Newsweek editor-in-chief Nancy Cooper and opinion editor Josh Hammer have apologized after first publishing — and later defending — an op-ed that advanced a racist conspiracy theory that has been weaponized by the Trump campaign as a tactic to sow doubt about the eligibility of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be vice president.
“We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized,” the editors wrote in a note attached to the racist op-ed by conservative lawyer John Eastman.
Harris, the first Black woman and first Asian American to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket, is a U.S.-born citizen — but President Donald Trump on Thursday when asked if he accepted her eligibility appeared to defer to Eastman’s article, even falsely suggesting that Harris “may not meet the requirements.”
Harris was born in Oakland, California, but Trump advanced the falsehood on Thursday that the Democratic lawmaker may not have been born in the United States. He called the claims peddled by Eastman’s theory which falsely suggests that the US Constitution doesn’t grant birthright citizenship “very serious.”
Giving credence to the claims to boost his own bid for re-election, Trump said that he held Eastman, the op-ed’s author, in high esteem, calling him a “very highly qualified and very talented lawyer.”
After a first wave of backlash on Twitter, comparing the claims made by Eastman to another racist conspiracy theory that falsely argued former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii, the Newsweek editors first defended the op-ed’s publication in an editor’s note claiming the piece had “no connection whatsoever” to the false claims made about Obama.
“No one is questioning Harris’ place of birth or the legitimacy of an obviously valid birth certificate,” the editors wrote at the time.
Hammer joined Newsweek’s opinion team in May, after working as editor-at-large at Ben Shapiro’s conservative outfit, The Daily Wire. He was also a fellow at the Claremont Institute — the conservative organization where Eastman is a senior fellow and founding director of its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. Salon points out that Claremont contributors have defended some of Trump’s most overtly racist comments. The chair of its board of directors, Thomas Klingenstein even called Trump in 2018 “our most important truth teller.”
Hammer and Cooper finally apologized late Friday following pressure on social media and from staffers who wanted the op-ed retracted, according to the Daily Beast. Without retracting the piece, the editors offered an apology in a note attached to the racist birther column, which is still live, acknowledging regret that the op-ed was “being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia.”