Skip to main content

Media's coverage of Bundy, race and GOP a disservice

By Tara Wall
April 29, 2014 -- Updated 0146 GMT (0946 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tara Wall says CNN and the media have been unfair in its criticism of GOP and race
  • Republican National Committee, she says, has stepped up outreach to the black community
  • Wall: The media practices a double standard by not going after Democrats who have issues with race

Editor's note: Tara Wall is a Senior Strategist for Media & Engagement at the Republican National Committee, former Senior Advisor to the Romney for President Campaign and founder of the PTP Foundation for Media Arts. You can follow her on Twitter @tarasproduction. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I can't fully understand why a bigoted rancher in Nevada warrants as much media coverage as—or more coverage than—a presidential trip to Asia, the delay of a major job-creating infrastructure project or the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

But apparently it does. And like nearly all stories that involve race and politics, the media has covered rancher Cliven Bundy in a way that makes an honest conversation about race in America even more difficult.

Take, for instance, a conversation CNN anchor Carol Costello had with my colleague, Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer, on Friday morning.

Somehow Costello made the illogical conclusion that a racist rancher's rant has implications for the Republican National Committee's minority engagement efforts. Republicans "don't really invite minorities in," she insisted without evidence.

Tara Wall
Tara Wall

Spicer explained that the RNC is working to help the entire party listen and connect with the black community and with Americans of all backgrounds. He noted that not only is the RNC building long-term relationships and a permanent presence in black communities, but also that the RNC has hired a number of black staff members, both those focused on engaging with the black community and those who are not.

That wasn't good enough for Costello. She didn't believe the RNC actually hired black staff members, especially senior level staff. So she demanded that Spicer name names of black people working at the Republican National Committee. She wanted a list of black staffers.

That crosses a line. Is Costello hosting a news program or a dog and pony show?

Carol Costello: GOP's problem wooing African-American voters

As a senior-level staff member at the RNC who happens to be black, my job is to help the committee by developing communications and media strategy. My job is not to be put on display every time a news anchor wants to determine whether a political organization has the right number of people of color.

How does that advance the discourse on race and politics in America? That would be pandering. It's wrong.

Racism on the ranch and on the court
Red News/Blue News: Cliven Bundy
'Be careful before you choose a mascot'

Costello, and others in the media who do the same thing, are perpetuating a double standard. When black Republicans appear in the media, they suggest that Republicans are just checking a box by putting a black person on screen. When we don't put ourselves on display, they assume we don't exist.

That's pretty revealing of their personal biases. That's also a dangerous double standard.

Which brings us to the even bigger issue at hand.

When someone who isn't even a Republican elected official or candidate says something disgusting and offensive, the media goes into overdrive to discuss how this is terrible for the Republican Party.

But when Democrat elected officials, including a sitting governor and sitting vice president, say something racist or offensive, you don't hear a peep. They get a free pass.

The latest example comes from President Obama's home state. Last week, the campaign of Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn promoted an article on Twitter that labeled black Republicans as race traitors and said they were akin to Jewish Nazi sympathizers.

Yes, a sitting Democrat governor's campaign was publicizing racist material. If you didn't hear about it, that proves my point.

It was abhorrent, but national coverage was almost nonexistent until CNN.com finally posted an article late Thursday. But did the media demand Democrats apologize and ask the Democratic National Committee for comment? Did they consider asking DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a prominent Jewish leader, to denounce the governor?

Absolutely not.

It was reminiscent of their ambivalent coverage when Vice President Joe Biden, during the 2012 campaign, told a group of black voters that his political opponents would "put y'all back in chains."

That was disgusting rhetoric, but the vice president is a Democrat, so it wasn't breaking news. It was just Joe being Joe, as his fans in the media like to say.

Again, it's a double standard.

Racist language has no place in our political discourse. It's unacceptable whenever and wherever it's used. And yes, journalists, that includes the Democratic Party. Americans aren't hearing the full story when you're only covering one side of it.

If we're going to defeat the racism that persists in America, we have to have intelligent conversations about it. The media should neither elevate it nor reduce it to some petty partisan game. But more often than not, media outlets are failing to meet that standard.

That was the case on Friday. Let's hope next time it's different.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT