Fox whitewashed Lott's 2002 resignation: "He ran into a little bit of difficulty"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Several discussions on Fox News about Sen. Trent Lott's candidacy for Senate minority whip have glossed over or omitted any explanation of exactly why Lott stepped down from his Senate leadership post in 2002 -- specifically, that Lott was forced to resign after praising Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregationist presidential campaign.

Multiple discussions on Fox News' Fox & Friends and Special Report with Brit Hume about Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) candidacy for Senate minority whip have glossed over or left out any explanation of exactly why Lott stepped down from his Senate leadership post in 2002. Specifically, no one on either show reported that Lott resigned after praising Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregationist presidential campaign, saying that if Thurmond had won the race, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Republicans have since elected Lott as whip, over Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), by a vote of 25 to 24.

As Media Matters has noted, Lott resigned his Senate post -- at the time, he was Senate minority leader and was expected to be named majority leader after Republicans gained control of the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections -- over comments he made at Thurmond's 100th birthday party on December 5, 2002. Thurmond ran as a "Dixiecrat" in the 1948 U.S. presidential election and actively endorsed continued racial segregation. Lott said of Thurmond at the birthday party: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Amid widespread criticism over his remarks, Lott resigned from the Republican leadership on December 20, 2002.

But on the November 15 edition of Fox & Friends, the co-hosts repeatedly avoided telling viewers exactly why Lott was forced to resign. Co-host Gretchen Carlson said that Lott was making a "comeback" after "he got into a little bit of difficulty some time back and lost his majority seat when he spoke about Senator Strom Thurmond back in his presidential run in 1948." Later on, Carlson said that Lott "used to be the majority leader until he ran into a little bit of difficulty, but now he's making a comeback." Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy then said that Lott's election as minority whip would be "interesting," because he "had been the number-one guy in the majority, and then, after those comments that he made at a birthday party cost him his job and his leadership position, now he is poised to be the number-two guy."

On the November 14 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Major Garrett made no mention of Lott's remarks in his report on the minority whip race. Instead, Garrett reported that that if Lott won, he would be "returning to a leadership table that the White House pressured him out of several years back," which would be "a signal Republicans will be sending the Bush White House that they're no longer going to follow their lead in all matters."

From the November 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Three minutes after the top of the hour. As things start to take shape leadership-wise on the Democratic side -- you know, we were telling you yesterday that Nancy Pelosi backing John Murtha, and now all these suggestions that he's tied to corruption and lobbyists and stuff like that. Trent Lott is now making a big comeback on the Republican side. He is challenging Lamar Alexander of Tennessee for the whip job, the number-two job in the Senate behind [Sen.] Mitch McConnell [R-KY].

CARLSON: Yeah, I mean, it's sort of surprising, because I think it sort of it came about in a very quick fashion after the midterm elections last week. As we all know, the vote will be today, 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. Here's the key: It's secret ballot, so you can do whatever you want and then tell somebody else that you voted the other way. It appears right now as if Senator Lott may have the votes that it takes. Surprisingly so, because we all remember that he got into a little bit of difficulty some time back and lost his majority seat when he spoke about Senator Strom Thurmond back in his presidential run in 1948.

KILMEADE: Yeah, the problem is, Lamar Alexander says, "Excuse me, I have the votes." So, a spokesperson for Lott says, "No, no, excuse me, my man has the votes." It's gonna be an interesting thing because no one doubts, number one, Trent Lott's a marvelous spokesperson, he's very good and conversant on all the -- on the issues, and he knows how to get things done behind the scenes.

[...]

CARLSON: In the meantime, guess what? Another Republican is making a huge comeback. Remember Senator Trent Lott? Yeah, well, he used to be the majority leader, and then he ran into a little difficulty, but now, he's making a comeback. He is putting his name out there against Lamar Alexander of Tennessee for the minority whip position. Now, some are very surprised by the fact that he's trying to make this sort of a comeback. But it looks like he may, in fact, have enough votes to overtake Alexander for this position.

DOOCY: Because Lott's spokesperson has told Fox he's on the road to victory, he's apparently got enough votes to whup Lamar Alexander. However, Lamar Alexander's people are saying, you know what, the senator from Tennessee has got enough votes as well. So it would be interesting because Lott, who had been the number-one guy on the majority and then after those comments that he made at a birthday party cost him his job and his leadership position, now he is poised to be the number two guy behind Mitch McConnell, who would be the leader.

CARLSON: It's interesting, because Lott says that he jumped in late because he was waiting to see how his good friend Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania would do in his election, because he apparently was going to be taking that number-two position. And then when he lost re-election, that is when Senator Trent Lott said, "Hmm, maybe I'll consider that role."

From the November 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: Senate Republicans, meanwhile, welcomed their one new member, Tennessee's Bob Corker. Kentucky's Mitch McConnell joked that Corker will have plenty of freshman duties.

MCCONNELL: He will be the president, the vice president, the secretary and treasurer of the Republican freshman class.

GARRETT: And in the only intriguing Senate GOP leadership race, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander is running against former Majority Leader Trent Lott for party whip, the number-two post.

ALEXANDER: After the drubbing we took, it needs, first, unified leadership. And, second, we need some new faces and some fresh thinking.

GARRETT: Republican senator sources tell Fox that they very much expect Lott to win that race, returning to a leadership table that the White House pressured him out of several years back. If Lott wins, it will be a testament not only to his ability to count votes, but also a signal Republicans will be sending to the Bush White House that they're no longer going to follow their lead in all matters.

In a related story, last night the Republican-controlled House failed to pass a Vietnam trade normalization bill the White House wanted. Today, House Republican leaders said they will not bring it up this lame-duck Congress, but will revisit the bill later in December -- Brit.

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Major Garrett, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson
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