Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose showdown with federal authorities over cattle grazing rights has attracted a large contingent of antigovernment “Patriot” movement supporters – as well as fawning coverage from Fox News, and the open support of various mainstream conservative politicians – has discovered that openly spouting bigotry is a good way to lose your backers.
Bundy was quoted in a Wednesday New York Times piece spouting off at length about race relations, and it was not pretty:
I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.
Now Media Matters has posted footage of his remarks.
Immediately, one of Bundy’s more prominent political supporters – Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada – distanced himself from the rancher, telling the Times reporter that he “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”
Spokesmen at the offices of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another prominent Bundy backer, did not offer the Times an immediate response. But today Paul denounced Bundy’s rant, saying: “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also has openly supported Bundy’s campaign, demurred when asked about the remarks, saying he hadn’t read them, and told “CBS This Morning” that the Bundy matter was only “a side story” in the larger picture regarding federal land use issues.
At Fox News, where the Bundy Ranch story has filled hours of airtime over the past two weeks and its hosts – particularly Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren – have openly championed Bundy’s cause, there was mostly silence. The network’s coverage of the scene at the ranch suddenly disappeared: Media Matters reports that “Fox had mentioned the rancher only twice, and never covered his racist comments.”
Occasional host and frequent guest Andrew Napolitano told viewers to “forget the battle in Nevada” and focus on events in Texas instead.
Van Susteren did speak out on her blog: “Let me make this plain: I condemn what Cliven Bundy said about African Americans.” Hannity so far has made no comment.
I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family — which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity — so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government?
Cliven Bundy keeps doubling down on his observations about African Americans, and many of his erstwhile supports can’t run away quickly enough.
On Thursday, the New York Times published racially incendiary remarks by Bundy, who mused about the status of black people – “Are they better off as slaves?” he asked. Bundy’s support from mainstream conservatives and prominent Republicans essentially vanished. So he began making the media rounds again, trying to explain himself.
But Bundy didn’t apologize or back away from his remarks. Rather, he doubled down, emphasizing at a press conference that he thought he was right to ask such questions:
I’ve been wondering – Cliven Bundys are wondering about these people – now I’m talking about the black community. I’ve been wondering – are they better off with their young women aborting their children? Are they better off with their young men in prison? And are they better off with the older people on the sidewalks in front of their government-issued homes with a few children on them – are they better off, are they happier than they was when they was in the South, in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them, and their men having something to do?
He also went on CNN’s “New Day” program this morning and again doubled down, this time saying Martin Luther King hadn’t finished his job if black people were going to be offended by the things he said:
Maybe I sinned, maybe I need to ask forgiveness, and maybe I don’t know what I actually said. But when you talk about prejudice, we’re talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings — we don’t have freedom to say what we want. If I say ‘Negro’ or ‘black boy’ or ‘slave’ — I’m not — if those people cannot take those kinda words and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet.
The flight from support for Bundy continued apace, with Republican politicians and party officials continuing to assert that they have nothing to do with the Nevada rancher – who has been in a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over his illegally grazing cattle.
However, the militiamen who showed up with weapons at Bundy’s ranch in Nevada say they continue to support him; indeed, they see the news stories as just another conspiracy. “It’s part of misinformation to maintain the divide,” one militiaman told the Las Vegas Sun. “Things like this will be put out there to discredit Bundy.”
Controversial black conservative Alan Keyes defended the remarks, saying they weren’t racist: “He wasn’t talking so much about black folks, but about the harm and damage that the leftist socialism has done to blacks.”
But the majority of Bundy’s mainstream backers have made clear that they want to talk about other cases of “government abuse” now, instead of Bundy’s. At Fox News, Bundy’s biggest on-air champion, Sean Hannity, also denounced Bundy, but seemed to blame it all on the “liberal media” as well.
Hannity devoted much of his show Thursday to simultaneously denouncing Bundy and the New York Times, as well as his critics:
HANNITY: All right, allow me to make myself abundantly clear. I believe those comments are downright racist. They are repugnant. They are bigoted. And it’s beyond disturbing. I find those comments to be deplorable, and I think it’s extremely unfortunate that Cliven Bundy holds those views.
Now, while I supported the Bundy ranch as they took a stand against the Bureau of Land Management, I was absolutely dismayed and frankly disappointed after reading the article and then hearing the commentary. However, I also want to say this. The ranch standoff that took place out in Nevada was not about a man named Cliven Bundy. At the heart of this issue was my belief that our government is simply out of control. Now, to me, this was about a federal agency’s dangerous response to a situation that could have resulted in a catastrophe, and that means people dying and people being shot, kind of comparable to what we saw in Waco, Texas.
Hannity then rambled through a number of other supposed examples of out-of-control government, including cases of veterans being given bad medical care and federal water-rights disputes in California, and then concluded by throwing Benghazi and Obamacare into the mix. According to Hannity, if anyone was to blame, it was more likely the New York Times (for their Benghazi coverage) and Jon Stewart (who has been mercilessly pillorying Hannity for his coverage of the Bundy standoff).
The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz satirically devised a statement by Fox News to deal with the controversy: “Cliven Bundy’s outrageous racist remarks undermine decades of progress in our effort to come up with cleverer ways of saying the same thing.”