In NPR interview, Ellison battles ‘lock her up’ politics

NPR’s David Greene didn’t seem much interested in Keith Ellison’s plans for leading the Democratic Party when he interviewed him on Morning Edition this morning, and that’s generated some criticism via Twitter.

Ellison wants to be the chair of the Democratic Party but when Greene interviewed him this morning, his questions were about Ellison’s past, specifically his support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, support that Ellison says he now regrets.

Ellison tried to deflect Greene when he said, “Democrats need to understand that the first line in the Republican playbook is going to be smear. There’s nobody who’s going to be able to avoid it.”

It didn’t work.

“But this doesn’t sound like a smear of you,” Greene countered. “It sounds like there are some concerns about you by some in the party.”

Ellison said he didn’t think his past comments are the reason why the White House hasn’t given Ellison what Greene called “full throated support.”

“If you ignore somebody’s record and only focus on something that happened 25 years ago when all they were doing even then was trying to stand up for a minority group that felt excluded and discriminated against, then I think that is a distortion of somebody’s record,” he said.

Green persisted — ignoring the possibility that one reason Ellison isn’t being fully backed by his party is the possibility that the Democrats want to appeal to rural whites and they don’t want to do that with a black man from the city — and followed up with more questions about Ellison and Farrakhan.

Ellison refused to say what Hillary Clinton “did wrong” in the campaign, leaving Greene wondering how Ellison could run the party when he wouldn’t say what Clinton did wrong. Twice, Greene asked the question.

“I’m trying to unify the party, not find fault,” the Minneapolis DFLer said. “We need to get much more granular, we’ve got to develop a durable relationship of trust around the things they are most concerned about and what that is is, one, how to make a living and how to be respected and treated fairly in this society. And those two things are critical to where we need to go next.”

Greene wanted to talk about criticizing the Clinton campaign, however. And as the five-and-a-half-minute interview ended, it was obvious that Greene never asked a single question about what vision for the party Ellison has.

Humorist John Hodgman led the online criticism, asking the audience to compare the Ellison interview with NPR’s interview of former Breitbart boss Steve Bannon, now the chief Trump White House strategist. Critics said NPR went soft. NPR’s ombudsman said it was poorly framed from the start.

It wasn’t just Hodgman.

Greene could have spent his last few minutes asking about what specific plans he had for the party, and where the party is weak. But he couldn’t really ignore the obvious online assault against Ellison that’s taking place. Ellison wasn’t.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the presidential campaign, if you call someone a duck online, whether it quacks or not is irrelevant. What Ellison is facing is the next phase of the “lock her up” mentality that has taken control of the nation’s political debate and the media that tries to cover it.

The interview was a reminder that the national news media no longer sets the nation’s news agenda.