April 11, 2010
'Spittlegate' and Its ConsequencesBy Jack Cashill
On Monday evening, April 5, my home phone rang. The caller ID said "Freedom, Inc.," the name of the black political club that ushered my congressman, Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), to power. Wondering whether the call might have something to do with the articles I have been writing about the media smear of the Tea Party protest on March 20, I answered the phone.
Once the female caller fixed that I was indeed who I was, she launched into a barely audible spiel for some cause that I could not quite make out. Innocent? Maybe, but the call came in at 11 PM, an unusual hour to promote a cause. Shot across the bow? Who knows.
The media response to the Tea Party protest has shown those of us who care just how thoroughly complicit the mainstream media and the Democratic Party have become, and how thoroughly corrupt is that complicity. Between them, with a little help from progressive outposts like the Huffington Post, they manufactured an incident that has discredited the legacy of the civil rights movement and further poisoned race relations in the allegedly post-racial age of Obama.
Doug Ross has done an excellent job putting the larger timeline together and showing how quickly and recklessly the various media and political agents conspired to spread the toxin. Despite the $100,000 award offered by Andrew Breitbart, despite the fact that at least two members of the Black Caucus were recording the march to and fro, not one camera has recorded anyone even whispering the word "nigger."
What is pure fiction, unbelievable on its face, was the "chorus" of slur-shouters cited by the McClatchy Papers' William Douglas ninety minutes after the incident in his inflammatory article, "Tea Party Protestors Scream 'Nigger' at Congressman."
Compared to the slurs endured or imagined by the congressmen, the fine spray through which Rep. Cleaver walked, the spittle at the heart of "Spittlegate," was downright tangible, an evidentiary Mack Truck, and thus it is the subject of this essay.
In the way of background, the 65-year-old Cleaver served as a city councilman and mayor of Kansas City before being elected to Congress in 2004. Although fundamentally decent -- I cannot imagine that he was behind the 11 PM calls -- he has not always done the right thing in the face of external pressure or internal ambition.
As a pastor of a large inner-city church, Cleaver once served on the board of Missouri Right to Life. Along the way, however, he experienced the same unholy epiphany that all ambitious Democrats do and now runs for Congress with the blessing of NARAL.
Less consequential, but equally telling, is an incident that took place soon after he was elected mayor in 1991. That summer, he billed the city $1,077 for hotel rooms, meals, and a rental car for a family trip to Disney World. When caught in an audit, he minced his way to the truth in baby steps and took more than three months to pay the city back. The Municipal Officials Ethics Commission found him "seriously at fault" and pulled up just short of recommending prosecution.
There would be more documented ethical lapses in Cleaver's career. To avoid their consequences, he has had to bail himself out with the moral capital earned during the civil rights era. The Kansas City Star, a prototypically liberal member of the McClatchy family, has stepped up time and again to vouch for the bond.
Cleaver's response to Spittlegate does not surprise. He stumbled into something he would not likely have contrived on his own, yielded to the pressure to politicize it, and now tries to dissemble his way out. That dissembling took an eye-popping turn on April 2, when he told FOX 4 News in Kansas City, "I haven't talked about this incident on TV or anywhere, and I've been approached to talk about it on every national TV show." He added, "I never, I never reported anything, never a single thing in Washington, not one thing."
In the real world, however, Cleaver has been ringing the bell on this madness from the moment it happened, and his proxies have been playing race-baiting Paul Reveres. Indeed, Cleaver's office put out a press release the same day that the incident took place. It reads in part:
As incorporated into Douglas's impressively reckless article, this release deceived in ways big and small. For starters, congressmen almost always take the tunnel underneath to move between the Cannon Office Building and the Capitol. Their fresh-air stroll was designed to provoke, and provoke it did. As Cleaver walked back into Cannon, he wandered into the path of a man shouting "kill the bill" through cupped hands.
As is abundantly clear in the video, the alleged spitter was shouting before Cleaver arrived and after Cleaver walked away. It is unlikely that he even saw the congressman until an angry Cleaver poked his finger in the man's face. The policewoman at Cleaver's side saw no reason to intervene, let alone to "defuse the tense situation with professionalism and care."
Curiously, Cleaver claimed that he was walking "into the Capitol" when sprayed. Taking Cleaver at his word, I had presumed that the steps in the video I put together on the subject were the Capitol steps, but as Texas blogger Ben Barrack pointed out to me, they are not.
Given the absence of any evidence of racial slurs and the abundant evidence of protestors shouting about health care, the Kansas City media, and particularly the TV stations, have tended to focus on the spitting incident.
What gave the incident gravitas was Cleaver's initial claim that the man "was arrested." But he obviously was not. In an online article the following day, KCTV 5 cited an e-mail from Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the U.S. Capitol Police on the subject of Cleaver: "We did not make any arrests today." The following day, Schneider told FOX NEWS that "[t]here were no elements of a crime, and the individual wasn't able to be positively identified. [Cleaver] was unable to positively identify."
