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In the aftermath of the Florida election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), television and press news outlets offer a round of explanations, excuses, and apologies for the mistakes and miscues that marked election-night coverage (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000, 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000, 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000, and 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Knight-Ridder newspapers say the election night will “forever… be known” as “The Night That Television Got It Wrong.” The Baltimore Sun observes: “Whipsawed between presidential election returns that turned on a dime, and production schedules that couldn’t, newspaper editors crossed their fingers in the early morning and started their presses. And many got the story wrong.” The New York Times says that network executives are “examining how the errors could have occurred,” and goes on to state that many in academia, politics, and the news media are calling the mistakes “perhaps the most egregious election-night gaffes in the modern television era.” CBS News says: “We all made our own calls. All of us made the wrong call twice. It was different people, different eyes looking at it. Each of us thought when we looked at the data that it was a good call. It did not appear to be as risky as it turned out to be.” California pollster Mark DiCamillo says: “Everybody is dying to know who won when the polls close. There’s tremendous pressure that builds. You’ve been looking at exit poll data. It’s very hard to say it’s too close to call. It’s the pressure cooker on election night television coverage.” (National Journal 11/9/2000)
The candidates for governor of Maryland, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert Ehrlich, hold a debate in the Murphy Fine Arts Building on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore. After the debate, allegations surface that Democratic supporters of Townsend threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Steele is African-American; to label an African-American an “Oreo” is to say that he, like an Oreo cookie, is black on the outside and white on the inside. It is considered a significant racial slur. The allegations are published by, among other sources, the conservative Washington Times, largely relying on reporting by S.A. Miller, who writes multiple stories concerning the alleged incident.
First Iteration: Oreos 'Distributed' among Audience Members - The source is Ehrlich’s campaign spokesman Paul Schurick, who tells a Baltimore Sun reporter that he saw Democrats in the audience distributing Oreo cookies. Schurick initially makes no mention of anyone throwing cookies. One day after the event, Steele is quoted by the Sun as talking about the Townsend supporters in the crowd and what he terms “race-baiting” by her campaign, but says nothing about Oreos. On October 14, Weekly Standard columnist Jeffrey Goldberg repeats as fact Schurick’s allegations about Oreos being passed out at the debate. On October 21, syndicated conservative columnist George Will repeats the story, adding that “[s]ome of the audience had distributed Oreo cookies to insult Ehrlich’s running mate.”
Second Iteration: 'Townsend Supporters Threw Oreo Cookies' - The same day as Will’s column appears, the Sun and the Associated Press report that Ehrlich told an audience at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele. The next day, the Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times reports that “the Ehrlich campaign” claimed “protesters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at Steele.” The Washington Times reports Ehrlich’s claims on October 29. The Washington Post reports on October 31 that Townsend supporters “mocked” Steele by bringing Oreo cookies to the gubernatorial debate. On November 2, the London Times reports as fact that Steele “was bombarded with Oreo cookies” at the gubernatorial debate. Miller later tells other reporters that, while in attendance at the debate, he saw Steele get hit with the cookies. On November 22, the Capital News Service will report that Steele later “said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.”
Reporter Retracts Claim - But in November 2005, after Steele announces his candidacy for Maryland’s gubernatorial position (see November 2005), Miller will tell a reporter for WTOP news radio, Mark Segraves, that he could not swear in court that anyone actually threw cookies because he did not, in fact, see it happen, though he had reported several times that he witnessed just such events. Times managing editor Fran Coombs will issue a denial that Miller ever spoke to Segraves or anyone else from WTOP, but will confirm that Miller did not, in fact, attend the debate. Coombs will tell WTOP that the Times stands behind its reporting, regardless of whether Miller’s claims are true or not, and will say that the reported Oreo incident is a diversion from the real story of a double standard on racism in the Democratic Party.
Third Iteration: Steele Just Saw 'One or Two' Oreos at His Feet - Steele will tell Segraves that he was never struck by any thrown cookies. “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them,” he will say. By November 15, the Associated Press will report that Ehrlich says “he did not personally see cookies thrown at Steele because he was on stage,” and “said he doesn’t know who might have thrown them.”
