Exclusive: Politico’s Joe Williams paraded political bias on Twitter
Politico, a Virginia-based newspaper that covers politics at the national level, says it is “the essential print and online destination for coverage and analysis of Congress, the White House, politics and lobbying.” But a review of the Twitter activity of Joe Williams, the outlet’s White House correspondent, reveals a Democratic partisan obsessed with race and harboring the strong biases usually associated with columnists and bloggers.
White House correspondents cover the president and his officials, and are expected to press administration officials at all levels without compromising their objectivity. But on Twitter, Williams revealed his own riveting point of view by attacking Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly as a racist, slamming Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a wealthy and uncaring elitist, and alleging that Republicans in general dislike blacks.
Sometime after 2:00 a.m. on June 22 — less than 12 hours after Politico suspended him — Williams closed his Twitter feed to the public, turning it into a private message board for 847 people who follow him there. His current tweeting is hidden from public view, but The Daily Caller has obtained a complete transcript of his Twitter activity during the 160 days leading up to his suspension. (RELATED: Suspended reporter tweeted: Racism ‘secret sauce in the Politico shitburger’)
Politico suspended Williams shortly after he said on MSNBC that Romney appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” show because he was “more comfortable with … white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.”
Pot shots at prominent conservatives
At the height of the national controversy over the Trayvon Martin shooting, self-described “Dog Lovers for Obama” activist Donna West tweeted an observation on March 26 that Fox’s Bill O’Reilly had “join[ed] Geraldo Rivera to support a no-hoodie dress code” on his show’s set. “[U]nless hoodie is white, pointy, & has eye holes,” Williams responded.
Weeks earlier, on March 8, Williams ridiculed the media organization left behind by the late conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart. Replying to frequent CNN and MSNBC contributor Goldie Taylor, who asked, “Where is Archie Bunker when you need him? #meathead,” he responded: “[H]e works for Breitbart Media.”
Breitbart died one week earlier. Archie Bunker was the irascible and bigoted leading character on the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family.”
Williams agreed on May 21 with a Think Progress Economy tweet that called conservative documentary filmmaker “James O’Keefe’s Latest Video A Fraud,” tweeting “Also: Pope wears unusual headgear, bear defecates in forest.” Think Progress later deleted its tweet, but Williams kept his.
And when right-wing rocker Ted Nugent said publicly on April 17 that “If Obama is re-elected, I will either be dead or in jail,” comedienne Elayne Boosler tweeted that his comment was “[A]nother reason to vote.”
“[A]nd I vote for Option #1,” Williams responded.
The Politico reporter’s tweets also carried plainspoken approval of the president he covered in the White House, and an advocate’s positive spin on his re-election effort. (RELATED: TheDC’s complete coverage of Williamsgate)
Among the final stories Williams wrote for Politico was a May 9 analysis of African-American voters’ views on gay marriage. The article appeared online the same day President Obama announced his support for gay and lesbian couples who want to marry.
“[H]ow do you think it’ll play out in Nov. if he full-out supports it?” one reader asked via Twitter.
“I think it’s all good,” Williams tweeted back, “gays, youth energized; campaign now has a buzz it didn’t before; Mitt [Romney] looks flatter.”
Three minutes later, he expanded his Obama-friendly assessment: “[H]ope & change have returned.” The “downside,” he said, would be that “pple [people] who hate POTUS [the president] will continue; cons [conservatives] may B[e] fired up, but were already.”
So the president’s gay marriage decision, he wrote, was a “net pos [positive].”
Williams went further on June 5, lapsing into the first person to identify himself directly with the Democratic Party and the president’s re-election effort.
After Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a union labor-driven recall effort that day, fellow Politico reporter Byron Tau tweeted a White House statement that “a race where one side is outspending the other by a ratio of at least 8 to 1 probably won’t tell us much about a future race.”
“[E]xcept that we need more money,” Williams shot back in a tweet.
Williams’s Twitter history also shows him regularly egging on left-leaning reporters and liberal commentators, and treating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s candidate-in-waiting to replace Barack Obama, like a political punching bag.
At the February 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Romney had made headlines on February 10 by insisting that he was “a severely conservative Republican governor” in Massachusetts.