The video supports the police. It shows a clueless Cleaver, accompanied by a black policeman, walking back to the scene of the crime and looking in vain for the "assailant." Unaware that he had committed a crime -- what crime could he have possibly committed? -- the man is still shouting through cupped hands, as he had been a minute earlier. Cleaver fails to identify him and walks back up the steps.
None of this mattered to Cleaver's champions at the Kansas City Star. On March 21, Yael T. Abouhalkah, the Star's normally sober editorial page columnist, weighed in with the wild-eyed accusation that "some Tea Party supporter spat on Cleaver Saturday on Capitol Hill because the U.S. congressman is black." To ratchet up the racial tension a wee bit more, Abouhalkah repeated as fact the rumor that "someone spat on him, while the word 'nigger' was used to describe Cleaver and other black congressmen."
Meanwhile, Cleaver's communications director, Danny Rotert, was telling USA Today, "This is not the first time the congressman has been called the "n"-word."
Cleaver himself got into the game by talking to Washington Post Metro columnist Courtland Milloy. To be fair to Cleaver, he described his assailant not as a spitter but as a man "who allowed saliva to hit my face." Cleaver could afford to appear judicious because Milloy, a journalistic hit-man, would do his dirty work for him.
After describing Cleaver as a Methodist minister and civil rights veteran who grew up in a house "used as a slave cabin only one generation before" (Cleaver was born eighty years after slavery ended), Milloy described in bloody detail what fate "the Tea Party people" deserved: "I want to spit on them, take one of their "Obama Plan White Slavery" signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads." This was exactly the message going out to black America, and Cleaver did nothing to stop it.
On April 2, in a thoroughly confused column, the Star's Abouhalkah reacted to Cleaver's claim of that same day: "I never, I never reported anything." According to Abouhalkah, "conspiracy buffs" were allegedly citing Cleaver's denial of reporting the incident to deny that the incident ever took place. "Everyone knows Cleaver was spat upon by the protester," continued Abouhalkah, "either intentionally or not."
What a bizarre backdoor concession by Abouhalkah. Two weeks earlier, he seemed ready to waterboard the spitter, and now he was not sure whether the spit was intentional! Digging a deeper hole for himself, Abouhalkah argued that Cleaver was "standing his ground on the incident." He favorably quoted the FOX 4 News report by saying that "if the spitting incident hadn't been caught on tape, no one would have ever known because [Cleaver] wouldn't have made it an issue."
My head spins as I write this. In fact, the video surfaced only after Cleaver's press release metastasized throughout the body politic and as an antidote to that release. Abouhalkah had obviously not even seen the video when he made his crazed accusations based solely on Cleaver's reporting of the same.
Abouhalkah insisted too that although no one was arrested as claimed, "a man was put in handcuffs, he was detained and he was let go when Cleaver did not identify him." I e-mailed Abouhalkah, as well as the Star's editor and a reporter whom I had earlier provided with contact information on local Tea Party leaders. I asked each of them to clarify who had been detained or arrested and what their source was, but I have yet to hear from any of them.
More bizarrely still, immediately after telling FOX 4 News in Kansas City that he had no intention of talking about this incident -- its online article was titled "Cleaver Steadfastly Refuses to Discuss Spitting Incident" -- Cleaver appeared on a rival station to, well, talk about the incident. As local bloggers gleefully pointed out, the station just happened to be the one where his daughter works as a reporter: KSHB, Kansas City's NBC affiliate.
"I thought when I first felt the moisture that maybe it was an accident," Cleaver conceded to KSHB's Chris Hernandez. "What many of the Democrats wanted me to do was stand up and demonize those [Tea Party] people, and I am not going to do it." Hernandez summed up the thrust of the interview: "He resisted pressure from his own party. He would rather seek civility than score political points."
In his heart, the Reverend Cleaver probably thought he was telling something like the truth, and I truly wanted to believe him when I saw this interview. There is something innately vulnerable and sympathetic about the man.
And then I heard from Jacob Turk, Cleaver's Republican candidate in this year's congressional race. Turk was distressed. After years of goodhearted efforts to make inroads in the black community, Turk, the sincerest and straightest candidate I have ever known, had learned that he was now being actively branded as a friend of the Tea Party People -- you know, the ones who spit on Emanuel Cleaver...and worse.
I write this reluctantly, as I have always been on decent terms with Cleaver. I last saw him at the Kansas City airport the day after Scott Brown's victory. We exchanged pleasantries. He looked tired and worried. He faces real opposition in the fall in a predominantly white district. I would rather not believe that he has already cashed in the hope he and his fellows were peddling just two years ago for the fear that Democrats have been selling black America for a generation or more. Say it ain't so, Rev.
And how about an apology, McClatchy, to all the Tea Party people everywhere?