Telling the Truth is “Controversial” and “Incendiary” at Politico

Former Politico White House Reporter Joe Williams

This morning, Politico fired their White House Reporter Joe Williams for supposed “incendiary” remarks that he made in an appearance on MSNBC’s Martin Bashir show last week. He had been suspended after complaints from ultra-right-wing outlets and The Washington Free Beacon.

POLITICO reporter Joe Williams has been suspended pending review of recent controversial comments he made on television and Twitter, POLITICO editors informed staff late Thursday night.

On MSNBC today, Williams made a remark suggesting Mitt Romney was only comfortable around white people. The video was first flagged by conservative website Washington Free Beacon. ran the video and also flagged a series of tweets Williams had written that made fun of the Republican candidate, particularly in regard to his wealth.

“Regrettably, an unacceptable number of Joe Williams’s public statements on cable and Twitter have called into question his commitment to this responsibility,” POLITICO’s founding editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei wrote in a memo to the staff. “His comment about Governor Romney earlier today on MSNBC fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment in an especially unfortunate way.”

Here is the appearance in question, followed by a transcript of the offending comments:


It’s very interesting that he does so many appearances on “ Fox & Friends .” And it’s unscripted. It’s only time they let Mitt off the leash, so to speak. But it also points out a larger problem he’s got to solve if he wants to be successful come this fall. Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That’s one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in some town hall settings, why he can’t relate to people other than that. But when he comes on “ Fox & Friends,” they are like him, they’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company, so it really is a very stark contrast, I think, and a problem that he has not been able to solve to date, and he’s going to have to network harder if he’s going to try to compete.

Frankly, I have no problems with any of that. I think it’s demonstrably true that Romney is more comfortable with people like himself–whether they’re right-wingers, rich people, or white people. Williams’ tweets are a little more inappropriate. Here’s a collection of them at The worst was a retweet of a penis joke about Ann and Mitt.

So what are Politico’s “standards?” Supposedly they want their reporters to be objective and unbiased. Really? The site was founded by two conservatives, John Harris and Jim VandeHei, who were previously at the Washington Post. In my opinion, Politico has a definite Republican slant–in fact I’ve always thought of it as a Republican blog.

I’m not alone in my point of view on this. Here’s TBogg’s characterization of the firing:

The ankle-nippers at Big Dead Andy’s Big Mausoleum of Otherwise Unemployables have claimed another head to be mounted on their wall of Black People We Don’t Like Because They Are Black People. In this case, Joe Williams from the Beltway Daily Racing Form known as Politico


This is probably a rude question, but how many black reporters does Politico employ? I’m sure there must be a few, but Williams is was the only one I’m aware of. And Breitbart is now an acceptable arbiter on journalistic ethics? Seriously?

I think it’s understandable that Williams would be thinking in terms of race as well as ideology when he refers to Romney’s comfort level on Fox and Friends. I suppose Fox’s token black guy Juan Williams may occasionally appear on the show, but would Romney even be comfortable with Juan Williams? Remember when he was booed at a Republican debate for asking some questions about Newt Gingrich’s attitudes about poor people and food stamps? I don’t recall Romney protesting the audience’s vile reaction.

At the African American blog NewsOne, Syracuse University Professor Boyce Watkins has a different take on the suspension than Joe Williams’ former bosses at Politico:

[T]here’s a pattern and unfortunately Joe has been affected by it. For the most part, being born a Black man who speaks conscientiously or accurately about issues of race effectively defines you to be a rogue. There isn’t much of a disconnect between the Black man who is stopped and frisked on the street, and the Black male professor/journalist/doctor/lawyer who has his capabilities questioned, even when he does nothing wrong.

Cornel West was a rogue at Harvard for seeking to reengage the black community. I was a trouble maker in elementary school when I answered questions without raising my hand. Barack Obama was defined as a radical leftist by the Republican Party for saying that the wealthy should pay slightly higher taxes. It’s easy for black men to be marginalized very quickly in most mainstream environments, primarily because people are waiting for you to say something that they can define to be volatile or dangerous.

In media, the pattern is quite the same: Just a couple of years ago, Marc Lamont Hill was ambushed by the Right Wing and fired from Fox News for no good reason. After that, Roland Martin was suspended from CNN for making remarks that I personally didn’t agree with, but were acceptable to many millions of African Americans. The consistent and unfortunate reality for many African Americans who work with mainstream (read: White-owned) media organizations is that you must either be a good little boy who goes along with the program or you have to “take your black ass back to the ghetto.” Most of these organizations have little interest in true and meaningful diversity of ideas, they only want to have a black face or two at the table so they can pretend that they are making racial progress.

I’m sure Joe Williams saw the writing on the wall as soon as he was suspended without pay. That’s probably why he went on Current TV on Wednesday, without getting approval from his Politico masters, and spoke honestly once again.

Williams acknowledged to host Bill Press that he made “errors in judgment” but pointedly blamed right wing publications such as The Daily Caller and for relentlessly reporting on Williams’ purported liberal bias. “Certainly they’re in the business of gathering scalps and we’ve seen it,” he said. He said the story quickly became “about him” rather than what he said. This made him uncomfortable.

