Rick Santorum bites his lip while his elevator door closes

CNN Is Going To Get Rid of Rick Santorum, Right?

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Last month, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum spoke to the ultra-conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation at their “Standing Up for Faith and Freedom” summit, during which he exercised the freedom to spout utter racist ignorance.

Santorum told these young people that while most cultures around the world developed over time, America just sprang into the world fully formed.

“We came here and created a blank slate, we birthed a nation from nothing,” Santorum said.

“We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here,” he continued. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Santorum’s framing here—that white Judeo-Christian colonizers are at the center of “American culture”—is, I’m sure, right in line with the ideology of this particular youth summit. But even if you buy into that image of American culture, the complete erasure of Native American influence on white America is just staggering.

In addition to being a former senator, Santorum is also a paid political commentator with CNN. And a lot of people are questioning why that is.

Calls for Santorum to be cut from CNN’s commentator pool have been growing but so far, the network hasn’t responded.

But on Monday of this week, Santorum returned to the network as a guest on Chris Cuomo’s show. Cuomo asked Santorum about his comments and the former senator didn’t apologize, but instead said his words were taken “out of context” by “the social media world.”

(For the record, they were not. You can watch his entire speech if you’d like to see for yourself, with his erasure of Native cultures starting around the 20-minute mark, not that I recommend subjecting yourself to that or giving the video any more views.)

Santorum also told Cuomo that he “misspoke” before immediately going on to repeat his claim that Native cultures didn’t have any impact on American culture. He tries to clarify by saying he was just talking about the “founding of the country” from the colonies through the writing of the Constitution.

Except 1) That’s not what he said to those young rightwingers, and 2) Even if it were, it’s historically inaccurate! The Founders and the Framers of the Constitution were absolutely influenced by the systems of tribal governance that they’d seen, and Santorum’s ignorance doesn’t make that any less true.

In an interview with HuffPost, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (formerly one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress along with Rep. Sharice Davids) called Santorum’s ignorance “unfortunate.”

“It’s unfortunate that, first of all, that perhaps we haven’t done a good job of educating Americans about Indian history, because Native American history truly is American history,” Haaland said Tuesday. “When we think about the influence that Native Americans have had on the forming of the United States, right? The U.S. Constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy. Native Americans from some tribes here in this country have some of the oldest democracies in the world.”

CNN’s Don Lemon also tore into his colleague following the segment Monday night for giving Santorum a platform.

“I cannot believe the first words out of his mouth weren’t ‘I’m sorry, I said something ignorant, I need to learn about the history of this country,'” Lemon said during the handoff between Cuomo’s show and his.

“Did he actually think it is a good idea for him to come on television and try to whitewash the whitewash that he whitewashed? It was horrible! It was horrible and insulting and I apologize to the viewers who were insulted by it.”

“Because I was sitting in my office, furious, because he’s done it so many times! So many times, and it was just so egregious and insulting,” he said, visibly flustered by his own rage.

Cuomo tried to offer excuses and Lemon was having none of it. He wasn’t even hiding his frustration, just sighing heavily over Cuomo.

The exchange did not end well.

At one point, Cuomo told Lemon he has to find a place to “put your pain.”

“Listen, I don’t have a place to put my pain. I have this platform and I have to be honest about it. And so, I’ve got a place to put my pain, I’m talking about the people who don’t—I’m speaking for the people who don’t have the platform,” Lemon responded.

Cuomo then accused him of just “echoing the outrage” and trying to “censor” Santorum, at which point Lemon seemed to fully realize that there was no point in continuing the conversation.

I can’t believe we have to say this as often as we do, but not offering someone a paid position on cable news is not censorship!

We’re still waiting for CNN to respond to the very public criticism of Rick Santorum. In the meantime, the Native American Journalists Association has issued a statement urging its members not to pursue positions at the network.

With a lack of accountability or ethics around multiple racist and insensitive comments from CNN staff, the Native American Journalists Association urges its members to avoid working with the network to avoid harassment and racism. NAJA also calls on advertisers, funders and journalism diversity organizations to withdraw their support from CNN indefinitely.

(image: KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

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Author
Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.