I've talked to many, many readers this week about continuing fallout from claims that members of "tea party" protests shouted racial slurs at members of the Congressional Black Caucus and one spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver on March 20.
The Web and the talk shows are awash with reports that the word "nigger" wasn't recorded by people with video cameras. Some have also disputed that Cleaver was spat on, though a video shows pretty clearly to me that he reacted that way contemporaneously. Was it simply spittle from the man yelling in his face, rather than a single intentional spit? You can't tell from the video -- but if someone was yelling at me so forcefully that he also spit on me, I'm not sure I'd make much differentiation there.
As I wrote earlier in the week, the initial report in The Star March 21 should have attributed the claims to the people who made them, instead of simply reporting them as fact.
On the other hand, I'm not terribly swayed by videos whose soundtrack doesn't pick up the slurs that Cleaver and others report hearing. One microphone at one location in a large crowd can't hear everything -- and you can't prove a negative in the first place. Not hearing something doesn't mean it didn't happen somewhere out of microphone range. Again, attribution of the allegations would have made a lot of these questions go away.
Readers are mostly objecting to the large amount of commentary that the incident has spurred. Most of it in The Star has accepted the reports on face value. Again, here is where I think the initial reporting was flawed by being too declamatory.
To be clear: I'm neither affirming nor denying claims by Cleaver, Rep. John Lewis or the protesters. I have recommended that the news side re-examine the issue, preferably with comment from the people involved.
I'll also note comments from readers who've told me they think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion.