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 Breitbart.com 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. Breitbart.com 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:

Transcript:

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 Breitbart.com. 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 Breitbart.com 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.