By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The politics of white backlash

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at the tea party, the Republicans and the politics of white backlash.

Thursday update: Glenn Beck had some fun with my Guardian column yesterday on Fox News. I don’t believe there’s a publickly available link, but I have posted the relevant excerpt from Lexis-Nexis, along with a retort, in the comments.

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  1. Neil Sagan

    How does this:

    A little-known African American bureaucrat, Van Jones, was hounded out of office for having allegedly expressed offensive views about the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 – views he later said he had never voiced and did not hold. 8/24/10

    jibe with this:

    Glenn Beck has his moment

    In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at the fall of Van Jones — and at how a far-right Web site and Glenn Beck, improbably enough, took him down with a clean hit. 9/8/2009

    Doesn’t Journalism 101 prescribe that the correction be published in the original post? Also, take a look at your discussion with your readers in the comments of the post. You might want to reconsider your position taken in that dialogue as well.

    Here’s Van Jones on the topic. I think we can agree “clean hit” is antithetical to what happened.

    In my case, the media rushed to judgment so quickly that I was never able to make clear that the group put my name on its Web site without my permission. The group finally admitted that it never had my signature, but by then it was too late.

    Shirley Sherrod and Me
    By VAN JONES, July 24, 2010, NYT

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Though I take Jones’ denial seriously, I am nevertheless troubled at how anyone could resign in silence and then, months later, claim that he’d been tricked into signing the truther petition. If he had been falsely accused, why wouldn’t he shout it from the rooftops? It certainly took Shirley Sherrod no time to clear her name.

      Moreover, the incident over which Jones resigned was not his only brush with the truther movement.

      What I wrote in the Guardian today in terms of Jones’ denial is accurate. Whether it’s also true is another matter, and perhaps one that would require independent verification.

  2. Neil Sagan

    Van Jones resigned because he had become a political liability to the Obama White House, which does not stand up to right-wing attacks but which acquiesces to them, even in the Shirley Sherrod case.

    Jones did not resign because he called the Republicans a bad name (Rahm does it all the time) or becuase there was evidence he signed the 911 truth petition (so says the 911 truth organization whose word you’ll take over Van Jones.)

    Now, when Jones says he didn’t sign it, you say it requires verification. If so, what’s your definition for “a clean hit?” I argue this is anything but a clean hit and that you should print a correction. You admit critical facts are in question. Does that not then mean the “clean hit” description is also in doubt? Clearly it is.

    In the same way you describe in your most recent article about right-wingers like Armey and Fox News hammering away for two years on its race-baiting agenda, Fox, Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly hammered away at Van Jones. Remember how he was Obama’s Green Jobs Czar and how there are too many Czar’s in the admin? That is the context for this firing, not the name he called the Republicans and not whether he did or didn’t sign the petition. Clearly, those were nothing more than straws – whether straws that broke the camel’s back or imply out and out srtawmen.

    Beck and company not only won, they won cleanly: they discovered that, in 2004, Jones had signed a petition calling for a probe into whether the Bush administration might have had something to do with the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001. The petition called “for immediate public attention to unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

    Jones had to go, and he did. Barack Obama’s shoeprint is still visible on his backside. It was the birthers versus the truthers, and the birthers not only prevailed, they were right.

    Do you stand by this (above)? Or This (below)?

    Jones did not help matters by claiming he hadn’t actually read the petition before signing it. This was not a 10,000-word terms-of-service agreement that requires you to click “yes” before you can install the latest version of Microsoft Office. Jones had to know the petition dealt with an incendiary topic. If he didn’t bother to check the precise wording, well, all the more reason for him to resign

    or this?

    The real problem is that the White House gave a job to someone who has flirted with a vile and hateful conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.

    If not a retraction, then perhaps it’s time for some verification so you can set the record straight.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Here is something else I wrote in that first Guardian piece that you do not bother to quote: “Jones did not help matters by claiming he hadn’t actually read the petition before signing it…. If he didn’t bother to check the precise wording, well, all the more reason for him to resign. (Undermining Jones’s ‘I know nothing’ defense is the fact that the petition was not his only brush with the truther movement.)” I’ll stand by that.

  3. Neil Sagan

    After writing this

    The backlash against Obama’s blackness

    From Arizona to Ground Zero via birthers, the Republicans are riding a wave of white resentment. It’s reckless and frightening

    Can you honestly argue that the attacks on Van Jones had nothing to do with Van Jones race?

