In their coverage of Sen. Trent Lott's election as minority whip, several media outlets have either failed to note Lott's 2002 comment praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign or failed to place Lott's remark in the context of his previous statements and actions that have been attacked as racially insensitive.
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In reporting and analyzing the election of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to the position of minority whip in the upcoming 110th Congress, media outlets including Time magazine, CNN, and Fox News either failed to note that Lott initially lost his leadership post for praising then-Sen. Strom Thurmond's (R-SC) 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign, or failed to place Lott's 2002 remark in the context of his history of public statements and actions that have been attacked as racially insensitive and, in several cases, as indicating support for racist entities. At Thurmond's 100th birthday party in 2002, Lott said that if Thurmond had won the presidency, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
On the November 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, National Public Radio (NPR) national political correspondent and Fox News contributor Mara Liasson characterized Lott's return to leadership as "redemption" and added that it "was really something." She described Lott as "very able" in the context of Republicans needing "real tactical skills to be in the minority." NPR senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams added that "Trent Lott has a grudge, I mean like a personal grudge, not only against [outgoing Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN], but against President Bush, given the way he was treated before." Neither Liasson, Williams, nor host Chris Wallace explained that Lott lost his leadership post after his remarks in support of Thurmond were publicized, nor did they note any of his prior public statements or actions related to the subject of race.
Similarly, on the November 19 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, co-host and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke asserted that Lott "made it back from the political abyss this week" through his re-election to a Senate leadership position. Co-host and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes added that "[i]t's not good news for the White House, because they know Trent Lott basically hates Bush and -- and Karl Rove, because he blames them for his ouster as -- as majority leader in 2002," but also failed to note Lott's history. As Media Matters for America documented, multiple discussions on Fox News' Fox & Friends and Special Report with Brit Hume also glossed over or left out any explanation of exactly why Lott stepped down from his Senate leadership post.
In an interview with Lott on the November 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer hinted at the comments Lott made in 2002 but neglected to explain them in any detail or put them in context. Blitzer said only that "[f]our years ago, there was a dark spot" and later added that "there was a lot of focus on the past few days on those words you uttered at Strom Thurmond's birthday." Blitzer did not say what "those words" were or give any indication as to their significance.
An article for the November 27 issue of Time on Lott's return to the Republican leadership explained that Lott was initially forced to give up his leadership post because he "praised Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign." But that article, which included a discussion of steps Lott has taken to ingratiate himself to his colleagues again, Lott's tactical skills, and his knowledge of Senate rules, failed to note that Lott's comments were part of a history of racially controversial comments and actions, which has been documented by the Scripps Howard News Service and noted by Media Matters. Media Matters noted that The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal similarly glossed over Lott's previous statements and actions while reporting on his election as minority whip on November 16.
From the November 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace:
LIASSON: Yeah, I think that the Republicans decided that you need real tactical skills to be in the minority. The same thing happened in the Senate when they returned Trent Lott to a position in the leadership that was --
WALLACE: Talk about political resurrection, huh?
LIASSON: Talk about redemption. That was really something. But Trent Lott is very able. And I think that the Republicans on the Hill decided that they want people who know how to use the rules, in the case of the Senate, the rules of the Senate, who know how to use whatever small clout the minority party has in the House, to their advantage and to set themselves up for 2008 rather than making some kind of a symbolic gesture or showing a fresh face. Because, let's face it, the minority is some of the less visible faces on Capitol Hill.
KRISTOL: I'm afraid Republicans in Washington are in a state of denial. This was the worst Republican election since 1974. The worst showing across the board for the Republican Party since 1974, since the beginning of the Republican realignment. To send the same leadership team back, for the White House to say so far no big changes except throwing [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld over the day after. I'm worried that they think this is just a tactical defeat, a short-term problem. And I think they need to be more radical in thinking about changes in personnel and changes of policy.
WILLIAMS: I wonder if it's not a -- it's bad news for the White House, I'll tell you that. I think that not only to have the established leadership in the House reaffirmed, as opposed to going towards new, more conservative people, but then also to see that Trent Lott comes back. Trent Lott has a grudge, I mean like a personal grudge, not only against Bill Frist, but against President Bush, given the way he was treated before.
From the November 19 edition of Fox News Channel's The Beltway Boys:
KONDRAKE: OK, up: Mississippi Republican Trent Lott. The former Senate majority leader made it back from the political abyss this week, winning the post of Senate minority whip by a single vote.
