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Writers Dig Into Politicians' Pasts—and Their Own

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Monday, December 23, 2002

Writers Dig Into Politicians' Pasts—and Their Own

In the wake of Trent Lott's resignation as Senate Republican leader, newspapers used their Sunday opinion sections to follow up on the
racial remarks and policies of other politicians, including Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Lott's successor. Some other media outlets did the same.

Here are some items that appeared over the weekend:

Retired commentator James J. Kilpatrick, 82, a former editor of the Richmond (Va.) News Leader editorial pages and a regular on the old
"Agronsky and Company" news panel show, wrote about "My Journey from Racism" in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Likewise, writing in the Charlotte Observer, Editorial Page Editor Ed Williams discussed his own transformation. His piece began:

"Looking through some old boxes in my mother's house a few years back, I came upon a paper I had written in the fifth grade. It was a piece of fiction, a handwritten page-and-a-half in pencil on ruled paper. It told of an old man who lived in a rundown house near our small town. Several times I referred to him
as a nigger."

In the New York Times, Frank Rich wrote about George W. Bush's 2000 South Carolina primary campaign, run with what Newsweek called "a smear campaign" of leaflets, e-mails and telephone calls calling attention to the John McCains' "black child" (an adopted daughter from Bangladesh); and Attorney General John Ashcroft's interview with a neo-Confederate magazine, Southern Partisan, in 1999 in which he vowed "to do more" to defend the legacy of Jefferson Davis." Newsday's Tom Brune also examined Ashcroft's record.

The Lott affair prompted the New Orleans weekly Gambit to discuss David Duke's dealings with Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster. Turns out Foster bought Duke's mailing list of right-wing voters for more than $150,000, far beyond the going rate. Duke, in turn, dropped out of the race and tacitly endorsed Foster.

In Newsday, reporters Deborah Barfield Berry, Elaine Povich and Timothy M. Phelps recalled that:

"Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) joked to reporters in 1993 that African leaders attend trade conferences in Switzerland because 'rather than eat each other, they'd just come up to get a good square meal.' He never commented on the incident and it blew over."

They also recounted incidents involving Sens. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Also in Newsday, reporters Deborah Barfield Berry and Elaine S. Povich looked at the Senate staff, writing that, "Even as Senate Republicans struggled last week to defend the civil rights record of their leader and their party, a look inside Senate offices show there are few African-Americans in key, influential jobs."

On National Public Radio's "Weekend All Things Considered," editorial writer Ruben Navarette of The Dallas Morning News discussed how the
race card was played against Democrat Tony Sanchez in his race for governor:

Sanchez is a successful businessman worth $600 million, but he owns a bank that was once accused of laundering drug money, though Sanchez was never charged with wrongdoing. "In the minds of some Texans, there's only one way a Mexican gets his hands on $600 million. Hmm, how do Mexicans and Latinos get their hands on millions of dollars? I know. Drug money. This is drug money. This is a drug dealer we're talking about." Gov. Rick Perry's commercials
showed "this grainy film showing people coming across the border with suitcases. And you open up the suitcases and there you have all this
money."

In the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Martin Dyckman found it useful to compare Lott's career with that of LeRoy Collins, Florida's governor from 1955 through 1960. "Though Collins is accurately remembered as a clarion voice for civil rights, he was elected as a segregationist who regarded the practice as 'a part and parcel of our way of life.'"

Columnist Jeff E. Schapiro in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch examined the record of freshman Sen. George Allen, R-Va., saying that "Allen's history, as a private citizen and a public official, is replete with utterances and actions that enflamed racial sensitivities."

The Hickory (N.C.) Record reported that Rep. Cass Ballenger, anticipating fallout from his interview with the Charlotte Observer, in which he
said he had “segregationist feelings” after conflicts with Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., decided to have his yard's black lawn jockey painted white Friday.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, former Chronicle reporter Steve Kettmann recalled some first-person accounts of segregation.

The News & Observer in Raleigh. N.C., noted that while Jesse Helms is leaving Washington, "his imprint on politics will live on as his former aides rise through the ranks to advance the conservative agenda."

A number of newspapers picked up "Political Apartheid Afflicts Both Parties," a Dec. 9 piece by Stan Tiner, executive editor of The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., in which Tiner said that, "The truth that no one wants to hear is that a great many Americans do share the sentiment that the
nation would have been better had the status quo been preserved in 1948."

Gregory E. Favre, former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, whose hometown is in Lott's district, recalled the Mississippi of his youth, when "an African-American mechanic was shot-gunned by a white man because he had other jobs to do and couldn't stop right then to fix the man's car. Nobody went to jail that time." His piece on the Poynter Institute Web site was run in some Sunday papers.

In the Chicago Tribune, civil rights historian David Garrow wrote that "Senate majority leaders like Lott and [Democrat Robert] Byrd attain office without receiving any of the public scrutiny that Gary Hart, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush experienced, or any version of the senatorial examination that Supreme Court nominees like Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas received. Only when that huge difference is appreciated can we understand why no one should be surprised by what lurks in the personal backgrounds of America's most powerful senators."

