Monday, May 06, 2013

Really? Weiner But Not Sharpton?

Prachi Gupta of Salon, without comment, reports on a segment from Sunday's Up With Steve Kornacki:

As former congressman Anthony Weiner talks about returning to politics after an embarrassing Twitter scandal, Salon columnist Steve Kornacki reminded voters that there’s another, more compelling to reject Weiner — a history of race-baiting and slimy politics:

It was at this point that Weiner’s campaign decided to blanket the district with leaflets attacking his opponents. But these were no ordinary campaign attacks: They played the race card, and at a very sensitive time. They were also anonymous.

On his MSNBC show, Kornacki explains further:

“This is the story that reveals something important about what Weiner’s been willing to do in his public life. He made an ugly appeal to voters’ worst nature. He did it at a very sensitive time. He did it to get ahead and he did it because he figured no one would catch him. Really he did get away with it. If it hadn’t been for the Twitter silliness, he’d be well on his way to being mayor right now and maybe more.”

Kornacki, then and still a writer/blogger at Salon, is not new to the subject.  As the links from Gupta reveal, twenty-three months ago, Kornacki had explained  

... the Crown Heights riot — a deadly, days-long affair that brought to the surface long-standing tension between the area’s black and Jewish populations — had played out a few miles away from the 48th District. The episode had gripped all of New York and had been national news. It was just days after order had been restored that Weiner’s campaign distributed its anonymous leaflets, which linked Cohen — whose voters he was targeting in particular — to Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins, who was then New York’s mayor. It is hard to imagine two more-hated political figures in the 48th District at that moment. Jackson just a few years earlier had called New York “Hymie town,” and it was an article of faith among white voters in Weiner’s part of Brooklyn that Dinkins had protected the black rioters in Crown Heights — and thus endangered the white population — by refusing to order a harsh police crackdown. (Two years later, Dinkins would lose to Rudy Giuliani by an 80-20 percent margin in the 48th District.) The leaflets urged voters to “just say no” to the “Jackson-Dinkins agenda” that Cohen supposedly represented. At City Hall, Dinkins held up the flier and branded it “hateful.”

It’s impossible to say what precise effect this all had on the election, but it clearly didn’t hurt Weiner. In a surprise result, he finished in first place — 125 votes ahead of Garson, and 195 ahead of Cohen. Only after the ballots were counted did he admit that he’d been behind the leaflets, claiming that “We didn’t want the source to be confused with the message.” This prompted an editorial rebuke from the New York Times, which noted that “Mr. Weiner’s hit-and-run tactics tarnish his come-from-behind campaign.”

Opprobrium is due Weiner additionally for having selected the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who at least had (and still has) some commitment to principle, as a scapegoat rather than a more loathsome individual.   In August, 2011 Andy Soltis of the New York Daily News recalled the Crown Heights affair in which three days of riots were "touched off when 7-year-old Gavin Cato was struck and killed by a car in the motorcade of a Hasidic leader.   Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian-born Hasidic scholar who had nothing to do with the motorcade, was stabbed to death in the violence that followed."

The Reverend Al Sharpton led demonstrations and became a central figure in the controversy, even before he stated at Cato's funeral

Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid. . . . All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no coffee klatsch, no skinnin' and grinnin'.

There is debate about Sharpton's role in igniting the three days of rioting.  But there was no dispute about Sharpton's role four years earlier in the hoax perpetrated by Tawana Brawley, aided and abetted by Reverend Sharpton.  The latter had falsely accused a local prosecutor in upstate New York, Steve Pagones, of having "kidnapped, abused, and raped" the young black woman. However, a grand jury found that it was a made-up story and Sharpton lost a defamation lawsuit filed by Pagones.

In August, 2011 Reverend Sharpton conceded "I would have also included in my utterances that there was no justification or excuse for violence or for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum." That and other remarks fell short of a genuine apology but indicated that he understood that his behavior at the time was at least partially misguided.  Disturbingly, though, he has stood by his actions in smearing a public servant and aggressively exacerbating racial tensions in the Brawley episode.  And he is completely unrepentant about leading a boycott of two Korean-owned groceries in 1990 in Brooklyn.

A few days later Sharpton expressed (limited) regret for his involvement in the Crown Heights events.  Within days, the guy who justifiably had earned a reputation as a racial hustler and now had become an informal adviser to President Obama was rewarded with a nightly program on MSNBC. And now Steve Kornacki, himself recently rewarded with a program on MSNBC, denounces stalwart progressive Anthony Weiner for his role in the Crown Heights affair while Kornacki conveniently ignores the more destructive role played by the latter's fellow host.

Anthony Weiner will not get the Democratic nomination and therefore will not become Mayor.  And Al Sharpton no longer views events on a purely racial basis.   He is no longer merely a community organizer, having branched out to being a bad talk-show host and shill for President Obama.  But if Steve Kornacki is so exorcised by opportunistic race-baiting undertaken nearly a quarter of a century ago, principle demands he look inside the cable news network he now works for to find an even better example.

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