David Bossie, President Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, used a racist slur to attack Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who is black, during an appearance on Fox & Friends on Sunday. In the midst of a contentious exchange, Bossie told Payne that, “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind.”
The purpose of the segment was to debate “the left’s racists rants” — referring to people calling members of the Trump administration Nazis — and Bossie’s remark came not long after Payne criticized Trump and his allies for using racist “dog whistles.”
Payne immediately called out Bossie’s “cotton-picking” slur, adding that, “Brother, let me tell you something, I got some relatives who picked cotton and I’m not going to sit back and let you attack me on TV like that.”
Bossie then tried to discredit Payne, objecting to the idea that what he had just said was an attack. After more talk-over, with Fox News host Ed Henry trying to end the segment, Bossie angrily added,“This is ridiculous, this is what’s gone on in America. This is what we’re about.”
Henry did not acknowledge the slur as it happened, but said that “obviously we don’t appreciate some of the language back and forth” after ending the segment. He then addressed the incident for viewers after a commercial break. Bossie “used a phrase that clearly offended Joel Payne and offended many others,” Henry commented. He did not acknowledge that it was a racist remark, and claimed he didn’t know what Bossie meant to say, adding instead that he has known the right-wing activist “a long time” and that “I’ll let him address exactly what he said.”
“I want to make clear that Fox News and this show, myself — we don’t agree with that particular phrase,” Henry continued. “It was obviously offensive and these debates get fiery, that’s unfortunate. We like to have honest and spirited debates, but not phrases like that, obviously. And so I will just leave it at that.”
In a statement to Daily Intelligencer, a Fox News spokesperson added that Bossie’s comments “were deeply offensive and wholly inappropriate,” and that they “do not reflect the sentiments of FOX News and we do not in any way condone them.” It is not clear, however, if the network will discipline Bossie in any way over the incident.
Bossie also apologized in a tweet on Sunday afternoon, insisting he had not meant to use the “offensive phrase” to call Payne crazy:
Payne shared his experience later in the day on MSNBC, explaining that he felt “demeaned” and enraged by Bossie’s comment, particularly because his great-grandfather (and namesake) was a sharecropper:
Bossie is a regular Fox News contributor and has been the president of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United for almost two decades. He served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager from September 2016 through the end of the election, and eventually co-authored the campaign memoir Let Trump Be Trump with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Fox News, Bossie’s apology, and Payne’s comments to MSNBC.