    Assuming you’re willing to stipulate that the attacks on Van Jones were in part motivated by his race then are you willing to reconsider whether your characterization of his ouster was “a clean hit”?

  4. BP Myers

    Van Jones’ story has changed so many times it’s hard to know what to believe.

    Confess I haven’t paid attention since he left, however this is the first I’ve heard he now denies even signing the petition.

    What I don’t understand is why people who have done no wrong (or believe they have done no wrong) resign in the first place? Why did Van Jones and Sherrod give in to pressure to resign? Why not just say, “Hell no! Fire me if you must, but I’m not resigning.”

    Be nice anyway to see someone in the Obama administration show a little backbone, even if only in the act of being fired.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: To my knowledge, Jones has never repudiated or even addressed the fact that his name appears on this. Check out the sixth paragraph in particular.

      I think it’s perfectly clear why Jones was making common cause with such folks: it fit in with what he was trying to accomplish politically at the time. He may not have believed any of it, but he did not envision there would come a day when he would be called on to repudiate it, either. Very much like Obama himself, looking the other way when Jeremiah Wright would go off, never imagining that one day he’d be running for president.

  5. Neil Sagan

    I’ll stipulate he was a truther and that the WH could not employ a truther. It would constitute a “clean hit” if truther was their sole attack on Van Jones but that was not the case. He was subject to countless attacks including Marxist, czar, communist, socialist. I still don’t know how you can characterize that as a “clean hit.” It is anything but. Even if he questioned whether the 9/11 attack was a false flag attack, which you find repugnant, don’t you atleast owe him honesty in your assessment of his ouster, whether it constituted a “clean hit”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Looks like you’ve conceded every point. Given that, who cares about my use of the phrase “clean hit”? The context of that phrase was clear: Beck and others accused him of being a truther, and there was compelling evidence that, in fact, he was. As for the other stuff, I wrote at the time that it was all B.S. Read the piece.

  6. BP Myers

    @Neil Sagan says: He was subject to countless attacks including Marxist, czar, communist, socialist.

    At one time in his life, he was a self-described communist.

    Hard to see how calling him what he once called himself was beyond the pale.

  7. L.K. Collins

    “Hard to see how calling him what he once called himself was beyond the pale.” — BP Meyers

    It doesn’t fit with Dan’s self-righteous indignation that the people who are opposing his view have gotten the upper hand in the PR war that he, himself, is engaged it.

    It is always fun to watch people elect to demonize others when they feel that they are becoming irrelevant.

  8. Sean Griffin

    Not exactly sure how cutting taxes, tort reform, denying global warming, banning abortion, banning gay marriage, antagonizing American Muslims, repealing the 14th and 17th amendments, privatizing Social Security, getting rid of the minimum wage, deporting 12 million illegals with the help of the military and going to war with Iran is going to cut the deficit and revive the economy, but I’m all ears.

  9. Aaron Read

    Speaking of the Tea Party, isn’t this story just delicious? I keep hearing “I fought the law and the law won…” in the background as I read it.

  10. BP Myers

    @Aaron: I like this one even better.

    Finally, Ann Coulter and I have something more in common than the Grateful Dead. We’re both RINO’s.

  11. Neil Sagan

    You do know the difference between stipulating a fact – to further an argument – and conceding it, don’t you?

    Did you just say “who cares” about YOUR use of the phrase “clean hit” professor of journalism Mr Dan Kennedy? Those are YOUR words. If you’re going to distance yourself from them, at least have the dignity to do it with a proper retraction or correction.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Quite the contrary. I stand by them, given that the facts support them.

  12. Dave Symons


    You must be a very simple and short-minded indivudual to hold the belief that the American population has turned agaist Obama because of race. It was great to watch Glenn Beck absolutely own you and your ridiculous prose on his show today.

    Here’s the simple fact: We have turned on Obama because he is one of the worst Presidents in United States history. From foreign policy to the economy and everything in between he has epically failed.

    Stimulus Package? Trash
    Health Care? Trash
    Apologizing to the world for America? Lunacy
    Even considering cap and trade? Idiot
    Jobs? Pathetic
    Suing the State of Arizona, who’s laws are complimentary to Federal law while allowing “sanctuary” cites to violate said law with impunity? Bizarrely stupid
    Having racist policies in his Department of Justice? Horrible.
    “Transparancy and Accountabilty”? Laughable

    Van Jones? Why stop there? As your true love, Glenn Beck, has pointed out time and time again, virtually every person the President surrounds himself with is far left/socialist/marxist/and yes, self-professed communist. What’s wrong with that? This is AMERICA! There are plenty of countries in this world that you can live under those political philosophies, but leave this one FREE!

