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Context of 'January 16, 2012: Republican Presidential Candidate Assails African-American Debate Moderator for Suggesting that Racially Divisive Comments May Offend African-Americans'

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Juan Williams (left) and Newt Gingrich during the Republican presidential debate.Juan Williams (left) and Newt Gingrich during the Republican presidential debate. [Source: Texas GOP Vote]Fox News commentator Juan Williams, an African-American, takes umbrage with recent comments by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that he says had unacceptably racial overtones. Williams, moderating a Republican presidential debate in South Carolina with Gingrich and other candidates for Fox News, asks: “Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012). You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?” Gingrich responds, “No, I don’t see that.” Gingrich reiterates his call for poor students to earn money by doing janitorial work around their schools, saying that they would earn money, “which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.” Williams presses Gingrich, asking him if his comments, including his reference to Obama as a “food stamp president,” don’t belittle the poor and racial minorities: “My Twitter has been inundated with people of all races asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor,” he says. Gingrich retorts: “The fact is more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.… I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job.” The debate audience, described by Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser as “largely white [and] Republican,” cheers Gingrich’s remarks and boos Williams. [Fox News, 1/16/2012; Mediaite, 1/16/2012; Think Progress, 1/17/2012] Williams later says that he believes Gingrich is “pandering” to conservative and presumably racist voters in the audience (see January 18, 2012). Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh will accuse Williams, not Gingrich, of appealing to racism in his question. “[T]his line of questioning was all racially tinted from Juan Williams,” Limbaugh will say. “Newt Gingrich did not take the bait and answer in a racial context. He answered within the context that we’re all people and that we, as conservatives, want the best for everybody.… [W]e are for everybody doing well, that we conservatives do not see black and white, male, female, gay, straight when we look at people down the line. We see potential. We want the best for everybody. We know what’s holding ‘em back, and that’s government, government central planners, people like Barack Obama, [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, who look at people and see them with contempt and condescension, see them being incapable, and they treat them that way and they devise systems to deal with them that way, and they keep them forever dependent, which destroys their humanity, which makes us sick. It breaks our hearts.” [Rush Limbaugh, 1/17/2012] Limbaugh later claims that Williams would not have a job if not for “the white guy, conservative who runs Fox News.” [Media Matters, 1/31/2012] Millhiser reiterates the facts that “[t]he overwhelming majority of African-Americans are not on food stamps” and “the majority of [Americans] who receive food stamps are white.” He writes: “It’s deeply disturbing that a man who claims he should be president of the United States cannot understand why his remarks are offensive.… Gingrich’s suggestion that food stamps are somehow a preeminent black issue flies in the face of reality. Worse, it lumps all African-Americans together as federal aid recipients when the overwhelming majority of working-age black men and women are self-supporting taxpayers. Thousands of them are professionals such as doctors or lawyers. One of them is the president of the United States.” [Think Progress, 1/17/2012] Gingrich has a history of making racially questionable remarks and characterizations (see May 27, 2009, June 7, 2009, August 16, 2010, September 12, 2010 and After and December 13, 2011). His claim that Obama has presided over more Americans receiving food stamps than ever before is wrong (see January 17, 2012). And a recent study by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found SNAP to be an extraordinarily effective program in helping Americans survive the effects of the recession (see January 9, 2012).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Ian Millhiser, Newt Gingrich, Juan Williams, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

Fox News commentator Juan Williams discusses the recent exchange between himself and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich over what Williams characterizes as racially motivated comments from Gingrich. Hosting a debate between Republican presidential contenders, Williams, an African-American, asked Gingrich whether he understood that his recent comments belittling blacks as food stamp recipients who were unused to working (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011) were being received negatively by African-Americans, and Gingrich responded by repeating the claims, to the loud approval of the debate audience (see January 16, 2012). Williams tells Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Gingrich intended to “play racial politics” in responding to Williams. Williams also attacks Gingrich’s premise that the young and poor in America have little interest in landing jobs, telling O’Reilly, “When you see that jobs are offered to young people in this country, you have lines around the block… he was suggesting that somehow these kids don’t want to work.” O’Reilly interprets Gingrich’s remarks as saying that Gingrich wanted the government to fund school jobs to help children learn a work ethic, but Williams says O’Reilly’s interpretation is not what Gingrich meant. O’Reilly asks if Williams believes Gingrich “was pandering to a certain voter in South Carolina,” alluding to conservative and presumably racist white voters, and Williams agrees. [Mediaite, 1/18/2012]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Newt Gingrich, Juan Williams

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

Fox News commentator and analyst Juan Williams, in a column for the Washington, DC, political publication The Hill, writes of his dismay at what he believes is the racially charged rhetoric that is dominating the Republican presidential primary. Williams got into a heated exchange with Republican candidate Newt Gingrich during a recent debate in South Carolina (see January 16, 2012). But Williams is displeased with the responses of all of the candidates at the debate. “With [ethnic] solidly in the Democratic camp and behind the first black president,” Williams writes, “the scene is set for a bonanza of racial politics. The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are ‘entitlement society’—as used by Mitt Romney—and ‘poor work ethic’ and ‘food stamp president’—as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the ‘Founding Fathers’ and the ‘Constitution’ also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core ‘old-fashioned American values.’ The code also extends to attacks on legal immigrants, always carefully lumped in with illegal immigrants, as people seeking ‘amnesty’ and taking jobs from Americans. But the code sometimes breaks down.” Williams, an African-American, asked each candidate at the debate about some aspect of racially driven politics, from voter identification laws that would keep African-Americans from voting to racial discrimination in drug enforcement policies. Gingrich, he writes, was the most flagrant in appealing to racist whites with his practiced, sophisticated use of “coded appeals”—“dog whistling,” Williams says it is often called—to racist stereotypes against blacks and Hispanics. Gingrich’s rhetoric, he writes, appeals to “certain white audiences by intimating that black people are lazy, happy to live off the government, and lacking any intellect.” Instead of answering Williams’s question (referring to Gingrich’s characterization of food stamp recipients as largely African-American and too lazy to seek gainful employment), Gingrich “threw red meat to Republicans in South Carolina, a state with a long history of racial politics. He used the same rhetorical technique of the segregationist politicians of the past: rejecting the premise of the question, attacking the media, and playing to the American people’s resentment of liberal elites, minorities, and poor people.” Williams says he does not regret asking Gingrich about his characterization of welfare recipients, and writes: “I do not know anyone on food stamps who would prefer them to gainful employment.… The problem is not a lack of work ethic on the part of the poor, who are disproportionately minorities. The problem is there are few good jobs for blue-collar people with the best work ethic. Let’s have an honest debate about why this is the case and what we can do to fix it. But I regret that our political discourse has become so fragmented and combative that the point I was trying to make was obscured by pro-wrestling theatrics and post-debate spin. Poverty, unemployment, and the hopelessness that pervade minority communities are real issues that the GOP nominee, and President Obama for that matter, should address in this campaign.” [The Hill, 1/30/2012] A blogger for the liberal Daily Kos writes of Williams’s column, “You have to wonder how long Juan Williams will last at Fox News” after writing the column. [Daily Kos, 1/30/2012]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Daily Kos, Newt Gingrich, Juan Williams

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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