Sunday, April 24, 2005

Washington Post Soft-Pedals Lott's Racially Divisive Comments

Conservative pundits scream from the rafters about "liberal media bias," pointing to the New York Times and the Washington Post as if to suggest all those newspapers do is providing a cheering section for Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

But as has been shown on JABBS and blogs of a similar vein, those newspapers are as likely as most of their competitors to offer conservative spin in their political news stories, whether it's the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller weekly love letter to President Bush (you may know it as the "White House Letter") or the regular trashing of Al Gore by the Post's Ceci Connolly.

Conservative pundits want you to think the "liberal" press is immune to conservative spin, so they don't talk about stories -- or journalists -- who don't fit the bill. They won't talk about how Maureen Dowd of the Times, a "liberal," changed a statement by John Kerry about NASCAR to make him sound aloof in one of her columns. They don't talk about how the Times' Judith Miller repeated the Bush administration's pre-war script on Iraq, to the point where the Times ultimately had to write a half-page apology for its lack of balanced reporting. Such things don't fit in with the theme of "liberal media bias," so they are ignored.

The latest example of that "liberal" media -- the one the conservatives don't want to talk about -- came in the April 14 edition of the Post, in which reporter Shailagh Murray wrote an uncritical feature on former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), in which he soft-pedaled controversial 2002 comments at a 100th birthday party for former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

MURRAY: Trent Lott is reminiscing with supporters at the Rocky Creek Catfish Cottage, recalling the goat barbecues and Jaycee meetings that marked his first House campaign 33 years ago. But the senator draws the biggest whoops when he mentions the "little bump in the road" he hit in December 2002, when his return to the position of Senate majority leader was scuttled by what some saw as nostalgic words about segregation.

Some saw? How about just about everyone saw, including President Bush, who said Lott's comments "do not reflect the spirit of our country," and many of Lott's Republican Congressional colleagues.

Let's review what Lott said in 2002: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Barely two weeks after the racially divisive remarks, Lott stepped down as majority leader.

MURRAY: All Washington thought he was finished. "But they don't know us as Mississippians," Lott chortles as heads nod around the dining room. "You get back up on it and you ride again."


If you're not familiar with Thurmond's 1948 run as a Dixiecrat, know that Thurmond supported segregation and opposed anti-lynching legislation. At his party's convention, Thurmond said: "Ladies and gentlemen, there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the n*gger race into our theaters, into our swimming polls, into our homes and into our churches."


But the Post's front-page article on Lott wants to soft-pedal history. While admitting that Lott's demise as majority leader was "self-inflicted," Murray gives Lott room to spin the reasoning behind his questionable comments.

MURRAY: Lott insisted he was just trying to flatter the old man, but once the line received widespread media attention it triggered a national furor.

Ah yes, it's the media's fault. Only a conservative spinner would rationalize what happened as: If only no one had recorded Lott's comments ...

MURRAY: Lott apologized repeatedly for his remarks; appeared on Black Entertainment Television to swear allegiance to civil rights, including affirmative action; and called colleagues to explain and apologize. But nothing worked.

Poor Trent. One questionable statement revealed by the media, and in spite of apologies to anyone who would listen, "nothing worked."

But was this really an isolated instance of a racially insensitive remark? If you read Murray's flattering front-page story in the Post, you'd have to say yes. But in fact, it was another Post reporter, Thomas Edsell, who revealed in a December 1998 article that Lott praised the Council of Conservative Citizens back in 1992 for standing "for the right principles and the right philosophy." Lott also appeared at political rallies sponsored by the CCC in 1991 and 1995, and a CCC newsletter from 1997 shows a smiling Trent Lott meeting in his Washington office with top CCC officials.

What is the CCC? The direct organizational successor of the Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s, and an ally of the Ku Klux Klan.

In other words, for the bulk of Lott's Senate career -- he was first elected in 1988 -- he has done or said things that most people would consider racially divisive.

