In the Political Times article the Sunday before last, New York Times reporter Matt Bai regurgitated the hardy but convenient lie about the Tea Party movement:
The question of racism in the amorphous Tea Party movement is, of course, a serious one, since so much of the Republican Party seems to be in the thrall of its activists. There have been scattered reports around the country of racially charged rhetoric within the movement, most notably just before the vote on the new health care law last March, when Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, the legendary civil rights leader, was showered with hateful epithets outside the Capitol.
On Sunday the Times published the following correction:
The Political Times column last Sunday, about a generational divide over racial attitudes, erroneously linked one example of a racially charged statement to the Tea Party movement. While Tea Party supporters have been connected to a number of such statements, there is no evidence that epithets reportedly directed in March at Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, outside the Capitol, came from Tea Party members.
This is an interesting correction. Matt Bai and the New York Times deserve some credit for publishing it. News services have left their stories retailing accounts of the phantom n-word to stand uncorrected. Thus McClatchy has refused to budge on “Tea party protesters scream ‘nigger’ at black congressmen.” McClatchy and others to the contrary notwithstanding, the Times has budged.
Adopting the New York Times convention referring to figures in the news as, for example, “Mr.” Loaf and “Ms.” Gaga, I would like to ask what Mr. Times is saying in this correction.
To its retraction of the allegation against the March 20 Tea Party protesters, the Times adds the assertion that Tea Party protersters have been connected to “a number of such [racially charged] statements.” Given the seriousness of the charge and the lack of specificity, this is a politically convenient cheap shot. As John wrote on Sunday: “Someday the Times may go all the way and admit that the epithets ‘reportedly’ directed at Lewis (reported by Lewis himself, that is) never occurred.”
No statement be read much more carefully than it is written, but the Times correction appears to be quite carefully written. Let’s unpack John’s observation and take another look.
After finding Tea Party protesters guilty of “a number of such charged statements,” the Times holds that there is no evidence that Tea Party protesters made the statements on this occasion. In other words, the Times raises no question about the statements having been made at all. Yet this has been the point in contention all along, and there is no evidence supporting Rep. Lewis’s contention about the “statements.” The question has been whether the “statements” were made, not to whom they were attributable.
Instead the Times implies that the statements were made by unidentified third-parties. We are left to infer that such unidentified third-parties may or may not have been connected to Tea Party protesters. We just can’t say who they were.
The Times accordingly arrives at a version of events that is just about as unsupported as the version passed off by Bai, but It will have to do. To borrow the Watergate locution, the Times has executed a limited hangout.