During CNN’s coverage of Super Tuesday an on air argument broke out between commentator Van Jones and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord. This clip has made the rounds and received attention from at least a dozen media outlets. CNN itself published the video below to highlight it.
The core of Jones’ complaint here involves Trump’s hesitation to denounce David Duke during a recent TV interview. Jones says it was tantamount to “playing funny” with the Klan which he (rightly) calls a terrorist organization.
This issue has been front and center for several days. Van Jones has a point that Trump never seems hesitant or at a loss for words when it comes to denouncing terrorists abroad or the threat of terrorists infiltrating the U.S. (as happened with the wife of the San Bernardino shooter). In a campaign ad released last month, Trump’s stated plan was to cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. That’s the kind of raw response that was clearly lacking when he hemmed and hawed over David Duke with Jake Tapper.
About midway through the argument, Jeffrey Lord finally manages to say that Trump has “made this point over and over and over.” And while Jones’ point about the lack of passion still stands, Trump had previously said he disavowed Duke and has repeated his disavowal several times since, including several times Tuesday night when he was asked about it during his victory speech.
Where Van Jones gets in trouble is trying to blame Trump for the conviction of the group of teens in the Central Park jogger case back in the late 80s. The core of the argument here, which Jones never quite makes, is that Trump took out a full page newspaper ad calling on New York to bring back the death penalty because he was so outraged by the crime:
Mayor [Ed] Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence. Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I am looking to punish them.
It certainly sounds like Trump, but New York did not bring back the death penalty (until several years later) and none of the teens convicted of the crime were executed. However, eventually another man came forward and confessed to the rape of the jogger. His DNA was found to be a match for DNA on the victim. The wrongly convicted individuals were belatedly exonerated. So the essence of the complaint here is that Trump was vocally angry and that enraged the city and caused the police to convict the wrong people. But there’s no direct line between Trump’s anger, which was undoubtedly felt by a lot of people before he said anything in the papers, and the failure by the police to convict the right person.
There’s also a hypocrisy problem here. Has Van Jones ever demanded an apology from Al Sharpton for an even more racially explosive case that took place in the late 80s involving the alleged rape of a black teen by a gang of white KKK members. It all turned out to be a hoax and Sharpton has never apologized for it. To borrow his argument, I don’t see Van Jones showing the same kind of passion when it comes to holding Sharpton responsible.
As for playing footsie with extremists, Jones is right that’s not acceptable but he talks as if he’s not guilty of that himself. In the early 2000s (a lot more recent than the late 80s), Jones produced two albums of leftist agitprop. The first album was narrated by convicted killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Another album espoused anti-police extremism calling police pigs and targets. Has it occured to Jones that such language is irresponsible and offensive to a lot of people? Has Van Jones apologized for it?
Jones has a point about Trump’s lack of passion when talking about the KKK. Trump’s lackadaisical response suggests he needs to read up on the group’s crimes so there’s more feeling in his reply next time the topic comes up. Fair enough. But Jones goes too far when he demands anyone else apologize for playing footsie with extremists. Jones actively promoted and amplified the voices of extremists for years. It’s not clear he has ever denounced any of that.