Traditional media yawns as Maxine Waters gets pass on inciteful rhetoric

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
Greg Nash

Imagine the following scenario: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) calls for Trump protesters to get “more confrontational” during public demonstrations. “We’ve got to stay in the streets, and we’ve got to demand justice,” Jordan urges a crowd that had just been chanting: “No good cops in a racist system,” “F*** your curfew” and “No justice, no peace!”

“We’re looking for a guilty verdict” in the Derek Chauvin case, he also declares. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away, we’ve got to get more confrontational.”

If that isn’t incitement, I’m not sure what would be. 

But of course, Jim Jordan never said this. These are, instead, the words of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has a history of this kind of dangerous rhetoric. In this instance, she was referring to the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 killing of George Floyd. Twitter and Facebook don’t have any issue with Waters or the video showing her comments. Unlike what’s happened to numerous conservatives lately, she has not been banned or suspended for what could be interpreted as a call to violence against police officers. 

A relatively recent example of Waters’ dangerous rhetoric came in June 2018, when she told a crowd outside a federal building in Sawtelle, Calif., to “push back” on any Trump administration officials seen in public. 

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd,” she instructed. “And you push back on them! And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”


In that case, Waters was irate regarding then-President Trump’s border policy and the state of unaccompanied migrant children on the border.   

Fast forward to 2021, and the crisis at the border has become a full-blown catastrophe. A record 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children are in detention shelters (called “kids in cages” under the previous administration). Waters has yet to publicly criticize the Biden administration’s handling of this growing humanitarian crisis, let alone tell people to publicly harass administration officials for allowing this to happen. 


So how is Waters being covered by traditional media? Glad you asked.  

“Waters calls for protesters to ‘get more confrontational’ if no guilty verdict is reached in Derek Chauvin trial” read a CNN headline, followed by the perfunctory “Republicans seized” in the story’s opening salvo. “The comments by Waters, a California Democrat and icon among progressives, were immediately seized on by Republicans who claimed that Waters was inciting violence,” one doozy of a sentence in the story reads. Yep, Republicans are to blame for pointing out that Waters’ incitement may lead to more violence while putting law enforcement in harm’s way.  

Another CNN “analysis” also broached purported Republican hypocrisy in a get-a-chiropractor moment of whataboutism.

“Incendiary warnings by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters about the potential outcome of the trial of the ex-police officer charged with killing George Floyd could spike tensions, were legally unwise and raise questions of Democratic double standards,” the story rightly states before reverting to muscle memory in bringing the focus back to Donald Trump. 

“But they also drew out the hypocrisy of pro-Donald Trump Republicans over incitement to violence and ought not to overshadow the profound issues of race and justice raised by a harrowing four weeks in court.”

What exactly do Trump or his supporters have to do with Waters’ comments?  

How about CNN primetime? “Now, look at me, everyone,” CNN anchor Don Lemon said on the air Monday. “Do you really think Maxine Waters is calling for violence? Maxine Waters is not calling for violence. Everyone knows that. She makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially a lot of men, and quite frankly, especially a lot of white men, because she puts them in their place.”

And then there was this question from PBS’s White House correspondent on Wednesday:  

“I wonder why the White House isn’t also coming to the defense of Rep. Waters, given the fact that she’s now facing an onslaught of attacks, especially by, I would say, Republicans,” Yamiche Alcindor asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki in what apparently was meant to be an objective question. “I wonder why the White House isn’t saying ‘We back what she said about being confrontational?’ She was obviously not threatening violence. There are civil rights leaders saying that’s what civil rights is, to be confrontational, to be active.”


Waters would further clarify her remarks, which included blaming Republicans for taking issue with her own words while going to the “Republicans seize” well. 

“Republicans will jump on any word, any line, and try to make it fit their message and their cause for denouncing us and denying us, basically calling us violent,” Waters said in an interview with “Any time they see an opportunity to seize on a word, so they do it and they send a message to all of the white supremacists, the KKK, the Oath Keepers, the [Proud] Boys and all of that, how this is a time for [Republicans] to raise money on [Democrats’] backs.” 

But one very key, respected person wasn’t buying this, in the form of Judge Peter Cahill during closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday.  

“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that it is disrespectful to the rule of law and the judicial branch in our function,” he said, no doubt referring to Waters. “I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful way and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution to respect the co-equal branch of government.”

“Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent, but I don’t think it is prejudiced with additional material that would prejudice the jury. They have been told not to watch the news. I trust they are following those instructions.”

CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell proceeded to accuse Judge Cahill of “lashing out” at a sitting U.S. congresswoman. 

“Something extraordinary happened after the jury left to deliberate. The judge lashing out at a U.S. congresswoman. Even mentioning the possibility, a verdict could be overturned in the future,” anchor O’Donnell said to correspondent Jamie Yuccas. “Wow, it was something.”

“California Democrat Maxine Waters was with protesters in Brooklyn Center (Minn.) this weekend and she said, ‘I hope we get a verdict that’s guilty, guilty, guilty. If we don’t, we have to get more confrontational,’” Yuccas replied before speculating whether Cahill had “openly told the defense the comments could open the door to an appeal if Derek Chauvin is convicted and then have the whole trial overturned.”

In other words, Cahill is potentially the problem here, while any criticism of Waters wasn’t broached. 

Republicans introduced a resolution to have Waters censured in a symbolic move that party leaders knew had little chance of passing in the Democratically controlled Congress. On cue, it failed by a party-line 216-210 vote, handing the congresswoman an easy victory. 

Maxine Waters apparently can get away with saying just about anything. 

Traditional media, petrified of criticizing the Democratic Party out of fear of social media backlash, ensures she gets that free pass. Nice deal if you can get it. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags CBS CNN death of George Floyd Derek Chauvin Derek Chauvin Don Lemon Donald Trump Jen Psaki Jim Jordan Killing of George Floyd Maxine Waters Police brutality in the United States

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