Sunday, April 04, 2010

Interview with Lauren Victoria Burke, first person to report that racial slurs had been hurled at members of Congress

Blogger Lauren Victoria Burke is the "unofficial blogger of the Congressional Black Caucus" (CBC). She was kind enough to take time to answer a few questions this evening to try to shed light on reports that racial epithets had been shouted at members of Congress. She appears to have been the first person on the scene to report the incident.

Q: Could you describe your relationship with the CBC? Are you in an official capacity -- or kind of a freelance journalist?

A: I'm freelance, I've been a journalist since 1998. I started Crewof42 last year on July 4. Technically, they have their own blog, but it's kind of a joke. I'm known as the unofficial blogger of the CBC!

Q: On March 20th, I think you were the first to report (via Twitter) the allegations of racial slurs hurled at members of Congress. Is this correct and could you describe what happened in your view?

A: I don't know if I was the first to report, but I did Twitter using my BlackBerry once I'd had a chance to talk to Andre Carson. It's not like some reporter runs up to you and tells you something and you can instantly report on it second-hand. I want to find that member and determine what really happened.

I went to the lobby after the vote and saw six journalists around Carson. This was very rare, because he's such a junior guy. So there are a bunch of people around him and I heard only the tail end of the story. He saw me and knew I'd joined the group late, so he stuck around and retold the story. Other reporters probably had to find their computers, author the article and have it edited, while I just used Twitter at that time.

Q: Do you think racial epithets were hurled?

A: I'm really surprised at the publicity this story's received. Given what we know about some of the other incidents that seem far more serious than someone using the n-word. Like the gas line getting cut at a member of Congress' brother's house. Given the threats that have occurred on both sides of the aisle, I'm really surprised around the publicity this has generated.

That day was a really long one and I was outside most of the time. Every time the members vote and every time they caucus they have to cross the street. It was a nice day, and, frankly, I think they wanted to see the protest, see what was going on. They sometimes use the tunnels, but it was a nice day.

It's not completely shocking that one person out of 2,000 could have said that. If you told me that pro-life demonstrators did it, I'd have a harder time believing it. I don't understand why it's so shocking. I find it difficult to believe that John Lewis and Andre Carson made up this lie.

I think it very unlikely that a guy like John Lewis would involve himself in something like that. Anthony Weiner's running around trying to get on TV every five seconds, but Lewis is very low-key guy.

The idea that everything's got to be on videotape for it to have happened just really surprises me.

Q: Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote a 400-word story shortly after your blog post went up. He included several interviews with members of the CBC. Was this something you were aware of?

A: I don't know him at all, I was outside a lot that day. I didn't see him, but it was pretty chaotic, a lot of people in the street, huge crowds, I wouldn't have known him. I only deal with what I know, I'm not interested in reading someone else's report. We had to track down -- first-hand -- John Lewis and Andre Carson. You can't just report on what the Huffington Post's saying.

Q: Actually, it's interesting you say that, because that's precisely what McClatchy did, according to their online editor, Mark Seibel.

A: McClatchy's guy, Bill Douglas, I don't know if he was talking to Carson or not. We were waiting, along with Douglas, waiting for Obama to leave and all of the security to clear out. Bill Douglas was there for the John Lewis story. Carson reported the n-word was used three times... I've seen reports of 15 times.

I think the story is hotter than normal because of John Lewis' involvement. If it were some other members, I don't know. But John Lewis is like... sort of a... historic figure, actually. He's 70 years old, very respected and carries a lot more weight.

Q: There are more than a dozen videos of various portions of the walk both to and from the Capitol, and no one has been able to pinpoint any racial epithets. Even Rep. Jackson seemed to be videotaping. Do you think it's concerning there is no evidence of the allegations in an age where virtually every second in public is taped?

A: What I think about recording in this situation... I really don't know if the sound any particular sound would be picked up. Remember, a lot of these are flip-phones or small digital cameras, not exactly heavy-duty professional microphones. One thing that doesn't come across is is how loud it was out there.

A unidirectional mike wouldn't necessarily capture it. It was a wall of sound and, while some of the tapes I've heard are better than others, I'm not that impressed by the theory advanced by Mr. Hannity and Mr. Breitbart that it had to be recorded to have happened.

