Over the weekend, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) claimed that his inability to effectively respond to the blackface photo scandal proved that he was not one of the men in the photo on his medical school yearbook page. The inconsistency of his responses proves his innocence, he said. Northam again insisted that he had never seen the offensive photo before, and “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King rightly pressed him on the issue.
“Let’s go back to the picture, and I know you’ve addressed it. But it still raises so many questions for people,” King said. “Why do you think it came out now?”
“I — I don’t know. But this is really the first time I have ever seen that picture. And I will tell you …” Northam responded.
Thread: This Ralph Northam photo makes my blood boil because one of the reasons Northam beat @EdWGillespie in 2017 was his strategy of tarring Gillespie as a racist connected with Charlottesville. /1https://t.co/1VzFZYpTyV
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) February 1, 2019
“How could that be? It’s on your yearbook page, governor,” King said.
“Well, I was shocked to see it,” the governor said. Then came one of the most ridiculous defenses: “And I really believe the fact that if you look at the unpreparedness of me to react to this, both on Friday night and Saturday, that really confirms that this is the first time.”
The yearbook photo — which appears on Ralph Northam’s page and shows two men, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood — came out on Friday, February 1. That evening, Northam apologized for the harm he had caused. The following day, he held a press conference and disavowed the photo, saying he had never seen it before and that he was not one of the two men in it. To make matters worse, he apologized for wearing blackface to imitate Michael Jackson.
This inconsistency made Northam a laughing stock, but this weekend he used it as a defense. His inability to keep his story straight — “the unpreparedness of me” — bolsters his claim to have never seen the photo before, according to Northam.
William Elwood, a former yearbook staff member at Northam’s alma mater, Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), insisted that the photo would not have appeared on Northam’s page by accident.
“Each student was allowed to submit a certain number of pictures that they wanted to appear on the page with their graduation photograph,” Elwood told ABC News Channel 3. “They chose their own pictures, they were submitted in a sealed envelope with their name on them, and the only time that envelope was opened was when the layout was done on their page.”
In other words, it is extremely unlikely that the governor had never seen this photo before, as he claims.
King asked, “Well, let me ask you this — are those your pants? Those pants are very distinct. Do you have a pair of pants that look like that?”
The governor leaped at the chance to disavow the pants. “I have never had any pants like that,” Northam responded. Well, that’s conclusive. He must be innocent.
King later insisted,” I did not feel that he was disingenuous or was trying to spin a story.” She added that most Virginians do not think Northam is racist, citing a poll that found a majority of African-Americans in Virginia do not want the governor to resign.
Northam may be telling the truth, but there is at least one other explanation for “the unpreparedness of me.”
The current governor defeated his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, after branding the Republican a racist. Indeed, he sent out a mailer connecting Gillespie to Charlottesville after Gillespie had loudly condemned the white nationalist riots there in 2017.
Perhaps Northam was unprepared to respond because he had grown so accustomed to thinking of Republicans as the racists and was flabbergasted by the idea that he — a Democrat in good standing — could face a race scandal.
It may be that the governor apologized because he knew the photo was real, and that he chose it; but he later realized that it would be impossible for others to prove that he was in the photo, so he decided to deny it.
In any case, “the unpreparedness of me” is an extremely shoddy defense, and Northam must know that it cannot paper over the inconsistency of his earlier statements. King insisted that he didn’t appear “disingenuous,” but that doesn’t make this ridiculous defense credible.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.