But Murray doesn't want to dwell on that past, instead writing at length about how Lott has rebounded to remain a major player, both within his party and the broader Washington political world. Murray even lays out a set of circumstances that would allow Lott to emerge as majority whip next year.

"But they don't know us as Mississippians," Lott chortled. And why shouldn't he? Conservative pundits will continue to scream about how the Post is Exhibit A in its case that "liberal media bias" exists. They'll ignore Murray's uncritical feature.


Blogger Chris said...

Very interesting.

I like the title of this blog.

I am in total agreement with your analysis of the Post's PR stunt for Lott.

I'll be checking back.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

First off, thank you for reading and commenting at my site, I hope you would stop by more often.

Now onto your article. Lott may have made mistakes in the past fronting for a organization that had once had ties to the KKK, but his remarks in 2002 never seemed to fall in the realm of racially motivated.

You can read that forwards and backwards, but noone wants to get into the politics of putting words in peoples' mouths, just the liberals did to Lott. He never said, has Thurmon been elected, no blacks would cause the problems we have. He simply said we would not have the problems we have today, which really meant a number of other things.

He could be talking about employment, social security, economy, aborttion, and a long list of other ideas. But the liberals like yourself want to only focus on the negative and promote a policy of negative thinking.

As for George Bush not backing Lott up, sometimes you really have to decided what side of the fence is safer. I don't like it, but sometimes we do what we don't like for the greater good.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous joe said...

Craig wrote: "You can read that forwards and backwards, but noone wants to get into the politics of putting words in peoples' mouths, just the liberals did to Lott."


There simply is no truth to this statement. No one put words in Lott's mouth. He said what he said, and just about everyone -- Democrats and Republicans alike, including President Bush -- criticized Lott for those words. The Republican leadership turned against Lott -- something that, according to the Post article, still upsets him (he's not friendly with Frist for that reason).

And given Lott's other actions with the CCC, how could one take his comments about Thurmond in any other light than racially divisive?

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding me. How about when Sen. Dodd said an almost identical thing in speaking about Sen. KKK Byrd ? "He was right at any point in history" !!! Apparently the media is willing to overlook practically anything when it is uttered by a Democrat (note Sen. Durbin's not so funny Jewish joke last week) but must unfailingly bash any conservative whose exceedingly gractious comments at a freaking birthday party are take by some to glorify segregationists.

Once again, absolutely freaking myopic, though never surprisingly so.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The analogy of Lott praising Thurmond and Dodd praising Byrd is not apples to apples.

Lott praised Thurmond for something he did that was racially divisive. But this was not an isolated instance for Lott, as JABBS points out. Lott also has had several questionable ties to and praise for the CCC.

Dodd praised Byrd for his work in the Senate, not his actions six decades ago in the KKK. Dodd also has no track record of having ties to or praise for the KKK.

Taken a step further, if you want to condemn Dodd for praising Byrd, then do you also want to condemn various world leaders, including President Bush, for saying nice things about Pope Benedict 16, who was in Hitler's Youth six decades ago? Because that would be apples to apples with Dodd and Byrd.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, that is not even freaking remotely apples to apples, but you know that. You just saw another opportunity to throw that whole Republican / conservative / Nazi theme out there, which I understand. Our Pope was a member of the aforementioned organization, as it was compulsory for all youth to do so. Then, he decided, under threat of harm or death, to desert said organization. The beloved Sen. Byrd was not compelled to be a Grand Kleagle, he chose to, and apparently excelled within the organization. If you cannot see the apples to oranges difference between compulsory service and voluntary association, I fear our system of education is every bit as bad as it is purported to be.

By the by, Sen. Dodd's comments are far more analagous, in an apples to apples kind of way, but you are simply unwilling to admit same since it portrays a beloved liberal in an unflattering light. He said Byrd was right for this country at any time. That is not equivocal or ambiguous. Was Sen. Byrd right when he joined the Klan? Was he right when he became Grand Kleagle? Was he right when he openly displayed hostility towards blacks, Jews, Catholics, etc ... ? Have a freaking spine. Be willing to admit when your own people open their mouths and insert their feet.

