Black NPR Reporter Rips Cain: 'Willing to Be a Minstrel' for White Republicans

On the same Morning Edition broadcast on Friday that made time to honor Obama's tender concern for veterans, black NPR reporter/Obama supporter Karen Grigsby Bates ripped into Herman Cain with a chorus of condemnation from black liberals.

Harvard professor Randall Kennedy claimed “Black people know that if Herman Cain had his way, their lives would be diminished.” Former Time reporter Jack E. White added “Herman Cain tells them what they want to hear about blacks, and in turn, they embrace him and say, see, that proves we aren't racist. He's even willing to be a minstrel for them.”

Would anyone be surprised to know that Bates was ecstatic at the ascension of Barack Obama to the presidency? At the black liberal site The Root (owned by the Washington Post) on January 22, 2009, Bates urged whites to stop congratulating blacks, when they should congratulate everyone for installing the Almighty Obama:

Now, somewhere between Election Day and Inauguration Day, “my” president has become “our” president. And this is an excellent thing. On Inauguration Day, we heard scores of people on the Mall, in pundits’ chairs, and in diners, parks and churches around the country offering hopeful prayers and best wishes to the man who had become the nation’s head of state.

For all that, some well-intentioned people haven’t quite gotten out of the old habit. They’ll still offer their black friends, acquaintances and even strangers congratulations for Barack Obama’s history-making first. For some, it will take a little time to make the transition from “you” to “us.”

They will get there. In the interim, be gracious—but gently correct them: “Congratulations to you, too. Congratulations to all of us—he’s our new president.”

NPR but on the Bates attack ad -- I wouldn't call it a "news story" -- with the excuse that Cain wasn't gaining traction with black voters -- as if black voters are so numerous in Republican primaries that it's an obstacle. NPR anchor Steve Inskeep introduced the attack: "Herman Cain's supporters may be sticking by him, but he's not been able to break through with one group -- black voters. Polls show his candidacy has very little support among African-Americans. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this story about Herman Cain and the politics of race."

NPR didn't feel the need to cite any poll numbers. It was just time to start throwing stones.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: When he tells his story, Herman Cain says a lot of the same things that have been preached in millions of black families since, well, Emancipation: work hard, save your money, get as much education as you can and make sure your children do, too. Despite that, he's gotten scant traction with black voters. Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy has written about race in politics and says that's not a huge surprise.

RANDALL KENNEDY: Black people know that if Herman Cain had his way, their lives would be diminished. And they intuit that Herman Cain's policies are against their interests.

BATES: Candidate Cain has said poor people are poor because they want to be, and has indicated that racism, if not a thing of the past, is of marginal importance in the 21st Century.

Whoa! Notice Bates just cartoons Cain's views instead of actually quoting them. She's probably referring to Cain's remarks on October 9 on CNN's State of the Union. Here's the relevant portions, with more context:

I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way. Is there some -- are there some elements of racism? Yes. It gets back to if we don't grow this economy, there is a ripple effect for every economic level, and because blacks are more disproportionately unemployed, they get hit the worst when economic policies don't work...

I have seen blacks in middle management move up to top management in some of the biggest corporations in America. They weren't held back because of racism. No. People sometimes hold themselves back, because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.

A liberal can still find that offensive, but it's not "poor people want to be poor." Liberals never want poor people to be responsible in any way for themselves and their situation. Now, back to the Bates attack, where Cain is allegedly putting on a minstrel show for Whitey:

BATES: Kennedy says many black Americans find a recent ad run by Cain supporters to be particularly offensive. In it, Americans for Herman Cain compare then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas' angry statement about sexual harassment charges he faced in 1991 to Cain's current predicament.

THOMAS ON TAPE: This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.

JACK WHITE: That analogy is one that rubs a lot of black people the wrong way because, frankly, if you're lynched, you don't get to talk about it.

BATES: Jack White writes political analysis for TheRoot.com. [Bates doesn't note she's also written her Obama praise for them.] He believes Cain and his white supporters have struck a bargain.

WHITE: Basically, Herman Cain tells them what they want to hear about blacks, and in turn, they embrace him and say, see, that proves we aren't racist. He's even willing to be a minstrel for them, referring to himself sometimes as Cornbread, or quoting his father as speaking ungrammatically, as saying, you know, things like I does not care.

