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.

  1. Listen NPR: Keith Ellison on why he wants to be DNC chair

    November 30, 2016

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.

  • Gary F

    Man I hope the DNC chooses him to lead the DNC.

  • Mike

    Both Ellison and Green are at fault here. Ellison should have been honest about what he sees as the flaws in the Clinton campaign’s strategy. Obviously, there were plenty; she lost. Presumably, he has some ideas about what to do next, which is why he’s running for DNC Chair. That’s where Green went wrong, by engaging in “gotcha” journalism instead of substance. Such antics on the part of the MSM may well be a reason why the public hates the media so much.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “Ellison should have been honest about what he sees as the flaws in the Clinton campaign’s strategy”

      Do you really believe this is the forum to air out your dirty laundry? YOU and I may want to hear what went wrong for entertainment value, but it won’t help with what his goal is to help the DNC to win more. That is inside ball.

  • tboom

    Really disappointed with NPR going down this road. Accusations get thrown out and that closes off any meaningful discussion about policy. In the same way Trump throws out meaningless tweets about flag burning closing off meaningful discussion about his cabinet selection. Seems to work every time, even when everyone knows what’s going on.

  • Mike Worcester

    I heard the interview on my morning commute and it was very frustrating to listen to; a game of verbal cat-and-mouse that resulted in little substance. I’ll try to re-listen later to see if I really did miss anything.

  • Paul

    It is interesting to me the focus is on what the DNC didn’t do during Clinton’s campaign and ignoring what she has done in her career.

  • Will

    It was a decent interview although I think David Greene should have brought up Community Action in Minneapolis and how Ellison was on the board of that charity while fraud was committed, when Ellison asked to talk about something “that happened within the last 25 years”. Ellison kept reiterating how he wanted to unify the Demcrats, bring people together and build bridges multiple times in the interview; essentially that’s his vision for the party. Although I agree it would have been good to ask Ellison what specific policies he had in mind to reach out to rural, blue collar voters. Also, Ellison danced around every question he was given so that’s why Greene pressed him… answer the question and that won’t happen.

    • crystals

      Community Action wasn’t a charity, it was a nonprofit. Ellison had designated an alternate to serve his seat on the board so directly tying him to the misdeeds is a little more challenging, though certainly questions about it can be raised.

      I agree with your overall point. I want to know HOW he will bring people together and build bridges and unify Democrats. Platitudes aren’t going to get us (because I’m one of them) anywhere.

    • // what specific policies he had in mind to reach out to rural, blue collar voters

      Or whether it even should.

      The DFL isn’t going to come back on abortion. It’s not going to walk back the rights of gay people to marry.

      Everyone has an opinion on why Trump won but it’s not necessarily informed opinion. Sure, we know Obamacare –at least as a word — was like “Niagra Falls” to the Three Stooges. But until we see it being dismantled and Medicaid and Medicare privatized, and people losing coverage because they didn’t have insurance in force for the previous 18 months before they got sick, we don’t really know for sure what people want. Maybe it was THAT. But we don’t really know yet, particularly when Democrats ran kicking and screaming from the health care issue.

      In many cases, THEY don’t even appear to know what they want. They just know that nobody seemed to be listening to them and the only way they could be heard was to put Trump in office.

      To that extent, Ellison may have a point in saying he wants more information and not just to criticize Clinton (who obviously was favored by more Americans than favored Trump).

      The Democrats might well be chasing a moving target at the moment. It might not be bad political science to let it settle down a bit, especially when trying to figure out the politics involved in winning an election while being the second choice of most Americans.

      This is very volatile time in which a guy vows to drain the swamp and rails on the impact of a candidate associating with Goldman Sachs, and then selects a Goldman Sachs guy for treasury secretary.

      You can’t REALLY make any sense out of that quite yet in terms of trying to understand what the voters want. All you can really do right now is look at these conflicting factoids that are surrounding the transition and wait for the voters to see if that’s really want they intended.

