Big Tent Theory: Alter Defends Obama Outreach to Controversial Black Activist Barron

Understanding fellow, that Jonathan Alter . . .

On this afternoon's "Tucker Carlson" on MSNBC, the eponymous host mentioned that Barack Obama had travelled to NYC to seek the support of Charles Barron of Brooklyn. Carlson knows Barron well, the NYC Councilman being a frequent guest on Tucker's show. Carlson described Barron as a "pretty straightforward racist, pretty straightforward black nationalist, anti-white character, exactly the kind of person you would not expect Obama to be courting." He then asked guest Jonathan Alter: "What is Obama doing?

SENIOR NEWSWEEK EDITOR JONATHAN ALTER: "Well, I think Obama wants the support of everybody, and I think the question is whether he can have a tent that's actually as big as the United States . . . The whole point of his campaign Tucker is to say "don't judge me by any one of my supporters, I'm trying to get a super-big tent here" . . . I think it would be unfair to hold any of his supporter's politics, you know, hold him accountable for what Charles Barron thinks.

Tucker wasn't buying, and drew the logical analogy.

MSNBC HOST TUCKER CARLSON: If Rudy Giuliani went down and asked David Duke for his support, would you say, "you know, it's unfair to hold Rudy Giuliani accountable for what David Duke said?" No, of course not! You'd write a cover story attacking him. That's a ludicrous point.

ALTER: Charles Barron is not David Duke, so let's not let that slide through, he's not David Duke.

CARLSON: I would say he's pretty close.

ALTER: If he was David Duke, you really wouldn't have him on your show, Tucker. Even you have limits.

CARLSON: No, actually, I don't.

Let's go to the record. A review of Barron's Wikipedia entry reveals the following factoids about him.

  • Former Black Panther member.
  • Supports giving the vote to non-citizens.
  • Says he does not salute the flag or believe in the Pledge of Allegiance, saying the entire pledge is "a lie."
  • Advocates reparations for slavery, and during a reparations rally said "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, ‘You can’t understand this, it’s a black thing’ and then slap him, just for my mental health."
  • Criticized the City University of New York for increasing its admission standards through the use of entrance exams and the elimination of remedial courses, saying, "I think racism comes behind standards.'
  • Hosted Robert Mugabe during the racist Zimbabwean dictator's visit to NYC.
  • In response to the NYPD shooting of three individuals-including the fatal shooting of 23 year-old prospective bridegroom Sean Bell-outside of a Jamaica, Queens strip club-Barron made a number of controversial statements, including one that implied that members of Bell's community would be justified in exercising non-peaceful or violent methods in response to his death.

Whether Barron is a black David Duke can be debated. But it is beyond cavil that Alter would vociferously condemn a Republican candidate who sought the support of a white leader with views mirroring Barron's.

Score this one for Tucker.

Contact Mark at

Race Issues Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential MSNBC Newsweek