In the media furor surrounding President Trump’s appalling, spiteful decision to pardon professional torturer Joe Arpaio, one angle has been sadly neglected: Can this somehow be used to relitigate the 2016 Democratic primary? Fortunately, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman was on the case. After Bernie Sanders tweeted the relatively uncontroversial point that Trump—Trump!—was “on the side of racism and discrimination,” Haberman was there to cry hypocrisy:
If the idea of Jane Sanders endorsing America’s Most Racist Cop seems a little unlikely to you, you have a better nose for fake news than many of Haberman’s Twitter followers. While Haberman’s tweet—which seems carefully crafted to be technically factual while falsely implying that Bernie Sanders and Joe Arpaio were somehow simpatico—had a pretty respectable replies-to-retweets ratio of 1.33 at this writing, meaning a lot of people are pointing out it was nonsense, it is also attracting credulous responses like “Far too many Berniebros ignored that he ran a pretty racist campaign.” So before Jane Sanders’ love of Sheriff Joe joins the fake news hall of fame, it’s worth pointing out how disingenuous Haberman’s tweet is. It is true that “Jane Sanders appeared w Joe Arpaio,” but only in the same sense it that is true that Hillary Clinton appeared publicly—more than once!—with Donald Trump.
In fact, far from the meet-and-greet Haberman implies, Jane Sanders was looking at Arpaio’s infamous Tent City—an outdoor prison where the temperatures hit 130 degrees in the summer—from outside the fences at the behest of immigration rights group Puente Arizona. Arpaio, sensing a publicity opportunity, ambushed her and offered her a tour. She accepted—and maybe she shouldn’t have—but their conversation wasn’t particularly friendly:
Sanders: You feel that this is humane, the way that you …
Arpaio: Yeah, it’s about 130 degrees during the summer.
Sanders: Well, let me ask you this …
Arpaio: And 135 degrees in Iraq.
Sanders: Yeah, well …
Arpaio: So, what’s wrong with that?
Sanders: Well, the jails are supposed to treat our people humanely.
Arpaio: I haven’t had any problem!
Within days, at a rally in Phoenix, Bernie Sanders called Arpaio a bully and described his wife’s encounter with him like this:
She asked him about racial profiling and he didn’t have an answer. She asked him about conditions in Tent City and other abuses that he has perpetuated, and he didn’t have an answer. You know what, he cannot have an answer, because what he is doing is un-American and uncivilized.
If you’re feeling ungenerous, in the context of the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders’ repudiation of Arpaio could be interpreted as a calculated defense of his wife in the wake of a campaign misstep. The Clinton camp certainly tried to spin it that way: In a statement to Bloomberg, Clinton surrogate and Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez excoriated Jane Sanders for missing “a chance to tell Arpaio to his face that he was wrong and that he needed to resign,” and there’s a real case to be made that Jane Sanders should not have given Arpaio a platform, or should have been better prepared before engaging with him. But these facts seem well-established:
- Jane Sanders did not plan in advance to appear with, meet with, or confront Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
- When Arpaio approached her, she asked pointed questions about his inhumane policies.
- Clinton surrogates criticized Jane Sanders after the fact for not confronting Arpaio more effectively.
- Within days, Bernie Sanders spent the bulk of a rally in Arizona condemning Arpaio’s reign of terror.
How do I know Haberman’s tweet omited vital context about Jane Sanders’ encounter with Sherif Joe to imply that leftists like Sanders are secretly allied with white supremacist scofflaws like Joe Arpaio? I read about it in the New York Times.
Update, Aug. 26, 2017: Maggie Haberman has clarified on Twitter that her comments were “clumsily phrased but not ill intended.”
Although there don’t seem to be any “later tweets” by Haberman herself addressing the issue, she retweeted Dave Weigel of the Washington Post, who provided a link to the Phoenix New Times’ coverage of Jane Sanders’ encounter with Arpaio with further context:
Haberman also retweeted Twitter user @nycsouthpaw, who made the point that the incident was reported very differently locally than nationally, thanks in part to spin from the Clinton campaign: