MSNBC Hosts Try, and Fail, to Make Racial Hay Out of Issa's Remarks

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) landed in hot water on Thursday on MSNBC when during a congressional hearing he referred to colleague Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) as "a little boy with his hand in the cookie jar."

The two anchors onscreen at the time, Martin Bashir and Rachel Maddow, admonished the congressman, saying that he "failed to recognize how words matter" and "is determined to be the most repugnant politician" (Bashir's words), while Maddow took a less charged approach, later tweeting, "Surely we can all agree that Darrell Issa really truly ought to not be calling Rep. Elijah Cummings 'boy'."

So was Issa out of order in his comment? First, let's take a look at the context of the remark. During a hearing concerning the Internal Revenue Service's investigations into conservative nonprofits, Cummings said that Issa implied that the order for additional inquiries into these nonprofits came directly from the White House.

Issa took offense to these comments, replying: “I’m always shocked when the ranking member seems to want to say, like a little boy whose hand has been caught in a cookie jar, 'What hand? What cookie?' I’ve never said it leads to the White House.”

What appears to be a simple turn of phrase has been construed into a racially charged remark, considering that Cummings is African-American. While referring to an African-American man as 'boy' is in plenty of circumstances a remark that shows disrespect, racist overtones, and general belittlement, this is probably not one of those instances. Rather, it is an off-the-cuff remark that was blown out of proportion by the two hosts.   

In the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal, ears have been tuned a bit more sensitively towards anything that can be viewed as inappropriately racist, and mainstream media outlets are more than willing to proverbially cash in on anything that can be interpreted as such and take advantage of people's emotions at this time. Yes, race and racism are still important issues in the United States that need to be discussed, but this is not the way to go about it, by creating an issue where there isn't one for the sake of causing controversy. It diminishes the instances where there is actual racism at work.  

Instead of trying to create a story out of nothing and defame someone, perhaps Bashir and Maddow could comment on a story where racially repugnant remarks were actually uttered by a high-ranking politician. Then maybe some proper discussion on the issue could be put forth.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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