Responding to criticism of an RNC ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. -- an ad described by former Republican senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen as "overt[ly] racist" -- CNN political analyst Bill Bennett and Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush, revived the dubious claim that, in 2002, Maryland Senate candidate and lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R), who is an African-American, "had Oreos thrown at him" by Democrats as a racial insult. In fact, there is significant evidence that calls into question the Oreo cookie claims.
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Guests on the October 26 edition of CNN's The Situation Room and the October 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews revived the dubious claim that, in 2002, Maryland Senate candidate and lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R), who is an African-American, "had Oreos thrown at him" by Democrats as a racial insult. CNN political analyst Bill Bennett and Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush, revived the Oreo cookie story to defend a Republican National Committee (RNC) ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. that former Republican senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen has described as "overt[ly] racist."
Both programs featured discussions about whether the ad, which features a scantily clad white woman posing as someone who "met" Ford -- who is an African-American -- "at the Playboy party," was racist. After host Wolf Blitzer asked on The Situation Room if the RNC ad was "a racist ad," Bennett stated "You want nastiness, you want real racism? ... [G]o back to Maryland with the Oreo cookies on Steele." Similarly, on Hardball, Christie alleged that because Steele "had Oreos thrown at him," "it's the Democrats," not Republicans, who are "race baiting" during the midterm elections. As Media Matters for America has noted, several media outlets have characterized the purported incident, at a September 26, 2002, Maryland gubernatorial debate between Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that was attended by Steele, as a racial slur against Steele -- Oreo cookies being "black on the outside" but "white on the inside."
However, contrary to the claim that Steele, then-candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor "had Oreos thrown at him," the Baltimore Sun reported on November 13, 2005, that eyewitnesses at the debate -- held at Morgan State University's Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center in Baltimore -- dispute the allegations of cookie-throwing, and accounts of the purported incident offered at different times by Ehrlich, Steele, and Paul S. Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director, contradict each other. Moreover, the Sun noted that initial news accounts of the debate made no mention of Oreo cookies at all. The first mention of cookies surfaced five days later, when the Sun reported Schurick's charge that Oreos were passed out -- not thrown -- by Democrats at the debate.
From the October 26 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Will that really nasty Republican National Committee ad that was run in Tennessee, that some say had a racial overtone -- has that backfired on the Republicans and brought some sympathy and support for Harold Ford Jr.?
DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic strategist): You know, I spent a year of my life in Tennessee, of course working for Al Gore. And Tennesseans were basically dismayed at that ad. Harold is doing very well in the metropolitan regions. He's making inroads in the rural area. I think this ad, when we look back on -- on Election Night -- this ad will have had a small impact on Harold Ford's ability to attract the white vote and others, but Harold Ford is doing really good. There's now a poll that shows that Harold is now two points up. That's a Democratic poll. But I -- this is -- this race never should have been close. This was supposed to be a Republican seat, but Harold Ford has done a fantastic job.
BLITZER: I want to move on to Virginia, but was that a racist ad?
BENNETT: I don't think so.
BRAZILE: I --
BENNETT: I disagree with your conclusion. You want nastiness? You want real racism?
BRAZILE: Oh --
BENNETT: Go to -- go back to Maryland with the Oreo cookies on Steele and the stealing of his report -- of his credit reports and so on. Things -- the minstrel show stuff. That is real racist.
BRAZILE: Just a generation ago, people were lynched when --
BRAZILE: -- when there was an indication of interracial marriage, interracial dating and we forget that Emmett Till was --
BRAZILE: --lynched for so-called whistling at a white woman. It was racist and it was sexist. And, again, people --
BENNETT: But people don't care about interracial dating now. It's -- it's --
BRAZILE: Well, It's a hot button issue.
BENNETT: I don't think people in Tennessee care about interracial dating. I don't think they do.
BRAZILE: They could have made the facts without throwing in a bimbo trash ad.
BENNETT: Well, if you want -- if you want real nasty, go back to Maryland.
From the October 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
KIKI McLEAN (Democratic strategist): Look, this pushes the edge of the bounds of taste. You know it. I know it. Chris knows it. Harold Ford Jr. knows it, and Ken Mehlman of the RNC knows it. And his weak attempt to actually defend this ad was laughable for a guy who's been a pretty decent chairman for his side of the team. It wasn't good. It wasn't right. It shouldn't be up on the air, and everybody knows it. We can debate it, you and I can spin it all day.
CHRISTIE: But, see, you guys are rich. But you guys are so rich.
MATTHEWS: Why are they dropping it today?
CHRISTIE: Wait on a second. The Democrats are rich. The Democrats are rich. The Democrats -
MCLEAN: What are we so rich about?
CHRISTIE: Here you have someone who is running for lieutenant governor, in Maryland, Michael Steele, who's had Oreos thrown at him --
MATTHEWS: He's running, who's running --
CHRISTIE: -- who's running for Senate -- who's the lieutenant governor -- who's had Oreos thrown at him. You have the No. 2 --
CHRISTIE: -- Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, saying oh, "slavish." And we've talked about it on this very program, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I think somebody apologized for that. Didn't somebody apologize for that?
CHRISTIE: Sure, but what I'm saying, if you want to talk about race baiting, you want to talk about people injecting race in to a campaign, it's the Democrats.