Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, is under fire for her angry response to Sen. Ted Cruz quoting Frederick Douglass. Cruz was responding to a quote posted by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and posted a link to the whole speech from Douglass. Rather than disagree with Cruz’ point that Douglass was not (as suggested by Kaepernick) against the Fourth of July, Gay lashed out to Cruz, a conservative Republican even uttering his name. Cruz declared the Civil War-era abolitionist’s “name has no business in your mouth.”Cruz and others responded that the attack epitomized what they saw as the bias at the New York Times.
It all began with the tweet from Kaepernick, who has been widely denounced for his role in the pulling of sneakers featuring an image of the Betsy Ross flag. Kaepernick saw the 18th century flag image and was deeply offended. As I have written, I am one of those angered by Nike’s decision. Many have vowed never to buy another Nike product. Nike clearly would trash any symbol if it meant greater sales, but it may have miscalculated on this one. It was one thing to embrace Kaepernick in its 2018 ad campaign. This clearly put the company in line with his highly controversial and widely rejected views of the anthem and the flag.
Kaepernick proceeded to double down on the Fourth of July with a tweet of the quote from Douglass:
“‘What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.’ – Frederick Douglass.”
Nike has succeeded in tying himself to Kaepernick’s rejection of not just the Betsy Ross flag but the Fourth.
Cruz tweeted a fair and reasoned response that the line was taken out of context. One can disagree with the view but it was a civil and substantive response:
“You quote a mighty and historic speech by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but, without context, many modern readers will misunderstand. Two critical points: This speech was given in 1852, before the Civil War, when the abomination of slavery still existed. Thanks to Douglass and so many other heroes, we ended that grotesque evil and have made enormous strides to protecting the civil rights of everybody.
Douglass was not anti-American; he was, rightly and passionately, anti-slavery. Indeed, he concluded the speech as follows: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably, work the downfall of slavery. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from ‘the Declaration of Independence,’ the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
Rather than respond to the substance of the criticism, Gay opted for a personal attack: “Frederick Douglass is an American hero, and his name has no business in your mouth.”
Cruz responded “You respond to any view you don’t like, not with facts or reason, but w/ ad hominem attack. And you seem dismayed that I linked to Douglass’s entire speech, so readers can judge for themselves. You represent your employer well.”
It is important to note that Gay is not a journalist but editorial writer. I would not focus on this conflict if Cruz’ original tweet was not so civil or substantive. Such rare exchanges should be welcomed in our increasingly poisonous and superficial discourse. Instead, Gay suggested that, while Kaepernick could invoke Douglass, a conservative like Cruz could not even utter his name in response. Why is this an acceptable form of political or legal discourse?