Cross posted to the MRC's NewsBusters blog
Over the past week, as journalists and liberal commentators have been fixated on the timing and location of President Donald Trump's campaign rally on Juneteenth weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they have again been peddling the debunked myth that President Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Neshoba County, in an effort to appeal to Southern white racism.
Citing the fact that Tulsa was a city where a horrific mass murder of black residents occurred in 1921 at the hands of a white mob, a number of figures on MSNBC have likened the Trump rally to Reagan's 1980 campaign event.
On Friday evening as she was fill-in host for the 7:00 p.m. Eastern time slot, MSNBC's Joy Reid recalled:
He goes to Philadelphia, Mississippi -- the same place where those three civil rights workers were murdered -- he goes there in 1980 to kick off his campaign. … And he talks about believing in states' rights. "I believe in states' rights." He rallies to this all-white crowd...
On the same evening on The Beat with Ari Melber, MSNBC correspondent Trymaine Lee agreed with Brittney Cooper of Rutgers University after she railed against Reagan over his Neshoba County speech:
BRITTNEY COOPER, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: This is actually part of a more recent Republican playbook that when you want to tell your base that you are not on board with African American freedom movements, you go to a place that is significant for the struggle for black freedom and civil rights and then you declare things that are absolutely opposite and antithetical to that.
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Brittney is always so eloquent and forceful and spot on everything she said.
Also on Friday's Amanpour & Co., PBS host Christiane Amanpour allowed Columbia University's Eric Foner to repeat the Reagan smear.
But the myth that Reagan began his campaign at a site where civil rights activists were murdered so he could appeal to white racists is wrapped in several falsehoods.
First, liberals try to hype the timing of the August 3, 1980, speech by claiming that this was either where Reagan announced his candidacy for President, or that it was his first appearance after the Republican National Convention -- neither of which is true. The Gipper announced his presidential campaign in November 1979 in New York City, and his Neshoba County appearance came after several other campaign stops in the aftermath of the July convention, so it wasn't even the beginning of the general election campaign.
Secondly, rather than being held at a location that was just known for being near an infamous murder scene, the speech was held at the biggest public event in the state, the Neshoba County Fair, which was the best place to get exposure to voters from all over Mississippi at a time when the state was more competitive in presidential elections. In fact, Democrats John Glenn and Michael Dukakis also campaigned at the state fair years later as they ran for President.
Third, Reagan's speech did not deal with racial or civil rights issues, but, in fact, was focused on the federal government dictating to state governments on economic and education issues. This was consistent with his previous history of speaking in favor of "states' rights" while complaining that the federal government collects too much tax revenue from the states and then only gives it back with strings attached.
And, contrary to how journalists tried to spin it, Reagan's use of the term "states' rights" was not a phrase he only uttered near Southern whites when, in fact, he had a documented history of sometimes using the expression in other venues that would have reached plenty of non-Southerners as well.
On February 28, 1980, he used the term during one of the Republican presidential debates that, according to moderator Jim Lehrer, was being broadcast on PBS stations not only in South Carolina, but was "also being carried elsewhere in the country on many station members of the Public Broadcasting Service."
Liberal columnists William Raspberry and Jack Germond took part in moderating the debate, but there's no sign that any journalists took notice of Reagan's use of the phrase "states' rights" as he answered a question about whether states should be able to refuse to accept nuclear waste (according to the Nexis transcript): "While I'm a believer in states' rights, I have to recognize that there are many states that actually do not have the terrain or do not have the places that would be proper storage places for that waste."
Earlier in the debate, the candidates were notably invited to make a pitch for the votes of black South Carolinians, leading Reagan to boast about his history of appointing minorities when he was governor of California.
And, as far back as 1967, then-Governor Reagan discussed the issue of "states' rights" with conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr., on the syndicated show, Firing Line, which at the time was mostly seen in New York.
What makes so brazen the effort by liberals to twist Reagan's harmless speech into a racist one is the fact that then-Democratic President Jimmy Carter himself made a campaign appearance with actual segregationists on Labor Day as he shared a stage with former Alabama Governor George Wallace, former Alabama Senator John Sparkman, and former Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
Eastland, of particular note, had notoriously dismissed the disappearance of murder victims James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner as a "publicity stunt" after they were first reported missing in Mississippi while he was a U.S. Senator in 1964.
So the fact that President Carter would have appeared on stage with such prominent characters at a time when he and other liberals were accusing his opponent of embracing racism is akin to campaigning in a glass house.
Below are recent examples of media figures peddling the myth of Reagan's Philadelphia speech: