Abigail Thernstrom, Adam Serwer, Black Panthers, Eric Holder, Joan Walsh, Justice Department, Philadelphia, Salon, Voter Intimidation, Washington Post
Abigail Thernstrom, nearly two weeks ago in National Review Online, pooh-pooh-ed the scandal of Eric Holder’s Justice Department overruling prosecutors in order to quash the voter intimidation case against Philadelphia Black Panthers, describing it as insignificant by comparison to the (more abstract, and less sexy) issue of the Department of Justice requiring racially gerrymandered election districts.
Forget about the New Black Panther Party case; it is very small potatoes. Perhaps the Panthers should have been prosecuted under section 11 (b) of the Voting Rights Act for their actions of November 2008, but the legal standards that must be met to prove voter intimidation â€” the charge â€” are very high.
In the 45 years since the act was passed, there have been a total of three successful prosecutions. The incident involved only two Panthers at a single majority-black precinct in Philadelphia. So far â€” after months of hearings, testimony and investigation â€” no one has produced actual evidence that any voters were too scared to cast their ballots. Too much overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges has been devoted to this case.
Nothing gratifies the left’s commentariat like a conservative come to Lenin, so Thernstrom’s characterization of the Philadelphia Panther affair as small potatoes was shouted from the rooftops.
Ben Smith, at Politico, treated it as headline news.
Adam Serwer, at American Prospect, gloatingly announced that Thernstrom’s comments exploded a conservative conspiracy to bring down Eric Holder and damage Barack Obama.
And Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon, was today hastening to admire Adam Serwer’s intelligence in the course of performing damage control. It turns out that the Washington Post, unlike the New York Times, really does have an Ombudsman representing the public’s interest in journalistic evenhandedness and objectivity.
The Philadelphia Panther Polling Place Intimidation story has been receiving coverage from Fox News and developing legs as a story and provoking public interest, causing Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander to criticize the Post’s delay in covering it.
Walsh lays down the law in response to Alexander:
[I]t really is hard, with limited news room resources, to decide whether and how to cover the insane narrative of rumors, half-truths and lies being peddled by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, not to mention Fox News “reporters” like Megyn Kelly. By covering them (as Salon readers frequently remind us) we risk spreading lies and delusion beyond the right-wing smogosphere. But by ignoring the ones that gain political currency, we risk letting them acquire more influence than they deserve.
Let me state, for the record, that the New Black Panther Party is a despicable, deluded, crackpot fringe group, whose members’ insane anti-white rhetoric sometimes makes me wonder if they’re still on the payroll of the FBI’s COINTELPRO, that 60s-era project in which righty provocateurs infiltrated left-wing groups, including the Black Panthers, and egged on some of the worst violence (not that the old Panthers weren’t capable of violence and thuggishness all on their own, along with the breakfast programs their lefty admirers like to remember).
But the right wing needs the thuggish but miniscule and derided NBBP to matter, and to tie the crazy group to our black president, in order to advance their narrative of lies about Obama’s “racism,” tyranny and illegitimacy to be president. If they can convince enough people that Obama was elected thanks to intimidation by the NBPP, and “voter fraud” by the now-defunct ACORN, they won’t even need the crazy Birthers to prove he’s not legitimately president, even though he won with a bigger mandate than any first-term president since Lyndon Johnson (who of course had become president after the Kennedy assassination.) …
It’s the job of editors at big papers like the Post to expose those lies, and the movement behind them â€“ not to flagellate themselves for not saying “How high?” when right-wing media watchdogs say “Jump!”
The left’s arguments as to why the Department of Justice blocking prosecution of the Philadelphia Black Panther standing in front of the Fairmont Avenue polling station brandishing a nightstick is a non-story run like this:
J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department voting rights attorney who resigned and later testified before the the U.S. Commission on Civil Right in connection with Eric Holder’s Justice Department’s handling of the Philadelphia case, is a Republican who was hired by another Republican attorney they dislike.
No one has proven that Eric Holder or Barack Obama personally interfered.
The New Black Panther Party is a small, unrepresentative fringe group that simply does not matter.
No one has produced voters testifying that they were prevented from voting by the Panthers.
Most Americans do not agree that testimony coming from Republicans, even from conservative Republicans, of bias and improper conduct can be impeached successfully simply by identifying the witness’s politics. An obviously greater number of Americans trust the reliability of Fox News more that they trust other networks, the New York Times or the Washington Post, and more Americans believe that conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh are reasonably fair-minded than would say the same thing of Salon.
The unavailability of evidence of participation of senior officials in a far-from-thoroughly-investigated scandal is not per se exculpatory evidence.
The Fairmont Avenue nightstick-carrying Panther incident is known from a few very short videos which were posted on YouTube. A University of Pennsylvania student tried filming and interviewing the Panthers. He found them hostile and evasive. In the immediate aftermath of that confrontation, he or a Republican poll observer summoned the police. The Panther carrying the nightstick was persuaded by Philadelphia police to leave. His associate produced identification as a poll watcher, and was (despite his paramilitary get up) permitted to remain.
A Fox News reporter, Rick Leventhal, interviewed the Republican poll observer, who told him that the Panthers had tried to intimidate him when he tried to enter. The observer was also subjected to racial remarks. He says that he then phoned the police.
The police intervened after two Panthers, one armed with a nightstick, had been standing in front of the Fairmont Avenue polling place door for about an hour. It’s true that this specific incident involved two people and a fairly limited amount of time. But it was clearly a case of intimidation.
Is the fringiness of the intimidators some kind of legal defence?
What would Ms. Thermstrom, Mr. Serwer, or Ms. Walsh say about two people in paramilitary uniforms, brandishing a club and making hostile racially-charged remarks having probable discouraging impact in detering black or Jewish voters or observers from entering a polling place? Under the proposed insignificance rule, Nazis or Ku Klux Klansmen could police certain polling stations at will, as long as they remained basically few in number and intimidated only a few people. And, of course, if they succeeded in scaring people away from testifying about what had happened, that would be all the better, since it would prove that no one had been intimidated at all.
Let my readers decide for themselves. Here are the videos.
1:21 University of Pennsylvania student films Panthers at 1221 Fairmount Avenue polling place video
1:00 video Philadelphia police intervene. The Panther with the bill club is ordered to leave. The other Panther is allowed to stay because he is a registered poll watcher!
Departing billy club wielder: “that’s why you’re going to be ruled by a black man.” 0:05 video
4:05 Fox News video from 2008 with Rick Leventhal.
Who was holding that billy club? Samir Shabaz 0:51 video
Addtional evidence of denial of entry and election fraud in Philadelphia appeared in a couple of other videos:
Poll watcher denied entry to polling place on 6125 Market Street. 2:53 video
This black voter in Overbrook Park tells CNN he voted “a coupla times.” 0:41 video