    This list goes on and on and on and on and on. The point being, only a fool believes we have turned against Obama because of his race.

    This President’s failures are almost as great as yours as a journalist.

  13. Bill Hanna

    @Dave:Here’s the simple fact: We have turned on Obama because he is one of the worst Presidents in United States history. From foreign policy to the economy and everything in between he has epically failed.

    Dave, if we could only have George W. Bush back, right? Those were the days!! “Axis of evil,” surplus bustin decider’, “mission accomplished,” preventive war, “Good job, Brownie!”, misunderestimation galore. How did we ever end up with this guy Obama?

  14. Dave Symons


    Typical response from the left, blame Bush.

    FYI I don’t think Bush was a good President either, but he was only one quarter the disaster that Obama is.

    Further, both Bush and Obama are progressives, which is the real cancer in America.

    To answer your question, we ended up with this guy Obama because he stood up in front of the nation, time and time again, and either flagrantly lied or deceived us by omission. I can’t fault the folks who got fooled the first time, but if they re-elect him then America deserves everything it gets.

  15. Dave Symons

    Let me add that he also told the truth, that he was going to change America (he just didn’t specify what kind of change; marxism) and he backed it up with his statement to Joe the Plumber (“it’s good to spread the wealth around” – NO, Karl, it ISN’T).

    We knew about Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, etc., and his background was fully exposed in his two books.

    Problem is, half of the population who voted for him didn’t listen, and the other half were shielded from this information by the mainstream media.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Dave: Would you repeal the 16th Amendment?

  16. Bill Hanna

    @Dave: “Further, both Bush and Obama are progressives, which is the real cancer in America.”
    Dave, in my view, Bush was no progressive, but let’s not argue that. Let me ask you about the “cancer” of progressivism. It seems to me that without it, this country would not have the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th or 17th Amendments, workplace safety rules, child labor laws, Social Security, the G.I. Bill of Rights, Medicare, Medicaid, the civil rights legislation of the mid-20th century and many other features that we today take for granted. Am I correct, or should we credit conservatives for these? And if you would argue that the aforementioned aren’t in the nation’s best interest, are “Marxist” perhaps, which would you do away with?

  17. Mike Benedict

    Wow, Dave Symons, that’s really a lot of words you wrote. Not much in the way of accuracy, but they sure were fun to read!

  18. Sean Griffin

    Bush was a progressive? This is news to me. It appears that Mr. Symons is not an autodidact, but a Beckodidact.

  19. BP Myers

    @Dave Symons says:Obama [is] one of the worst Presidents in United States history.

    Many folks said the same thing about Ronald Reagan at this point in his Presidency. His popularity was below 50%, unemployment was at its highest since the great depression, and his party suffered deep losses in his first mid-term election. Things looked so bad, he pondered not running again.

    Thinking people understand it is only in the fullness of time that a Presidency can be judged.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Glenn Beck picked up on my Guardian piece last night. I got the transcript from Lexis-Nexis. Here is the relevant section:

      Look at this from the Guardian now. Quote, “What we’re witnessing at the moment is the full, ugly furor of white backlash aimed directly and indirectly at our first black president. Minor issues including ACORN, a heretofore obscure agents that helped to register urban, mostly minority voters became a cause celebre.

      “A little known African-American bureaucrat Van Jones was hounded out of office for allegedly expressed offensive views about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, views he later said he never voiced and did not hold.”

      Really, Van, are you going to play that game? “Protesters spat upon and directed racial epithets at African-American congressmen as the healthcare debate reached its climax.”

      OK. Let’s take this one at a time. First of all, minor issues like fraudulent voter registration? That’s minor? Or the green job czar? He was just – and he was hounded out of office because of his views on 9/11?

      You’ve got to be kidding me. The man is a communist – a communist revolutionary. Read his own works. You’ve got to be kidding. The 9/11 thing, when they finally fired him – and that was it. You have to be – on that? There isn’t one shred of evidence to the spitting and racial epithets in the story.

      Listen to that. There is such a lack of evidence that the New York Times had to issue a correction on the story because it is false. But the despicable story didn’t end there.

      “And now, we come to the full fruition of this race baiting. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 18 percent of Americans – and 34 percent of conservative Republicans – believe Obama is a Muslim, proportions that have actually risen since the 2008 campaign.”

