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Ken Burns’ Tea Party slur defies work ethic he described for my interview

Photo: Screen snip from PBS interview.Breitbart News interviewed filmmaker Ken Burns who is no fan of the Tea Party movement. Burns slurred tea partiers, but his comments defy his own work ethic.

I interviewed Burns for the iconic magazine The Writer; the article was published in the print edition in March, 2008. The article focused on Burns’ approach to his work and tips for aspiring scriptwriters.

Breitbart News included this in the Dec. 4 article about Burns by Christian Toto:

The filmmaker, who works primarily on projects for PBS, says there wouldn't be a birther movement with a President Joe Biden in the White House. Burns then turned his attention to the Tea Party, saying a friend who attended a Tea Party event told him "almost every one she met there invoked the 'n-word'" about the president, he recalls.

That’s a serious accusation. “Almost everyone she met there invoked the ‘n-word’”?

Burns didn’t name his source for the ‘n-word’ accusations. Nor did he name the specific Tea Party group or location. He didn’t even name the state. Nor did he name the date or general time frame. The accusation is devoid of who, what, when or where. That might be fine if he wasn’t accusing these people of racism.

On the birther issue, that can be traced directly to President Barack Obama. His official bio on materials distributed by his publicist listed his birthplace as Kenya. Breitbart News pointed out the 1991 Obama bio was used until 2007. The bio that included this section was apparently not questioned by Obama or media:

Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii…

During our interview, Burns also offered advice to aspiring writers that seems relevant to his Tea Party slur:

“Trust but verify, because the fish gets bigger the further away from the lake you get.”

I’ve covered many political events, including Tea Party gatherings, for different publications. I’ve never heard a single Tea Partier use the n-word. I have heard that word used countless times by Democrat voters, however—in music, comedy routines and films.

When I wrote the feature about Burns, I noted that historian Stephen Ambrose said more Americans get their history from Burns than any other source.

Burns also told me in his films he steers clear of politics.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Dec. 7, 2012)

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