      • Will

        Maybe NPR should do a longer interview then?

        • Or a better one. 5 1/2 minutes is about as long as any interview is going to go on Morning Edition.

          • Will

            I think Ellison’s answers are the main reason the interview went in the direction it did, he refused to answer multiple questions and danced around them while Greene was trying to nail him down. Ellison’s answer to “wait for more info” before deciding what went wrong with Clinton’s campaign looks like avoiding answering the question because he avoided answering previous questions…on top of that he’s up for an election to take charge of the party that allowed things to go wrong…he should answer based on the info we have now (just like how we answer any question). He’s more than welcome to revise his position based on new information.

          • Not everyone answers questions without having the information to do so in an informed manner. I don’t follow Ellison closely enough to gauge his preference for deliberation.

            The question was a setup. The proper way to ask it would have been “would you have run a different Democratic campaign?”

            But look at the headline NPR slapped on the story. Notice anything strange?

            Greene never asked the question the headline indicated the interview was about.

          • Will

            Not directly but Ellison already gave his canned answer about building bridges and unifying the party…essentially the question about what Hillary did wrong was the opening to talk about what Ellison wanted to do differently…Ellison refused to take an analytical look at what Hillary did wrong. The follow up question would have been “What would you have done differently” but if he can’t say what was wrong with Hillary’s campaign essentially Ellison would end up going down the same failed path…his dance around answering questions was too cute by half and resulted in the interview we got.

          • Well she got 2% more Americans to vote for her than the guy who won and I think more votes than any white man who’s ever run for president. So I suppose he could say that she should’ve recognized that some people’s votes are more important than others.

            But , like I said, the election might have been a perfect storm.

            Look, I get it. People want to hear more braying about how much Hillary sucks. The Internet can’t wean itself off that. They crave entertainment over facts and data of political analysis.

            But Ellison would be stupid to play to those people. First, they Don’t matter to what he’s trying to accomplish (win the chairmanship) and, second, it would alienate those who do matter.

            So, yeah, Ellison’s problem is that he was smart not to give in to Greene’s invitation to do something stupid and counterproductive. He was carrying water for the Internet crowd whipping up the “he’s a terrorist” thing. That’s not the constituency he needs to win over for DNC chair. Those are mostly Republicans who are irrelevant too the party at the moment. And the #1 requirement of a DNC chair candidate has to be speaking to only those people who matter and being smart enough to understand who the people who matter are.

            The election aside, doing things that are stupid and counterproductive isn’t a logical path to success.

            Granted the Internet and 24/7 cable crowd can’t get its daily jollies that way, but that’s their problem.

            This is a race that’s mostly going to be decided by the adults.

            That alone will be different.

          • Will

            I don’t get the obsession with the popular vote, it’s like when one team gets more shots on goal in hockey but they’re behind on the scoreboard. Sure it makes you feel better but it doesn’t mean anything, we have the electoral college…you’re more than welcome to advocate for changing that, I just hope those who want to do that campaign on it. It still doesn’t explain state houses, US House or US Senate.

            Ellison shouldn’t play to anyone, he should have his own ideas like when he said Trump has a chance…he was laughed at and he was right. What does matter is his strategy, we all should hear it if he wants to lead the party…as a right leaning independent I’m interested to hear his plan…I’m sure Dems are interested to find out if they agree with with his strategy. He should just tell us.

          • It has to do with the precision of analysis.

            People, for example, will blather on and day “she didn’t connect with Americans” and try to sound smart doing so who’s people stroke their beards and nod their heads.

            But that stat reveals the imprecision. It has nothing to do with the crowd that’s calling for changing the system.

            She didn’t connect with the right Americans.

            As for Ellison telling “us”, he doesn’t owe “us” anything. This isn’t an election. This is a race for chairmanship of the party and the reality is that “we’re” irrelevant. He’s not trying to appeal to “us”, he is trying to pull factions of Democratic LEADERS together and we’re not those people.

