The revelation Saturday that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's use of the word "Negro" to refer to then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008 -- Reid said the candidate had "no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one" -- has been heavily covered by the broadcast media, but the tone of coverage has emphasized how the President has accepted Reid's apology, with the implication that that should be the end of it.
It's hard to imagine any top Republican officeholder being so lightly treated if they used the word "Negro" at any point over the past 20 or 30 years. Indeed, the word is in such disfavor, it usually only makes the news when researchers dig into archival footage from the 1960s or early 1970s -- or when the networks are reporting on today's violent haters.
On CBS and NBC, the most recent instance (prior to Reid) of using the word "Negro" in a modern news story was in reporting on the June 2009 shooting at the Holocaust museum in Washington, carried out by a white supremacist. On ABC, the word appeared back in January 2009, as part of an insult flung by al-Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri towards the new President Obama.
A little context for each quote:
# ABC's World News Sunday, January 25, 2009:
DAN HARRIS: President Barack Obama has only been on the job for a few days now, but his administration is already making a mark on the fight against terrorism, announcing it's gonna close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, for example. But can Obama's radically new direction actually defeat al Qaeda and keep America safe? Or is it, as some say, a terrorist's dream come true? ABC's Rachel Martin reports....
RACHEL MARTIN: Even before he took office, al Qaeda made Obama enemy number one. In November, al Qaeda deputy Ayman al Zawahiri called Obama a, quote, 'House Negro, whose face masked a heart full of hate." And two weeks ago, another message, blaming Obama for the Israeli strikes in Gaza. 'He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection."
# CBS Evening News, June 10, 2009:
BOB ORR: Federal investigators are scouring the troubled history of 88-year-old shooting suspect James von Brunn. An anti-Semite with a life-long grievance against the government, who found allies on white supremacist web sites.
On his own site, holywesternempire.org, von Brunn promotes his Internet book, "Kill the Best Gentiles," "a new hard-hitting expose of the Jew conspiracy to destroy the white gene pool." Chapters are titled "The Holocaust Hoax," "The Negro" and "The Aryan Force." In writing fondly about Nazis, von Brunn claims "Hitler, as American boobs are beginning to learn, was not all wrong."
# NBC Today, June 11, 2009:
PETE WILLIAMS: Federal agents identified the gunman as an 88-year-old man, James von Brunn, who carried a .22-caliber Winchester rifle. They say he started shooting as soon as he walked in, but did not get far....
Authorities say von Brunn maintained this racist Web site filled with anti-Semitic rants, denying the Holocaust and claiming that Jews were destroying Western civilization. In eastern Maryland, where he lived, a neighbor recalled his complaints that the Holocaust got too much attention....FBI agents descended on von Brunn's house to search it. In 1981 he was arrested at age 61 for carrying two guns into the headquarters of the Federal Reserve in Washington. He got as far as the room where the board of governors was meeting. He served seven years in prison. On his Web site he blamed, quote, "a Negro jury and a Jew judge."
The context of Reid's remark is certainly not as hateful as that of von Brunn or al Zawahari, but it's a remarkable thing that a public figure reached back into another era to describe a presidential candidate's "dialect."