Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a run-off election against Democrat Mike Espy, an African-American who served as agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration. What the media was hyping as a surprisingly tight race for the incumbent Republican based on racially charged gaffes turned out to be a fairly comfortably election victory.
Still, even afterwards, the paper dwelled on racial wounds that the sitting senator had apparently reopened during her campaign.
From Wednesday’s front-page story by Alan Blinder:
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who had to apologize for a cavalier reference to a public hanging, won a special runoff election on Tuesday, defeating the Democratic candidate, Mike Espy, who was trying [sic] become the state’s first black senator since Reconstruction.
Still, the fact that Ms. Hyde-Smith faced a challenging runoff election, after no candidate received a majority of the vote on Nov. 6, suggested that Democrats could make select races competitive once again. And the frantic efforts to salvage her seat signaled that rhetoric seemingly steeped in Mississippi’s racist past risks a modern political price.
But in the three weeks between the first round of voting and the second, the matchup between Mr. Espy and Ms. Hyde-Smith became a nationally scrutinized test of Mississippi’s racial tolerance and the state’s standing as a conservative bulwark.
But the most ridiculous Times story on the race came from David Waldstein in Monday’s Sports section, reporting on a P.R. move by Major League Baseball: “M.L.B. Asks U.S. Senator To Give Back Its Donation.”
Around the time that inflammatory comments by Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi endorsing public hangings surfaced on video, Major League Baseball donated $5,000 to her campaign.
The bizarre word choice of “endorsing” appeared in at least one print edition before being changed to “invoking” at some point.
Waldstein never actually quoted Hyde-Smith’s “hanging” comment, which makes his fast-and-loose interpretation suspicious. What she actually said, jokingly, of a Mississippi rancher who supported her: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row.”
He tried his best to blow up the verbal controversy:
The contribution, first reported Saturday by Popular Information, is embarrassing to M.L.B., which has several initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in its sport. Many of Hyde-Smith’s comments, some of which she has apologized for or attempted to explain, appear to contradict baseball’s mission.
At every opportunity, Waldstein makes the least-charitable interpretation of every controversy Hyde-Smith opponents have dug up, tarring her as a supporter of both the Confederacy and voter suppression, based on extremely flimsy evidence.
Hyde-Smith, a Republican appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in March to replace Thad Cochran, who resigned for health reasons, is facing Mike Espy, a Democrat, in Tuesday’s runoff election. Since M.L.B. made the contribution, further reports have come to light showing Hyde-Smith’s support for the Confederacy. In a photograph on her Facebook page, she is shown wearing the cap of a Confederate soldier and holding a musket. The caption reads, “Mississippi history at its best.”
She was also seen on video espousing voter suppression among college students to a small group of supporters after the Nov. 6 general election. Hyde-Smith is heard to say that it would be “a great idea.” She later labeled the comment a joke.
She said the same thing about her earlier statement, made at a rally on Nov. 2, that she would happily sit in the front row for public hangings. The comment stirred up the painful history of lynchings in Mississippi and elsewhere.
Again, Waldstein left off the light-hearted context of the “public hanging” remark.
The day before the election, reporters Emily Cochrane and Alan Blinder used President Trump’s campaign stop to similar effect: “In Mississippi, President Campaigns for a Candidate in Trouble.”
President Trump returned to the campaign trail in Mississippi on Monday to offer an unabashed endorsement of a Republican candidate under fire for comments that critics said embraced the state’s segregationist history.
And last week the paper put Hyde-Smith's admittedly clumsy "hangings" remark on the front page to feed into racist stereotypes of Southern Republicans in “Senate Runoff Has Reopened Racial Wounds.” Meanwhile, actual scandals involving her opponent Espy, involving lobbying for Ivory Coast dictator Laurent Gbagbo, were glossed over.