Politics & Policy

Media Outlets Strip Cotton’s Remarks of Essential Context to Cast Him as a Defender of Slavery

Senator Tom Cotton arrives for a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A number of media outlets have distorted Senator Tom Cotton’s (R., Ark.) recent comments about the American founding to make it seem as if he believes the institution of slavery was “necessary” in a general sense.

The controversy began after Cotton introduced a bill that would ban federal funding to schools that incorporate the New York Times’s “1619 Project” into their curriculums. The offending outlets focused on an interview Cotton gave to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in which the senator outlined his views on how the history of slavery should be taught.

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country,” Cotton said. “As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

Media outlets and journalists then stripped Cotton’s quote of all context to make it appear that he endorsed slavery as a necessary evil in general, rather as an evil necessary to the consolidation of the union specifically.

“You said, quote: ‘As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.’ That ‘as’ denotes agreement,” claimed “1619 Project” writer Nikole Hannah-Jones.

“Tom Cotton said slavery was a “necessary evil.” Congratulations, Republicans. This is what you have become,” Times op-ed contributor Wahajat Ali wrote on Twitter. Cotton had already commented, “Describing the *views of the Founders* and how they put the evil institution on a path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln, is not endorsing or justifying slavery.”

Several outlets — including ReutersBusiness InsiderNew York Magazine, and the U.K.’s Daily Mail and Guardian — reported Cotton’s remarks under headlines devoid of essential context.

Cotton called media outlets’ portrayal of his remarks “fake news” during a Monday interview on Fox and Friends.

“What I said is that many founders believed that only with the Union and the Constitution could we put slavery on the path to its ultimate extinction,” Cotton said. “That’s exactly what Lincoln said,” referring to the third Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858. In that debate, the future president claimed that “in the way our fathers originally left the slavery question, the institution was in the course of ultimate extinction, and the public mind rested in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction.”

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.


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