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Virginia governor denies he is in racist photo, refuses to resign

Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam reversed course on Saturday and denied he is one of the people in a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Despite demands for his resignation from members of his own party, Northam said he would not step down. Annie Linskey, a reporter for The Washington Post, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Richmond, Virginia to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening and thanks for joining us. The governor of Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam now says he is not one of the people in a racist photo that he apologized for yesterday. At a news conference this afternoon, Northam said he saw the photo in question for the first time yesterday. It is on his personal page and his 1984 medical school yearbook showing two men one in blackface one in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

  • Gov. Ralph Northam:

    Yesterday, I took responsibility for content that appeared on my page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. That was clearly racist and offensive. In the hours since I made my statement yesterday I reflect it with my family and classmates from the time and a affirmed to my conclusion that I am not the person in that photo.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining us now for more is Annie Linskey, of The Washington Post. Annie, this seems like a little bit of a reversal from what he said yesterday.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yeah absolutely. I mean I think the big news here is Governor. Northam came out today and said that he is not photographed in that very surprising shocking and offensive photograph of a man in blackface and a Klansman and a yearbook from his medical school. Yesterday he had said that he was in a photograph and although he did not to testify which person he was. Today he backed off of that and said he's not in the picture.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What steps did he say he was going to take to try to prove this beyond some reasonable doubt?

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yeah he said that he is reaching out to members of his of his medical school class to his close friends to people who Randi are about to try to figure out who actually was in the picture and you know the other stunning thing as the governor said he had never even seen that picture before it was brought to his attention yesterday which is another piece that I think will continue to be questioned on. This is a little surprising that you would not have looked at your yearbook at all before you know 35 years.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The other part was that he one of the interesting parts was he admitted to putting on shoe polish to pretending to be Michael Jackson for a dance contest, totally separate from this incident.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yes. That is another development that he disclosed today which nobody was aware of previously that is essentially saying I did not put on blackface. When I was in medical school but instead there is a separate incident in 1984 in San Antonio where I did and he said shoe polish onto his face to make himself appear like Michael Jackson. He said that he had won that contest that dance contest. And then at some point during this very bizarre press conference seemed to almost be willing to show his ability to do the moon dance. His wife who is standing next to him told him it would be inappropriate to do so.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I mean up to this statement there was widespread pressure on him to resign. What's happened after?

  • Annie Linskey:

    I think this is going to be very difficult for him. I mean how you go forward as a governor of the state in Virginia as a big city where you've really lost the support of key elements of your coalition is going to be a very difficult challenge. I'm in Virginia and for a few more quite difficult days.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right Annie Linskey, of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Thank you.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Since the governor's press conference the pressure for him to step aside has not decreased. Virginia's Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax issued his first statement. While he did not explicitly call on the governor to resign. Fairfax did say of Northam, "quote I cannot condone the actions from his past that at the very least suggest a conflict with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy racial stereotyping and intimidation." The state's attorney general Mark Herring said of North quote It is no longer possible for governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. Democrats in the Virginia statehouse also stood by their request for the governor to resign saying Northam has lost the trust of his constituents. The NAACP and Democratic National Committee also asked the Virginia governor to step down.

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