As East Coasters are occasionally wont to do, New York Times congressional editor Jonathan Weisman appears to see the Midwest as a series of Norman Rockwell paintings, filled with a delightful ensemble of rubes and bumpkins.
The problem is that when you play with such stereotypes, they have a way of coming back to bite you.
Our saga begins where wayward firestorms are prone to igniting: Twitter. Former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, among the centrists worried about the Democratic Party's march toward things like Medicare-for-All, said on MSNBC that “Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.”
It wasn't exactly correct. Midwesterners very much enjoy free stuff. Like Medicare. Or Medicaid. Or Social Security. Or the $25 billion in welfare Donald Trump has shoveled to farmers since last fall, hoping to buy off hostility over his Chinese trade war.
None of this is technically free – in the same way Medicare-for-All isn't – but you get the picture. Yet McCaskill was right about one thing: A sizable faction of Midwesterners don't like certain kinds of free stuff. Mainly the kind that goes to other people.
Under this theory, Democrats can't retake the presidency unless they break the Republican grip on the People Who Don't Much Care About Other People demographic.
Waleed Shahid, a strategist for Justice Democrats, was quick to tweet, noting our aforementioned fondness for free stuff, while adding that two of Medicare-for-All biggest proponents, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), are also from the Midwest.
This is where Weisman left the rails:
It was a weird notion, geographically speaking. But Weisman was trying to make the greater point that you can't be this liberal and from the Midwest at the same time. Or that our largest population centers don't actually represent the population. Or something.
The blowback was quick and fierce, causing Weisman to soon backpedal. “Earlier this morning I tried to make a point about regional differences in politics between urban and rural areas. I deleted the tweets because I realize I did not adequately make my point.”
This did nothing to soothe the horde. They sensed a casual racism to the whole affair, since three of the Congress members mentioned are black, and two are Muslim. Weisman seemed to be asserting that, coupled with progressive ideas, such people automatically lose their Flyover Country residency card.
“Dude, your tweet could’ve been Tucker Carlson’s opening monologue tonight,” wrote one respondent.
“Sean Hannity throws a fit that he didn't think of it first,” added another.
“David Duke masturbated to it,” wrote yet another.
The Root was a tad more to the point, headlining a story: “Please allow Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times to teach you about white supremacy.”
When you're America's greatest newspaper, none of this will do. Weisman is the Times' congressional editor, after all, charged with bringing nuance and understanding to the freak show that is American politics. If your views of huge swaths of the country are as wooden as Laura Ingram's, it will not be good for business.
So Weisman was demoted and barred from social media.
"Jonathan Weisman met with [Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet] today and apologized for his recent serious lapses in judgment,” wrote the Times in a statement. “As a consequence of his actions, he has been demoted and will no longer be overseeing the team that covers Congress or be active on social media. We don't typically discuss personnel matters but we're doing so in this instance with Jonathan's knowledge.”
Weisman was equally contrite: “I accept Dean’s judgment. I think he’s right to do what he’s doing. I embarrassed the newspaper, and he had to act.”
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