Some in the news media are helping Rep. Frederica Wilson and other Democrats paint White House chief of staff John Kelly as a bigot, by fleshing out her argument that calling her an "empty barrel" who "makes the most noise" was racist.
At the now highly scrutinized White House press briefing last week, Kelly criticized the Florida Democrat for making public details about a personal phone call from President Trump to Myeisha Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, died in an ambush earlier this month while on operation in Niger. He also complained that Wilson used a 2015 dedication ceremony for a new FBI building in Florida to claim credit for securing the funding for that building.
Kelly said Wilson, "in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise," stood up and "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building."
Video from the event showed Wilson never took credit for the building's funding, though she did talk about her role in getting the official naming of it through Congress. Wilson also told CNN that Kelly calling her an "empty barrel" is a "racist term," and since then, members of the press have tried to back up that claim.
"‘Empty barrel' is interesting," New York Times columnist Roger Cohen said Tuesday. "Barrels are often locked in the dark in cellars and warehouses. They evoke guns, too. Wilson is black. The Johnsons are black. This is a president who laces contempt for African-Americans into everyday discourse. Lying about them, disparaging them, dehumanizing them, is just business as usual. Why should a four-star general bestir himself over getting his facts wrong or describing a black woman as a barrel?"
Cohen's colleague Charles Blow, a liberal writer for the Times, also linked the White House's feud with Wilson to race.
"[T]here is no limit to the questioning of women in the Trump universe," he wrote Monday, "no matter how high those women have risen, no matter the merits of their claims, particularly if the women are black or brown or if they have directly challenged Trump."
Wilson has not publicly clarified why she believed there was a racial connotation to Kelly's "empty barrel" remark. "I'm thinking about that one. We looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel. And I don't like to be dragged into something like that," she said.
But others made the connection for her.
Writing on Kelly's insult, politics writer Chauncey Devega at the left-leaning Salon said Monday, "Ultimately, John Kelly, who served the United States as a four-star Marine general, and is now White House chief of staff, basically called a congresswoman a loud, stupid black bitch."
On MSNBC last week, primetime host Lawrence O'Donnell traced Kelly's rebuke of Wilson back to the chief of staff's childhood.
"I know the neighborhood John Kelly comes from," O'Donnell said. "I know the culture … You know what wasn't sacred when he was a kid growing up, where he was growing up? Black women. He took time, a lot of extra time, to call a black woman, who he doesn't know and he doesn't like, an ‘empty barrel.'"
O'Donnell's MSNBC colleague Joy Reid likewise said on Twitter last week, "Kelly grew up in segregated Boston, in an Irish Catholic neighborhood where women were bullied, not honored, and blacks scorned & rejected."
Both the New York Times and Washington Post's editorial boards have called on Kelly to apologize for getting the details about the 2015 dedication ceremony wrong. The White House has, however, indicated there is no plan for an apology.
Kelly grew up in segregated Boston, in an Irish Catholic neighborhood where women were bullied, not honored, and blacks scorned & rejected.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) October 20, 2017
"I don't think that Gen. Kelly was wrong and therefore I don't think he should offer an apology," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday during a panel discussion at George Washington University.
"I think he has a lot of credibility on this topic," she added. "I take him at his word and I don't think I have anything to add."