Molly Ball, a politics writer at The Atlantic, quipped on Twitter, “Was it curable?? #cpac.” Williams responded that it was, but “only b/c [because] he had single payer” health insurance.
Mother Jones magazine Washington editor and MSNBC contributor David Corn provided another softball setup for Williams after Romney won the March 20 Illinois Republican primary. “Are you ready to Romney???!!!!!” Corn tweeted, mocking his acceptance speech.
Four hours later, Williams retweeted the message, adding his own snark in the form of rap lyrics. “[T]hrow your hands in the air,” he wrote. “[W]ave ’em like you just don’t care about the underclass.”
Hours later, on March 21, he retweeted essayist Chris Dashiell’s comment that Romney’s “most important selling point won’t change. He’s white.” Williams added that the Republican is also “not a socialist Muslim atheist coming for your guns.”
In some cases, public comments by Romney’s supporters and neutral analysts became fodder for Williams.
Hours after a February 22 GOP presidential primary debate concluded in Arizona, University of Virginia political prognosticator Larry Sabato tweeted his approval of Romney’s performance. “Mit [sic] has the right talking points, studied up, wins forensics contest,” he wrote. “But viewers never see his core, his persona.”
“[I]is there one?” Williams replied.
In another tweet first reported by Breitbart.com, Williams responded to an observation by Romney’s wife Ann, who said his political handlers should “unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out” so Americans could see his humorous side.
“Either Ann Romney meant Mitt is flaccid or that when we ‘unzip him’ we’ll find he’s a d–k,” Williams tweeted.
“Black man’s burden”
Online observations about racial politics were the most common theme in Williams’ Twitter messages about political issues. Two minutes after writing that Romney doesn’t “care about the underclass,” he responded to a tweeted observation about the Florida gun-rights law at the center of the Trayvon Martin controversy.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, tweeted a lawyer identified online only as April, is also known as “the Castle Doctrine: you have a right to protect your castle.” Williams retweeted the comment, adding the words “from some black guy.”
Returning to the Martin case two days later, he tweeted that he had a “Backache from carrying the black man’s burden today. #bornasuspect”
The Daily Caller reported exclusively on June 26 that one of Williams’ tweets accused Politico of injecting race into stories. “What’s most irritating,” he tweeted on March 30, “is the overlay of blatant racism. that’s the secret sauce in the Politico shitburger.”
But Williams used his own Twitter account to inject race into stories that had no racial component. One involved Ric Grenell, an openly gay foreign policy expert who left the Romney campaign after just two weeks on the job, citing the hyper-partisan atmosphere about his personal life.
“Jokes aside,” Foreign Policy magazine columnist Michael Cohen tweeted on May 1, “what a horrendous message sent to gay Americans that a Republican candidate couldn’t keep an openly gay man on his staff.”
“[I]t’s almost as if he were black,” Williams tweeted back.
Many of his tweets about Barack Obama focus on his race, not his policies — specifically about his perception that white Republicans specifically choose not to support the president because he is an African-American.
Frequent Huffington Post contributor Bob Cesca penned a May 8 blog essay titled “To Repeat: President Obama Doesn’t Hate White People.”
After seeing a tweet about the piece on May 18, Williams responded via Twitter. “[I]n the GOP,” he wrote, “it’s vice-versa.”
That same day, former Syracuse University basketball standout Derrick Coleman waded into politics to ask a handful of political journalists, including Williams, about a controversy involving Chicago Cubs owner Joe Rickett’s plan to finance anti-Obama TV ads. The commercials, later scrapped, were to have focused on the president’s relationship with the “black liberation theology” preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
“What are your thought on the Rickett family going against Obama?” the 1990 number-one NBA draft pick tweeted. “Racial?”
None of the message’s other targets responded, including NBC News reporter Chuck Todd, NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray and MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar.
Williams, however, tweeted am all-lower-case reply that Rickett’s move was “absolutely racial. playing on animosity and lingering white fears about the nation’s first black president. ridiculous.”