You know, Barney Frank and Joe Crowley walked out there together and no one is going to tape every second and capture every word. So I'm not impressed with the fact that if it wasn't taped it never happened.

There's a common-sense element to it. If you're there and you see something unusual going on... and people are really emotional about it, people are pissed and angry... logically, you'd think something had happened. Jesse Jackson was one of the people that heard about it sooner... he came off the House floor and stormed into the Speaker's lobby... highly unusual... you see people do stuff like that and, believe me, is it possible they could make this up? Andre Carson would have to have had a psychotic break and then John Lewis would have had to corroborate it... many things are possible but that seems highly unlikely.

And when you have 2,000 people [Ed: I've seen reputable estimates of 15,000], the way the Tea Party should have played it... actually, the way they did play it, is that a single person could have done anything. But even the spitting incident that no one's disputing, including the Capitol police --

Q: Actually, the reports I've seen indicate that no one was arrested, and the media was off-base on that, and that there are disputes that the incident actually took place. How do you see it?

A: What happened was that the Capitol Police grabbed who Cleaver thought it was, but he didn't want to ID the wrong person. Now the Capitol Police are allowed to hold someone for 45 minutes without charges and they did so, but released him because Cleaver just wasn't sure.

Now this is a felony assault, this spitting incident, and a lot of the attorneys on staff were very upset. The police should have pursued an assault claim, since this was a federal official it was a felony. But Cleaver was unsure that was the right person and decided to drop it.

Q: I know you probably don't want to speak for the CBC, but do Tea Party activists strike you as racists or hate-mongers?

A: No matter what the group is, you have a middle of the road people, you have some people on the soft edges and then you have the extremists. You could be talking about Greenpeace, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, whatever. During the Civil Rights era, you had Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Frankly it's hard to judge percentages because the Tea Party is so new.

All I know is that if you look at incidents that have been proven, there appears to be a fringe active. When I see members of Congress having their windows broken, faxed drawings sent to them with pictures of nooses, physical acts like the gas line being cut... those are physical, active things. We didn't report half the things that have happened because it's just too much.

Members get threatened all the time, on both sides of the aisle.

I'm an American History major, and racial issues are woven throughout the history of the country. Let's not be naive, there will always be a fringe out there that has a racial component. Race is omnipresent.

Q: As I see it, a lot of the Tea Party activists are worried about the encroachment of the very kind of authoritarian, centralized government that our country's founders broke away from. The federal government has become this omnipresent force, far beyond what the states that formed it had ever envisioned. I mean, the size of your toilet tank is now regulated by federal bureaucrats...

A: Yes, I would agree that most of the teabaggers [Ed: sic!] are focused most on taxes, on financial issues. I mean, the liberal stereotype was reinforced when the first thing Obama does when he took office is to spend $787 billion on a stimulus package!

And the latest bailout of people that have been foreclosed on, I totally disagree with. If you're dumb enough to spend too much on your house, my tax dollars should not be borrowed against for that.

I understand the Tea Party sentiment and also understand you can't control everything everyone says.

Q: Are there issues that actually divide the CBC -- for example, school choice? Or is there unanimity in the policy positions?

A: These are 42 people just like everyone else. You get the fights, the loud meetings. You have hard workers and the lazy ones, who should retire. You get the entire gamut, just like if you picked 42 people off the street.

One of the hidden things that no one talks about regarding the CBC is I think most are pro-life!

Many are very religious, and while you wouldn't expect it, many of them I think really do believe in the pro-life side.

The school choice thing is a classic, because few members send their kids to public school. When Democrats do it, it's hypocritical, because they spend so much money on public schools then won't send their kids to the very same schools.

But the group itself is just like any other group. Quite a fascinating group of people. And members of Congress get a bum rap, that they're lazy, but the schedules they keep -- party has nothing to do with it -- are just unbelievable. They're very hard working.

Q: I don't think too many folks would argue that they don't work hard... just that they're disconnected from their constituents! They don't represent what the people seem to want.

I'd like to thank Ms. Burke for her time. Her website is CrewOf42.
A: The health care bill was the quintessential example of technicalities... members doing something that looked very elitist. Like, "I'm smarter than you are, and you'll find out what's in the bill when we pass it."