Fourth Iteration: Steele Says Oreos 'Tossed in His General Direction' - Around the same time, the Associated Press will also report that, according to Steele, “Oreo cookies were tossed in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University,” including two that “rolled up” next to his shoe. The stories are dramatically different, and quite contradictory. Steele’s November account differs from Schurick’s account and his own previous statements.
Fifth Iteration: Oreos 'Thick in the Air Like Locusts' - In the Sun’s 2005 report, Schurick is quoted as saying: “It was raining Oreos. They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn’t subtle.” Sometime in late 2002, Ehrlich will tell a radio audience that his father was struck in the head by a cookie, though, according to the WBAL report at the time, “Schurick would not make Robert L. Ehrlich Sr. available for an interview.”
No Mention in Reporting after Debate, No Video Evidence - In November 2005, the Baltimore Sun will report that no newspaper or television reports mentioned any such incident in their initial reporting of the debate, and although four local television stations recorded the debate, no video of any such incident exists.
Eyewitnesses: Nothing Was Thrown - The Sun will report the operations manager of the Murphy Building at Morgan State, Vander Harris, as saying nothing of the sort occurred: “It didn’t happen here,” he will say. “I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown.” Several attendees at the event will tell the Sun that while some disruptive behavior occurred, no one threw anything at Steele nor anyone else. Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman will say: “There were a lot of things, disturbances, by this group of outsiders who were bent on disrupting the debate. But I never actually saw Oreo cookies being thrown at him.” As for “raining Oreos,” Coleman will say, “I can tell you that did not happen.” Neil Duke, who moderated the event for the NAACP, will say he never saw any cookies thrown at Steele. “Were there some goofballs sitting in [the] right-hand corner section tossing cookies amongst themselves and acting like sophomores, as the legend has it?” Duke will say. “I have no reason to doubt those sources; I just didn’t see it.” And Wayne Frazier, the president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, will say he saw Steele walk into the auditorium that evening, but saw no Oreos. “I was there the whole time and did not see any of the so-called Oreo cookie incident,” he will say. “It could have happened and I didn’t see it, but I was in the auditorium from start to finish.” (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
At a “town hall” meeting to discuss health care reform, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is plagued with “almost non-stop” hecklers who “hoot and holler” at his every statement, according to the Baltimore Sun. Outside the town hall, an opponent of health care reform holds a small, handwritten sign that says: “Death to Obama. Death to Obama—Michelle and 2 stupid kids.” (The man is detained by Secret Service agents.) The event, held at Towson University, is packed with anti-reform protesters, who regularly outshout those who have come to support Cardin and health care reform. Cardin is a proponent of the Democrats’ health care reform efforts. “I know some of you don’t want me to mention the facts, but listen to the facts,” he says towards the beginning of the event, drawing screams and catcalls from the protesters. Cardin’s every statement is greeted with jeers and shouts, and protesters break “into raucous cheers” when their fellows yell dismissive or abusive remarks towards him. According to the Sun reporters in attendance, Cardin keeps calm throughout the event. His statements that illegal immigrants would not be given coverage under the plan receives some of the heaviest levels of profane jeering and booing; in contrast, one of the longest and loudest ovations comes when an audience member asks why tort reform is not part of the reform plan. When one audience member asks if Cardin will put himself under a public plan, he retorts: “I’m in a public plan. It’s called Medicare.” Cardin is protected throughout the event by a large number of uniformed university security officers. About 500 people make their way inside; hundreds more are turned away and conduct their own protests, arguments, disputes, and screaming matches outside the venue. One supporter tells a reporter: “I guess we’re going to rally and scream at each other. It’s ridiculous, but you can’t just have one side control the whole discussion.” One protester, carrying a sign reading “Obama Lies, Seniors Die” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009), tells reporters, “I’m not a mob.” Cardin addresses the “euthanasia” issue in the venue, assuring the audience, “There would be nothing in a health overhaul plan about terminating people’s care at the end of life.” He then adds, “And by the way, President Obama is also a citizen of the United States.” (West and Scharper 8/11/2009; MSNBC 8/13/2009; Dishneau 8/13/2009)
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