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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Monday, July 05, 2004

Another moronic apology

What next? Will Mongolia be apologising for the damage done by Genghis Khan and his hordes?

A-historical and an insult to the intelligence, certainly; politics as usual, indubitably. At a time when the integrity of American journalism is under attack, a pity that the Knight Ridder-owned Lexington Herald-Leader should decide to jump Jim Crow in a piece yesterday. The lede is almost Onion-worthy:
CLARIFICATION: It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.

That it should have been prompted by LA Times editor John Carroll is scarcely surprising (May 12):
John Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who edited this newspaper from 1979 to 1991, recently proposed a correction like the one above during a speech on journalism ethics. Today, as the nation celebrates its liberties and marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this report looks back at the hidden history of Lexington's civil rights struggle -- and how this newspaper covered it. Or failed to.

Which is about as surprising as finding that the New York Times has more coverage than the Baltimore Sun of a World Series in which the Yankees are taking part.

Kentucky had, of course, been a slave state [1] and was, to an extent, a Jim Crow state. I've no list of laws to hand [2] - but in education the state was segregated [3].

I assume that the vast majority of the Herald-Leader's readers in the 1950s and 1960s were white (as, I further assume, they are today). On as sensitive issue as desegregation, it would surely be only natural that the paper would reflect the views of its readers, on the news as well as the opinion pages. (The Chicago Defender of the time would have done likewise, I'm thinking - and, according to the piece, there was also a Louisville Defender.)

On the issue of media coverage of Iraq, one excuse given - from memory, in the Massing NYROB piece - by journos for the timidity of the questioning of the USG case for war (especially, the WMD issues) was the fact that vigorous questioning would elicit a wave of readers' letters impugning the journos' patriotism (and parentage too, perhaps). Journos, like most of the rest of us, find life much easier when they go along.

And that's leaving aside the question of advertiser reaction.

(Some Southern papers, like Ralph McGill's Atlanta Constitution took a relatively liberal stance from well before Brown was decided [4])

Not to make a Federal case out of it: the piece is interesting anniversary filler for the slow-news July 4 weekend. But all apologies from pols and hacks are intrinsically suspect - in particular, where those apologising are not responsible for the acts apologised for [5].

And when - to mention just anonymous sourcing - there are so many bad things today's editors are responsible for, for which they studiously refrain from apologising!

  1. According to this, Kentucky (with Delaware) did not end slavery by state legislation (as Maryland and Missouri did) and voted against ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

  2. Laws notoriously varied between the states. Not all states were segregated in every respect. For instance, Kansas (the Topeka Board of Education was the first named respondent in the Brown case) was not, I believe, generally segregated by law as respects public accommodations. Some Western states had anti-miscegenation laws.

  3. To mention another variety of Jim Crow law, according to a statement cited (Note 97) in Michael Klarman's White Primary Rulings,
    blacks already could vote freely in most parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oklahoma
    The Klarman piece (discussing the impact of Smith v Allwright) has been mentioned here several times before: the URL cited is now dead, but the article is available here (DOC).

  4. It had a running feud in the early 1940s with Governor Eugene Talmadge, apparently. McGill was the poster boy for Southern liberal journos in the 1950s and 60s.

  5. Well, as an E&P piece points out, the paper
    essentially apologized
    The word is not used, but the tone is unmistakable. The E&P calls it
    one of the most remarkable newspaper articles publisher [sic] anywhere on July 4

As usual, search produces one or two URLs worth preserving from oblivion: ABA piece The Civil Rights Movement: A Press Perspective; ASNE piece - detailing the formation of the Southern Education Reporting Service (SERS), which produced a newsletter on schools desegregation from 1954 to 1965 (Jim Crow laws meant the staff had to be lily-white!); another ASNE piece lists desegregationist Southern editors with illustrations of the harassment that resulted from their stance; a draft script (DOC) for a TV docco on the fiasco of the 1946 election for Georgia's governor (more Talmadge trouble!); three pieces on WJ Cash, author of the iconic 1941 Mind of the South; George Wallace's 1964 tract The Civil Rights Movement: Fraud, Sham, and Hoax (I rather think he was agin it!).


The Herald-Leader's breast-beating doesn't stop there. It offers us the nostalgic treat of a triple-decker hed:

The news was separate, but hardly equal


Next week's scoop Fire burns, and water is wet! perhaps?

The most disturbing aspect, perhaps, is the inference invited by the piece that the good people of Lexington - a majority of whom will have no memories of life in the city before Brown - have been insufficiently curious, or well-taught, to have picked up a book or two describing the life of that era.

(Or it would be, if one were able to suppress the feeling that the kow-tow was not politically directed in some way. Are there shakedown merchants from Jesse Jackson's operation in town, for instance [1]? Perhaps Knight Ridder are on some kind of diversity kick. I'd still like to think it's slow-news-weekend filler, and is slanted the way it is without conscious thought.)

  1. It occurred to me whether the paper might be rimming a black mayor. But, I find, Lexington's mayor, is Lebanese - one Teresa Isaac.

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