Fox News repeats false claim by Trump campaign about Biden’s record on fighting racism

In 1985 Senate hearing, Biden repeated a racist comment by a state legislator — in order to confront the Reagan administration for taking no action against it

Fox News’ coverage Thursday of the presidential campaign included the repetition of a claim that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had previously used a racial epithet — but without any explanation that he was repeating what a racist public official had said, while Biden and Senate Democrats were working to protect civil rights.

On the July 23 edition of America’s Newsroom — during coverage of Biden’s claim on Wednesday that President Donald Trump was “the first [racist] that has” been elected president — Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy read a statement from Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson accusing Biden of having “repeatedly used the n-word.”

Video file

Citation From the July 23, 2020, edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom

Guest co-anchor Melissa Francis repeated the Trump campaign statement accusing Biden of using the slur again, during a later panel discussion on the program.

Neither Doocy nor Francis pointed out that this was not only a misleading statement, but the claim has already been debunked for weeks earlier after a pro-Trump super PAC used it in an ad.

The super PAC ad claimed that Biden “was caught on the record repeating the n-word twice,” and showed a single quote on screen, “We don’t need any more N***** bigshots” — but did not give any further context of what Biden was actually talking about.

Mediaite noted three weeks ago that a video clip has been circulating online showing Biden repeating the words at a 1985 Senate hearing, noting that the clip was “absent crucial context” and explaining: “There is currently a debate over the propriety of using the uncensored n-word even in a direct quote, so even in context, the video may be offensive to watch, but the context is important and fascinating.”

Biden was speaking at a committee hearing on President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of William Bradford Reynolds, then assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, seeking a promotion to the rank of associate attorney general.

During the hearing, Biden questioned Reynolds about his office’s handling of a controversial redistricting case that occurred in Louisiana. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time (with slurs uncensored in the original text):

Sen. Joseph Biden (D., Del.) questioned Reynolds about his handling of Louisiana's congressional redistricting, where the state legislature initially had approved a plan that created a predominantly black district in New Orleans. But because of opposition from former Gov. David Treen and white legislators, the plan was replaced by one that split the black district and preserved the seat of a GOP congressman.

Biden pointed out that Reynolds was aware of complaints voiced by a key state legislator, whom the senator quoted as saying “we already have a n***** mayor (in New Orleans); we don’t need another n***** big shot.”

Saying he had “no specific recollection of that statement,” Reynolds said he cleared the new remap plan because he had found no evidence it was motivated “by a racial purpose” in violation of federal voting rights law.

Reynolds’ nomination was rejected by the Judiciary Committee in a 10-8 vote, with two Republicans crossing over to vote with all eight Democrats — including Biden — against the promotion. Reynolds stayed on at the Civil Rights Division, however, continuing through the end of Reagan’s presidency.

Interestingly enough, Fox also had a later discussion of Biden’s comment on that afternoon’s edition of Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner, during which the eponymous anchor read almost the entirety of the Trump campaign’s statement attacking Biden — but left out its final clause, which included the misleading attack without context.

Video file

Citation From the July 23, 2020, edition of Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner

As Media Matters has also pointed out:

The point here is so dishonest that even The Donald, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory board exiled from Reddit, has not been supportive, with the top response to a recent post of the quote saying, “This is pretty dishonest, if we're being honest. He's clearly reading something someone else said.”

There has certainly been some discussion about just how optimistic and accurate Biden’s statement about Trump being the is in the full breadth of U.S. history. (After all, a dozen early presidents had been slaveholders, including eight of them while they were in office.) But what Fox News did here was uncritically repeat a statement from the Trump campaign that dishonestly used a moment from Biden’s Senate career — in which he was in fact trying to confront and defeat racism in American society.