What would the establishment media reaction be if tens of members of Congress met with one of America’s most notorious racists and anti-Semites and refused to denounce him? Or if the leaders of one of America’s hottest social movements embraced him?
If the bigot in question is Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — who has blamed Jews for the 9/11 attacks, said white people “deserve to die” and praised Adolf Hitler — the answer seems to be … not much, at least not when those embracing him are Democrats and progressives.
The genesis of this story was the revelation that a photograph of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Farrakhan at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) meeting was suppressed for years for political reasons. Obama had previously criticized Farrakhan’s racist and anti-Semitic statements. Moreover, during his presidential run, Obama found himself on the hot seat by both embracing his own minister — the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright — and disowning him a month later (unsurprisingly, the media applauded Obama both times).
After the photo surfaced, conservative media, particularly The Daily Caller, began re-examining the ties between Farrakhan and the CBC. In an interview with Peter Hasson, Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) defended Farrakhan as an “outstanding human being.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is going increasingly soft on elected Democrats, initially responded by claiming Davis had told them his remarks praising Farrakhan were taken out of context. When Davis then confirmed his original opinion of Farrakhan and said he was unsure why the ADL believed he was misquoted, the ADL was forced to say they were “deeply disappointed” with Davis.
Hasson also contacted the offices of 20 other CBC members who attended the 2005 meeting. None denounced Farrakhan.
If you thought Big Media would be interested in the story of public officials cozying up to a virulent bigot, you would be mistaken. Journalists rationalized their dismissal of the story by saying that CBC members like Davis are basically invulnerable in their Congressional districts. One big flaw in this defense is that House incumbents are generally invulnerable in their districts. Perhaps the media should just stop covering Congress.
Another big flaw in this defense is that the progressives’ affinity for Farrakhan extends beyond Congress.
At least three leaders of the Women’s March have been on friendly terms with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. March co-president Tamika Mallory called Farrakhan “definitely GOAT,” while Carmen Perez shared a photo of herself holding hands with him and videos of the minister “speaking truth to power.” March co-chair Linda Sarsour, who appeared at a 2015 Nation of Islam event, has publicly claimed that anti-Semitism is “different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic,” — something that will come as news to Jews throughout recorded history.
The ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt was marginally more critical of the Women’s March leadership than Davis and the CBC. Facing more pressure, after nine days, the Women’s March issues a mealy-mouthed statement that “Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles,” but lacking any apology or disavowal of a man whose track record on these subjects eminently warranted it.
CNN’s Jake Tapper has led on coverage critical of Davis and Mallory, asking “Why is it so tough for some people to condemn a rabid anti-Semite who is also a misogynist and anti-LGBTQ?” The answer is that his colleagues make it easy for them to not condemn him.
As I write this, outside conservative media and Jewish media (e.g., Forward, Tablet, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Haaretz), The Daily Beast (linked above), the New York Daily News, Newsday, and Yahoo have been exceptions to the general rule. At this moment, neither the The New York Times nor the The Washington Post have found it news fit to print (though both covered a surreal Saturday Night Live sketch that had Farrakhan phoning into “Fox & Friends”).
Perhaps others will eventually follow Tapper’s lead, but the question remains as to why they were so slow off the mark. The answer is fairly obvious. If the Freedom Caucus had met with David Duke or Richard Spencer and declined to repudiate them — if a GOP Congressman had called either on an “outstanding human being” — the media firestorm would have been lengthy and massive. Every prominent Republican officeholder would be asked to comment and offer a condemnation.
This pattern can be seen in any number of stories, whether it’s stupid remarks by a Senatorial candidate about rape, or a GOP presidential candidate rejecting an endorsement from a similarly controversial pastor.
But this particular strain of political bias is particularly toxic. Who benefits when Big Media looks the other way at progressives associating with someone like Farrakhan? Weaselly progressives who want to have it both ways, to be sure.
Yet the right also benefits, particularly those elements that want to exploit white identity politics. The overall media silence allows people to claim that the establishment only cares about prejudice and bigotry when it serves their narrow political agenda.
Some journalists may tell themselves that they focus on the GOP’s racial issues because the right has a race problem, whereas the left does not. It’s easier to convince themselves of that if they ignore all the progressives smiling in photos with Farrakhan. Who loses when media looks the other way? People of good will.