On the afternoon of March 20, a few hours before the House of Representatives would vote on the wildly-unpopular “ObamaCare” bill, a group of Democratic representatives led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi carried out a symbolic “march” from the Cannon Office Building to the Capitol.
They had scarcely climbed the marble steps before the headlines blazed across the internet. McClatchy blared, “Tea party protesters scream ‘ni**er’ at black congressman.” The AP reported:
Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.” Both Carson and Lewis are black, and Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones also said that it occurred.
James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House whip and number three in the Democratic leadership hierarchy, also weighed in with similar charges, and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri charged that a protester had been arrested for spitting on him.
It was as ugly a charge as you can possibly make in American politics. The national media picked up the story and ran with it, and right on cue the following Monday, the liberal commentariat slathered on the indignation, much of it simply echoing a florid DNC fundraising letter from Sunday afternoon. Leftie “JournoList” writers from activist Matt Yglesias to wacky professor Paul Krugman (or perhaps it was Krugman’s wife; it’s hard to tell who’s actually providing the invective in his columns these days) dutifully filed florid denunciations of “the dark cancer at the heart of modern American conservatism” (Yglesias).
Problem is, there is no evidence whatsoever that any such thing actually happened. YouTube is littered with videos from the “Pelosi March” (here’s a representative collection of them), but not one contains an actual racial epithet. There’s plenty of booing and partisan chanting (most notably “kill the bill!”), but the alleged racist rhetoric is nowhere to be heard.
It’s not like nobody was around doing any recording. Even the Democratic staffers who were in the midst of the “march” and clearly seen operating video cameras in other YouTube rolls haven’t come forward with actual evidence of the alleged slurs. Also roiling the waters is the fact that at least one of the guys making the original charges — Jim Clyburn — has a long and florid history of leveling charges of “RACISM!” in practically any conceivable political debate.
But what about the protester “arrested for spitting”? Didn’t happen. No one was arrested that day, and video of the alleged incident shows a protester yelling at Cleaver, but not spitting on him or uttering racist epithets.
All of which begs the question, what exactly did happen on March 20?