            Anybody who can’t figure that out has no business running for DNC chair.

            That’s where the problem with the interview is. Greene’s constituency is “us”. Ellison’s constituency, in his role of DNC chair candidate, isn’t us. He can’t try to win “us” over while losing the constituency.

            Also, if you’re a DNC chair and you don’t think winning a popular vote and still losing is significant to analyzing what the party needs to do, you don’t belong in the position.

            See, right now, the Breitbart and Koz crowd are like the chants at football games calling for the coach to put the backup quarterback in because your team just went three and out. A smart coach tunes out the fools.

          • Rob

            If you heard Jane Mayer talking on NPR recently about the Koch brothers machinations, you’d be clear on how the state houses are mostly red.

          • Will

            The Koch brothers are smart rational people who want to remove all corporate subsidies listen to Charles here:

            If you cared about money in politics you’d complain about Soros first to show you don’t have a political incentive. Hillary raised and spent much more money than Trump.

          • Rob

            I care about the fact that state houses are mostly red; a good trend, it ain’t.

      • wjc

        There needs to be a post-mortem on the Clinton candidacy, but that should be done in-house and not sprayed across the media. The one thing to note is that the presidential election was VERY close, and no basis for all of the mandate talk.

        The DNC chair (whoever it is) needs to focus on a message for the future, not the issues in this past election.

      • Sam M

        Yes it is all quite confusing.

        An example is the Romney deal… at first I thought he was just trying to humiliate him. He may still be doing that but it seems more serious now.

  • MikeB

    A bad interview by Green, as he set the context too narrow or on something that doesn’t really matter right now.

    I think everyone is overstating the impact of the DNC chair. It is mostly behind the scenes, a chair that cannot build the party is a failure but those traits or skills do not come across in canned interviews.

  • Postal Customer

    Not sure if Ellison is the right person at this time.

  • Jerry

    People have to stop acting like the key to a Democratic comeback is capturing the 25% who voted Trump, instead of the 50% who didn’t vote (at least as far as the presidency is concerned).

    • Yeah, and presidents tend to lose popularity once in office so a lot of that work of doing that might be done by the incumbent. So, not really smart right now to establish a strategy with only three weeks of analysis.

  • yesimpayingattn

    That was painful to listen to. I wish David Greene had been as persistent and skeptical of Trump supporters he interviewed throughout the campaign, for instance, asking the family from rural Iowa why their biggest concern was national security and a terrorist attack and thought Trump was the only one who could keep them safe.

    Greene is part of the problem. He’s trying to prove he doesn’t have a liberal bias, apparently, so he is rude and persistent, all in the name of holding Ellison accountable to what? things he did and said 25 years ago? of holding Ellison accountable to having a full, complete explanation of what Hillary did wrong? Is it possible that Hillary didn’t do anything wrong? That she simply wasn’t as capable at manipulating public opinion, appealing to people’s worst instincts, and leading the media and the public around by their noses with every tweet? That no human should have been subjected to the false accusations and vitriol that she was subjected to? Because to fully acknowledge it would have destroyed most of us. For Greene to insist otherwise is callous and arrogant. What did she do wrong? She got up every day and tried her best and in the end, her best wasn’t enough. Not against Trump.

    How about asking the American public what we did wrong? 63 million of us succumbed to the manipulation. 63 million of us put a nose ring in our nose and gave the reins to Donald Trump. 63 million of us abdicated our responsibility as citizens in a democracy to think about the consequences of our actions, to check our answers. How about asking 63 million people what they did wrong? That’s is the question that needs asking. Hillary Clinton did her best. The question those 63 million people need to ask themselves is, did they?

  • Rob

    I started to wonder if the frequencies got crossed, and Ellison was being interviewed on Fox News, not on NPR.

  • Update: Ellison posted his vision today.