New Black Panthers: The Fox Cycle Bears Fruit

Politico reports this afternoon that Attorney General Eric Holder showed real exasperation today at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing when he was asked about the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) case. After being told by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) that a poll watcher had said the New Black Panther incident -- in which two members of the fringe group stood menacingly outside a Philadelphia polling station and produced exactly zero reports of voter intimidation -- was “the most serious act of voter intimidation he had witnessed in his career,” Holder fired back:

“Think about that,” Holder said. “When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, to compare what people subjected to that with what happened in Philadelphia, which was describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for my people,” said Holder, who is black.

Holder noted that his late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, helped integrate the University of Alabama.

“To compare that kind of courage, that kind of action, to say some Black Panther incident is of greater concern to us, historiclally, I think just flies in the face of history,” Holder said with evident exasperation.

This followed, according to the report, Culberson saying to Holder: “There's clearly overwhelming evidence that your Department of Justice refuses to protect the rights of anybody other than African-Americans to vote.”

That the attorney general should have to remind a congressional panel of America's tragic history of race-based disenfranchisement is nothing short of remarkable. Also remarkable is the fact that these questions are being posed by a member of Congress to the attorney general in the first place. And for that we have the Fox Cycle to thank.

The New Black Panther “controversy” was investigated by the Bush administration and settled by the Obama administration, which obtained judgment against one of the defendants. But it never died in the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio, and the story found new life after DOJ “whistleblower” J. Christian Adams (a GOP activist hired by a Bush political appointee who was found to have improperly politicized DOJ hiring) claimed that charges against the NBPP were dropped because Holder's Justice Department refuses to prosecute cases in which black defendants are accused of civil rights violations.

The whole “controversy” was manufactured as a weapon to damage the Obama administration politically, and is fraught with contradictory and unsupported allegations of wrongdoing. But Adams' accusations were reason enough for Fox News to beat the voter intimidation drum for weeks on end and host Adams' for softball “exclusive” interviews. Pressured by Fox News and the familiar accusations of “liberal bias,” other cable and print outlets picked up the story, and even credited Fox News for being ahead of the curve.

Now this same “controversy,” which owes its very existence the right-wing media's persistent disregard for the truth, is occupying the time of the House of Representatives and the attorney general.