On occasion, Williams’ race-related discussions on Twitter veered into taunting. Sarah Nelson, a Romney supporter whose Twitter profile cautions that she is “not the Sarah Nelson who works4Romney,” tweeted her belief on June 15 that “People don’t oppose Obama b/c [because] he’s black, it’s b/c [because] he’s a liar who doesn’t blink.”
Williams countered, “[T]hat all you got?”
Afflicting conservatives, comforting liberals
Williams’ Twitter activity showed a marked increase in the frequency of partisan shoves during the two months before his employer suspended him.
Writing for the Detroit News, David Shepardson reported May 15 on a speech in which National Transportation Safety Board Debbie Hersman said 14 percent of licensed drivers in Wisconsin have DUI convictions on their records.
“That is astounding,” Hersman said, according to Shepardson’s tweet later that day.
“[I]t also explains Gov. Walker,” Williams replied in his own tweet.
Liberal writer Don Millard tweeted on May 31 that “stupidity on the Right is so profound, you can’t parody it any more.”
“[N]o shit – that’s frightening,” Williams replied.
And asked by novelist Tayari Jones on June 21 if the “Eric Holder drama” over Operation Fast and Furious was “for real,” Williams replied that it’s “kinda real. But not really. GOP witch hunt. Far from Watergate, despite what you may hear from the GOP.”
“Right-Wing Noise Machine”
Since his ouster from the Politico newsroom, Williams has complained publicly about a witch-hunt of a different kind — one that he has framed as an unjustified attack from a “right-wing noise machine.”
But it was FishBowlDC, a news-industry gossip blog that has historically been friendly to Politico, which broke the news on July 4 that Williams pleaded guilty in May to committing second-degree assault on his ex-wife.
FishbowlDC later reported that Williams tweeted his denial that he was “convicted” of assault, even though he pleaded guilty. “I was not convicted, only accused,” he wrote in response to an Ohio conservative who challenged him. “[T]ypical conservative: light on the facts.”
Politico removed Williams’ photo from its website in the days that followed, and deleted him from a drop-down-menu list of reporters’ names on its main search page. But a June 30 newsroom memo from Politico editor-in-chief John Harris made it clear that the disgraced reporter is still employed.
Williams sent a statement to The Daily Caller on June 5 — from his politico.com email address — claiming that the assault charges to which he pleaded guilty were “wrongfully filed.” He blamed his ex-wife, the victim, for “aggressive behavior” during “a difficult post-divorce relationship.”
That evening he appeared on the Moscow-funded RT television network (formerly Russia Today), complaining that “certain elements of the extreme right” and “radical folks in journalism” were “trying to portray me as a biased, distasteful journalist, although [with] my record over 28 years, you simply can’t make that claim.”
“I think it was much analogous to Anderson Cooper talking about how his sexuality had become an issue and wanted to dispel that,” he said. “That really doesn’t have all that much to do with what he is reporting and how he does his job.”
Despite Williams’ aggressive media tour to re-frame his scandal, he did not respond to emails from The Daily Caller asking whether he believes white Republicans “hate” Barack Obama because of his race. TheDC also asked him if he stood by his characterizations of Bill O’Reilly as a hooded Klansman and Wisconsin voters as drunks.
TheDC provided Politico editor-in-chief John Harris with complete copies of each of Joe Williams’ tweets that appear in this story. He refused to comment about how long ago Politico knew its White House reporter was a partisan supporter of the president he was covering. TheDC also asked Harris if Politico was making any effort to learn if more of its reporters are behaving publicly in ways that indicate a lack of political objectivity.
“Joe Williams is on leave of absence from Politico,” Harris responded, “as part of what he and I mutually agreed is a transition to the next phase in his career. I am not going to weigh in further.”
Williams’ job, at present, is to look for a new one. Politico has made it clear that he will no longer be its White House correspondent. He will also no longer represent the outlet on cable TV networks where he once made multiple weekly appearances.
In one such appearance on the April 29 broadcast of “Hardball,” Williams told host Chris Matthews that President Obama “is quite popular with the people” and “still carries the personal charisma that … took him so far in 2008.”
Moments after the show ended, he tweeted: “Off to drink w/the MSNBC crew.”