of the Clinton-Fulbright example. (Are you reading your employer's Web site, Mr. Kinsolving?) It didn't keep other WND writers from being more concerned about the words coming out of Democrats' mouths, though. Hugh Hewitt is more critical of Al Gore for criticizing Lott than he is of Lott; Kyle Williams says the uproar of Lott's "insignificant" comments "shows the credulity of Americans, people caught up with the rhetoric instead of the reality or intent of what Lott actually said." (Again, see the treatment of Al Gore for the measure of many conservatives' concern with the "reality or intent" of someone's words.)

The WND attitude is best summed up by a Dec. 16 column by Joseph Farah, who declares, "I want to weigh in with yet another opinion – and, dare I say, it ought to be the last word on this matter." (Update: It wasn't, as WND finally found some angles it could write about nearly two weeks after Lott first spoke his remarks. The news side exploded with three Lott stories Dec. 18 -- an overview written by Farah himself, a Jon Dougherty piece rehashing Byrd's remarks and an unbylined piece trying to work up a little outrage that former Clinton secretary of agricuture Mike Espy might fill Lott's seat should he resign from the Senate.) has continued its policy of countering balanced news stories, like one Dec. 10 article, and even offsetting commentaries on whether Lott should or should not resign (the "should not resign" article was written by Paul Weyrich, last seen over at NewsMax grumbling about Lott being a lousy leader) with slanted "news" pieces like a Dec. 11 article written by managing editor Scott Hogenson on what people who criticized Lott were doing when Byrd made his "white nigger" remark (never mind the two remarks aren't equivalent; Byrd wasn't referring to black people when he used the n-word). A Dec. 17 article about a coalition of African-American groups seeking Lott's ouster is offset by another article the same day pushing the idea that the Congressional Black Caucus' demand that Lott resign 'may be more about liberal politics than perceived racism" because the caucus didn't speak out against the Byrd remark.

CNS also digs up a "conservative grassroots organization" called Public Advocate of the United States, which sent out Christmas cards to Senate offices that that included the following questions as part of a mock "political correctness" test: "Do you know and like Trent Lott or Strom Thurmond? Did you live in an unpopular period of American history? Did you ever serve in a unpopular war? Could any of your current political positions be politically unacceptable in 54 years?" The head of the group calls the Lott controversy "political correctness run amok" and says the cards "show the silliness of attacking a man for positive remarks he made toward a friend who ran for president when Trent (Lott) was a seven-year-old."

Down the hall at the Media Research Center, the usual evil-liberal-media template is being applied. In addition to the usual diversionary references to Byrd and Clinton-Fulbright, Brent Baker is offended that the "liberal" media is resorting to quoting conservatives who are critical of Lott. And he still found plenty to complain about:

    Both ABC and NBC reporters failed to label the NAACP as liberal but described those on the conservative side as “conservative.” CBS’s Dan Rather imputed great credibility to the NAACP by describing it as “the oldest civil rights group in the United States,” instead of as a liberal pressure group which regularly denigrates conservatives. ... And while every story ran a soundbite from NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume demanding that Lott step down, back in 2000 none of the evening shows ever told viewers about a vicious NAACP ad suggesting that George W. Bush’s opposition to a hate crimes bill means he’d “killed” James Byrd “all over again.”

Baker follows that up immediately afterward by contradicting himself: "But, as some prominent conservatives have observed, Democratic wrongs do not excuse wrong-headed notions from Republicans, especially espousing views which falsely malign all conservatives by giving ammunition to the enemy to portray conservatives as racists ..."

If "Democratic wrongs" don't excuse what Lott said, why bring those "wrongs" up in the first place? And note the depiction of the politics involved here as conservatives vs. "the enemy." Remember that next time Baker says something like his Nov. 18 insistence that all MRC is really interested in is "not conservatively biased news ... but balanced and fair coverage."

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