How about Sen. Durbin's horrendous Jewish jokes last week at the opening of the Lincoln Museum? Or do we ignore those too because he is a liberal Democrat? Lincoln was clearly a Jew because his first name was Abraham, and he was shot in the temple? Come on ...

10:54 AM  
Anonymous joe said...

Lott praised Thurmond for a specific thing -- his 1948 run for president. Dodd made a general comment, which could easily be construed as referring to Byrd's time in the Senate.

Lott has a history of questionable comments that are racially divisive. Dodd does not have a history of questionable comments that are racially divisive.

And regardless, the Washington Post reporter should have done its homework before writing such an uncritical story and running it on page 1.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous joe said...

Although the Durbin gaffe really has nothing to do with JABBS' item on the Washington Post's coverage of Lott, I thought it might be helpful to post this:

From the Chicago Tribune:

Durbin's gaffe came as he related an old yarn that the late Chicago federal Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz often told about how his Jewish immigrant parents came to give him Lincoln's name. They had presumed the 16th president was Jewish, Marovitz used to say, because his name was Abraham and he was shot in the temple.

Marovitz never failed to draw laughs with a story in which he was a central figure. But when Durbin decided to retell it in the town where Lincoln is buried, before an audience that included President Bush and thousands of onlookers, he drew only clenched smiles and scattered, nervous chuckles.

>>> So, it wasn't really an anti-semetic joke. It was the re-telling of a story that had originally was told by a Jewish judge.

Agreed that Durbin should have thought twice about the appropriateness of telling the story at the Lincoln event. If Durbin had a history of telling anti-semetic jokes, then you could easily compare him to Lott. But Durbin has no such reputation, so the comparison doesn't really make sense.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, as long as you have no history, there is no problem with it. Now that Sen. Dodd and Sen. Durbin have a history with these types of statements, I presume that they should now carefully monitor who they praise, and what types of jokes they tell.

It is noticed that your prior attempts to compare the Pope and Sen. Byrd did not stand up to even rudimentary criticism. Are we to assume that you are no longer standing by that assertion?

Though Sen. Durbin's unfortunate comments were not specifically the topic of the article, they are illustrative of how the left is willing to ignore their own, and show their righteous indignation when their opponents do the same. I guess it is just a wink and a nod when their own do it.

It strikes me as though the feigned moral outrage of the left over Lott's statements is merely nothing more than partisan pot shots, as they manage to contain their outrage quite nicely when their own do similar things.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous joe said...

Couple of points:

1) As JABBS says, the outrage over Lott came from both left and right, including President Bush. His Republican colleagues led Lott to resign as Senate Majority Leader. That's why Lott and Frist don't get along. This was not a liberal witchhunt.

2) Yes, a consistent history is valuable in understanding the person. The Washington Post, rather than use Lott's soft-pedaling of the Thurmond affair, should have noted the CCC connection and asked Lott about it. It would have also been reasonable to expect the Post to talk to Lott's critics, to counter the p.r. job that is the premise of the article.

Let's compare the Lott and Dodd comments:

LOTT: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

So, Lott is specifically talking about Thurmond's days as a Dixiecrat candidate for president -- when he ran on a platform of segregation, and in opposition to anti-lynching legislation.

DODD: "It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great senator at any moment."

Dodd praises Byrd as being a great senator for West Virginians, and suggests that he would have been a great senator at any moment in history.

Hardly apples to apples. Not "identical things," as you say.

By the way, Sen. Ted Stevens, Republican from Alaska, also praised Byrd that day for his Senate career.

As for Durbin, he didn't tell "Jewish jokes," as you put it. He retold a story, and I said that I agreed it was inappropriate, but I'm not about to call Durbin anti-Semitic because of a single act that was questionable, but hardly mean-spirited.

1:56 PM  
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