While appearing on NPR Wednesday, Carl Paladino, the honorary Donald Trump campaign co-chair in the state of New York, made a statement referring to “raccoons” in the basement that some saw as a racist comment against President Barack Obama. Although Paladino has been accused of sending or forwarding racist and sexually graphic emails in the past, his comment — when taken in context — does not appear to be a racist slur at all.
Host David Greene asked Paladino to address criticism that Trump has been using scare tactics in his campaign. Paladino responded by saying that Trump supporters are increasingly frustrated with the government and want someone who will fix things in Washington.
“I think the press has to get over that, OK? If you’re looking for – if you’re looking to find a flaw or a gaffe, you’re going to find it in anybody, OK? The essence of the man is that he’s speaking to the people,” Paladino said. “And he speaks directly to them. And he engages them. People that get onto this bus, the Donald Trump bus, are people that are very, very frustrated with their government as it’s been. That’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter what kind of person is the exterminator, OK? They want the raccoons out of the basement.”
That statement prompted David Edwards to accuse Paladino of racism against Obama. Writing at Raw Story, Edwards claimed Paladino “described President Barack Obama on Monday as a ‘raccoon,’ a version of the racist ‘coon’ epithet.”
Edwards was wrong on two points. First, Paladino made his statement after the primary victory in New York. Second, while Paladino did refer to Obama as biased, incompetent and someone who “looks like he despises America,” his comment was clearly in reference to the government as a whole.
Edwards wasn’t the only one to mischaracterize Paladino’s statement. A post at the far-left Think Progress also falsely claimed that Paladino “likened President Obama to a ‘raccoon in the basement,’ a racial slur that promptly reminded people why he was such an unpopular candidate for governor in 2010.”
In an update, Think Progress said Paladino contacted them to say that his comment was not intended to be taken as a racial slur. “Raccoons represent thievery, they don’t represent race,” he reportedly told Paladino. “The rest of the world hasn’t interpreted it in the way you did.”
Even a post at the pro-Cruz RedState said it was a stretch to call Paladino’s remark “racist.” Leon H. Wolf said that Trump and his surrogates “are going to make plenty of mistakes without the media inventing some for them.”