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Media's coverage of Bundy, race and GOP a disservice

By Tara Wall
updated 9:46 PM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tara Wall says CNN and the media have been unfair in its criticism of GOP and race
  • Republican National Committee, she says, has stepped up outreach to the black community
  • Wall: The media practices a double standard by not going after Democrats who have issues with race

Editor's note: Tara Wall is a Senior Strategist for Media & Engagement at the Republican National Committee, former Senior Advisor to the Romney for President Campaign and founder of the PTP Foundation for Media Arts. You can follow her on Twitter @tarasproduction. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I can't fully understand why a bigoted rancher in Nevada warrants as much media coverage as—or more coverage than—a presidential trip to Asia, the delay of a major job-creating infrastructure project or the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

But apparently it does. And like nearly all stories that involve race and politics, the media has covered rancher Cliven Bundy in a way that makes an honest conversation about race in America even more difficult.

Take, for instance, a conversation CNN anchor Carol Costello had with my colleague, Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer, on Friday morning.

Somehow Costello made the illogical conclusion that a racist rancher's rant has implications for the Republican National Committee's minority engagement efforts. Republicans "don't really invite minorities in," she insisted without evidence.

Tara Wall
Tara Wall

Spicer explained that the RNC is working to help the entire party listen and connect with the black community and with Americans of all backgrounds. He noted that not only is the RNC building long-term relationships and a permanent presence in black communities, but also that the RNC has hired a number of black staff members, both those focused on engaging with the black community and those who are not.

That wasn't good enough for Costello. She didn't believe the RNC actually hired black staff members, especially senior level staff. So she demanded that Spicer name names of black people working at the Republican National Committee. She wanted a list of black staffers.

That crosses a line. Is Costello hosting a news program or a dog and pony show?

Carol Costello: GOP's problem wooing African-American voters

As a senior-level staff member at the RNC who happens to be black, my job is to help the committee by developing communications and media strategy. My job is not to be put on display every time a news anchor wants to determine whether a political organization has the right number of people of color.

How does that advance the discourse on race and politics in America? That would be pandering. It's wrong.

Racism on the ranch and on the court
Red News/Blue News: Cliven Bundy
'Be careful before you choose a mascot'

Costello, and others in the media who do the same thing, are perpetuating a double standard. When black Republicans appear in the media, they suggest that Republicans are just checking a box by putting a black person on screen. When we don't put ourselves on display, they assume we don't exist.

That's pretty revealing of their personal biases. That's also a dangerous double standard.

Which brings us to the even bigger issue at hand.

When someone who isn't even a Republican elected official or candidate says something disgusting and offensive, the media goes into overdrive to discuss how this is terrible for the Republican Party.

But when Democrat elected officials, including a sitting governor and sitting vice president, say something racist or offensive, you don't hear a peep. They get a free pass.

The latest example comes from President Obama's home state. Last week, the campaign of Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn promoted an article on Twitter that labeled black Republicans as race traitors and said they were akin to Jewish Nazi sympathizers.

Yes, a sitting Democrat governor's campaign was publicizing racist material. If you didn't hear about it, that proves my point.

It was abhorrent, but national coverage was almost nonexistent until CNN.com finally posted an article late Thursday. But did the media demand Democrats apologize and ask the Democratic National Committee for comment? Did they consider asking DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a prominent Jewish leader, to denounce the governor?

Absolutely not.

It was reminiscent of their ambivalent coverage when Vice President Joe Biden, during the 2012 campaign, told a group of black voters that his political opponents would "put y'all back in chains."

That was disgusting rhetoric, but the vice president is a Democrat, so it wasn't breaking news. It was just Joe being Joe, as his fans in the media like to say.

Again, it's a double standard.

Racist language has no place in our political discourse. It's unacceptable whenever and wherever it's used. And yes, journalists, that includes the Democratic Party. Americans aren't hearing the full story when you're only covering one side of it.

If we're going to defeat the racism that persists in America, we have to have intelligent conversations about it. The media should neither elevate it nor reduce it to some petty partisan game. But more often than not, media outlets are failing to meet that standard.

That was the case on Friday. Let's hope next time it's different.

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