I just had lunch with John Lewis, the Atlanta congressman and civil rights icon, who finds himself the subject of an unlikely controversy. After Lewis and two other black Democrats reported in late March that they had been the subject of an ugly racial epithet — and worse — by tea party activists as the health care vote neared, some conservative activists struck back by alleging that the name-calling never took place.
Andrew Breitbart, the activist behind the anti-ACORN videos, repeated the allegation in a speech Friday to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. In other words, Lewis was lying. From AP:
It was March 20, near the end of the bitter health care debate, when Reps. John Lewis, Andre Carson and Emanuel Cleaver say that some demonstrators, many of them tea party activists, yelled the N-word as the congressmen walked from House office buildings to the Capitol.
Stung by the charges of racism, conservatives and tea party activists insist it never happened. And one of them is offering big money if anyone can prove it did.
With so many media and citizen cameras at the demonstration, any epithets would have been caught on tape, says Andrew Breitbart. He’s the web entrepreneur who released the video of ACORN workers counseling actors posing as a pimp and prostitute, and has pledged $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund if anyone provides proof of the epithets.
“It didn’t happen,” said Breitbart, who wasn’t there. “This is 2010. Even a racist is media-savvy enough not to yell the N-word.”
It probably doesn’t make any difference to Brietbart that he has his facts wrong:
A reconstruction of the events shows that the conservative challenges largely sprang from a mislabeled video that was shot later in the day.
Breitbart posted two columns on his Web site saying the claims were fabricated. Both led with a 48-second YouTube video showing Lewis, Carson, other Congressional Black Caucus members and staffers leaving the Capitol. Some of the group were videotaping the booing crowd.
Breitbart asked why the epithet was not captured by the black lawmakers’ cameras, and why nobody reacted as if they had heard the slur. He also questioned whether the epithets could have been shouted by liberals planted in the crowd.
But the 48-second video was shot as the group was leaving the Capitol – at least one hour after Lewis, D-Ga., and Carson walked to the Capitol, which is when they said the slurs were used.
Respectable conservatives have had the good sense not to doubt Lewis’ word. (That does not include U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who told an audience, “No witness saw it, it’s not on camera, it’s not on audio.”) Recently, Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said:
“A couple of weeks before the alleged incident occurred, I was walking across the bridge in Selma, Ala., with John Lewis,” said Pence. “I take at face value what John Lewis said. If John Lewis said he heard it, I believe he’s a man of integrity. And I would denounce those kinds of statements in the strongest possible terms.”
For his part, Lewis dismisses the aspersions on his character as “more attempts to demonize” those who disagree with the tea partiers and their supporters. And he stands by his story that the N-word was used several times.