Matt Lewis

‘Think Progress’ Misinterprets My Herman Cain Post

The liberal site Think Progress has linked to my post about Herman Cain’s childhood in segregated Atlanta.  And while I’m always happy for links (okay, they never actually linked to my story) — they have misinterpreted some of Cain’s remarks to me.

Here’s what Think Progress wrote:

Cain’s tone-deaf attitude to bigotry is unfortunately nothing new. The candidate and conservative icon recently recounted a story to The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis where, when he was young, his mother warned his brother and him to only drink from the water fountain reserved for African Americans, a vestige of white racism. Lewis asked Cain what he learned from that experience, and Cain said, “We looked at each other and said, the water tastes the same! What’s the big deal?

Based on the first sentence of that graph, it is clear to me that Think Progress (and, in fairness, they apparently got this idea from someone at Salon) has misinterpreted Cain’s remarks as an endorsement of segregation.

When Cain (who was recalling what he said as a little boy, mind you) recounted saying, “What’s the big deal?”, it was clear to me he was mocking the very institution of segregation, essentially observing that society had created a ridiculous policy of discrimination, which, at the end of the day, was utterly pointless and arbitrary.  (All this fuss, and the water tastes the same!)

Without explaining my interpretation, I went back and asked Cain’s press person for her interpretation of Cain’s remarks.  Unknowingly, she confirmed her interpretation essentially matched mine.

Of course, it could be that, as a writer, I simply failed to do my job of thoroughly explaining what was clear to me at the time (and within the context of our conversation) that Cain meant.  And honestly, the notion that anyone would think a black man who grew up under Jim Crow might be an apologist for racism, never occurred to me.

Or it could be that Cain’s remarks serve as a sort of Rorschach test, whereby ones interpretation of Cain’s remarks says more about their world view than his.

Either way, I wanted to set the record straight.

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  • esby

    It’s not clear what Cain meant. I think as a writer, Matt could have put a sentence clarifying Cain’s remarks. But from a journalistic standpoint, TP should have called Matt just like Matt called Cain’s office to clarify.

    I think Cain’s being nervous about his heart surgeon being Muslim is ridiculous. What was he, some kind of Angel of Mercy trying to kill infidels as inefficiently as possible?

    • esby

      Okay, not heart, some kind of cancer surgery.

  • RosiesSeeingRed

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the left perpetuates the divide between black and white for their own agenda. The rest of us have moved on, which is why when we read Herman Cain’s words, we understand it’s about the absurdity of separate water fountains, because we actually think it’s absurd.

    We all view things from where we’re at. Think Progress’s interpretation is very telling… it tells you where they’re at, don’t you think?

  • Matt Lewis

    I hope it was a mistake on their part. Let’s see if they revise their post (not holding my breath)…

  • wte9

    You’re being charitable. There was never any confusion. It was clear what Cain meant because if TP had bothered to link the story their readers would have known it was implied the two children were disobeying their mother to find out WHY there was a difference between the two fountains.

    His quote was clearly referring to his discovery/epiphany that the segregation of the fountains had nothing to do with what was in the fountains as he childishly assumed. Instead, he found out black water was identical and every bit as good as white water, leading him to realize that segregation was, as you said, arbitrary.

    There is no way given the context to arrive at their construction. Which either means they were sloppy and drew the wrong conclusion or they let their dislike of the man color their interpretation.