Bernard Goldberg revived the claim that, in 2002, RNC chairman Michael Steele had Oreo cookies thrown at him. In fact, Steele, then running for Maryland lieutenant governor, Robert Erlich, Steele's then-running mate, and Paul Schurick, Erlich's then-spokesman, have recounted several different -- sometimes contradictory -- versions of the alleged incident. Indeed, in November 2002, Steele reportedly speculated that Oreos allegedly present at the debate may just have been "someone having their snack."
On the February 11 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bernard Goldberg revived the claim that, in 2002, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, an African-American, had Oreo cookies thrown at him. In fact, Steele, who was running for Maryland lieutenant governor at the time of the alleged incident, Robert Erlich, Steele's then-running mate, and Paul Schurick, Erlich's then-spokesman, have recounted several different -- sometimes contradictory -- versions of the alleged incident. Indeed, in November 2002, Steele reportedly speculated that Oreos allegedly present at the debate may just have been "someone having their snack."
Amid attacks against Media Matters for America -- for highlighting Factor host Bill O'Reilly's comparison of Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas to "the Wicked Witch of the East" -- Goldberg claimed that "left-wingers ... didn't say a word when their fellow left-wingers ... threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, because he had the nerve to be a conservative black man."
As Media Matters has noted, the Oreo incident allegedly happened during a September 2002 gubernatorial debate between Republican Ehrlich and Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. However, The Baltimore Sun's initial reporting on the debate did not mention Oreos. According to Nexis, the first media mention of Oreos appearing at the debate came on October 1, 2002, when the Sun reported that Schurick "said Democrats in the audience ... distributed Oreo cookies" at the debate. Subsequently, on October 21, 2002, the Associated Press and the Sun both reported that the day before, Ehrlich had told an audience assembled at a Jewish day school that "Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies" at Steele.
In 2005, when Steele announced his bid for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, Schurick also reportedly claimed cookies were thrown during the debate. The Sun reported in a November 13, 2005, article that Schurick said "he saw people passing out packages of the cookies ... before the debate and that when Steele entered the auditorium about 15 minutes before the start, people let fly with the cookies." The article quoted Schurick saying, "It was raining Oreos. ... They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn't subtle."
However, Schurick's 2005 reported assertion that multiple Oreos were thrown at Steele contradicts what Steele himself has reportedly said about the alleged incident. According to a November 22, 2002, report by the Capital News Service, Steele "said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate" The article quoted Steele saying, "Maybe it was just someone having their snack, but it was there. ... If it happened, shame on them if they are that immature and that threatened by me." The article made no mention of more than one Oreo. Subsequently, according to a November 15, 2005, article on Washington, D.C., radio station WTOP's website, Steele stated: "I've never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them." In an interview for the March 2006 edition of Essence magazine, Steele was quoted as saying that "[t]wo [Oreos] hit my shoes. I looked down, turned to my friend, and said, 'Got milk?' "
Finally, in a March 26, 2006, article, The New York Times reported that, during a speech at Salisbury State University, Steele told the crowd about the alleged incident, saying, "Folks started throwing Oreo cookies at me," and that he told the Times during an interview, "It happened. I was there. O.K.?" The Times further reported of Steele: "He said he did not see the Oreos in the air, but when he got up, noticed them at his feet when he stepped on one and heard a crunching sound."
In its November 13, 2005, article, the Sun reported that several eyewitnesses said they did not see any Oreos during the debate:
"It didn't happen here," said Vander Harris, operations manager of the Murphy Fine Arts Building at Morgan State. "I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown."
Clint Coleman, a spokesman for Morgan State who was at the event, said he saw lots of unseemly behavior but no Oreos.
"There were a lot of things, disturbances, by this group of outsiders who were bent on disrupting the debate," Coleman said. "But I never actually saw Oreo cookies being thrown at him."
As for "raining Oreos," Coleman said, "I can tell you that did not happen."
Neil Duke, who moderated the event for the NAACP, said last week that he didn't see any cookies.
"Were there some goofballs sitting in [the] right-hand corner section tossing cookies amongst themselves and acting like sophomores, as the legend has it?" Duke said. "I have no reason to doubt those sources; I just didn't see it."
Wayne Frazier, president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association said he watched Steele walk into the auditorium that night but saw no Oreos.
"I was there the whole time and did not see any of the so-called Oreo cookie incident," Frazier said. "It could have happened and I didn't see it, but I was in the auditorium from start to finish."
From the February 11 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now, Helen Thomas. We have -- you know, Bernie, I know I'm a mean guy, and -- but what do you think?
GOLDBERG: Let me first say: A man needs a humorless feminist like a fish needs a bicycle, OK? So, that's number one. But it's interesting to me that these left-wingers, who didn't say a word when their fellow left-wingers called George Bush a moron, when they called Dick Cheney a fascist, when they called Sarah Palin a racist, and when they threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, because he had the nerve to be a conservative black man -- they didn't say a word about all of that.
So here's my political analysis -- and feel free to bleep this: Screw them. Screw them. They are unimportant people. They are unimportant people who shouldn't be taken seriously. When you made a good-natured joke -- I very seriously said that Helen Thomas' 15 minutes were up during the Lincoln administration, and you know what? If they want to take shots at me, and if they want to take shots at you, they need to know one thing: They're throwing spitballs at battleships. Bring it.
O'REILLY: But they never -- they never learn. They do it, and then we get a segment at the top and two other segments out of it, everybody sees it, everybody knows how absurd it is. I should send Media Matters a little Valen- -- I sent Helen flowers already -- 'cause I have nothing against them.
GOLDBERG: You should send them flowers. You --
O'REILLY: I just send them --
GOLDBERG: Absolutely. You should send --
O'REILLY: I want to send them a cake, but I want something to be inside the cake, and I might be put in prison if that happens.
GOLDBERG: You should send them flowers -- black, dead roses.
O'REILLY: But they never learn, Bernie.
GOLDBERG: You should send them flowers.
O'REILLY: They're still doing this crap. And the poor lady who came in, who's a very courageous woman, she buys into this nonsense. She doesn't know it's a George Soros-generated, you know, not conspiracy --
GOLDBERG: They're humorless.
O'REILLY: -- but you know what I'm talking about.
GOLDBERG: They're humorless.
O'REILLY: Right. Obviously.
GOLDBERG: Bill, they're humorless, and they're unimportant, and they're unserious.
O'REILLY: All right. We'd love to talk to Tina Fey about satire some time, but I don't expect to see her in.