The Christian Broadcasting Network's Paul Strand revived a dubious allegation advanced by conservatives -- that as a racial insult, Democrats threw Oreo cookies at then-candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele at a September 26, 2002, debate. Steele is now running for the U.S. Senate. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, this allegation is disputed by eyewitnesses to the debate. Steele himself has offered differing versions of what occurred during that debate.
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On the February 10 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's (CBN) The 700 Club, Washington senior correspondent Paul Strand revived a dubious allegation advanced by conservatives -- that as a racial insult, Democrats threw Oreo cookies at then-candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele at a September 26, 2002, debate. Steele is now running for the U.S. Senate. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, this allegation remains unproven and is disputed by eyewitnesses to the debate at which the incident is alleged to have taken place. In initial news reports on the debate, eyewitnesses made no mention of Oreo cookies. In fact, the alleged story of the Oreo incident has evolved over time, originating well after the debate as a partisan talking point advanced by Steele's Republican allies and gradually gaining traction in the media. Moreover, in affirming the accounts of the alleged Oreo incident put forth by other conservatives, Steele himself has offered varying accounts of what occurred at the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial debate.
News accounts have referenced the alleged Oreo cookie incident as a racial slur of Steele, an African American conservative. In that context, Oreos represent, as the website of Washington, D.C., radio station WTOP noted, a "slur for being black on the outside and white on the inside." During a segment on four African American Republicans currently running for political office, Strand echoed reports of this alleged racial slur.
From the February 10 edition of the CBN's The 700 Club:
STRAND: Michael Steele is the only one of these four who's actually been hassled for being both African American and Republican. Some Maryland Democrats have thrown Oreo cookies at him, accusing him of being black on the outside but white on the inside. He says he's ignoring the noise to stay focused on his dream.
Steele himself has repeatedly referenced the alleged Oreo cookie incident in media interviews, affirming the allegations put forth by other conservatives. For instance, on the January 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity asked Steele to "tell the story of how you were attacked, and at different events, and who do you think was responsible? They were throwing Oreo cookies at you and the like." Steele replied, "Exactly," elaborating that "Oreo cookies went at our debate [sic] in 2002, with Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.], were tossed in our direction."
In fact, Steele has offered various accounts of what transpired at the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial debate. The Baltimore Sun reported November 13, 2005, that "Steele was quoted in two articles that appeared in the [September 27, 2002] newspaper talking about the pro-[Democrat Kathleen Kennedy] Townsend crowd [at the debate] and what he called race-baiting by her campaign, but he said nothing about cookies." Yet, according to a November 22, 2002, report by the Capital News Service, Steele later "said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate [emphasis added]." The Associated Press reported on November 14, 2005, that according to Steele, "Oreo cookies were tossed in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University [emphasis added]," including two that "rolled up" next to his shoe after "[t]hey fell on the floor." According to a November 15, 2005, article on WTOP's website, Steele claimed he had seen "one or two" Oreo cookies "at my feet" at the debate. But the same WTOP article quoted Steele saying that other accounts of the alleged incident -- such as The Washington Times' S.A. Miller's November 2, 2005, description of Democrats "pelting" Steele with cookies -- were exaggerated:
On Tuesday, Steele told WTOP that he was never hit with Oreos and said the incident has been exaggerated.
"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," Steele said.
During a November 16, 2005, appearance on Hannity & Colmes, Steele replied affirmatively when Hannity asserted that liberals had thrown Oreo cookies at him, although neither Steele nor Hannity specifically referenced the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial debate. Steele's January 18 description of Oreo cookies being "tossed in our direction" at the debate was similar to his November 16, 2005, account, but differed from descriptions he offered previously, which mentioned, alternately, no cookies at all, a single cookie rolling to his feet during the debate, multiple cookies tossed in his direction and rolling up next to his shoe as he left the debate, or "one or two" cookies appearing at his feet at the debate.
From the January 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: Can you give us a status report on that and tell the story of how you were attacked, and at different events, and who do you think was responsible? They were throwing Oreo cookies at you and the like.
STEELE: Exactly. The long and short of it is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, is still looking into this matter, with respect to the theft of my Social Security number from court documents and, ultimately, the theft of my credit report by two individuals from the Democratic Senatorial Committee that's headed up by Senator [Chuck] Schumer [D-NY].
So, they're still looking into that. Those employees were fired some 30 or 45 days after the fact was leaked out that this had occurred. But my experience in Maryland running statewide, you know, there was -- there are any number of folks, Democrats and others, who felt that --
HANNITY: Let me --
STEELE: -- "Well, this guy is a threat." And, you know, Oreo cookies went at our debate [sic] in 2002, with Governor Ehrlich, were tossed in our direction.
HANNITY: Let me ask you this.
STEELE: Those types of things are just ignorant.
HANNITY: It is ignorant, and it's sad that, in this day and age, that that happened. There is a reverse racism out there, Michael, and you've suffered under this.
STEELE: Yep. Yep.
HANNITY: And I've had friends of mine that have suffered there. Their only fault is they are conservative and they happen to be an African American. It's disgraceful.