CNN's Whitfield Tosses Softballs at 'Inspirational,' 'Visionary' Marion Barry

Fredricka Whitfield put on the kid gloves for Marion Barry on Sunday's CNN Newsroom, and acclaimed the former D.C. mayor as a "visionary." Whitfield skirted mentioning every single controversy Barry has been involved in through his long career save one – his "infamous drug bust in 1990." She also spotlighted the Democrat's conspiracy theory that the FBI set up the sting to take him down for helping the poor: "You draw that correlation that all of those things that you did for the underserved community...and the design of this drug bust."

The anchor deferentially let Barry take credit for everything supposedly going well with the city of Washington, D.C., but failed to bring up the fact that the District became the "murder capital" of the U.S. during his tenure as mayor. Whitfield set the tone with her beyond softball first question to the current city councilman: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: So, this comes across as amazingly honest, revealing – very personal. This is a journey through your civil rights movement; your D.C. political career; the drug bust, as I mentioned; the fall; the hurt that you and many experienced; the climb afterwards. And I really am kind of simplifying here, but you say – you know, quote, 'I want people to gather the truth from me, rather than from a T-shirt.' Elaborate.

Barry replied by underlining his humble roots: "This book starts at the beginning of 1936, when I was born to a sharecropper's son....I lived in a house without any running water; without any lights. It's an overcoming book. Everything I've tried to do, I've tried to be an example as to how you can overcome, and how you can educate people, you know?"

The CNN anchor followed up by noting that "you said it was...your mother is the one that taught you courage from the very beginning." The controversial politician then sang the praises of his mother, but soon shifted to bragging about his apparent accomplishments:

MARION BARRY: ...I'm 78 years of age. I've had a rich life, not just 15- minute – second sound bite – but when you say Washington, D.C., everybody knows. When I came here in 1965, Washington was a sleepy southern town – no high-rises, no anything – no new buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue except the FBI building. Look at Washington now. I laid the foundation for all of Washington.

Whitfield actually gave her guest credit for his claim: "You can take the credit for that, because you – you came as a visionary." She then pointed out that Barry asserted in his new book that he "didn't really set out to be a politician.... But politics became part of your life once Washington opened something up for you. What was that?"

The former mayor touched on his past in the civil rights movement, but again, went back to touting his supposed record. Instead of bringing up any controversies from his tenure, the journalist went along with the Democratic politician:


BARRY: ...As I said, all of downtown, our neighborhoods have been transformed because of my blueprint....But more importantly, I brought hope to the hopeless.

WHITFIELD: And that really is your legacy. You know, Washingtonians know that. They experienced that....you said, I want to do something to those underserved communities. I want to try and help young people who can't get jobs get them. And in the end, you take credit for the 100,000 jobs that young people got and increasing minority contracts in the city from three percent to 47 percent. So people associate you with those – really, with those accolades in large part. You think people have forgotten that in Washington; or people outside of Washington don't know that?

Barry maintained his innocence in the 1990 drug bust in his protracted answer, and Whitfield concluded her interview by bringing up his charge against the FBI and again complimenting his new book:

BARRY: People outside of Washington don't know that...I have worked hard for the people, and I'm beloved by the people. A Washington Post poll showed 81 percent of black people look up on me very favorably, and 52 percent of all the people look upon me favorably. And now, the only close person is Jack Evans from Ward Two – a white person – he's at 35 percent. And so, I didn't get elected because of my name. I got elected because I work hard for the people. I've produced tangible results – 100,000 young people. That's a lot of young people to give jobs to. Everybody knew that I was a job czar.

And also, they knew I would fight for the underdog. I fight for the tenant, welfare mother. I fight for the disabled. I fight for gay and lesbian rights. I do all of those kind of things. And people don't – they just see this little soundbite of the Vista. Let me just put that right away. First of all, I've not been convicted of anything at the Vista. Nine of the jurors said I was-

WHITFIELD: And this is the Vista Hotel. This is the 1990 drug bust.

BARRY: Yes – right, right – set up by the FBI, and been proven that way. And nine out of the 12 jurors voted to acquit me on all charges-

WHITFIELD: And you write in this book very frankly – you draw that correlation that all of those things that you did to – for the underserved community and – you know, assisting in a large way to the black community – you draw a real correlation between that and the design of this drug bust.

BARRY: Right. I also don't want to be known as just working for the underserved. I created a strong black middle class in Washington, D.C. I created people like Bob Johnson, who got the franchise for the BET cable – I helped him get that. And then, I also-

WHITFIELD: And putting that building on Rhode Island Avenue – I remember that very clearly-

BARRY: Yeah – got the city to lease all that land out on New Jersey Avenue – New York Avenue, where they located for a dollar – got them started – same thing as Don Peebles. I can name – I made more millionaires who were black than anybody in this country – anybody in this country – by giving them opportunities.

WHITFIELD: And it is – and it is all in your book. It really is an inspirational book. It is very personal, and very revealing – 'Mayor For Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr.'

One could easily conclude that Joan Rivers got a tougher interview than Marion Barry did.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center