      Now, I don’t expect “The Guardian” to actually seek the truth. I believe they have a clear agenda. But I mean, hasn’t any of this ignited just a little bit of curiosity in any journalist?

      We pointed out last night – we showed you last night there are ample statements from the president to cause Christians to pause. We showed a few of those statements on several occasions. We have said unequivocally that – he has said – I’m sorry – unequivocally that we are not a Christian nation.

      The one part of Beck’s rant that caught my eye was his claim that the New York Times had corrected its report that racial epithets had been directed at African-American congressmen, and that one had been spat upon, during the health-care debate.

      You will not be surprised to learn that Beck completely mischaracterized a correction that the Times published on July 25. The correction in full:

      The Political Times column last Sunday, about a generational divide over racial attitudes, erroneously linked one example of a racially charged statement to the Tea Party movement. While Tea Party supporters have been connected to a number of such statements, there is no evidence that epithets reportedly directed in March at Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, outside the Capitol, came from Tea Party members.

      In other words, no backing down on the fact that the epithets were given voice. Just a simple acknowledgment that there was no way of knowing whether those epithets came from tea-partiers.

      Given this video, it is amazing that some continue to deny the spitting incident.

  20. BP Myers

    Given that those of his own Mormon faith are often looked upon with suspicion by “real Christians,” one wonders if he doesn’t pile on the “real Christian” stuff in an effort to firm up his own Christian bona fides.

    And we are most certainly not a “Christian nation,” whatever the hell that means.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: That was Mitt 2007. Mitt 2010 is more secular. A little bit like Mitt 2002, only farther to the right on social programs and spending. Not to be confused, of course, with Mitt 1994, who tried to run to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights, or Mitt 2000, who reportedly considered running for the U.S. Senate from Utah as a Democrat. We really need a chart.

  21. L.K. Collins

    You’ve made it to the big leagues, Dan…A comment on your offerings from Beck. Next, will you be invited to have your own show on MSNBC where you can try to rival Maddow and Olberman as they try to scratch up the ratings chart from the oblivion range?

    “While Tea Party supporters have been connected to a number of such statements, there is no evidence that epithets reportedly directed in March at Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, outside the Capitol, came from Tea Party members.”

    Keep parsing Dan, you may actually be able to make a point sometime in the future.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Parsing? I wrote: “Protesters spat upon and directed racial epithets at African American congressmen as the healthcare debate reached its climax.” It was the New York Times, not me, that attributed those actions to the tea-partiers and then later had to retract that statement.

      Other than the money, I have a much better job than Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

  22. Lawrence Jenkins

    David Symons: Spot on mate. These issues are being racially poisoned by the left. Even the Shirely Sheerod affair was an absolute set up. You know it’s amazing that the most left wing president possibly ever who sorrounds himself with marxist runs an administration that forced no threatened Shirely Sheerod to resign without any disciplinary proceedures that protect government employees pending investigation? Nah the whole thing was a set up after being exposed about the New Black Panther voter intimidation fiasco. They needed to show how right on they were and intolerent of any form of racism and prove by bypassing all employees union negotiated practises and that is very remiss for a president whho seems to get BJ’s of Andy Stern practically everyday. In normal circumstances Shirely Sheerod would have been suspended and the internal inquirey would have been obliged to keep very low key pending the outcome.

    Nope sickening lying left again and again

  23. BP Myers

    @Dan: I miss Mitt 1994.

    And still believe had he been McCain’s running mate, someone with a financial background who understood and could explain the mess we were in, we’d have President McCain right now. I can guarantee him at least one more vote anyway.

  24. Sean Griffin

    Dan, those weren’t tea partiers, they were SEIU thugs pretending to be tea partiers. It’s right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.

  25. Laurence Glavin

    I guess many people haven’t heard of By visiting that site, you can view the ACTUAL numbers that MSNBC gets, at least to the extent that you believe Nielsen’s methodolgy. Anyway, Keith and Rachel generally garner totals that approximate the population of Dallas, TX taking in the first airing and repeats. So during those hours, it’s in second place for “news” channels (recognizing that opinion shows are broadcast at that time). Ultra-right-wingers frequently describe MSNBC’s ratings as virtually non-existent, when the opposite is true. MSNBC could strengthen the brand by going all-news, but the jailhouse shows and catching predator shows actually draw and audience. Then again, steel-cage human cockfighting is selling out whatever that arena near North Station is called these days…probably with Fox viewers.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: Similarly, I once heard someone on WTKK — Mike Barnicle, of all people — making fun of the ratings on WBUR, whose audience is considerably larger than ‘TKK’s.

