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While Questioning Journalism Ethics Soledad O’Brien Tweets About ‘Fake Black People’

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Former CNN anchor and broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien has been vocal on social media following CNN’s controversial hiring of Sarah Isgur Flores who recently served as a spokesperson for the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions.

However, among her tweets critiquing her former employers’ decision to hire a Trump administration insider as a political editor, she made statements which are an example of journalists misinforming the public.

Tweets In Conflict With Facts

From Soledad’s present bias against Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) throughout her Twitter timeline, it’s logical to suggest her response is in relation to “Firmly believes Dem party is moving twd his ideology” portion of the tweet. However, if this were untrue why would only Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2nd) sign the pledge backing Medicare Advantage, which would continue the private for-profit insurance model which saddles American citizens with financially crippling medical fees? All other current Democratic candidates in Congress have endorsed Senator Sanders’ “Medicare For All” bill which would eliminate Medicare Advantage and create a Universal Healthcare single-payer system.

Senator Sanders made “Medicare For All” a central part of his 2016 United States Presidential campaign, which has directly led to numerous candidates at least pledging public support for the Universal Healthcare proposal. Voters in general, especially Democratic voters also overwhelmingly support the policy proposal he fought for on the national stage. A January poll from Politico/Harvard shows 68% of Americans believe “providing health insurance for everyone through a taxpayer-funded national plan like Medicare for all” is extremely important.

Medicare 4 All

Graph displaying the popularity of proposed Universal Healthcare in the United States from Americans’ Health And Education Priorities For The New Congress In 2019 Poll via Politico/Harvard

August 2018 polling conducted by Reuters shows 60.1% of Americans support “Free college tuition (For those who meet income levels, paid for by taxing speculative trading).” While that may not be the exact framing, language, or proposal presented by a Bernie Sanders administration, the policy itself has 78.9% support from members of the Democratic party.

The Green New Deal which freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) introduced in the House, has the support of Bernie Sanders, who also spoke about climate change being a major threat to the security of the United States during his 2016 campaign. A survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found, “As expected, support is strongest among Democrats (92%). But a large majority of Republicans (64%) – including conservative Republicans (57%) – also support the policy goals in our description of the Green New Deal,” a policy which both Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-5th) and the Heartland Institute dismissed as a “green dream.”

Those are several examples of both Democratic voters (and Americans overall) along with Democratic politicians running for President of the United States adopting the principles of a Social Democratic ideology.

It’s difficult to ascertain what motivated this response to a tweet addressive of a general election strategy, other than wanting to continue the ‘Bernie Bro‘ myth which continues to exist. The added accusation of Sanders supporters targeting black women without presenting evidence is a gross misrepresentation by someone in the midst of stating they are concerned with the state of journalism.

Activist Shaun King responded to Soledad, but has not received a public response.

Misguided And Dark Tweet

The best interpretation of the tweet would be to assume O’Brien is referencing supposed bots used by Russian intelligence. Her refusal to add context or clarify her meaning allows for the comments to be interpreted as insular in nature.

Despite the rhetoric on O’Brien’s timeline, it’s highly likely a number of non-white Sanders supporters would take issue with her characterizations of the Senator and his voters. The thread accompanying her tweet is full of individuals pushing back against her notion and questioning what she meant by “fake black people.”

Unfortunately, the dismissing of Sanders non-white supporters is a tactic his opponents often use. “Me, myself, and many other POC, people of color, who support Bernie Sanders, feel like we don’t get to be a part of the conversation. We get ignored. We get erased. It’s assumed that the black vote, the Hispanic vote, and everyone is all behind Hillary Clinton and none of us really get Bernie Sanders or like Bernie Sanders,” Leslie Lee III told National Public Radio (NPR) in March 2016 after Senator Sanders won the primary election in Hawaii. “Hey, if you’re gonna ignore me as a black person, I might as well embrace my whiteness,” he continued. “I might as well start watching Friends, or enjoying pumpkin spice latte, or whatever. I just wanted to have a bit of fun with it while highlighting the serious issue.” Lee would also say when speaking about the #BernieMadeMeWhite trend.

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did perform better than Sanders with black voters over the age of 40, that wasn’t the case for younger voters. “But an analysis of 25 states that held primaries and where exit polls were conducted by NBC News showed that one of Sanders’ challenges is that younger blacks are not voting in large numbers. Sanders, according to the exit polls in these states, received 52 percent of the votes of African-Americans under 30, compared to 47 percent for Clinton,” reported NBC News in March 2016.

A January NPR/PBS NewsHour and Marist poll shows 59% of black voters who identify as Democratic voters or Democratic-leaning independents have a favorable view of Bernie Sanders. The same poll found those who do not identify as ‘white’ or ‘black’ have a 61% favorable view of Senator Sanders.

Therefore, it’s not inconceivable that non-white Sanders supporters would resent O’Brien making such claims and rebuke her on Twitter. Any notion that they are “fake black people” deserves harsh critique.

Words From Martin Luther King Jr

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.  – Martin Luther King Jr, I Have A Dream Speech (August 28, 1963), Washington, D.C.

Genius.com provides the significance of the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” quotation:

Both black and white citizens had certainly pushed for racial equality before, but politicians and leaders had always disregarded these requests, insisting that it would happen later. Here King urges leaders to take it upon themselves to make the change happen now, not to put it off further.

Many white liberals in King’s day, including Eleanor Roosevelt, advocated a gradualist approach. (“go slow doesn’t mean, don’t go”).

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote approximately five months before delivering this speech, was a response to gradualism–he was responding to an open letter written by clergymen who in fact considered themselves pro-civil rights, but who also advocated the “go slow, don’t make waves, wait” approach. From their letter, titled “A Call For Unity”:

“We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.”

By calling gradualism a drug, King was doing at least two things. He was 1) arguing that gradualism stupefied white liberals, in particular, like a drug, allowing them to feel good about supporting civil rights even as they did nothing to advance it. Such good feelings were therefore delusional, as hollow as a drug high. And 2) he was urging African-Americans to steer clear of gradualism in the same way one might say “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” today – that is, don’t buy into stupefying, mind-controlling beliefs.

The words and meaning are significant as when the political conversation is on anything besides policy which will help people, the middle and working class lose. Deflecting from Sanders policy proposals, stating factual statements aren’t true, and not providing context for controversial claims does nothing to push policy that will help improve the lives of all Americans.

*Soledad O’Brien did not respond for request to comment on her “Fake Black People” tweet

Walter Yeates

Walter Yeates is a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter who embedded at Standing Rock with military Veterans and First People in December 2016. He covers a range of topics at Citizen Truth and is open for tips and suggestions. Twitter: www.twitter.com/GentlemansHall or www.twitter.com/SmoothJourno Muckrack: https://muckrack.com/walteryeates

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