Racist Republican Debate Audience 'Chilling' on Martin Luther King Day? (Updated! Writer Admits Error)

The liberal media have returned to assaulting the crowd reaction at Republican debates. Ken Tucker, a TV critic at Entertainment Weekly (a sister publication of Time magazine), suggested the “mob” was “heavy with malice.” He thought Jon Huntsman would find relief "he didn’t have to stand on-stage Monday night to face the most raucous, roused-rabble audience of any Republican debate held thus far."

Tucker strongly suggested the audience was racist in reaction to a Juan Williams hardball question to Newt Gingrich: “The jeers that erupted the second Williams uttered the phrase ‘black Americans’ was chilling on this Martin Luther King Day.” But not only was there no outcry as Williams used the words “black Americans” early in the question, but the outburst of noise didn’t really erupt until Gingrich said “No” to the Williams question. [MP3 audio available here; video follows page break]

Tucker claimed:

The audience showed a nasty streak in the booing Fox questioner Juan Williams for asking Gingrich, "You [have] said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?”

 

Actually, applause won most of the reaction to the question. “Jeers” were not the dominant reaction. Even so, it’s somehow inconceivable to Tucker that people would react to the concept of “insulting,” as much as the concept of “black Americans” (the suggestion Gingrich was racist or pandering to racists). After all, Williams began the question with “You have said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps.” If the crowd hated the utterance of “black Americans,” wouldn’t they have silenced Williams with boos at that point?

UPDATE: Pressed on Twitter by NewsBusters managing editor Ken Shepherd, Tucker has admitted the obvious error in his analysis. His article now has his entire "chilling on MLK Day" passage crossed out, and he attempted to explain:

The boos that erupted during Juan Williams questions to Gingrich actually occurred a few minutes later in the debate, not to the question I originally cited, but to this one from Williams: “The suggestion you made was about the lack of a work ethic; my e-mail account and Twitter account are inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.” It was here that boos and catcalls could be heard. Williams pressed on: “You saw some of this reaction in your visit to a black church in South Carolina when you referred to President Obama as ‘the food stamp President.’ It sounds as though you are seeking to belittle people.” More boos greeted this observation, before Gingrich could reply. I stand by my characterization of the booing as chilling.

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Tucker should read Guy Benson at Townhall for how some conservatives saw this debate point: "Williams ran into Newt's buzz saw as he wrapped up an entire segment of race-related questions, not all of which were unwarranted or out of bounds.  His challenge to Gingrich (essentially, aren't you at least being racially insensitive?) didn't sit well with the audience.  Rather than lashing out in anger -- as he is sometimes wont to do -- Newt dissected Williams' question with precision."

Benson wondered: “Over the last two weeks, Republican candidates have submitted themselves to one debate co-hosted by a former top spinmeister for a Democratic administration (Stephanopoulos) and another co-moderated by an admittedly liberal commentator (Williams). Would Democrats ever agree to debates featuring, say, Karl Rove and George Will? Ever?

Here's the rest of Tucker's attack on the debate audience:

The crowd attending the Fox News/Wall Street Journal-sponsored debate cheered their support of U.S. soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies — most of the five candidates heaped scorn upon the Obama administration’s condemnation of this act — and the people in the seats hailed lustily the history lesson offered by “Professor” Newt Gingrich: “Andrew Jackson knew what to do with his enemies — he killed them.” Soon after, the audience booed Ron Paul for suggesting that “we should practice the Golden Rule in foreign policy.” The crowd seemed divided, unsure of whom to hoot, over a question about restoring voting rights for felons who have served their sentences. For the record: Rick Santorum is in favor of doing so; Mitt Romney is not.

It was a wild, schizo crowd. They yelled their approval of Rick Perry’s suggestion that America should “go to zero on foreign aid.”

....

Smelling the blood in the air, Romney, as he frequently can seem to do, adjusted the tone of his rhetoric. He moved away, this night, from the calmly “Presidential” air he’s trying to maintain to distinguish himself from the intensity of Ron Paul and the loftiness of Gingrich. Romney heard himself saying, in response to a foreign policy question, “The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received.” No one here is mourning the death of bin Laden, but the graphic aspect of the image had a distinctive tang of audience-pandering this evening.

Romney also condemned the half-hour attack on him, “When Mitt Romney Came To Town,” released by a Gingrich super PAC, as “the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.” It was a light laugh line in a night that was heavy with malice — not from the candidates, but their supporters. Moderator Bret Baier might have done a bit more to try and quell the mob.

[Hat tip: redfish]

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