The Washington Post's Erik Wemple weighs in on the ongoing brouhaha over our reporting that Mitt Romney was employing a slogan on the campaign trail that was once used by the KKK. MSNBC mentioned our post yesterday morning, the Romney campaign went berserk, and then MSNBC began a long series of public apologies, including yet another one this morning. The only problem? They've not made clear what they're apologizing for, since the story was accurate. Here's Wemple's conclusion:
The unfortunate upshot of that moment is that Romney used a phrase deployed by the KKK in proximity to a reference to immigration policy. Therefore, the reference on MSNBC was fair, even if it lacked a response from the Romney people.So the big problem, according to MSNBC, is that their on air talent didn't get a statement from the Romney campaign before mentioning the story, when the Romney campaign is refusing to give a statement anyway? Would MSNBC's story really have been that different had they said "the Romney campaign refused to comment"? If anything, that would have made Romney sound even more guilty. In a way, MSNBC was doing Romney a favor. But in any case, why did MSNBC apologize?
Not that they would have gotten too far with the inquiries in any case. The Romney campaign wouldn’t respond to questions on the controversy. When I sent along the link to a Los Angeles Times story reflecting the candidate’s use of the phrase and asked for confirmation that it was an accurate report, I got nothing in response. Huffington Post got a similar treatment. Through the stonewalling, the Romney campaign signals its intent not to give its side of things but rather to flack the story out of existence through a series of no-comments.
Look at what Roberts didn’t say with his much-examined words. He didn’t say that Romney sympathized with the KKK, nor did he say that the candidate borrowed the phrase from the KKK. He said merely that the phrase was used by the KKK. The overlap could be the result a distasteful speech-writing accident or something just as harmless.
The rhetorical echo isn’t so much fair game as it is obligatory game. If a modern presidential candidate uses a catchphrase that was once deployed by one of U.S. history’s most hateful and divisive groups, what’s the excuse for failing to point that out? Writes Aravosis via-email: “It feels like Mitt Romney yelled at the head of MSNBC, and he caved. And I think it’s fair to ask MSNBC to disclose the contents of any and all discussions they had with the Romney campaign yesterday.”
Who knows how it went — neither side is talking about the ins and outs. What is clear is that Romney has flirted with coded and creepy nativist language on the stump. And when the consequences of his stump language emerged, his campaign appears to have complained to the one outlet that reported on it and stifled others. If MSNBC’s actions were appalling, then those actions qualify as well.