We were witness yesterday to Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) saying that black protesters in Charlotte, NC, hate white people, that “they hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”
Given the chance to explain him comments and to apologize on CNN’s CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, Pittenger declined to accept personal responsibility for his words and claimed they were taken out of context. He instead blamed CNN for the words that came out of his mouth:
“I was quoting is what they were saying last night that I observed on your network.”
Watch courtesy of Media Matters for America:
DON LEMON: Do you care to explain your comments, congressman?
ROBERT PITTENGER: Well, thank you for this opportunity. You know, I grieve for my city and I love Charlotte. Wonderful people. I know many pastors in the African-American community, and I trust and support them so much and I am hurt by what’s taking place. And frankly, I apologize for the comments. They certainly weren’t meant in the context of how many have viewed them.
My concern, frankly, is for the disenfranchised individuals and I think that those — frankly, I was quoting is what they were saying last night that I observed on your network, and they are — their hatred for white people and that saddens me greatly. I felt like —
LEMON: You believe the protesters hate white people?
PITTENGER: No no sir, It’s what they — the comments that they made. If you go back and look at the tapes, the very — the comments they made on air, and —
LEMON: You mean the protestors made on air?
PITTENGER: Yes, sir. I was only trying to convey what they were saying, and yet it didn’t come out right, and I apologize. I have many, many dear friends in the African-American community, and those frankly — and my colleagues in the United States Congress, and I’ve gone to them tonight and really apologized to them, because that certainly is not the spirit of who I am.
Lemon was not going to let Pittenger get by with this, and asked him,
“Let’s walk through what you said. You said, ‘they hate us because we’re successful, they hate white people because white people are successful.’ How is that taken out of context, with all due respect?”
Pittenger trotted out a familiar set of talking points in answer:
“I think what I’m trying to communicate was what has occurred with the economy has left them out. When you look frankly at the last eight years of the current economy, the demographic group who has moved the least up the economic ladder are low-income minority people. And that’s the reality. That’s a fact. So my desire is that every individual would have the right for an opportunity in the economy. That’s what America is about.”
Lemon listened politely, and then appealed to actual facts in response:
“You understand that the facts and statistics show that over the last [eight years] African-Americans are doing better when it comes to unemployment, it’s been cut in half, and its doing better than at any other time in history so the facts don’t really jibe with what you’re saying…do you understand that?”
Pittenger, of course, insisted his studies are valid, to which Lemon replied that while he didn’t wish to argue with Pettinger, viewers should do their own research and look past “rhetoric and ideology.” It was a polite way of saying ‘My guest is lying to you. Look it up.’ Lemon’s honest critique was certainly nothing like the Republican could have expected on Fox News.
The Republican congressman did not come off well in this interview. He struggled with facts, falling back on talking points instead, and blamed everyone but himself for the words that came out of his own mouth. His was not an actual apology but self-serving excuse making.
Neither CNN nor Barack Obama are responsible for Robert Pittenger’s racism, and racism it clearly is. The Republican myth that the US economy under Barack Obama is somehow worse than it was before he took office, does not hold up under close inspection.
Like so many Republicans, Pittenger thinks that claiming he has black friends absolves him from charges of racism, and his apology is meaningless so long as he continues to blame others for what he said. Republicans talk big about personal responsibility, but in the end, that just means everybody else must accept responsibility for everything Republicans say and do.