National civil rights and racial justice organizations laid into CNN on Thursday for going silent in response to senior political commentator Rick Santorum’s racist and inaccurate comments about Native Americans.
Santorum, a former Republican senator and presidential candidate, sparked outrage last week after claiming that there was “nothing” in America before white colonizers arrived and that Native American people haven’t contributed much to American culture, anyway.
“We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here,” he told students during remarks at a Young America’s Foundation event late last month. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”
Indigenous-led groups have been demanding that CNN fire its senior commentator since footage of his remarks surfaced last week. But network executives have gone silent, and on Monday night, Santorum was back on CNN as a guest on Chris Cuomo’s show.
On Thursday, organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Congress of American Indians said in a joint statement that it’s bad enough that Santorum is “using classic white supremacist rhetoric” to erase the contributions of Native Americans to the country.
“But even worse are the great lengths to which CNN, a mainstream media platform tasked with the pursuit of truth and reporting on the facts, has gone to cover for this kind of blatant racist propaganda,” said the groups.
“By failing to denounce these comments, CNN intrinsically ties itself to a blatantly racist commentator,” they said. “[W]e call on CNN to take immediate and swift action, including immediately denouncing these remarks, issuing a written apology to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, cutting ties with Rick Santorum, training and educating reporters and pundits on American Indian and Alaska Native culture, white supremacy and anti-racism, and encouraging reporting on race in a responsible and equitable way.”
Other organizations backing the statement include the National Urban League, Advancement Project National Office, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Demos, Faith in Action, Race Forward and UnidosUS.
Here’s their full statement:
Rick Santorum, a former GOP Senator from Pennsylvania, Republican presidential candidate and senior CNN political commentator, recently made racist remarks at a conservative youth conference that perpetuate the systemic erasure against the influences of indigenous peoples in the United States from their contributions – past, present and future. Mr. Santorum asserted that “We birthed a nation from nothing. . . . I mean, yes we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.” To the contrary, Native American culture is quintessentially American culture.
These remarks are a gross attempt to play revisionist historian using classic white supremacist rhetoric, and is the exact type of dangerous manipulation we have come to expect from extremists and fringe outlets. But even worse are the great lengths to which CNN, a mainstream media platform tasked with the pursuit of truth and reporting on the facts, has gone to cover for this kind of blatant racist propaganda. It is these kinds of lies, fueled by outright racism, that continue to empower hate groups and white nationalists to commit acts of terror, including storming the Capitol on January 6th of this year.
It is bad enough that a one-time presidential candidate and former Senator is willing to promote false narratives for political gain. But to essentially justify the murder of millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives and the taking of their lands, and in the process erase their legacies and co-opt their countless and enduring contributions and influence, in the name of “Judeo-Christian” values is nothing short of repulsive.
Mr. Santorum’s remarks are not only factually incorrect but they continue the erasure of Native Americans contributions to this country. Today, there are 574 federally-recognized tribes and many more state-recognized tribes with a population of over 8 million. Santorum’s inflammatory remarks dismiss each of the Tribal Nations who previously occupied the very state he represented as a member of Congress: Susquehannock, Erie, Lenape, Iroquois, Munsee, and Shawnee of Pennsylvania. In fact, it is because of our government’s aggressive and genocidal American Indian and Alaska Native removal campaigns that there are currently no federally recognized Tribal Nations in Pennsylvania.
After these remarks, CNN, a major media outlet which utilizes Mr. Santorum as a contributor made no comment, and its silence is deafening. By failing to denounce these comments, CNN intrinsically ties itself to a blatantly racist commentator. And, this is not the first time that CNN has outright refused to recognize and be inclusive of American Indians and Alaska Natives. In its live Election Night coverage in November, CNN, while listing white, black, Latino and Asian voters, labeled American Indian and Alaska Native voters as “something else.” When asked to issue an apology for that discriminatory coverage, CNN refused.
It is the denial of our government’s violent history by influential voices like Santorum, combined with the silence and complicity of media outlets like CNN, that continues to provide fodder for racists and extremists alike.
Particularly because of its continuing erasure and racism against Native Americans, we call on CNN to take immediate and swift action, including immediately denouncing these remarks, issuing a written apology to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, cutting ties with Rick Santorum, training and educating reporters and pundits on American Indian and Alaska Native culture, white supremacy and anti-racism, and encouraging reporting on race in a responsible and equitable way. The media holds enormous power and responsibility in the creation of American discourse on race; our very democracy relies on CNN rooting this discourse in racial justice values that promote the safety and wellbeing of everyone.
During his Monday appearance on CNN, Santorum said he “misspoke” when he made his comments about Native Americans, and that they were “out of context.”
But the context of his remarks was simply that he said them.
Tribal leaders are taking aim at Santorum and CNN now, too. On Thursday, Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels said the former Republican senator’s “non-apology” is a joke and that the network must fire him.
“It begs credulity for Mr. Santorum to claim that he ‘misspoke’ by saying that ‘there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture’ ― a claim that is not only woefully ignorant but also flat-out racist,” Pagels said in a statement. “It is long past time for CNN to break its silence and cut ties with Mr. Santorum, who should deliver a full and public apology to all Indigenous people.”
Pagels said Santorum’s comments are “particularly belittling and offensive” for him because he is a member of the Iroquois Confederacy, whose political system heavily influenced the foundation of the United States and its system of representative democracy. Many of the Iroquois Confederacy’s principles were incorporated into what would become the U.S. Constitution ― a fact honored by a 1988 resolution in the U.S. Senate, where Santorum served for 12 years.
“Mr. Santorum would perhaps be aware of this critical historical fact if it weren’t for the widespread lack of understanding and recognition of the deep and abiding cultural, economic, and historical contributions of Indigenous people that is a direct result of a failed public education system,” said Pagels.
Like the three other times HuffPost has reached out, CNN did not respond to a request for comment on whether it plans to cut ties with Santorum.
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