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."
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."
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.