“THE LEFT’S RACIST RANTS CONTINUE,” read the caption that accompanied the clip, and Fox News host Ed Henry introduced the two debaters.
Arguing for the right, David Bossie — a former senior Trump campaign aide and president of the conservative group Citizens United.
For the left, Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist and a black man.
We mention the latter fact for reasons that will become apparent.
Bossie spoke first, at length and at a high volume, enunciating syllables by pounding the air with his hands.
“Ed, this is quite honestly disgusting,” he said. “There’s no place for it. You’re demeaning what happened in World War II, to the world, and to the Jewish people. The Holocaust was real. And these people have lost their ever-picking minds.”
If Payne reacted to Bossie’s choice of phrase there — “ever-picking minds” — he didn’t show it on screen. Bossie would keep talking for nearly four more minutes.
Much of the segment was unintelligible. It generally consisted of Payne citing his counterexamples of bigoted and hateful speech in right-wing politics, and Bossie constantly interrupting with claims of liberal hyperbole — his list expanding from the MSNBC fellow’s “Nazis” to Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables,” to constant accusations of “racism” against conservatives.
Foreshadowing, again, that last bit.
We don’t need to transcribe everything. Enough to know that when Payne mentioned that former Republican governor Mike Huckabee, one day earlier, had suggested that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported the gang MS-13, Bossie cut him off.
And when Payne said extremist conservative rhetoric “looks like Charlottesville,” Bossie rolled his eyes.
And so on. Bossie kept talking over the Democrat, waving his hands and cranking up his indignation until, finally, he told Payne:
“You’re out of your cotton-picking mind!”
There it was: the same phrase that weeks earlier had caused the suspension of a sports announcer who applied it to a black basketball player; and that once forced a CNN host to apologize after he used it to describe former president Barack Obama; and which once scandalized the Canadian parliament — (even though the etymology of “cotton-picking” is not specifically linked to slavery, and Lou Dobbs once deployed it against a white congressman without anyone seeming to notice.)
But Payne noticed when Bossie used it on “Fox and Friends,” and this time his reaction was apparent on the screen.
“Cotton-picking mind?” he said. “Let me tell you something —”
“You guys,” Bossie interrupted, “you guys are out of your minds —”
“I’ve got some relatives who picked cotton, okay? —”
In a subsequent interview with MSNBC, Payne explained that his great grandfather had been a sharecropper, who like other black people had worked hard to better his family’s circumstance.
But he hardly got to say that on the Fox set, between Bossie’s constant interruptions:
“This is ridiculous,” the Republican said.
“And I’m not going to allow you to attack me like that on TV — ” Payne continued.
“I’m not attacking!”
“I’m not out of my cotton-picking mind!”
“You’re out of your mind,” Bossie said. “You’re out of your mind.”
Henry, the near-forgotten host of this debate, finally ended the thing. “Okay,” he told Payne, “he said you’re out of your mind. Gentlemen, we’re going to leave it right there.”
“This is ridiculous, this is outrageous,” continued Bossie, who had never really closed his mouth.
“Thanks,” Payne said. “Happy Sunday.”
Both men’s images blinked off the screen, and Henry attempted to move the show on. He teased debates to come on North Korea, Seth Rogen and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. A new panel of commentators materialized on the screen, each man smiling and silent.
But then the camera cut back to Henry, who appeared to be nodding at some instruction conveyed from his earpiece, as seen in a clip recorded by Mediaite.
“All right,” the host said, and looked up. “Obviously, we don’t appreciate some of the language back and forth, but we’re going to go to break, and we’ll come back on the other side.”
On the other side, Henry did not mention North Korea or Seth Rogan, but he made a statement that was not quite an apology.
“I just want to address what happened in that debate,” he said. “It clearly offended Joel Payne. It offended many others. I don’t know what David meant by it, what went back and forth between the two of them . . .
“But I want to make clear that Fox News, and this show, myself, we don’t agree with that particular phrase. It was obviously offensive . . . We like to have honest and spirited debates, but obviously not phrases like that. And so we’ll just leave it at that.”
Bossie did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but apologized to Payne, the network and his viewers in an afternoon tweet:
Asked whether Bossie would continue to be invited onto the show, Fox News declined to comment, though a spokeswoman sent a statement from the network:
“David Bossie’s comments today were deeply offensive and wholly inappropriate. His remarks do not reflect the sentiments of Fox News and we do not in any way condone them.”
On MSNBC later in the weekend, Payne said he accepted Bossie’s apology, but wasn’t at ease with the encounter.
“Unfortunately that’s just par for the course with this president and the people who surround him,” Payne said.
“Who reduce us into ethnic groups,” he added.
This article has been updated.