An open letter to Matt Bai

In connection with “Matt Bai repeats the big lie,” reader Steve Robbins asked us to forward the message below to New York Times reporter Matt Bai. I asked Steve if we could post it as an open letter to Bai on Power Line. Slightly edited, here it is:

Dear Matt Bai:
I read your strange July 17, 2010 piece in the New York Times entitled “Beneath Divides Seemingly About Race Are Generational Fault Lines.” And I did so with a considerable degree of skepticism and concern regarding a lack of a factual basis for some of your key suppositions.
In particular, you made a few statements therein that seem plainly without any merit whatsoever. Moreover, those statements seem to form the basis for your otherwise questionable thesis that (shall we say), older folks (40-plus) appear be the bulk of Tea Party supporters; and that, in turn, those within the Tea Party aged 60 or older, appear to comprise the core of the reputedly “racist” or at least “racially insensitive” supporters within the Tea party movement.
This, you go on to conclude, seems to be the basis for what you identify as the “fractured politics” in our country. Yet you offer little or no support beyond speculation for some of your broad insinuations. And it seems to me that, without any factual basis, your already thin thesis quickly evaporates. In fact, I’d suggest instead that, if anything, your willingness to regurgitate false accusations of racism contributes to the degradation of our American politics.
Let me elaborate just a bit. Specifically, you said: “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.”
This statement is demonstrably false on several grounds. The folks at Power Line have rather exhaustively examined this issue and it is quite clear that Carson’s claim was either knowingly false when made, or that he was seriously mistaken. Moreover, your statement repeats and even adds to a baseless narrative that is being desperately repeated by officials within the Democratic Party.
First, as was noted by Power Line, no one — prior to you that is — had made the outrageous claim that more than one such “hateful epithets” were hurled at Congressman Lewis. To my knowledge, there was ONE such actual report of an alleged incident involving ONE such epithet — an unsubstantiated McClatchy report that claimed the racial epithet “n*****” was shouted at Congressman Lewis and others by demonstrators (and only inferentially by Tea Party supporters), at a key time just before the vote on the health care bill in the House. Here is the link to that story which was filed on March 20, 2010 by McClatchy reporter, William Douglas.
As you can see, that McClatchy report was based on the accusations of Rep. Lewis and Rep. Cleaver. It was based primarily on their word that they heard the hateful expression being screamed repeatedly. [Rep. Andre Carson also peddled the story that afternoon.] The accusation has since been thoroughly examined, and quite convincingly discredited. Specifically, of several video recordings made of the incident in question, not one of them has in any way substantiated Representative Cleaver’s outrageous and vile claim. Not one.
No doubt you are at least aware that an offer that was made by Andrew Breitbart of $100,000.00 for ANY proof of the screaming of that racist epithet? And, I assume you are aware that no proof — from among the several recordings and video tapings made at the time — has ever surfaced to back up the accusation?
But perhaps you have seen proof to the contrary, or at least have access to proof to the contrary? I think it is safe to assume you have not because, if you had, I’m sure you would have very eagerly trumpeted the proof in a story it in the NYT, no? If you had any proof, you would hardly stand still in the face of taunts from new media figures like Andrew Breitbart, who most recently put it this way on Big Government:

When the media chose to ignore that Representatives Lewis and Carson’s story was falling apart, we dug deeper. We found four videos from the moment Rep. Carson claimed the racist Tea Party incident occurred. The four videos, which include audio, show beyond a reasonable doubt that the incident was a manufactured lie. That lie that was supposed to be the centerpiece in the Democratic strategy to destroy the Tea Party. The videos had been available on YouTube almost immediately after the incident occurred and could have been found by any reporter interested in investigating the truthfulness of Rep. Carson’s claim.

So, knowing that there is no proof of the accusation, please explain why you would, at this late date, repeat such a vicious and false claim? And why would you now even add to that blatantly false narrative?
Other, that is, than to further poison the atmosphere?
You see, it is my belief that if old media outlets, including news organizations such as McClatchy and newspapers such as yours, continue to regurgitate that blatantly false accusation of racism, it will actually be you who are intentionally fostering the ugly and false narrative.
One might even add that it will be reporters like you who will thereby represent, to use your phrase, “an insidious presence” within some quarters of the news industry, to contribute significantly to whatever fracturing there may already be in our politics.
Please, Matt . . . tell me where I am wrong?
Steve Robbins

It’s a good question, but we’re not holding our breath for the answer.

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