Sen. George Allen (R.-Va.) and former Navy Secretary James Webb have received very different treatment from the Washington Post as they both have campaigned for the Senate seat Allen currently holds.
After Allen called a Webb volunteer “macaca” at an August campaign event in Southern Virginia, the Post began a steady drumbeat of negative stories about Allen, suggesting he might be a racist.
By contrast, the Post downplayed charges by Webb’s Democratic primary opponent, Harris Miller, that the Webb campaign had distributed an anti-Semitic flier attacking him.
On August 11, Allen used the term “macaca” to taunt a Webb supporter of Indian-descent who wore his hair in a Mohawk-like haircut and was attending an Allen campaign event in order to videotape the event for the Webb campaign.
Since then, Post reporters Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig have produced 30 news stories about the Virginia Senate race that discuss “macaca.” The word, the Post reports, is considered an ethnic slur in some cultures.
“I can’t help but think the Washington Post made a calculated decision to keep that story alive as long as possible by finding new angles to put on the front page to inflict maximum damage on Sen. Allen” said Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams.
Allen immediately, and then repeatedly, apologized for any offense he may have given by using the term, saying he did not intend to “demean” the Webb aide. That did not assuage the Post.
Ten of the 30 ensuing news stories the Post published discussing the incident ran on the front page. Three were published on the first four days that the Post covered the story. They were titled, “Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology; Name Insults Volunteer,” “Allen on Damage Control After Remarks to Webb Aide” and “Allen Flap May Give a Boost to Webb; Reenergized Va. Democrats Gain Support.”
“Hezbollah got more positive news coverage in August than George Allen did,” said Wadhams. “The barrage of front-page stories is what they were trying to use as their main weapon.”
In addition to the 30 news stories mentioning “macaca,” the Post has also published 10 editorials mentioning the word and four Style Section columns about it. These included one piece devoted exclusively to profiling the Webb volunteer and another discussing the Webb volunteer’s hairstyle. Columnist Dana Milbank, whose “Washington Sketch” runs on page 2 of the Post, has talked about “macaca” in five columns. The paper has also published numerous letters to the editor about the event.
After a September 18 Allen-Webb debate, the Post expanded its coverage of Allen by delving into the religious heritage of his 83-year-old mother. The day after the debate, columnist Milbank reported: “WUSA-TV’s Peggy Fox asked Allen, the tobacco-chewing, cowboy-boot-wearing son of a pro-football coach, if his Tunisian-born mother has Jewish blood. ‘It has been reported,’ said Fox, that ‘your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended? ’ Allen recoiled as if he had been struck. His supporters in the audience booed and hissed. ‘To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don’t think is relevant,’ Allen said, furiously. ‘Why is that relevant—my religion, Jim’s religion or the religious beliefs of anyone out there?’”
Milbank went on to speculate that Allen “may have been irked that the question was a follow-up to one noting that ‘macaca’ was a racial slur that his mother may have learned in Tunisia. He may have been concerned that Jewish roots wouldn’t play well in parts of Virginia.”
The Post followed up on the story for the next two days, until Allen’s mother, whose father had been imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, told Post reporter Michael Shear: “I swear to you, I have never used that word.” She also was forced to reveal to the paper that she had not told Allen of his Jewish heritage until a month before and had then sworn him to secrecy about it.
Democrat’s Flier Downplayed
On September 26, following up on a story that originally appeared on Salon.com, Shear wrote about accusations from two of Allen’s former college football teammates, R. Kendall Shelton and Christopher C. Taylor, that Allen often used the n-word to describe blacks. Shelton also claimed to Shear that Allen had once killed a deer, cut off its head and placed it in the nearest black person’s mailbox. Allen himself adamantly denied the allegations, and several of his former teammates rallied to his defense, vigorously rebutting Shelton’s and Taylor’s charges. Additionally, two sheriff deputies from Louisa County, Va., who served in the early 1970s when the deer incident allegedly took place there, cast doubt that it could have ever happened. Retired Lt. Robert Rigsby, who was in charge of investigations for the county, told the Associated Press: “I think that’s a myth.”
Meanwhile, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that Webb would not deny using the n-word in the 1960s, but not as an epithet. Webb’s spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd told the paper, “He’s never used it himself as a racial slur.”
By contrast, the Post ironically downplayed a clash between Webb and his primary opponent Harris Miller that had taken place during a debate on the Post’s own radio station. Webb’s campaign had distributed a flier at a labor union event in Southwestern Virginia that was titled “Miller the Job Killer” (see illustration above). As described by the Times Dispatch, the flier depicted Miller, who is Jewish, “with a hooked nose and cash spilling out of his pockets,” while ordering an assistant to export jobs overseas to save money.
On the Washington Post’s radio debate, Miller condemned the flier as “despicable.”
The Times Dispatch ran a front-page story the next day, headlined: “Webb Flier Draws Anger of Rival Miller. Webb says there was no anti-Semitic intent, but he offers apology.”
The lead of the Times Dispatch story said: “A James Webb campaign flier that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic drew the ire of his opponent, Harris Miller, in a radio debate yesterday. Miller, who is Jewish, called the flier despicable.”
“Apparently, it was distributed only in certain parts of Virginia, as if people there would fall for that imagery,” Miller was quoted in the Times Dispatch. “One of the things I hoped we would keep out of this campaign … is my religion and my background.” While insisting he did not believe “for one second” that Webb was anti-Semitic, he added that the caricature on the flier had been “quite upsetting to me and my family, to most of my friends, and to a lot of people across the country, frankly.”
The Post covered the same debate with a story on the first page of its B section. The Post’s headline read: “Webb, Miller Spar on Spending; Personal Funds, Widening Gap Fuel Squabble.”
Post Buries Webb Controversy
The Post did not mention the controversial flier until the 18th paragraph of its story, revealing then that its own columnist had brought the issue up. “Post columnist Marc Fisher, who was a panelist on the show, grilled Webb on a flier from his campaign that some have criticized as anti-Semitic,” reported the Post. “The ad shows Miller as a cartoonish figure with a hook nose. Miller called it ‘despicable.’”
After that, mentions of the incident were buried in three other stories in the Post about “macaca.” Near the end of their first “macaca” story on August 15, for example, Craig and Shear mentioned that Wadhams had “accused Webb of mailing an anti-Semitic flier during his primary this year.”
The Post made other references to the flier in the context that the Allen campaign would be using it to go negative on Webb. On August 19, the Post reported that Wadhams had promised to make the flier an issue going forward in their campaign.
The last mention of the flier in the Post came on September 20 in the story that speculated Allen’s mother had used the word “macaca” around her son. In that piece, Shear noted that Allen’s “campaign also accused Webb’s campaign of mailing an anti-Semitic flier to Virginia voters during the state’s Democratic primary this year. The flier depicted Webb’s Jewish opponent, Harris Miller, with money coming out of his pockets.” He did not mention that the cartoon depicted Miller with a hooked nose.
Not one headline on any Post story ever mentioned Webb’s flier.
When HUMAN EVENTS called Shear to ask him about his coverage of the Virginia Senate race and what he had written about “macaca” he declined to comment. The Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, told HUMAN EVENTS she would not discuss George Allen because she planned on writing about his race in the near future.
Is it still a mystery which candidate the editors of the Washington Post are putting their formidable resources behind in the Virginia Senate race?