The media predictably went into full frenzy mode in reporting the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But leave it to the Cable News Network to interject its own brand of social commentary into the discussion. On CNN.com's Political Ticker, contributor Roland Martin openly suggests that it is "[t]ime for a black attorney general."
In the article, Martin praises PepsiCo executive Larry Thompson as an ideal candidate for nomination.
Thompson served as deputy attorney general of the United States from January 2001 until August 2003, and was widely seen as a comforting presence while a volatile John Ashcroft was sitting in the top spot. He left for a big corporate gig as PepsiCo’s senior vice president and general counsel.
Not only is he seen as a moderate; Thompson was also widely respected when he was the top U.S. attorney for the northern District of Georgia. Democrats and Republicans both like him, and that’s a good thing today.
But it's not just Thompson's credentials that are appealing, his skin color also makes him an ideal nominee (especially from a political perspective):
Sure, people should be appointed based on qualifications, but he has that. His race is an added element.
First, Thompson would be the first African-American to serve as attorney general, and Bush has already had a couple of firsts (Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State). Second, Bush would get someone who he already knows, and can trust to get through what some are already calling a tough confirmation hearing.
Martin's endorsement of Thompson came after earlier reporting that the Bush Administration was considering Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for the appointment.
During the afternoon (August 27), the Political Ticker posted a story titled "Gonzales replacement speculation in full force," which indicated that "[s]enior administration officials were quick to tell CNN's Suzanne Malveaux that Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff would likely get the nod."
But before the story could even be verified, CNN.com began its assault on a potential Chertoff nomination.
"... [w]hile some senior administration officials are strongly floating Chertoff as a candidate, others are waiving CNN off, saying that because of his role during Hurricane Katrina, the nomination could run into problems.
Chertoff has taken heat from both Democrats and Republicans for the government's slow response in providing relief to victims of the 2005 storm.
The Chertoff rumors were then discounted in a separate CNN.com news story as posturing by the administration.
The game is usually fueled by both reputation-seeking individuals and overly eager reporters, [former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer] added in an interview.
"Individuals want a reporter to float his or her name because it's probably good for reputation or business, and reporters can't resist," Fleischer said. "There's no downside to it because nobody goes back to these reporters and asks, 'Why did you say it was this person and on what basis did you say it?'"
Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, says White House officials often float a "trial balloon ... so it can be shot down."
The one constant in the reporting, however, was the ongoing attack upon Gonzales. Roland Martin wrote that Gonzales "has finally jumped ship" from "charges from Democrats that the Justice Department has no credibility." The overall commentary is a telling culmination of the media's relentless assault on Gonzales.
In a post dripping with multiple levels of irony, Roland Martin endorses a minority appointment without mentioning that the outgoing attorney general was himself the first Hispanic attorney general. Martin also suggest that it would be politically wise for President Bush to appoint a minority candidate even though the media have been relentlessly critical of Gonzales himself, and to a lesser degree Secretary Rice.
Arguably the bigger point is Martin's invocation of race in the first place. If Larry Thompson is such a qualified candidate, why not just tout his credentials? Why does race need to be injected at all in the discussion? The cynical answer is that "the trap has been set." If a minority candidate is mentioned in the press, and then a non-minority is nominated, the media have then manufactured an opportunity to be critical of the administration. It is immaterial to the press that Thompson does not even want the job.
And in this instance, the stakes have been raised beyond just race, as Thompson has been described as a "moderate," "a comforting presence while a volatile John Ashcroft was sitting in the top spot," and "widely respected" by Democrats and Republicans alike. If Bush were to appoint a solid conservative or administration insider, it would certainly be met with criticism. This scenario played out over the course of a few hours, when the mere rumor of a Michael Chertoff appointment was met with immediate criticism, with CNN.com invoking Hurricane Katrina in multiple stories to attack the viability of a potential Chertoff nomination.
The quick trigger with Michael Chertoff is certain to be a preview of upcoming events. After the six years of consistent attacks upon John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, the reality is that even Larry Thompson isn't safe. If you doubt that statement, just look at this summer's media criticism of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Or check out some of the recent political cartoons depicting Condoleezza Rice.
While the media are quick to invoke race when it serves their agenda, they are color blind when attacking conservatives, and particularly the conservatives who work in the Bush Administration. And while President Bush may well appoint a black attorney general (whether it's Larry Thompson or another qualified candidate), Roland Martin's suggestion - framed as political advice - is laughable.