Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Free Speech and all that

I have long commented on the failure of local press and its effects on communities that need oversight, information and just day to day news.  Then again we have heard of the great oligarchs purchasing newspapers, big and small, to run their own agenda.  This has come to the towns of Pittsburgh and Chicago and Los Angeles and in turn some have been restored and some not as much.  While we lament the growth of Amazon and Jeff Bezos it appears his ownership of the Washington Post is not something he feels compelled to micromanage and in turn the paper is becoming much like its former self.  The New York Times is also doing well despite the Trump statements to the contrary.  But the local press outlets in cities like New Orleans have found themselves in a stranglehold and the need for their return is essential to enable a community to be informed and to ensure that watchdogs are there watching.   I think this piece in Bloomberg does a great job explaining what the purpose of the press is and should be.

I have well documented my love of news and information that comes from paper versus the television.  I do watch the national news and try to rotate between the big three and I do watch our one local channel - 5 - as they actually do news upon occasion but other than that frankly the area is  not served by The Tennessean which does little reporting and seems to reprint often PR kits or other boring daily news which is on the daily highlight reel of television.  But then again reading is not fundamental here. Yes I get it I never drop that ball of mocking them here but hey whatever.

As of late I have become bored of the outrage nation face that seems to present itself as news, this gleaned from Social Media or from what passes as news on the daily grind of talk and re-talk ones opinions I knew yesterday we were in trouble when the long dead John Wayne was trending over an interview in the soon hopefully to be dead Playboy from over 30 years ago. Do people not read something more current, even Entertainment Weekly or People anymore?  Desperate times desperate measures I guess.

In the interim this article appeared and I busted out laughing at the tragedy of it all. No not outrage and taking to the streets with tiki torches in hand, just busted out laughing as it is all sad, grim and pathetic.  And yes again stereotypes exist for a reason and here is one for you to reason over.

An Alabama Editor Urges the K.K.K. to ‘Ride Again,’ and His Small Town Winces

The New York Times
By Richard Fausset and Niraj Chokshi
Feb. 19, 2019

LINDEN, Ala. — The editorial in The Democrat-Reporter, the newspaper that has served the small western Alabama town of Linden since 1879, appeared on Page 2 last Thursday, but it read as though it could have been written the year the paper was founded.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to ride again,” it began.

The unsigned opinion piece, railing against “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats” and calling for the return of the most infamous white supremacist group in the nation’s history, went largely unnoticed until Monday, when two student journalists shared photographs of it online.

By Tuesday it was national news, the subject of numerous reports illustrated with stock photos of hooded Klansmen, and the target of widespread condemnation. Representative Terri A. Sewell, a Democrat whose congressional district includes Linden, called on the editor and publisher of the paper, Goodloe Sutton, to apologize and step down.

“For the millions of people of color who have been terrorized by white supremacy, this kind of ‘editorializing’ about lynching is not a joke — it is a threat,” she wrote on Twitter. “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate, especially in 2019.”

The reception was about the same in Linden, a struggling town of roughly 2,000 people — 59 percent white and 41 percent black — about 90 miles west of Montgomery. But it stung the community in specific ways. Residents said the editorial made their city seem a heinous place, when it is really more like a deeply flawed one.

“You can still be taken aback by some of the problems we still have,” said Timothy Thurman, the superintendent of the local public school system. Its student population is almost entirely black, he said; most white families in Linden prefer to home-school their children or send them to a private school founded in 1969 at the height of the state’s integration battles.

Yet almost in the same breath, Dr. Thurman, who is black, spoke of friendly relations between the races in town. “Honestly,” he said, “everybody gets along.”

The editorial was also seen as further evidence of the inglorious fall of Mr. Sutton, 70, a fixture in the public life of Linden who inherited the paper from his father and was once widely hailed, along with his late wife, for exposing corruption in the local sheriff’s department.

In the editorial, which he has acknowledged writing, Mr. Sutton blamed Democrats for the United States’ involvement in both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as the conflicts in the Middle East. And in an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser about the editorial, he went even further, suggesting that the Klan “go up there and clean out D.C.”