BATES: It works well with some voters. Recently, Cain shared this revelation with ecstatic crowds at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference in Washington, D.C. It was funded by Cain's biggest supporters: the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, Charles and David.

CAIN: This may be a breaking news announcement for the media. (Laughter)  I am the Koch brothers' brother from another mother.

How "brother from another mother" is ungrammatical or a fit of minstrelsy is anyone's guess. But Bates does quote a conservative -- Ann Coulter, who she clearly hates as much as she hates Cain.

BATES: Pundit Ann Coulter told Fox News that Cain and other black Republicans have to be smarter and tougher than most Democratic-leaning blacks, because they're swimming against community opinion, often at the cost of personal goodwill.

ANN COULTER (on Fox): I mean, that's why our blacks are so much better than their blacks.

Bates sneered: "Observations like that may be why their blacks are so few in number." Does Bates in any way see that Cain might be seen by someone as heroic for "swimming against community opinion" at a price? Obviously not. Bates is also incensed that Cain would "seem to imply"  he's blacker than Barack Obama. Again, Bates doesn't roll out a soundbite to make her case. Earth to Bates: Obama is half-white. Did her black liberal friends never hear Wanda Sykes joke that when Obama screws up, she's going to blame his white half?

BATES: Cain has proudly described himself as authentically black, descended from slaves, able to speak in homey dialect, proud of his Southern roots. He likes contrasting himself to the president, who is black, but - he seems to imply - not as black.

University of Michigan Professor Vincent Hutchings studies the impact of race on political parties and campaigns. He says being Republican, even conservative, isn't enough for many white voters. They want to support a specific kind of black candidate.

VINCENT HUTCHINGS: They wouldn't have done this with, say, the equivalent of Colin Powell, right? So Colin Powell was seen as a moderate-to-liberal Republican. And he was also black, but he wouldn't have served the ideological purposes of that faction.

It sounds to the conservative ear like Bates mischaracterized what Hutchings just said there. He said Colin Powell wasn't conservative enough. They want to support a conservative. But Bates claims "many white voters" think being "even conservative" isn't enough. Colin Powell endorsed Obama. He's not a conservative. If Powell had run for president, in say, 1996, when the boomlet really erupted in the media, and run as a Bob Dole-ish Republican, he probably would have won the nomination and secured the vote of the vast majority of conservatives. But no, Bates somehow thinks of white conservatives as still evil:

BATES: Cain tells the crowds who come to see him he is the real black deal, which may explain why - despite publicly being accused of sexual harassment by two white women so far - Herman Cain still enjoys steadfast support from his white conservative base. That he didn't risk the same fate as Emmett Till, who was murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, is, for many, an odd measure of racial progress.

What on Earth? Please insert the old scratch-across-the-vinyl sound effect. Bates just found it offensive that Cain would suggest it's a "high-tech lynching"  for black conservatives to face unproven charges of sexual harassment, and then she turns around and says just because Cain hasn't been murdered, it doesn't mean America has advanced very far? Bates is not implying that liberals pushing the charges of white women are the Till-killer equivalents. She's implying that Cain supporters should be naturally seen as the Till-killer equivalents who wouldn't want Cain touching the white women. She closed by suggesting Cain is crazy:

BATES: Michigan Professor Vince Hutchings says the harassment charges may cause a drop in his support eventually, but for now, Cain is still able.

HUTCHINGS: I would be loath to write off Herman Cain at this point. He may be crazy, but he's crazy like a fox.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

How does anyone at NPR think this is fair and balanced reporting? They simply cannot.

By the way, this is a dramatic contrast with a Bates story from October 24 hailing black Marxist professor Cornel West, who calls Obama a "black mascot" of Wall Street. He was like an "Old Testament prophet."

Cornel West sees himself acting in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets - men who were sometimes reviled by the people they were attempting to wake up. It's partly why the black suit has become his trademark. Warriors for justice, West says, have to wear their cemetery clothes just in case.

UPDATE: Fox's "The Five" played clips from this report on Monday, and even Bob Beckel suggested applying the word "minstrel" to Cain was "obscene." NPR defenders argued that the NPR report just before the Bates attack, a Greg Allen report measuring how the sex harassment charges are affecting Cain, featured Republicans who still support Cain, which provides a rough balance. Several of the Cain supporters were quite wary, saying "I hope he's telling the truth." A pollster was brought on to say Cain's been damaged in the polls.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis