Consensus KC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in metro Kansas City, is sponsoring The Civility Project, designed to open a conversation about how Americans should solve public problems when the public disagrees. It's a noble goal on how to speak about important issues in a civil manner, but in promoting the event, Jennifer Wilding of Consensus KC makes a grave mistake.
"In March, Americans protesting health-care legislation called Congressman Emanuel Cleaver a racial epithet as he walked into the Capitol."
There's a problem with what she writes, and it's something that should be addressed at this Civility Project. The description of the event given by Emanuel Cleaver has been called inaccurate by fellow Democratic Congressman Andre Carson.
After Big Government and BigJournalism called the story into question with a video of Congressman Cleaver walking behind John Lewis and Andre Carson, Representative Carson made an official statement that the video shown by Breitbart happened an hour after he heard the N-word shouted. Listen yourself. Halfway down through this link is an audio player of reporters taking Carson's original statement. Carson describes a terrible scene where 15 people chant the n-word, and police surround them. When confronted with video showing no such thing, Carson states the original Breitbart video occurred an hour later.
That's a problem for Cleaver, who said he heard the n-word as a chorus when he was walking behind Carson and Lewis.
It's a direct contradiction. Carson says the slurs were shouted while he was walking down the Cannon steps with Lewis. Cleaver says the slurs were shouted on the way back from the vote walking up the Cannon steps in the opposite direction. Which one was it? Cleaver's story can't be the original, because it happened on the way back. Carson was the first to try and make this news.
But Carson didn't count on five other videos of his walk down the Cannon steps showing no police, no cursing, no N-word 15 times, and no interaction between Lewis and Carson. When exactly did the capitol police move in and protect them? So we have Carson's story with some fanciful elements, and then we have Cleaver copycatting the story an hour later. Sadly, Carson denies Cleaver's version.
And now Consensus KC is spreading the lie.
Reporting on the incident has been terrible. Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Heath Shuler were both reported by McClatchy as saying they heard the slurs, but both denied it. It was just sloppy reporting. Currently, only Cleaver and Carson are saying they heard the N-Word yelled at them, and the time between when they heard it is separated by an hour. And remember, Carson went so far as to say that the video shown by Breitbart, which shows Cleaver walking behind them, is not the correct one for the N-word slurs.
We are left with but two options.
1) The N-word was shouted in both directions, but in both cases, only one person heard it in the entire crowd, including congressman with video cameras, protesters, police, and numerous uploaded videos.
2) One or both congressman are lying, and this entire story was fabricated to get the healthcare bill over the line. Considering Carson went first, this make Cleaver's statement at best a sad attempt to grab the spotlight, and at worst, clear collusion.
Detractors point to the spitting, trying to muddy the waters on what happened. Congressman Cleaver put out a statement saying he was spat on and the protester was arrested, but he has walked back the statement now that video showed a man yelling at several congressman through cupped hands. Any spittle was accidental. The incident happened right in front of a Capitol police officer, who did nothing. Cleaver came back a few minutes later with a second officer, but couldn't identify the name standing right in front of him. Now the Congressman doesn't want to talk about it, admitting the spittle was inadvertent. His exact words were the protester "allowed the spit to hit him." That's a far cry from the derisive act of spitting on someone and calling them a racial epithet.
Knowing the spit question is answered, we can ask, about the accusation that he heard the N-word. Cleaver played it big, stating he's been called worse before. To date, no Kansas City reporter has asked Cleaver the simple question of why Congressman Carson's statement contradicts Cleaver's. Two Congressman told a story. The story differs by an hour. And the media's response is to say both Congressman must be telling the truth, and that John Lewis is a civil right's icon.
But John Lewis never heard the word. Only Carson and Cleaver make that claim.
So I have a question for Jennifer Wilding. Will you ask Congressman Cleaver to explain why his story differs from that of Congressman Carson's, and is unsubstantiated by video at the scene?
The first rule of civility is that we must trust the people involved not to use racial slurs as a means to divide us. If the Congressman chooses not to answer, he has no place at that forum. Lying as a member of the US House isn't particularly civil. Believing the word of a Congressman sounds like something we should want to do.
So what do we do when two allies, two people who believe the same way, tell you different stories?
Who do you believe? Let the Congressman come clean about this. Carson says Cleaver is mistaken. Is Cleaver going to respond? Can he? The credibility of Consensus KC is on the line.