“We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” he told them.

Efforts to reach Mr. Sutton for comment on Tuesday by telephone or in person were not successful.

The mayor of Linden, Charles Moore, received a reporter in his office early Tuesday morning. An angry woman, presumably from out of town, had just called him and asked, sardonically, when the city would be holding its next Klan meeting.

Mr. Moore, who is white, said he was disgusted by Mr. Sutton’s article, but not surprised that it had been published: “Oh no, not at all.”

The Democrat-Reporter earned a name far beyond Linden in the 1990s, when it ran a series of articles detailing rampant corruption in the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department, including theft and drug peddling. The sheriff at the time was popular, and the paper was flooded with threats and cancellations of ads and subscriptions.

Mr. Sutton’s wife, Jean Sutton, was the managing editor in those days. But she died of breast cancer in 2003, and the mayor said that changed something. “He lost his wife, and all the credibility went with her,” he said. “She was a very good investigative reporter, and also a real sweet person.”

Mr. Sutton began penning editorials that were racially insensitive and “very hurtful,” Mr. Moore said. An editorial in May 2015 stated that a local mayor had “displayed her African heritage by not enforcing civilized law” and referred repeatedly to black people as “thugs.”

And during the national debate over football players kneeling in protest of police brutality, the paper published an editorial titled “Let football boys kneel.”

“That’s what black folks were taught to do two hundred years ago, kneel before a white man,” it read. “Is that it? Let them kneel!”

Last year, Mr. Moore said, a number of businesses downtown were so incensed by one article that they demanded that the paper remove its boxes from their property.

USA Today reported in 2015 that the paper had a circulation of 3,000, but these days it is not easy to find in Linden. There is a box in front of a closed-up building on Main Street, and another in front of the newspaper’s shed-size office on a side street.

At a gas station called Langley’s, they were not selling it, and a clerk there said, “I don’t know anybody who does.”

Jami Huckabee, 36, a waitress who worked for the paper as a teenager, said The Democrat-Reporter was mired in financial problems even then. Mr. Sutton, she said, “is just a bitter old man” who she thought was calculatedly dropping racist bombs in an effort to attract waning interest: “This is how he sells papers now, because everybody’s boycotted him for various reasons.”

The Feb. 14 issue contained eight pages, with unsigned news articles about art grant applications and a Methodist church’s Brunswick stew dinner. The page facing the editorial featured large photos of local African-American parents posing proudly with sons who had won football scholarships.

A full page was given over to legal notices, a financial lifeline for many small papers. There were ads for local apartments, a local cleaners, a cafe in nearby Demopolis, and the Omaha Steaks company.

A number of residents said that they never saw the paper any more, and had only heard about the editorial after seeing reports on social media. “Most people have dropped their subscriptions,” said Sarah Dailey, the librarian, who said the library does not carry copies either.

Myisha Taylor, 25, a library patron, said on Tuesday that she had not heard about the editorial. But Ms. Taylor, who is black, said she was hardly surprised that such sentiments persisted in Alabama. Linden, she said, “is mostly run by people like that — all of that’s still active, it’s just undercover.”

Other black residents strongly disagreed. “Living here is good, I cannot lie,” said Aleicia White, 51, a disabled former worker at a wood products company. “The people are friendly, and I live in an all-white neighborhood.”

Either way, residents said there had been no big resurgence in pro-Klan sentiment in the area.

Kenneth Barrineau, who heads the Heart of Marengo Chamber of Commerce, said he worried about the impact of the international bad press on a town where a job in a paper mill was often the best work to be had, and where no one had figured out how to lure back the children who go off to distant colleges.

“I would say this is not a story about Linden, Alabama,” he said. “This is a story about the local newspaper.”

At the Democrat-Reporter’s tiny office Tuesday, an African-American woman opened the door after a reporter knocked. She said no one could talk until Thursday, and added that she had no comment about the editorial.

Mr. Sutton was easier to find in city court records, which indicated that he had gone to court Aug. 23 to fight a charge of littering and had lost the case. He was fined $432.50.

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