Media Matters, Others in ‘Revisionism’ Pitch of Michael Steele Oreo Episode

Media Matters and the blog Daily Kos are among two liberal mouthpieces who look to be on a slippery campaign to rewrite one of the more ugly episodes in recent memory for Democrats.

It appears they are trying revise the history that Oreo cookies were thrown in the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele at a gubernatorial debate on September 26, 2002 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Steele is a black man, and an "Oreo" is a terribly derogatory term to describe a black person who is perceived as "black on the outside, but white on the inside.") At the time of the debate, Steele was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Steele was in the audience for the debate between Democrat Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. weeks before he and Ehrlich went on to rack up a triumphant election victory over the incumbent Townsend.

The bottom line is in what Lt. Gov. Steele told Phillip Caston of Capital News Service three years ago, less than three weeks after the actual election, about his infamous encounter with the sweet. In a November 22, 2002, piece entitled, "Steele Makes History as First Black Governor," Caston wrote (emphasis mine),

"At the candidates' only televised debate in late September, there were reports that Townsend supporters passed out Oreo cookies to represent Steele, joking he was black on the outside but white in the middle.

"[Md. Democratic spokesman] Paulson denied the incident happened and said the only documented accusation came from Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick.

"Steele, however, said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.

"'Maybe it was just someone having their snack, but it was there,' Steele said. 'If it happened, shame on them if they are that immature and that threatened by me.'"

Notice how Steele initially makes a half-joke about it. It's hardly the sign of a person concocting a story. In addition, clear-thinking observers might want to ask themselves the question: Why would Steele want to engineer a lie after winning an election?

Daily Kos now asserts that Steele "lied." Media Matters is now referring to the Oreo-throwing episode as a "legend" and a "baseless allegation." Part of their craftiness is in spotlighting inconsistencies from sources recalling the event from one evening over three years ago. Are some inconsistencies all that surprising considering the time that has passed and the tumultuous nature of the event that evening? (Much was written about the crowd's very "passionate" behavior that night. Even the host of the event acknowledged "derisive behavior, that was an unfortunate circumstance" (10/1/02 Sun article cited below). ) 

These challengers also cite a recent November 13, 2005, Baltimore Sun article that claims that "several debate attendees" "could not corroborate" the incident. In the article, the Sun quotes the operations manager of the building in which the debate was held. He claims, "I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal." How anyone can fully remember what was on the floor in the cleanup of a room over three years ago is somewhat questionable, if not very compelling. Over 2,000 people attended the spirited debate that night, according to the Sun. (In addition, Steele himself recounts seeing only one or two cookies. It's not hard to imagine someone else besides the quoted individual cleaning them up.)

(Ironically, it was the Sun who first reported the presence of Oreos at the debate in an article days after the event entitled, "Crowd's Antics Quite Debatable" (October 1, 2002) (original no longer free, but an accurate text copy can be found here; hard copy on file of this writer).)

Gov. Ehrlich is quite angry about his political opponents attempting "revisionism" of this nasty and distasteful episode. Ehrlich has repeatedly claimed that his own father was hit in the head by one of the cookies as he walked to his seat that contentious night ("Steele weighs in on the Oreo incident," Baltimore Sun, November 15, 2005).