In the Washington Post, media writer Howard Kurtz attempts to answer the question, "how did the [white] press handle the segregationist effort back in 1948?"

The Baltimore Sun quoted James Klumpp, chairman of University of Maryland - College Park's communication department, saying he was not optimistic that the Lott affair will lead to a substantive discussion of the issue, that instead it will be buried along with Lott's leadership position. Klumpp says he was sure all along that Lott would resign because he sees an ancient ritual at work - the scapegoating of Lott so that the rest of the body politic can cleanse itself.

Edward Ball, author of "Slaves in the Family," examining his own family history, noted in The New York Times that "the psychological tentacles of caste reach deep into the mind. They will be much harder to remove than segregation laws, especially since every individual has to extract them alone. Besides, for people who enjoy the benefits of a divided society, it pays to take a page from the playbook of the South: Deny you have a race problem until you absolutely must admit it."

And on Bill Frist, Robert Moore of the Center for Public Integrity noted that "The 1994 campaign of Republican Senator Bill Frist, the frontrunner for the Senate Majority Leader position, was marked by charges of insensitivity to racial issues in a state where roughly 16 percent of the population is black. Frist enraged black clergy and others with allegedly racist remarks made during his campaign against incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser."

The Tennesseean, in Frist's home state, says that "Some NAACP leaders also point out that Frist's voting record on civil rights issues is only slightly different from Lott's, and they are skeptical that Frist would represent minority interests any better than Lott would have."

Hap Hairston, of N.Y. Daily News and Newsday, Dies at 53

James (Hap) Hairston, a former top editor at the Daily News and Newsday, has died, apparently after a heart attack, the New York Daily News reports. He was 53.

Hairston was perhaps best known for spearheading columnist Mike McAlary's searing coverage of the Abner Louima torture case. That series was one of at least three Pulitzer Prize-winning projects Hairston worked on during his New York tabloid editing career.

"Hap had a brilliant mind, a quick wit and was a superb editor," said Daily News Managing Editor Bill Boyle. "He will be missed by all those he worked with."

Hairston died Saturday afternoon in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he had moved several months ago to help care for his ailing mother.

He suffered an earlier heart attack in 1996 and had struggled with his health ever since.

Hairston worked for a decade at Newsday, where he edited two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories before joining The News as city editor in 1989. He moved up to metro editor and assistant managing editor.

Ed Gordon Gets Job Nibbles After Lott Interview

Ed Gordon, who used the attention he gained from interviewing Trent Lott last Monday to air his complaints about BET's recent decision to
cancel his interview program, "BET Tonight," has been approached by production companies interested in him as a syndicated talk show host, reports the New York Times. In addition, CNN's talent department has been reviewing tapes of Gordon's work.

Gordon's contract runs out in July, but BET is hoping that he will stay on to do more interviews with major newsmakers as well as news specials.

Gordon indicated that he would prefer to stay at BET, but only if it changes its decision to cancel his program. "I think it's a mistake to go away from the kind of program that we were doing night in and night out," he said.

However, in the Washington Post, Paul Farhi wrote that "though Gordon's interviewing skills aren't in doubt, it's not immediately apparent how much range he has, says one news producer, who asked not to be identified. 'What if another 9/11 happens?' he asks. 'Is this the guy you want sitting in the anchor chair for four or five hours? Can he think on his feet on election night? Peter Jennings can talk for a week on any subject you throw at him. That ability is very underrated, but when you don't have it, viewers notice right away.' "

Farhi went on to quote Tom Jacobs, a veteran news producer, saying Gordon will probably wind up as the anchorman of a local TV station, not a network. Gordon's biggest barrier, Jacobs says, isn't talent but color.

ABC, PBS Plan Series on Jasper, Texas

ABC News' "Nightline" and public TV's "P.O.V." series will team next month on a three-part look at race relations in Jasper, Texas, where African-American James Byrd Jr. was dragged to his death in 1998, reports the New York Daily News.

On Jan. 21, "Nightline" will air excerpts from the documentary "Two Towns of Jasper," about the incident and its effect on Jasper's citizens. The following night, PBS' "P.O.V." will show the full documentary.

On Jan. 23 at 9 p.m., "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel will hold a 90-minute town hall meeting live from Jasper for PBS, with "Nightline" airing an hour of the meeting later that night.

Black Journalist, Orthodox Rabbi's Unusual Radio Show

One unlikely afternoon in October 2001, an Orthodox rabbi and a black journalist found themselves just outside Yasir Arafat's office, arguing so intensely that even the armed guards looked astonished. Having accompanied the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel, only to wind up this day in Gaza, Shmuley Boteach and Peter Noel were enacting their own version of a failed peace process, writes the New York Times.

Their partnership, both personal and professional, takes the form of the men's morning talk show on WWRL-AM in New York.

Sandra Oshiro Named Business Editor in Honolulu

Longtime editor and reporter Sandra Oshiro has been named The Honolulu Advertiser's business editor, the newspaper reports.

Oshiro is a founding member of the Hawaii chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and recipient of a Fulbright Journalism Fellowship in Japan.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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