The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, January 16, 2004
 

When is nigger 'fit to print'?


I'm just reading a 2000 New York Times review by James McPherson of Lerone Bennett's hatchet job on the Patron of the Blog, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream.

The following graf appears towards the end of McPherson's article:
Bennett's Lincoln is not only a reluctant convert to Emancipation; he is also an unwavering opponent of equal citizenship for the freed slaves, beholden as he is to his ''dream'' of an all-white America. But in what turned out to be his last public speech, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln signaled that he would support the right to vote for freed slaves who were literate or had served in the Union armed forces. Bennett condemns this endorsement as an ''invidious distinction'' (because white voters would not face such requirements) of a piece with Lincoln's commitment to white supremacy. At least one listener to Lincoln's speech did not agree. ''That means nigger citizenship,'' muttered John Wilkes Booth. ''Now by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.''

And I then recall this strange case, from Romenesko yesterday:
[A] racial epithet was unintentionally embedded in the background text of an illustration in this weekend's USA Weekend. Printing was halted after the word was spotted. A news release says: "The offending words were removed from the illustration in about 43 percent of the copies. Due to the production schedule, 327 newspapers received issues with the offending language. The magazine is distributed in 598 newspapers."

Romenesko does not print the word on his home page, but does in reproducing a USA Today memo (Editor & Publisher did print the word) - but it was, of course, nigger.

To understand the point, refer to the graphic-gizmo (why in Heaven's name not a JPEG?) provided by Romenesko: you need to use the zoom (!) to home in on the bottom left of the illustration, around the décolleté of the girl in the red dress. There, across her chest, can be seen the words
thought all the niggers
.
Now, pause to marvel at the quality of the Grievance-meister-ship involved: the discipline of combing every square inch of publications (all, or merely those on a blacklist?); the physical acuity, honed, no doubt, by hours spent in the eye-gym; and the verve to hound the publishers into scrapping a perfectly good issue for fear of who knows what retaliation [1].

So, you may ask, what's the problem? If the New York Times - no mean practictioner of the arts of diversity, as the events of 2003 demonstrated - was happy to print nigger on the face of an article likely (given its subject-matter) to be read, in a substantial proportion, by those of African descent, why should USA Today be 'fined' many thousands of dollars by the racial thought-police for printing the word - almost illegibly - in the middle of an article on telling stories?

The Times search page indicates that nigger has appeared in 24 articles in the last year [2], mostly arts and books, from a quick scan of the descriptions. In content and tone, then, not a million miles away from the USA Weekend piece.

So, in a Carrie Bradshaw intonation, let me ask: What does it take for a paper that uses nigger to have to pulp its issue?

(She does it better, I know. She's had the practice...)

There is a sitcom-style epilog, though: according to the E&P article, the text that was used by USA Weekend - was pinched by the illustrator from...the New York Times Magazine.

  1. Even better, I suspect, would have been to allow the publication to go ahead, and create an almighty stink until USA Today were persuaded to make a 'contribution', reparations for their hideous crime. Perhaps the King of Shakedown, Jesse Jackson, has his mind on other matters right now, though...

  2. The corresponding WaPo page returns no items for the same period. I suspect an artefact, rather than actual submission to the thought-police.

MORE

Google News right now shows 59 items on a search for nigger. Some names from the top-drawer of US media in the list.


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