There are two black U.S. Senators, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina. The Washington Post demonstrated a blatant partisan tilt toward the former by cooing over Booker’s brilliance and national profile last year.
The Post omitted Booker flat-out making things up, inventing a drug-dealer called “T-Bone” to tell inner-city stories. But on Thursday, the Post profiled Tim Scott and suggested his tendency to hang out in South Carolina without telling people he’s their Senator could make him look like a “con artist.”
Ben Terris wrote a story titled “The Secret Senator” that began with Scott (and Terris) inside a Goodwill clearance center in Greenville, South Carolina. Scott was volunteering so he could meet people:
“If you want to build a relationship and build a rapport, then you don’t talk about specific issues first,” Scott says to me when no one else is listening. “This is about becoming credible. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who lacks credibility.”
It’s a bit of an odd assertion — “This is about becoming credible” — coming as it does from a guy who is hiding his identity from everyone but a reporter. While there are reasons to conduct a “listening tour,” rarely do they have that much to do with listening. Scott is a steadfast conservative, not looking to alter his opinions so much as convince others that his party has something to offer. While a cynic might call this the move of a con artist, Scott prefers the term “salesman.”
Terris is a youngster, so perhaps he can’t be faulted for noting that the “listening tour” was a favorite tactic of Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, whether she was selling Hillarycare or running for the Senate in a state she had never lived in. “Listening” never changed her liberal brain on anything.
"Scott is anecdote-shopping," Terris charged, "looking to tell a certain kind of story, in a way most of his Senate colleagues could never pull off. And in politics, what matters most is whether people believe the stories you tell."
Being black, in this story, makes you more credible. Terris wrote: "just try to imagine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking about understanding the misguided allure of drug dealing, or being asked whether he had been assigned mandatory community service." Or Harry Reid?
Terris notes that Scott has kept his head down and rejected becoming a more national figure of black outreach for the GOP. He does not note that this may be the best way to get re-elected. Democrats (including the badly disguised ones in the media) don't like black Republicans who might ruin their grip on the black vote. The Post doesn't notice that being a controversial national figure can lead to redistricting and defeat. See Allen West.
The story has a decent beginning and ending: Scott meets a fellow Goodwill volunteer, James Copeland, once imprisoned for crack cocaine, at the beginning, and at the end, Copeland says he would definitely vote for Scott. In the middle, Terris gets out a rhetorical baseball bat, insisting Scott is winning white-racist votes and getting an F from black liberals (never to be called liberals):
Just a few miles away from the Goodwill, there’s the Greenville Museum and Library of Confederate History, a place where the director, Mike Couch, will tell you that slavery was in fact not racist.
“It was a matter of economics, most likely,” Couch says. He walks over to a wall covered with pictures of black Confederate soldiers. “We judge people by character, not skin color.”
Couch, who is white, is a fan of Scott’s.
“I’ll vote for him, sure,” he says. “He’s better than the other guy, Flimsy Lindsey Grahamnesty” — South Carolina’s other Republican senator, who is often accused by conservatives of being too moderate on such issues as immigration reform.
Scott’s election would make history, but not everyone thinks it would be a step forward.
“If you call progress electing a person with the pigmentation that he has, who votes against the interest and aspirations of 95 percent of the black people in South Carolina, then I guess that’s progress,” says Rep. James E. Clyburn, a black congressman who serves in the state’s Democratic leadership.
Scott got an F on the NAACP annual scorecard. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, opposed the Congressional Black Caucus’s budget proposal and voted to delay funding a settlement between the United States and black farmers who alleged that the federal government refused them loans because of their race.
Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington bureau director, says it’s great that Scott is reaching out to the community with messages of self-determination and religion, but that it’s not enough.
“He’s not running for preacher,” Shelton says. “We can tell when people are coming to sell snake oil.”
This is not the way the Post covered Cory Booker in a 2013 profile by Jason Horowitz (now at The New York Times). The Post headline then was “A perfect senator for ‘This Town’? Newark’s Cory Booker isn’t lacking in ideas, energy or self-promotion.” It continued on the back page of Style with the headline “Booker seems to be a man made for D.C.” It was illustrated by pictures with captions that called Booker “POPULAR” and “CAGEY.”
There were no conservatives charging him with selling "snake oil" while Horowitz let him say his whole life was about "confronting cynicism." Horowitz never mentioned the “T-Bone” story, even though he later acknowledged that they had talked about it – and that Booker left "wiggle room" about whether it was true, but Horowitz didn't find it worth including.
National Review called it an "imaginary friend" story. Days after the pro-Booker story appeared, Horowitz went on the Post website and basically explained that Booker was too rhetorically flashy to be flagged for this "anecdote-shopping" invention:
This is an old complaint, first lodged by the Newark Star Ledger, and then explored in an Esquire profile, both of which date back to Booker's first term as mayor. But Booker's critics some of whom used to work for him -- still bring up T-Bone as a telltale embellishment, a touchstone of what they consider Booker's inauthenticity.
When we talked over (a lot of) coffee in New Jersey last week, I asked Booker about T-Bone. He asserts that the T-Bone story is indeed true. But he also somehow seems to create some wiggle room, appearing to couch his defense in a critique of the cynicism of the press.
The exchange is ultimately more relevant for the glimpse it offers of Booker's impressive rhetorical mechanics, how they move him from a question about an allegedly fictitious or composite drug dealer on a Newark street corner, to an indictment of the press, to a mention of Eva Longoria, to a positive argument about his own authenticity to, somehow, a point about the importance of not letting "terrorists and those who seek us harm to change our fundamental values like the right to privacy."
That my next question after the exchange stuck with the privacy issues and the National Security Agency, and not T-Bone, is perhaps a testament to the effectiveness of Booker's rhetorical talents.
With this pliant partisan approach, can you see why the Times snapped Jason Horowitz up?