BARNES: You know, I didn't expect this. I'm -- maybe Trent Lott did. And I know Lamar Alexander, who he beat by one vote, didn't expect it. Because, you know, it's a secret ballot. And people who promise to vote for you, frequently don't. And you can't -- there's no accountability.
Lott won because -- because I think Republicans think he's experienced in this. Here's a guy who knows how to whip votes, how to build up a majority. It's not good news for the White House, because they know Trent Lott basically hates Bush and -- and Karl Rove, because he blames them for his ouster as -- as majority leader in 2002.
KONDRACKE: Yeah. You know, Lamar Alexander, who is a -- who is a policy guy --
KONDRACKE: -- and -- and was sort of dismissed by Lott as a policy guy as opposed to a -- as opposed to a vote-counter, made one of his major points that he was not going to ever challenge Mitch McConnell, the leader. Now I'm -- I'm not sure that Mitch McConnell can depend on Trent Lott saying the same thing.
BARNES: All right.
From the November 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room at 4 p.m. ET:
BLITZER: They're calling you the comeback kid. Four years ago, there was a dark spot. You were effectively pushed out by the then-majority -- Bill Frist, who wanted your job as majority leader. He's going to be gone. But the president of the United States weighed in as well. He needs your help now. Are you ready to work with him?
LOTT: Absolutely. I mean, he is president of the United States. We still have a substantial number of Republicans in the Senate, 49 out of 100. We've got a lot of work to do.
We are in position to block really bad initiatives. But I've always been one that believed we should try to produce for the American people. President Reagan will be -- President Bush will be in that position for two more years, and I'm delighted to be back in a position where I can use the experience I had in the House in the '80s and in the Senate in the '90s, hopefully in a positive way.
BLITZER: There's got to be a little bitterness still lingering from the way they pushed you out at the White House.
LOTT: Actually not, Wolf. You know, a lot of people predict that that's the case, or project it's the case, but others know that when you go through what I've been through the last four years, which has been a series of very difficult events, including losing my mother last July, losing my house in August, and dealing with some health problems, even after that, you learn that you can't get up and move forward if you're looking back, and if you're mad and if you're seeking revenge. And I -- I haven't done that.
Now, I have been a little bit of a free spirit. I have been liberated to express my views, you know, as I saw them, and I'll continue to do that. But I will also be in a position where maybe I can express those views privately, in a way that would be helpful.
You know, look, there were disappointments back there, no question about it. But I have been given another chance. You know, I have been able to seek and, I think, receive, redemption, and I want to build on that.
BLITZER: I remember in the book Herding Cats, the book you wrote -- I have a copy here in front of me -- "A Life in Politics," the words that were, I'm sure, painful for you to write about Bill Frist -- you saw, what you wrote, his power grab, as a personal betrayal.
LOTT: It was a hurtful experience. It was one that I precipitated. I gave an opening for the events that followed. But I came through that. And with the help of my wife, I was able to get it in the proper perspective, and just come on back. And I didn't go off, you know, leave the Congress and sulk. I came back. I went to work. I took over a chairmanship. I was involved in the legislative process.
And even after I got knocked down on my knees again, after Hurricane Katrina, I just felt like you can't just lay around and whine. And the only way you get through difficult things like that is to have a strong faith and try to see if you can turn a challenge into an opportunity.
That's what I'm experiencing, and it's really been a very heartwarming experience, difficult though it has been.
BLITZER: I'm sure nice to get the vote of confidence from your colleagues --
BLITZER: Is there anything you want to say -- because there was a lot of focus on the past few days on those words you uttered at Strom Thurmond's birthday -- that you'd like to tell the American people right now, the African-American community in particular?
LOTT: I'm honored to be in a position where hopefully I can help all Americans. I learned again, after Hurricane Katrina, that race, religion, sex, ethnicity, when you're all hurting, makes no difference.
You try to help each other. And that's the way we ought to approach life. And that's the way, certainly, I ought to do this job. I made a mistake, terribly chosen words. They were, you know, well-intentioned at the time, just to make a 100-year-old senator at his birthday party feel good. But I got too carried away and exuberant on the occasion.
I have learned from that. And I'm hoping to build on that.
BLITZER: How -- you know, a lot of Republicans firmly believe, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, if the president would have asked Rumsfeld to resign a few weeks earlier and set in motion a notion that there could be some changes, announce that Robert Gates was going to be his nominee to be defense secretary, you right now wouldn't be the minority whip; you'd be the majority whip in the United States Senate.