Too white for school: WaPo’s silly attack on Nikki Haley

The Washington Post hit Nikki Haley this week with an especially silly bit of opposition research, a hit piece that feels as if it was plucked directly from the paper’s coverage of the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary, and on the heels of new polling that showed Haley performing surprisingly well in a theoretical matchup against President Biden, the former governor reiterated her refusal to drop out and make way for former President Trump’s coronation. That’s around the time when the Post published a 3,500-word news article complaining that the former governor’s high school was too white when she attended in the mid-1980s.

Haley is first generation Indian. She was raised Sikh. Her parents emigrated from India to Canada in 1964 and then moved to South Carolina shortly thereafter.

“At her new high school,” the Post reports, “where the daughter of Indian immigrants was one of the only non-white students, some classmates said in interviews that they weren’t adequately instructed about South Carolina’s history of divisive racial issues — from Jim Crow laws to Ku Klux Klan raids to lynchings.”

What’s notable here — perhaps as notable as the self-defeating fact that Haley’s very presence at the school leans against it being “too white” — is that you’d be hard-pressed to find similar Post coverage of Biden. His high school, Archmere Academy in Delaware, admitted its first-ever black pupil when Biden was a student, then added exactly zero additional black students between then and Biden’s graduation.

For some odd reason, the Post has not found a “some say” to complain of Archmere’s whiteness. What the Post does mention, however, in its ongoing coverage of the president, is that he played football at Archmere. That’s about it. In fact, if you’re looking for anything at all about Achmere’s efforts to integrate, and the fact that Biden’s high school experience included exactly one black person, you’ll have to look beyond the Post. You won’t find anything there; for a Haley-type dive into Biden’s high school years, you’ll have to consult the paid archives.

Even more amusing than the story’s framing and the lack of corresponding coverage for the other side is the headline, which reads, “Haley’s nearly all-white high school lacked lessons of racism, some say.”

Some might say that the “some” in “some say” in that line is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

Most of all, the Haley piece feels like a throwback to the pre-Trump era, back when journalists and editors had to work hard to invent Republican scandals. Back then, the discrepancy between what was considered “problematic” for a Republican was rarely, if ever, considered “problematic” for a Democrat.

In 2012, for example, the Post published an article tying Texas Governor Rick Perry to racist graffiti on a rock. The Perry family purchased a hunting camp where someone had previously scribbled a racist slur on a large, flat stone situated near the camp’s entrance. Ranchers had called the area by the slur long, long before the Perrys purchased the property. At the time of the Post’s reporting, Perry and his family had painted over the slur. But the Post reported on it anyway, insisting that the since-covered word — which, again, the Perry family had not painted — “adds a dimension to the emerging biography of Perry, who quickly moved into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates when he entered the race in August.”

In 2012, the Post also published an allegation against Mitt Romney, claiming that, in high school, he and a group of friends forcibly cut a classmate’s long hair because they suspected that classmate was a closeted homosexual. This was in 1965. Romney said he didn’t recall the incident but apologized anyway. The aggrieved student had passed away in 2004. And the friend of Romney whom the Post quoted originally as being long disturbed by the incident clarified later that he had only learned of the alleged haircut in 2012. Oops.

Then, of course, there’s the infamous “What about your gaffes?” incident, which featured then-New York Times and now-Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker and the Post’s Phil Rucker. The two were embarrassingly caught on tape, relentlessly badgering Romney during a Polish World War II memorial ceremony, about supposed gaffes the Republican had made earlier on an international trip.

In 2012, the Post also published not one, not two, but three articles about a blouse Ann Romney wore, valued at around $990. The Post ran an opinion article that even argued the blouse wouldn’t “help her husband change those perceptions, no matter how many Laundromat photo ops are on the campaign’s itinerary.”

Later, after First Lady Michelle Obama appeared at a function at Buckingham Palace for heads of state wearing a jacket valued at around $6,800, the Post’s Reliable Source section atta-boy’d Obama for “[stepping] up her game.” Yes, of course.

If you entertained any illusions that newspapers such as the Post would return in a post-Trump world to a more responsible kind of journalism, focusing on substance and only hyping genuine scandals or incidents of personal or professional malfeasance, you were sorely mistaken.

If not for Trump and his endless list of real personal and professional failings, his many legal woes, and his willingness to say things that offend seemingly on purpose, they’d just go back to making the scandals up.

These are Republicans we’re talking about, after all.

Becket Adams is a writer in Washington and program director for the National Journalism Center.

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