News & Politics

Right-Wing Blogs Push Politico to Dump Black Reporter for Comments on Romney and Race

The shocking observation that Mitt Romney might feel more comfortable in the company of other rich white people was enough to get Joe Williams suspended.

Photo Credit: MSNBC

Last week, Politico suspended its veteran White House correspondent, Joe Williams, after he observed that presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems more comfortable around other white people.

Williams, whom Politico itself brands as a correspondent “examining the intersection of race and politics,” commented, on Martin Bashir's MSNBC show, that “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.” Continuing, he remarked, “But when he comes onFox & Friends, they’re like him. They’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.”

That shocking observation—that Mitt Romney, a rich white man whose run for president is funded by rich white men, might feel more comfortable in the company of other rich white people—was enough to get Williams suspended without pay.

But there's much more to the story.

Williams' comments were first flagged by right-wing outlets, including the Washington Free Beacon and of course, And Wednesday, Williams appeared on Current TV with Bill Press, saying that the right-wingers used “selective evidence” to get him in trouble (including tweets from his Twitter account that seem to accuse Politico of racism).

Williams argued:


“They’re funded — we don’t quite exactly know how, but, certainly, they get their money to do what they do. Their agenda is quite clear. Their agenda is to make enough noise, to push back hard enough that organizations — independent organizations, independent news organizations that have foundations, that have credibility to their name — fold.”


“Basically it’s the schoolyard bully concept where if you make enough noise, if you push back hard enough, people are not going to fight back. … They’re in the business of gathering scalps.”


As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out in their classic work Manufacturing Consent, this is an old strategy of the right when it comes to controlling the media. They call it “flak”--the amount of shrieking criticism thrown in the direction of coverage that conservatives don't like, which pressures the mainstream media into following their lead and adhering to their rules. It's not news, in other words, that Breitbart's strategy -- continuing at his website without pause following his death – is to “collect scalps” from media figures as well as Democratic politicians, academics and scientists.

And when Politico and others fall for it, it gives them exactly what they want.

But this story doesn't end here .

Mediaite points out that when Williams was hired in 2010, Politico was under fire for its own lily-whiteness. After a CNN segment showed an editorial meeting at Politico and all the faces were white (and male), commentators and journalists, including CNN's own Roland Martin, called out the publication for its lack of diversity. “We have racial diversity in most of the most important positions in our newsroom–on the White House team, on our photo team, on the copy and production desks, and on our congressional team,” editor-in-chief John F. Harris said, somewhat defensively, in an email responding to the outcry.

Williams, formerly deputy Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, was hired soon afterward as the site's “first African-American originating editor.

The Daily Caller, another right-wing site, came out on Monday with what it said were tweets from Williams' account, saying of his workplace, “we’re supposed to be about justice and the truth, but we’re mostly about posturing, arcane rules and CYA [Cover Your Ass]. Annoying,” and “what’s most irritating is the overlay of blatant racism. that’s the secret sauce in the Politico shitburger.” Perhaps the critical tweets helped Politico decide not to support its Washington reporter. (He told Press that those tweets were “a huge mistake,” though he did note that “Diversity is a problem for the entire DC Press Corps.”)

Regardless of whether there were other issues involved in Politico's suspension of Williams, his larger point about the business that the right-wing media is engaged in is spot on.

“I don't think that I'm so important that I'm a guy they need to hang up on the wall, but certainly they're ... in the business of pushing independent organizations to their point of view or at least react[ing] to their point of view.”

Notably, Williams refused to apologize for his original comments about Romney, pointing out that he's far from the only pundit who's mentioned the GOP candidate's discomfort around those who aren't like him.

Asked whether he wants to return to Politico, Williams was cagey. “That’s a question that we’re working on,” he said.  

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.