Former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) lost his attempted comeback in the Republican primary for governor of Georgia, losing by a whopping 52-point margin in a race for which former President Donald Trump had recruited him as part of the disgraced ex-president’s efforts to elect supporters of his lies about the 2020 election into key positions in swing states in advance of 2024. In the home stretch of the campaign, mainstream media outlets honestly covered a viciously racist attack Perdue made against the Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.
The latest coverage of Perdue’s public bigotry contrasted strongly, however, with how media outlets typically treat MAGA-aligned candidates when they hold power — including Perdue, before he lost reelection to the Senate in January 2021. One difference, perhaps, is that Perdue was already widely expected to go down in flames on Tuesday, as polls showed incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp far ahead.
During the Trump years, media outlets watered down the then-president’s racist demagouery, often resorting to lukewarm euphemisms such as “racially charged,” or noting his “focus on racial and cultural flash points.” The resulting media coverage practically bent over backwards to obscure just how bad the former president and his allies really are. This time, however, Perdue was out of office and seemed unlikely to regain it, and media outlets did not handle him with kid gloves.
In an interview Monday with right-wing radio host and election lie-pusher John Fredericks, Perdue said Abrams should “go back where she came from” if she did not love Georgia. During an appearance on Newsmax, Perdue repeated his line that Abrams should “go back to where you came from.” (Abrams grew up in Mississippi and moved to Georgia for high school and college. She made her adult life in Atlanta.)
Perdue went further during his interview with Fredericks, declaring that Abrams’ campaign statements during her 2018 gubernatorial run about promoting job opportunities beyond agriculture and the hospitality business were purportedly “demeaning her own race.”
The media backlash against Perdue’s comments was swift, and deservedly harsh, at a time when he was widely expected to lose badly in Tuesday’s primary. But, back when he was an incumbent U.S. senator in a tight race for reelection, many of these same media outlets obscured his public bigotry.
When Perdue mocked Kamala Harris’ name in 2020, media outlets balked at calling out his racism
At a Trump campaign rally in October 2020, Perdue mocked the first name of then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris by jumbling together a number of possible pronunciations, concluding with: “Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever.”
A number of media outlets, however, hesitated to describe Perdue’s comment as racist, instead stating that he faced accusations of racism from “critics,” thereby casting doubt on the bigotry of his statement.
- An article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time of Perdue’s insult said it had drawn “immediate criticism from his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff and others who called it a ‘racist tactic.’”
- The Associated Press ran an article with the neutral headline, “GOP senator mispronounces Kamala Harris’ name at Trump rally.” The article further stated, “Democrats say the mispronunciations smack of racism.”
- Another AP article four days later, on the Democratic mobilization and increased fundraising for Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, still would only say, “Many saw racist overtones in Perdue’s words.”
- In a lengthy profile of Perdue from The New York Times, the paper buried in its 7th paragraph that he had repeatedly mispronounced Harris’ name “with an exaggerated stumble that to critics amounted to crude racism,” while his campaign “called it an innocent mispronunciation.”
- Only much, much later in the Times article — in the 78th paragraph — did the paper further mention other examples of Perdue’s egregious bigotry on the campaign trail, and still described these “charges of bigotry” as a he-said-she-said issue:
And the senator has also had to fend off charges of bigotry, for both his mockery of Ms. Harris’s name and an online campaign ad that showed a photo of Mr. Ossoff, who is Jewish, with a lengthened nose. Mr. Perdue’s campaign has called the image in the ad an accident caused by a “filter” applied by an outside vendor handling the graphic design.
When it became clear Perdue was losing, media outlets actually called him a racist
With Perdue already way down in the polls this time, the same outlets that had tiptoed around covering Perdue’s previous comments now freely called out his latest racist remark in no uncertain terms:
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s morning newsletter The Jolt did not mince any words this time, beginning right in its headline: “David Perdue’s last stand includes racist insult of Stacey Abrams.”
- The Associated Press ran an article titled “Perdue says Abrams ‘demeaning her own race’ ahead of primary.” Explaining that Perdue was twisting comments that Abrams had made about the state’s performance on mental health care and maternal mortality, the AP bluntly declared in its fourth paragraph that he had “recast those and earlier Abrams remarks from a racist perspective.”
- The New York Times’ headline also declared: “David Perdue makes racist remarks about Stacey Abrams as he ends a lackluster campaign.”
On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see mainstream media outlets actually calling out a MAGA-aligned politician for their racist comments. But at the same time, it shouldn’t take a “last stand” in a “lackluster campaign” to make this happen. It really ought to be the standard in normal campaign coverage.