Fox Does Victory Lap After "Willie Horton" Politics Promoted On Fox Block Civil Rights Nominee


Fox News treated itself to a victory lap after several Senate Democrats joined with the Republican conference and blocked the nomination of civil rights litigator Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

On March 5, the Senate procedural vote that would have allowed a confirmation vote on Adegbile's nomination failed, after right-wing media spent months lying about his background with racially charged attacks, even publishing an offensive caricature of Adegbile that was condemned by the nation's leading civil rights groups for invoking "the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans." Outlets like Fox News continued to distort Adegbile's record in the run-up to the vote despite these denouncements, and despite the fact that Adegbile is a mainstream nominee who is regarded as one of the preeminent civil rights experts of his generation by a wide spectrum of authorities, including law enforcement executives and the American Bar Association.

After the vote, Fox host Bret Baier was quick to suggest that Senate Democrats who voted in favor of Adegbile could pay a penalty in the upcoming midterm elections. Baier went on to spread further misinformation about the nominee, falsely insinuating that he was part of an effort to overturn a murderer's conviction:

During its campaign to derail Adegbile's nomination, Fox particularly focused on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal that contested the constitutionality of his death sentence -- not his murder conviction -- a legal appeal that was ultimately successful.

Because Adegbile headed the LDF at the time, Fox cartoonishly labeled Adegbile a "cop-killer's coddler," despite the fact that a federal appeals court ruled that the death sentence was in error and Abu-Jamal remains imprisoned for life. After the vote, Fox contributor Sarah Palin added, "you know evil reigns when America's 'leader' gives full-throated support for a cop-killer advocate."

The ABA also condemned the attacks on Adegbile for his successful legal representation of Abu-Jamal, calling his civil rights work in this case "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession and should be commended, not condemned."   

It is shocking that this civil rights expertise for which Adegbile was praised by Supreme Court bar colleagues across the political spectrum should prove to be an obstacle to his confirmation to the nation's top civil rights post at DOJ. Even more disturbing, the weak excuse that it was because of his defense of a reprehensible murderer fails because this was not a disqualifier for certain other high-profile government nominees, such as current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who also once represented a death-row inmate convicted of killing eight people in Florida.

None of this was reported by The Real Story host Gretchen Carlson and Baier, whose network's biased reporting led to this situation in the first place.

Worse, as Ari Berman pointed out in The Nation, outlets like Fox went beyond just one-sided reporting and linking him to the sins of his past client. It turns out the "race-based gutter politics" at the heart of the anti-Adegbile campaign "is still not a thing of the past":

Adegbile, the former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was superbly qualified for the position. He was endorsed by the American Bar Association and high-profile lawyers on both sides of the aisle, and presciently defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court last year. He would've made an excellent head of the Civil Rights Division.

But Adegbile was the victim of a vicious right-wing smear campaign, attacking him because LDF defended Mumia Abu Jamal's right to a fair trial. All across the right-wing media echo chamber, on Fox News and conservative blogs, the words Adegbile and "cop-killer" were plastered in the headlines. The Fraternal Order of Police came out against his nomination, even though a court agreed with LDF that Abu Jamal had not been granted a fair trial--a basic right in American society regardless of whether he did or did not commit the crime.


Today's vote shows that, twenty-six years after George Bush ran the infamous Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis, race-based gutter politics is still not a thing of the past. As the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Adegbile deserves better."

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