Comments Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore made in September resurfaced on Thursday, to much outrage from liberals on Twitter and in the mainstream media. Many interpreted Moore’s comments as saying the last time America was great was under slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
CNN’s Don Lemon asked, “Is he saying the last time America was great was when we had slavery?” CNN political commentator Angela Rye responded, “That is the only reasonable interpretation.”
Rye was far from the only one to see it this way.
Eric Columbus, an Obama appointee at the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted, “Can’t make this up — Roy Moore said in September that the last time America was great was when we had slavery.”
— Eric Columbus (@EricColumbus) December 7, 2017
Even Commentary editor John Podhoretz tweeted, “For suggesting life was better during segregation and Jim Crow, Trent Lott was run out of the Senate. Now Roy Moore is saying life was better under SLAVERY.”
For suggesting life was better during segregation and Jim Crow, Trent Lott was run out of the Senate. Now Roy Moore is saying life was better under SLAVERY.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) December 8, 2017
Moore’s opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, also pushed the false story.
"This disturbing comment is part of Roy Moore's terrible history on civil rights including fighting the removal of segregationist language from the state Constitution…”https://t.co/fP6lLKTVau
— Doug Jones (@DougJones) December 8, 2017
One user even tweeted a meme of Trump dressed up like one of the founding fathers, saying, “Don’t forget to turn your clocks back 300 years tonight.”
— SayYourPeace (@Vlgarza2u) December 7, 2017
All of these people are dead wrong in their interpretation of Moore’s statement. The comments, delivered at a campaign event, emerged in a September article by the Los Angeles Times‘ Lisa Mascaro. Here’s the relevant section:
At Moore’s Florence rally, the former judge outlined all the wrongs he sees in Washington and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” He warned of “the awful calamity of abortion and sodomy and perverse behavior and murders and shootings and road rage” as “a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins.”
In response to a question from one of the only African Americans in the audience — who asked when Moore thought America was last “great” — Moore acknowledged the nation’s history of racial divisions, but said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
At the same event, Moore referred to Native Americans and Asian Americans as “reds and yellows,” and earlier this year he suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were divine punishment.
Mascaro couched her reporting of this statement in between two prejudicial quotes. The “reds and yellows” comment, as previously reported by PJ Media, was a reference to the song “Jesus loves the little children.” The “spiritual wickedness in high places” may be exaggerated political rhetoric, but it plays to Moore’s extremely conservative base.
The Times posted an audio recording of Moore’s remarks so enterprising viewers could find out for themselves. The actual remarks prove quite different from the reported version that sparked so much outrage.
First, the question wasn’t “when was the last time America was great?” but the more general “what does Trump mean, what does he mean, ‘make it great again?'” This may seem a subtle difference, but it’s important to remember that the black man did not ask for a specific time, nor did Moore give one.
More importantly, the quote above represents an extremely truncated part of Moore’s response. Here it is in full, transcribed from the audio:
I think we’ve been striving for that greatness all the way through. I think you’re right about that. And I think it was great in the minds of those who formed the Declaration, though they were not perfect people. They had problems. Those problems have been corrected by — unfortunately war — by constitutional amendment.
We’ve had to — we’ve corrected a lot of our problems. I think it was great at a time when families were united, even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. People were strong in the families. Our families were strong, our country had a direction, and we corrected many of the problems.
Today, I see our families divided, I see people in prison, young men, and women, that have a life ahead of them that have not been led and nurtured in the families like they used to be. And I know, I’m talking to you because you, like me, you’re an age when you remember when families used to care, when fathers used to care, when mothers used to care, and children used to care and weren’t disrespectful.
The greatness I see was in our culture, not in all our policies, there were problems — we had slavery, we’ve overcome slavery, we had prejudice, we still have prejudice. But we’ve turned the tide on civil rights, we’ve done a lot of things to bring this country around, and I think we can still make it better.
Notice what Moore did and did not say. He did not specifically point to the period of slavery as the “last time” America was “great.” Rather, he suggested that “we’ve been striving for greatness all the way through.” Remarkably, he said that “we’ve turned the tide on civil rights, we’ve done a lot of things to bring this country around, and I think we can still make it better.”
Moore does not want to turn back the clock. He mentioned slavery as an evil no less than four times, noting that even at the time of the Declaration of Independence, America had “problems” that had to be solved in “unfortunately war” and by “constitutional amendment,” a clear reference to slavery, the Civil War, and the Thirteenth Amendment.
Moore did not point to a time when America was “great,” and call for returning to that time. Instead, Lisa Mascaro misreported the black man’s question, and she truncated Moore’s answer. These were understandable mistakes, but they were mistakes nonetheless — and they have had a tremendous impact on the news cycle mere days before the December 12 election.
Roy Moore has a great deal to answer for, including an unwillingness to devote himself to protecting the Constitution, not to mention multiple credible allegations of sexual assault (and one that seems more questionable).
Moore’s opponents in the media do their side no favors when they misrepresent the truth, thus undercutting their own credibility to attack him. Doug Jones did himself no favors by joining this call.
Nevertheless, they continue to do so. In September, they attacked him as racist for referencing “Jesus loves the little children.” This month, they’re after him for allegedly praising the bygone era of slavery. On Friday, news broke that Gloria Allred, the notorious lawyer who is representing one of Moore’s accusers, misrepresented the key piece of evidence against Moore — a signed yearbook. Like the harping on the “Jesus loves the little children” reference, this news will likely only convince Alabama Republicans to support Moore.
No matter how bad Roy Moore really is, these false attacks give his supporters ammunition to present him as the victim of a media quick to rush to conclusions in their haste to tar and feather a conservative. That narrative also received a boost when a liberal activist said “I just wish your kids would get molested” to a pastor who reluctantly agreed to have Moore speak at his church.
Moore may be horrible, but no amount of moral wretchedness makes falsehoods about him suddenly true. CNN and Doug Jones should apologize for spreading this lie about him.