After several patronizing attempts by Press to school him on journalistic ethics, Williams said:

“We are paid to observe, but we are not blind.” The host asked if Williams would apologize to Romney. He said if he did that, then “a lot of other people would have to as well.” Further, he said his thoughts on white people are nothing new and that he should not have to apologize: “I probably should have selected my words more carefully. In some people’s minds they were incendiary.”

And finally,

Williams declared that the Washington Press Corps. as a whole has a problem with minority hires and said Politico is no exception.

I’d say he knew he was already gone and had nothing to lose–so why not speak the truth? I’m hoping MSNBC will continue to use Williams as a commentator. He’s far more insightful than hacks like Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe.

26 Comments on “Telling the Truth is “Controversial” and “Incendiary” at Politico”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Thanks for covering this. The right wing now has a meme about “we’re not racist, it’s reverse racism that’s the problem” that is driving me nuts. The racism is so overt now that it’s hard to miss and people should be allowed to point to it. We are not going to get over misogyny, homophobia or racism unless those of us that have lived through the impact and deal with the institutional nastiness can talk about our experiences.

    • bostonboomer says:

      These white Republicans are so sensitive now you’d think their ancestors were slaves or something.

      • quixote says:

        Well, they’re slaves to fear. Does that count?

        (Before anyone jumps on me, that’s supposed to be some kind of morbid humor. Making fun of Repubs who think they’re oppressed when somebody else gets the last caramel truffle out of the chocolate box. Although they are slaves to fear. That part’s fairly true.)

      • bostonboomer says:

        No need to explain. You’re among friends, remember?

      • RalphB says:

        Slaves to fear. Absolutely correct!

      • NW Luna says:

        who think they’re oppressed when somebody else gets the last caramel truffle out of the chocolate box.

        lol. Born entitled. What is so incendiary about the point that a person is most comfortable with his own kind?

        I don’t think Williams went far enough. Romney is most comfortable with rich white people.

    • ANonOMouse says:

      “The racism is so overt now that it’s hard to miss and people should be allowed to point to it.”

      I agree, Anyone who hasn’t seen the racism launched at Obama by GOP candidates and much of the GOP/TP isn’t paying attention or doesn’t give a damn. And I’m sickened by those who ignore it, excuse it and worst of all, deny it.

      After watching the GOP debates it seemed apparent that the problem with Romney’s communication skills is that he doesn’t have a CLUE how to engage people who aren’t like him. He is basically removed and insulated from the realities of most of society.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Little Green Footballs reprints a tweet calling for murder of his political adversaries by the Breitbart writer who trashed Joe Williams.

  3. ecocatwoman says:

    It seems apparent to me that the Right simply wants everyone that doesn’t support their opinions is supposed to be seen but not heard. What is appalling to me is the true firebrands on the Right are never admonished for the totally outrageous, disgusting things they say, time after time. They, like Rush, Beck, O’Reilly, Hannity, et al are given a pass or even applauded for their “honesty” & passionate defense of righteousness. It feels like we are living in Absurd World. Couldn’t all of those pontificating monstrosities be rounded up & kept in a theme park instead of polluting our airwaves with their vitriolic outbursts?

  4. HT says:

    Sorry to seem unfeeling, but doesn’t it seem like the GOP are eating their own these days? something about purity. REminds me of that old Queen song – Another one buys the dust.

  5. dakinikat says:

    Freudian slip?

  6. “Another one buys the dust”… how fitting!

  7. The Rock says:

    Frankly, I have no problems with any of that. I think it’s demonstrably true that Romney is more comfortable with people like himself–whether they’re right-wingers, rich people, or white people.

    Kudos BB. How utterly common of the media to focus on the fluff rather than the substance. If this was in some way a rascist remark against Romney, it should be easy to prove by going back and looking at his comfort level around minorities. But verification is not the media’s job anymore, now is it?


    Hillary 2012

  8. northwestrain says:

    How can Mittens even know how to interact naturally with any group of people not of his own “class” and religion? Plus Mormons of his age are highly racist and sexist — always those two go together.

    As a blunt honest person — who has her share of getting in trouble for speaking the truth — what this reporter said was not out of line. He got in trouble for being black while truth telling. In this election truth telling by the media — and the talking heads is a rare bird.

    Even his tweets (especially the zipped penis remark) aren’t as out of line as Mitten’s political aide who tweeted rude remarks about women. Annie Romney made that remark with so many meanings she opened that topic– and seeing how the Mormons so value sex for the male. . . . . seems like that church is all about sex. (In a way that’s true since John Smith founded his con church rather than go to jail for getting the family maid pregnant.)

    With the firing of John Williams we might be seeing the masks come off of the conservatives and the real racists will be visible. They are like pus — the sore needs to be open up and the junk flow out in order to clean the infection. They are the infection.

    It’s amazing that Williams lasted as long as he did.

    Obviously the owners of Politico do not know very many African Americans — the ones I went to school with for many years were absolutely honest in their assessment of those in power — blunt honest — many would call themselves. The Black Agenda Report comes to mind — when Mr. & Mrs 0bama pander to their friends of the 1% — the BAP will call the first couple on their pandering.

    Now I know why Politico always is a bit off — as if in some alternative reality. I’ve learned to never read the comments — sort of like looking at the sewer side under the pretty homes.