For the past few weeks, comments and tweets made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN)’s that were said to have evoked anti-Semitic tropes have dominated the news cycle. Of course, Omar is far from the only member of the House to have faced such controversy. The outsize attention she has earned, however, is unique.
Since late 2018, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Steve King (R-IA), and Jim Jordan (R-OH) have all tweeted or said things that were equally controversial, if not more so, than Omar’s remarks. On occasions, they even evoked the same tropes. And yet, television news barely paid attention.
ThinkProgress examined news transcripts of network and cable news shows starting on the day the politician in question made a controversial comment and counted how many segments those news programs devoted to each of them in the weeks following.
Since Omar’s tweet first went viral on February 10, there were 214 media segments about her — 74 segments in response to her “all about the Benjamins” tweet, and 140 in response to her “dual loyalty” comment. In comparison, only a single segment was devoted to Jordan’s anti-Semitic “$teyer” tweet; McCarthy’s “buy this election” tweet was mentioned in eight instances, and King’s promotion of an anti-Semitic white nationalist didn’t merit any attention at all.
On February 10, Omar tweeted a suggestion that pro-Israel organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bought the loyalty of U.S. lawmakers. On that occasion, Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted, “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” In reply, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Following that, Forward editor Batya Ungar-Sargon asked Omar who paid U.S. lawmakers to be pro-Israel, to which she replied, “AIPAC!”
Both Republicans and Democrats swiftly rebuked her, she apologized, and she deleted the tweet. Seventy-four news segments discussed and criticized and analyzed her comments.
A month later, while attending an an event with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in Washington D.C. at Busboys and Poets, Omar said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Many criticized Omar for referring to the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty, and some called for her to be censured or removed from her committee assignments. The House voted on a resolution condemning hatred and bigotry. A one-hundred and forty segment cable news feeding frenzy ensued.
Omar’s colleagues, meanwhile, have used some of the same anti-Semitic tropes, with far less scrutiny in the media.
McCarthy tweeted in late October, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election!” He deleted the tweet a day later. Just one day earlier, law enforcement intercepted a pipe bomb addressed to Soros, a frequent subject of anti-Semitic attacks. The tweet from McCarthy, now the top Republican in the House, was condemned for engaging in anti-Semitic tropes, much in the same way Omar’s “Benjamins” tweet was. Yet McCarthy only endured brief mentions in eight segments on television news, mostly on CNN.
In March, Jordan tweeted a reply to his colleague, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), which contained the phrase, “Jumps to Tom $teyer’s conclusion.” Nadler is Jewish, and Steyer, a major funder of progressive causes, identifies as Episcopalian, though he has some Jewish ancestry. Nadler called the tweet “inane and anti-Semitic,” thanks to the replacement of the “S” with a dollar sign in Steyer’s name.
C’mon @RepJerryNadler—at least pretend to be serious about fact finding.
Nadler feeling the heat big time. Jumps to Tom $teyer’s conclusion—impeaching our President—before first document request.
What a Kangaroo court. https://t.co/BpNIzdON1e
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) March 3, 2019
Jordan’s tweet was briefly mentioned once on MSNBC. It has not been deleted.
In addition, Steve King promoted Faith Goldy, a Canadian white nationalist, on Twitter on March 1. Though this was hardly the first time he promoted an anti-Semitic white nationalist on the platform, he, too, deleted the tweet. Goldy has recited neo-Nazi slogans, appeared on neo-Nazi podcasts, and endorsed books that call for the “elimination of the Jews.” This merited zero mentions on television news programs.
It’s no mystery why these powerful Republican lawmakers’ use of anti-Semitic tropes and promotion of anti-Semites passed under the radar while Omar’s tweets and comments took over the news cycle for weeks. Omar is a freshman lawmaker, part of a new, more diverse wave of Democratic lawmakers elected last November. She is black, Somali-American, and Muslim. McCarthy, King, and Jordan are long-tenured, white, male Republican congressmen.
When asked about King’s racist comments, President Trump replied on January 14, “I haven’t been following it — I really haven’t been following it.
Pres. Trump says he hasn’t been following controversy over Steve King’s “white supremacy” comments, which have drawn increasing criticism from his Republican colleagues. https://t.co/4RIVART0Oy pic.twitter.com/8fmCmZvWvP
— ABC News (@ABC) January 14, 2019
Of the 214 segments about Omar’s comments and tweets, CNN led the way with over half the total, followed by Fox and Fox Business with almost a third, and MSNBC, PBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC with the remainder. Fox’s segments tended to spend more time within each segment on the comments, while other networks’ segments were often shorter.
Omar is not the only freshman Muslim lawmaker receiving more than her share of critical media attention. According to Media Matters, on January 4, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was the subject of 2.5 hours of cable news coverage for being recorded the previous evening saying “Impeach the motherfucker” in reference to Trump. In the 24 hours after King was quoted in the New York Times embracing white supremacy, the cable networks spent less than 30 minutes talking about it.
A note on methodology: ThinkProgress examined news transcripts from Lexis Nexis’ database (and Snapstream when applicable) starting on the day each representative made their comment or tweet. The conversation about Rep. Omar is ongoing, so we conducted the last search on March 12. The basic criteria were the lawmaker’s name mentioned within a hundred words of keywords like “antisemitic” or “Israel” or more specific words related to their unique comments. We eliminated duplicate transcripts and focused on U.S. cable and network news channels.
Research credit: Victoria Fleischer, Katelyn Marmon, and Hai Phan.