I remember hearing the phrase “cotton-picking mind” occasionally on TV growing up and never giving it a second thought. It was a vacuous placeholder for more profane expressions of emphasis that can’t be uttered in polite company. When you’re not allowed to say someone’s out of their “g**damned mind” or, gulp, their “f***ing mind” then you opt for “cotton-picking mind.”
The expression’s fallen out of favor over time for obvious reasons, to the point where it’s now more problematic than the profane variations it was meant to replace. Now and then someone connected to politics will use it in an interview, though, and a new round of “Is This Racist?” will begin. (Here’s one from Politico in 2010. A much more recent example came when an NBA announcer used it in reference to Russell Westbrook.) Increasingly the collective judgment of the political class is that there’s a sufficient likelihood of racist intent in the phrase that it will be presumed racist. Notice is served: Drop it from your vocabulary or accept the consequences.
Bossie didn’t drop it from his vocabulary and so must accept the consequences, even on a “politically incorrect” right-wing network:
David Bossie, the former deputy campaign manager for Donald Trump and current outside adviser to the president, has just been suspended from his contributor gig at Fox News, The Daily Beast has learned.
The suspension lasts two weeks…
[R]eached for comment, the network denounced their contributor: “David Bossie’s comments today were deeply offensive and wholly inappropriate. His remarks do not reflect the sentiments of Fox News and we do not in any way condone them.”
Interestingly, Bossie didn’t protest that his intentions were innocent when an uproar erupted over the weekend. He agrees, it was offensive:
During a heated segment on Fox & Friends today, I should have chosen my words more carefully and never used the offensive phrase that I did. I apologize to Joel Payne, Fox News and its viewers.
— David Bossie (@David_Bossie) June 24, 2018
Also interestingly, Fox News has been quick to slam him despite his advisory role to Trump. Not only did they rebuke him in their statement to the Daily Beast today but Ed Henry called the phrase “offensive” on the air shortly after Bossie said it. He’s gotten no benefit of the doubt from the president’s home-team network that he was simply misunderstood and reached for an unfortunate archaism in the heat of the moment. Why no fight from the fightin’ Trump team over “political correctness” on this one?
Watch the clip below and you’ll see. Not only does Bossie get called out immediately for it by Joel Payne, the entire segment up to that point had involved Payne complaining about racial insensitivity by the White House. To turn around and hit him with “cotton-picking mind” in that context comes off like a deliberate defiant provocative, whether consciously or subconsciously. Fox must have looked at this and thought, “Do we want to go to the mat for a Trump buddy who ended a segment about racial dog whistles with a reference to cotton-picking?” Nah.
What we’re left with, though, is an odd punishment. A two-week suspension for … what, exactly? If Fox thinks Bossie’s choice of words was offensive but innocently intended, i.e. he coughed up an insulting expression absentmindedly without considering why it might be insulting to the other guest, then it seems unfair to suspend him. If they think his choice of words was intentional, that he meant to demean Payne with a reference to slavery, then two weeks isn’t nearly enough. He should be banned straightaway. Two weeks feels like a split-the-baby compromise inspired less by Bossie’s actual offense than by making this go away. To lefty critics, it acknowledges that Bossie did wrong. To righty Trump fans, it shows that it won’t punish a Friend of Donald too harshly.