Thursday, December 12, 2002

not "fair" to lott

we got this email from fairness & accuracy in reporting, and thought we'd share it with you.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

Media Play Catch-up on Lott’s Latest Endorsement of Racism
Coverage mostly omits senator's history of support for segregation

Six days after Trent Lott’s latest endorsement of racism, media have taken notice. But the story of Lott’s long-term involvement with racist and neo-confederate causes is still largely untold.

At a 100th birthday party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond on December 5, the incoming senate majority leader had this to say about Thurmond’s racist 1948 presidential campaign on the Dixiecrat ticket: "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."

The senator from Mississippi’s endorsement of a campaign whose official slogan was "Segregation Forever!" would seem worthy of further investigation. But media attention to Lott's comments has come slowly: It took five days for the story to gain serious national coverage. As columnist Joe Conason pointed out on Salon (12/9/02), "The attitude that ignores or downplays Lott's remarks is what used to be called 'institutional poverty.'"

Finally, on December 10, all three network nightly news shows weighed in, along with ABC’s Nightline; that morning had seen the first New York Times coverage of the story, and the first wave of scolding editorials (Washington Post; New Orleans Times-Picayune; Bangor Daily News).

The day after the Thurmond celebration, CNN's Jonathan Karl interviewed Lott on Inside Politics (12/6/02), but the issue never came up. And on NBC's Meet the Press (12/8/02), host Tim Russert put the Lott question this way: "John Lewis, a congressman, former civil rights leader, said that Strom Thurmond ran a segregationist campaign in 1948 and that Trent Lott is just dead wrong.... How big of a problem is this for Trent Lott?"

The response of Russert's panelists was instructive. Instead of criticizing Lott, Washington Post columnist David Broder noted: "Race remains, much as we would like it to be otherwise, a very, very important factor in our national life. And it is a decisive factor in Southern politics.... As long as that racial divide continues, any kind of comment like this on Senator Lott's part is going to have all kinds of bad resonance."

Fellow panelist and conservative columnist Bob Novak actually defended Lott, saying, "I don't think he was at all serious, and I don't even think we should dwell on it. The idea that race is important, I think, is the biggest problem for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans." On the same show, conservative New York Times columnist William Safire seemed to think the moral of the Lott story is that African-Americans should vote Republican: "The thing that comes to mind with me is what we've all said here, that the black vote is monolithic, that it's running 90 and 92 percent Democratic. I think that's bad for black Americans."

But not all conservatives took Lott’s side; in fact, the vociferous criticism of Lott from the right seemed to give centrist or liberal journalists permission to write about the story. Among Lott’s conservative critics were the National Review Online's David Frum (12/9/02), Andrew Sullivan (, 12/9/02), the Wall Street Journal editorial page (12/10/02) and the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks (Nightline, 12/10/02). In one of the first pieces on the scandal, Washington Post (12/7/02) reporter Thomas Edsall quoted Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol’s reaction to the comments: "Oh God. It's ludicrous. He should remember it's the party of Lincoln."

Lott’s Racism: A Long History

Kristol’s comment is telling. In fact, Lott’s public record on race going back more than 25 years indicates that the incoming majority leader has consistently preferred the legacy of Lincoln adversaries such as Jefferson Davis to that of Lincoln.

Lott's long history of support for racist and neo-Confederate causes is generally missing from coverage of the Thurmond controversy. On December 11, the New York Times and Washington Post did report that in 1980, then-congressmember Lott told a crowd at a Reagan rally, "You know, if we had elected [Strom Thurmond] 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today." But with few other exceptions, coverage of Lott’s record seldom goes beyond the current scandal and 1998 revelations of Lott’s links to the racist Council of Conservative Citizens.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, Lott was behind a successful effort to re-instate the citizenship of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (Associated Press, 6/2/78). In 1981, the year he became house minority whip, Lott prodded the Reagan administration into taking the side of Bob Jones University and other segregated private schools that were suing the Internal Revenue Service to restore tax exemptions withdrawn a decade earlier because of the schools’ discriminatory racial policies (Washington Post, 1/18/82).

In 1982 and 1990, Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, the law passed to insure that minorities-- especially Southern blacks-- had access to the voting booth. In 1990, he voted against continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the crown jewel of civil-rights legislation that desegregated education and public accommodations. In 1983 Lott voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1994 he voted to de-fund the MLK Jr. Holiday commission.

Lott’s appointment to chair the 1984 Republican Platform committee occasioned a soft New York Times article (8/14/84) describing Lott as "a legislator who displays political shrewdness while avoiding making waves." That was the same year Lott boasted in a speech to the Sons of Confederate
Veterans, "The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican platform" (Southern Partisan, 4th quarter, 1984).

A few months later, in an interview with the neo-Confederate magazine Southern Partisan (4th quarter, 1984), Lott-- himself a member and promoter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans-- repeated Jefferson Davis’ posthumous endorsement of the GOP platform, throwing in a reference to the Civil War as "the War of Northern Aggression." No one asked Lott then if the original "party of Lincoln" was becoming the party of Lincoln's chief nemesis.

It wasn’t until 1998 that national press scrutiny (with help from FAIR) focused on one neo-Confederate group-- the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). The CCC is the successor to the notorious white Citizens Councils, whose history dates back half a century to the 1950s when the groups were referred to as the "uptown Klan." Today’s CCC rails against "race-mixing" and immigrants, and proudly associates with extreme rightists, from white supremacist David Duke to French racist and anti-Semite Jean-Marie LePen.

In December 1998, Lott denied any personal knowledge of the CCC, falsely claiming through a spokesperson that his links to the group amounted to a single speech made over a decade before he’d entered the Senate. In 1992, Sen. Lott praised the CCC as keynote speaker at its national convention; in 1997, he met with top CCC leaders in his Senate office; his column appeared throughout the 1990s in the group’s newsletter, which once published a cheerful photo of Lott and CCC members who were also his close relatives. Lott was also the guest of honor at a 1982 banquet hosted by a Mississippi chapter of the old white Citizens Councils (Extra!, 3-4/99).

In his defense of Lott (Meet the Press, 12/8/02), Bob Novak said, "Trent Lott got out there and he winged it. That's one of the dangers of not having a text. He thought it was a social occasion. He's thinking what comes to his mind." That sounds like a perfect reason to continue investigating Lott's racist connections.


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