The Obama administration from the beginning did not present it well or very clearly.

A lot of the Republican ideas from Price and Ryan could very easily have been incorporated into the bill.

But what we've seen is just complete polarization. The media helps foist it as they run from story to story trying to one-up each other. What we have now is just political polarization.

Linked by: Gateway Pundit and Jammie Wearing Fool. Thanks!


juandos said...

Well does anyone know if 'Lauren Victoria Burke' has some irrefutable physical evidence to back up her statements?

I mean when someone calls themself an 'unofficial' cheer leader for a collection if 'abysmally ignorant bigots and theives', that person's word is at best questionable in the extreme...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for talking to Lauren--I like her! She's maybe just a bit blinkered.

Matt said...

Good interview. Ms. Burke seems to be the kind of even handed and open minded journalist that is pretty rare these days. If she was on MSNBC or CNN somebody may even take them seriously. MSNBC could use a bit of diversity, no? A couple of questions though: Since she was there, all day walking back and forth, did she not get any inkling that there was some 'outliers' lurking amongst the protesters that might cause trouble? She seems to not believe that it's highly unlikely that NONE of the many video cameras held by professional news crews and amateurs alike to have captured any of the hateful speech, because there was so much noise and confusion. So, how did the congressmen hear it? We were told that there was chanting of the n-word as much as fifteen times. How did the congressmen hear it and not one video camera (so far) could? And why did none of the congressmen, in the videos we have seen react to it? Stop, turn their heads, point, anything?
The other issue is the cut propane gas line. Who did it? Why? Has anyone been caught? I know that some Tea Party group published the address where the incident took place (erroneously,) but do we know without a shadow of a doubt and to a moral certainty that that was the cause of the propane tank line being cut? And that it was done by a Tea party goer or sympathizer? Was it done by an ordinary vandal? Or maybe it was done by a leftist sockpuppet like the window breaking incident at the Democratic offices in Colorado? Why is it okay to point to the propane hose cutting incident as an example of right-wing wrongdoing before all the facts are determined?

Reliapundit said...


now... let's go the videotape!

orbicularioculi said...

Well, it's pretty obvious that this young lady has no evidence that there was any incident in which the word "nigger" was used or that there was a spitting incident.

Poor babies, these rough and tough black caucus members and the John Lewis who marched in Selma have to resort to lying when they confront peaceful but angry American Citizens who are sick and tired of Big Government and Representatives who vote against the interests of their constituents and the wishes of their constituents...

Jane said...

So it's bad if they called the Congressmen racial names, but it's ok for her to use a sexually derogative term to describe tea party activists.

Pot. Kettle. Meta levels.

Georg Felis said...

Very interesting interview. A few things that stuck out and made me wonder:

"Every time the members vote and every time they caucus they have to cross the street. It was a nice day, and, frankly, I think they wanted to see the protest, see what was going on. They sometimes use the tunnels, but it was a nice day."

Interesting use of the word "every" and "sometimes". I'm willing to give them a pass on this, despite the quite unmistakable fact that the entire walk was designed to produce a story idea in every paper in the country titled "Black Congress-members Harassed by Teabaggers, Shades of the 60s Revisited. (with 27 color 8x10 glossy photographs of the crime scene, etc...)

She certainly seems to have a good grasp on just how the most video taped event of the CBC managed to avoid totally catching the audio of This Horrid Word. I mean, its not like any of the CBC would...lie, right?

rrpjr said...

Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line, she's pedaling "the narrative." She throws out the usual and insulting sops to objectivity, e.g., "extremism exists on both sides," then the inevitable reference to our racist past. What are the facts? She doesn't have any. Case closed.

Barney said...

A: What happened was that the Capitol Police grabbed who Cleaver thought it was, but he didn't want to ID the wrong person. Now the Capitol Police are allowed to hold someone for 45 minutes without charges and they did so, but released him because Cleaver just wasn't sure.

Actually the video I have seen shows Cleaver and the cop walking away without "grabbing" anyone.

RightKlik said...

"I find it difficult to believe that John Lewis and Andre Carson made up this lie."

Everybody is capable of lying.

It's also possible that they honestly think they heard something that wasn't really said.