There are many reasons President Trump has been “good for news,” in the words of CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta: One, he generates multiple scandals and controversies each week; two, he brings an unpredictable element to every pool spray, every meeting with a foreign dignitary; and three, his surrogates say the darnedest things. The darnedest racist things, as in the case of a “Fox & Friends Weekend” segment from Sunday morning.
Anchored by Fox News’s Ed Henry, the segment pivoted off the left’s invocation of Nazism to denounce the Trump administration. To debate the matter, Henry pulled in David Bossie, a deputy campaign manager for Trump’s presidential run and co-author of “Let Trump Be Trump,” as well as Democratic strategist Joel Payne. The barbs were predictable, with Bossie saying, “This is quite honestly disgusting. The left has lost their minds.” Interrupted repeatedly during the segment, Payne managed to aver that Trump was guilty of several instances of racism. “I remember a simpler time when we didn’t have a president who was courting white supremacists from the White House.” And: “You don’t have to be a golden retriever to hear all the dog whistles coming out of the White House these days and from my friend David here,” said Payne, who is black.
To which Bossie replied, “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind.”
That was very bad, in ways that Payne wasted no time in explaining. “I have some relatives who picked cotton, and I’m not going to sit back and let you attack me on TV like that,” Payne declared. After the segment, Henry distanced himself and the network from the phrase, stating that it is “offensive.” Fox News, too, issued this statement: “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.”
After sampling the ensuing uproar, Bossie wrote that rare genuine apology:
And as the Daily Beast reported on Monday night, Bossie has been suspended for two weeks from Fox News. When media organizations take such actions, they often confirm the news on the record, the better to prove their no-nonsense management style. In this case, however, Fox News isn’t commenting; the Daily Beast story is based on three sources, and Fox News declined to confirm the story to the Erik Wemple Blog.
In this instance, Fox News’s top management is showing just how little attention it pays to the disciplinary wisdom of the Erik Wemple Blog. Time and again, we’ve lectured that suspensions are a silly and useless tool: The scofflaw gets a break, management gets an out, and in a few weeks or months, somehow the organization has to figure out how to proceed. All of it guarantees only that the root causes of the problem aren’t adequately addressed.
On another level altogether, Fox News got what it bargained for. Hire a Trumpite to hold forth on television, and it’s only a matter of time before something ugly, disrespectful or memorably stupid emerges. For a primer on this dynamic, look at the Trump-era broadcasting history of CNN, which booted Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord after months and months of zany and nonsensical animadversions. And it was just last week on Fox News that guest pundit Corey Lewandowski, a Trump guy through and through, used mocking sounds — “womp womp” — after another commentator cited the case of a 10-year-old migrant child with Down syndrome was reportedly separated from her family.
Think about it. If Trump himself were a paid cable-news contributor, his bosses would be forced into apologies and corrections all the time: “[Cable-news outlet] apologizes for the comments made today by contributor Donald Trump regarding Mexicans and their role in the United States. Those comments in no way represent the views of [cable-news outlet.]” Or: “[Cable-news outlet] hereby denounces the words that contributor Donald Trump used today to describe the people who marched in Charlottesville. [Cable-news outlet] does not believe that white-nationalist protesters are ‘some very fine people.'” So why wouldn’t his staunchest defenders run into the same problem?