  26. Peter Sullivan


    I don’t think it is at all clear from the Huffington Post Video that someone deliberately spit on the black Congressman. Perhaps while vehemently making his point, some spittle made its way to the guy, but to point to that video as proof positive that the incident took place is weak at best. I realize you are the team’s starting left winger, but can’t you look objectively at any issue. ,

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: The guy spit on Congressman Cleaver. Cleaver had to wipe it off. Not sure why you feel the need to read the spitter’s mind in order to determine his intent.

  27. Peter Sullivan

    I just watched it again five times. It is not clear from the video that he did or didn’t spit. The Congressman waves his hand in front of him and at the end wipes his face, but come on, you are supposed to be a journalist, not the Democratic Party’s spokesperson. It appears that perhaps something came out of the screaming guy’s mouth, either intentionally or not, but holding this video up as proof is just pure partisan politics. Not really sure why that surprises me.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: You are playing the part of John Cleese in a Monty Python skit.

      Cleese: You have no proof that anyone spit on Congressman Cleaver.

      Eric Idle: Well, actually, yes we do. Here is a video of a protester spitting on Cleaver. As you’ll see, he hocked a large enough gob on the congressman that he had to wipe it off his neck.

      [The video is played.]

      Idle: So, as you can see, a protester spit on Congressman Cleaver.

      [Long pause.]

      Cleese, very calmly: No, he didn’t.

      Thanks for playing. Instead of watching the video over and over and asking yourself, “Did the protester spit deliberately or accidentally?,” why not just accept that he spit? This ain’t the Zapruder film.

  28. LFNeilson

    Dan, how do you retain your sanity in all this jibber-jabber? Political discourse has reached such a high plateau!

  29. In the 1930’s Adolph Hitler co-opted the word ‘Socialism’ to create the Nazi movement. Today Glen Beck co-opts ‘equal rights’ to create a new Christian totalitarian United States. In both cases, the poor, the sick, the minorities and the democrats were and are destined for ‘detention’ camps and worse. Tragically, as was the case in 1933, when the Nazis came to power, the current administration in Washington shows no inclination to challenge the Beck “equal rights” Tea baggers or ‘the Second Amendment solution’ brigades. Is there a meaningful, energetic opposition to the movement to remake the United States in the image of Nazi Germany? Have the conservatives, liberals and the left gone vacationing in Lalaland?

    The fact is, if the liberals and the left had concentarted on compelling the administration to undertake a massive jobs program, it’s that program the extremists would be stomping on, and it’s the beneficiaries of such a program that would resist the Beck-Hannity-Simpson ‘solution’ for our problems.

    Is it too late to organize large sections of the public on behalf of the Constitutional United States? No, but it very soon may be. It requires serious people, serious organizers, serious thinkers, serious Americans.

    David Alman

  30. Peter Sullivan


    My only point is that this video that you hold up as proof dosen’t really shows the guy spitting at the guy. It may appear from the reaction that he could have, but you don’t see him spit and the policewoman behind the congressman doesn’t get involved. The fact that tea party idiots are involved, as usuall, means guilty before proven innocent in Media Nation

    And thanks for making me John Cleese in the skit.

  31. Dan,

    You are misinterpreting your supposed evidence at

    The page is composed of two documents. The first is an announcement of a march with which the page author is associated, which contains some proto-truther (in the sense of not elaborated as it later became) content along with “blowback” criticism. Van Jones name is NOT associated with that march.

    The second is a reproduction of a widely circulated announcement of a new newspaper, War Times, with which the page author is not associated. This is the part to which Van Jones’ name is attached. War Times sought and continues (now in only online form) to promote and build an anti-war movement, but it is a profoundly rationalist effort, not a promoter of conspiracy theories, and not a “Truther” vehicle.

    The rhetoric in the War Times announcement is quite different from the march announcement.

    This is evidence that early proto-truthers had a connection or presence in the the early anti-war movement, but not that the whole movement, nor specifically Van Jones, were “truthers” or proto-truthers at that time.

  32. The keyword in Beck’s attack on Kennedy is “agenda”. This is a coded way of saying “You’re critical of me, therefore you’re out to get me, therefore your criticism does not merit a real rebuttal.” Isn’t circular logic convenient?

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