Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat who represents the Valley, has become a Fox News star because he doesn't watch enough Fox News or read right wing blogs that have gone absolutely blotto about a 2008 voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party.
The awesome spectacle begins with Sherman at a town hall in Reseda — why again do Democrats keep agreeing to these ambushes? — when a woman asks Sherman about the Black Panther case and the Justice Department's new policy of not prosecuting African-American defendants if the victim of the crime is white. Yeah, we didn't realize that was the new DOJ policy either.
Sherman responds: “I am extremely sure we do not have a policy at the Department of Justice of never prosecuting a black defendant if the victim is white.”
Someone in the crowd screams: “Yes you do!”
Then Sherman continues: “I'm sure it may say that somewhere on the Internet but that doesn't it means it's true.”
Finally, “As to the Black Panther Party, I'm simply not aware of that case.”
The nerve of this character. If he had been one of the one-half of one percent of Americans who watched Fox News in prime time recently — data comes from Mediaite — then he'd know all about it! Fox News ratings are surpassed on cable by only USA and TNT, meaning “Law and Order” reruns.
But apparently he doesn't watch Fox News, so he was in the dark. To prove it, his office put out a statement detailing his ignorance: His office had received no phone calls, letters or faxes about the case, and one email the day before the town hall. The story, Sherman's office added, received no coverage in the Economist, Newsweek, National Journal, L.A. Daily News or The Los Angeles Times, though the Times had one op-ed piece Sherman must have missed. (The Economist?! He's reading foreign media — just as we suspected!)
In a telephone interview, Sherman, a tax lawyer and accountant who looks and sounds the part, said he's calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to re-open the New Black Panther Party case.
Before we continue, you may be asking: What case? The Black Panthers are back in business? They're intimidating voters? Huh?
Newsweek had a good rundown Wednesday, calling it the “new Acorn.”
In 2008, a lone white voter reported he had encountered two black men dressed all in black, one carrying a nightstick, at his Philadelphia polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood. The armed man was escorted away by police, and no one reported the incident to the local district attorney.
The Bush administration determined there wasn't evidence or cause for criminal penalties but sued the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation.
In May 2009, Justice obtained an injunction against King Samir Shabazz, the guy with the nightstick, essentially preventing him from carrying a nightstick around polling stations, and then dropped the suit against the New Black Panther Party (which, by the way, feuds with the old Black Panthers. Whatever.)
The Commission on Civil Rights, which is now packed with Bush appointees, took up the case. A Bush DOJ appointee, J. Christian Adams, said Justice's voting division avoided bringing cases where defendants were black and plaintiffs were white. (That's where the allegation from the woman at the Sherman town hall comes from.) But his testimony was shaky. He's not some career DOJ lawyer. He's a political hack — last year he attacked Obama in the pages of the conservative American Spectator, comparing him to 1930s Nazi appeasers. And his testimony was second-hand.
Anyway, if this all sounds like much ado about nothing, you're not alone. What kind of voter intimidation was it, anyway? As Sherman notes, “In what universe do Democrats try to suppress the vote in south Philly?”
So what's his takeaway from his new-found Fox stardom?
“It shows first, that we tend to live in different worlds,” Sherman said. “There's a world of Fox News in which a different reality exists. They're disdainful of other media, and they think they're the center of the universe. The fact is, prior to that town hall, I'd gotten zero letters, zero faxes and one email about the case. The idea that this was a difficult question that I was evading is insane.”
He called Fox “weasels” for truncating the statement he put out to make him look even worse.
Sherman reiterated his call for Holder to re-open the case, but added that Holder also should re-open voter intimidation cases dropped by the Bush administration. He cited the case of Roy Warden, who was at a Tuscon, Ariz., polling place in 2006 with a gun strapped to his side allegedly questioning voters to see if they spoke English. Never heard of it? Fox is less interested in that story.
Sherman said he'd talked to colleagues about the case, and their response offers a disturbing and revealing account of how polarized our political and media landscape are. All the Republicans knew about the Black Panther case, while all his Democratic colleagues — save the one who represents the district where the incident happened — were ignorant of it.
Those Democrats must have been watching “Law and Order” reruns.
UPDATE: In addition to video of the town hall below, a commenter points to the video of the intimidation. See it here.