Hours after taking over as Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal pushed back at the Republicans who pointed out his 11-year-old tweet quoting a comedian mocking racism and Islamophobia in America.
The tweet quoted the comedian Aasif Mandvi and said: “If they are not gonna make a distinction between Muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”
Mr Agrawal had, at the time, put the statement in quotes without attributing it to Mr Mandvi.
On Monday, however, the right-wing site Breitbart reported that the new Twitter CEO had “uncritically repeated a quote in 2010 suggesting that there should be no need to distinguish between white people and racists.”
Several Republican leaders picked up on this.
Colorado’s Ken Buck tweeted: “This is the new CEO of Twitter. How can users trust him to treat everyone equally?”
Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee chipped in and said: “This is Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s new CEO and the person who’s going to be deciding what kind of speech is allowed on Twitter.”
But Mr Agrawal, 37, soon shut these and several other conservative voices. He responded to a tweet and said that: “I was quoting Asif Mandvi from The Daily Show.”
He added, in a separate tweet: “I am amused by people that pass judgement on people for passing judgement. I was attempting to do the same to amuse myself.”
Aasif Mandvi had made the comments on “The Daily Show.” It had been in response to comments made earlier in the day by Juan Williams, a political analyst on Fox News. Mr Williams was attempting to answer a question about the role of Muslims in the 9/11 attacks in America.
He had told host Bill O’Reilly: “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I have written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Andrew Kaczynski, a reporter with CNN later tweeted the original clip of the Daily Show segment in which Mr Mandvi had said the line that was quoted by Mr Agrawal.
He wrote that the “tweet which is currently going viral among the right from Twitter’s new CEO is him quoting a Daily Show segment that aired that night about stereotypes.”
He added: “It’s a joke about absurd stereotypes, not a factual statement.”
In the segment, Mr Mandvi can be heard saying “If they’re not gonna make a distinction between Muslims and violent extremists, then why should I take the time to distinguish between decent, fearful white people and racists?”
Meanwhile, other Republican leaders like Ohio’s Warren Davidson and J D Vance had attacked Mr Agrawal for his 2010 tweet.
Mr Davidson said: “Wow! Who knew corporate wokeness would tolerate open bigotry. I’m pretty sure Twitter has white employees, white customers, and white suppliers - for now at least.”
Mr Vance caustically said: “New Twitter CEO has some…interesting views.”
Breitbart had also tried to attack Mr Agrawal by referring to an old interview the new CEO had given to MIT Technology Review.
Breitbart inferred that Mr Agrawal said, “free speech was no longer a focus for the company.”
Quoting from the MIT Technology interview, it reported that Mr Agrawal said: “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.”
On Monday, Jack Dorsey announced in a statement that he has “decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead.”
Reports said that Mr Agrawal is the youngest CEO in the top 500 companies.