NPR: 'Tennessee Racists Vote for McCain, Elect Republicans to State Legislature'

Against the odds, GOP candidates in the state of Tennessee experienced a historic win. In addition to delivering the state to John McCain, Republicans won both chambers of the state legislature. And, as the Wall Street Journal reported, "Sen. Lamar Alexander became the first Republican to carry all but one county in his re-election win -- even taking a quarter of Tennessee's black votes."

NPR was not so generous to Republicans in its reportage.

Given the opportunity to traffic in the 'Republicans as racists' trope or do some honest journalism, well, with NPR involved, you can probably guess which way this story went.

Bill Hobbs, frequent NewsBusters contributor, reports on his experience with an NPR reporter in the wake of the GOP wins in the state of Tennessee.

A few weeks ago I spent about half an hour on the phone with a reporter for National Public Radio discussing how Republicans were able to make historic gains in the state legislature in the November election amid a national Democratic tide. During the call, the reporter raised several areas of discussion.

One of the points I stressed to the NPR reporter was that the national message of "Change" coming from Barack Obama's presidential campaign was 180 degrees opposite from the message the Tennessee Democrat Party was pushing at the state level, where they were seeking to extend 140 years of uninterrupted majority in the state legislature. We also discussed how the Tennessee Democrat Party was saddled with a long list of recent scandals involving corrupt legislators and an image of coddling corruption in their quest to retain power.

Tennessee voters, I said, heard Obama's "Change" message - and voted for change at the state level.

Given the African-American at the head of the Democratic national ticket, so the accepted wisdom goes, anything short of a win on all fronts must, must mean whoever voted against the Democrats is a racist.

There are all sorts of reasons why this argument doesn't hold water at the national level, NewsBusters exposed these lies for what they were and what motivated them (largely, white guilt) throughout the 2008 Presidential election.

NPR's attempt to apply the same racist lens to the results in Tennessee exposes the lie even further.

We also discussed, at length, the assertion that racism helped Republicans win the state legislature. On the latter, I told the NPR report it made no sense to claim that Tennessee voters voted against white Democrats because the Democratic presidential nominee was African-American. In most of those races the Republican candidate was also white - hard to blame racism when someone votes for the white guy instead of the white guy (or, in some districts, the white gal over the white guy).

We also talked about the state House District 2 race, where Tony Shipley, a white Republican, defeated Nathan Vaughn, an African-American three-term incumbent. Even in that race, it is a stretch to blame racism. Sullivan County is 97 percent white. Vaughn was elected three times before, in 2002, 2004 and 2006, by the voters in that district - the first time and second time over white opponents (he faced no challenger in 2006). He won with increasing margins each time - 50.44 percent of the vote in 2002, 57.68 percent in 2004, and 100 percent of the vote in 2006.

Presumably, voters knew Vaughn was African-American each time they elected him. And the longer he was in office, representing a county that is 97 percent white, his support went up - hardly a sign of a racist constituency. This year, his support fell to just a blip under 50 percent. Racism? No.

Besides the outright disingenuous nature of the argument--particularly in this example--this type of reporting is just flat lazy. Sure, NPR spoke with Hobbs. But they clearly didn't believe him. They could have looked at the electoral history and done a little statistical analysis of their own, but they did not.

It's easier to repeat the much-believed national Republicans-are-racists line, than it is to get into the facts.

I suppose Obama's campaign has had one positive result: In the past, a reporter could play the race card in explaining something and everyone else would just walk away, rather than risk being painted as 'just another racist.'

With an African-American in the White House, maybe now journalists will look a little more closely rather than seeing the racist bogey-man around every corner.

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