Saturday, April 16, 2005

Seeping into the system

Since the creep of right-wing extremism into mainstream conservatism is a major topic of this blog, I'd be remiss in not bringing to your attention a recent report from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's Steve Rendall describing some of the more noxious examples of this trend in the mainstream media:
Racism, in fact, may be gaining a firmer foothold in American media institutions as its promoters adopt more stealthy and sophisticated ways of presenting it. Consider two recent episodes in which David Brooks and John Tierney, both conservative New York Times writers, touted the work of Steve Sailer, a well-known promoter of racist and anti-immigrant theories.

Following the November elections, David Brooks used his column (12/7/04) to celebrate something he called the "natalist" movement. Natalists, said Brooks, defy Western trends toward declining birth rates by having lots of children and leaving behind the "disorder, vulgarity and danger" of cities to move to "clean, orderly" suburban and exurban settings where they can "protect their children from bad influences." According to Brooks, natalists are more churchgoing and conservative than their less wholesome neighbors in more liberal urban areas, and are an increasingly important political force.

Though the movement sounds a bit like the post–World War II demographic trend dubbed "white flight," Brooks makes no reference to ethnicity until halfway through the column, when he cites Sailer on white fertility:

As Steve Sailer pointed out in the American Conservative, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates.

Brooks is well-known for lightly documented demographic analysis (Philadelphia, 4/04), but he never explains why he believes white fertility is more important than that of other groups.

Did Brooks understand his source's views? A look at the American Conservative article (12/20/04) that Brooks presumably read, since he cited it, ought to have raised the suspicions of an engaged columnist. In it, Sailer describes the undesirable urban traits he says white people are trying to escape: "illegal immigrants and other poor minorities," "ghetto hellions" and "public schools." Are these the things Brooks meant when he alluded to "disorder, vulgarity and danger" and "bad influences" in his Times column?

As American Prospect Online found (12/7/04), a little research reveals Sailer as a leading promoter of racist pseudoscience. As a principal columnist on the white nationalist website, named for Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the "New World," Sailer (e.g., 2/23/03; 12/12/01) extols the work of academic racists who say Africans as a group are innately less intelligent than whites or Asians. He is also a staunch defender of the Pioneer Fund, a primary funder for such racist research (as well as of

On the rare occasion Sailer gives race a rest, it's usually to make some other mock-Darwinian argument, as when he ruled out the possibility of a gay gene, suggesting instead that homosexuality is a disease, possibly caused by a germ (, 8/17/03): "An infectious disease itself could cause homosexuality. It's probably not a venereal germ, but maybe an intestinal or respiratory germ."

A New York Daily News column (12/13/04) rebuked Brooks for plugging Sailer, suggesting that the Times columnist "might want to do a background check on the next 'expert' he quotes," pointing out that "Sailer also writes for, which the KKK-fighting Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a 'hate group.' " According to the News, the Times failed to respond to inquiries about the matter. No other mainstream outlets seem to have commented on the affair.

The piece gives more background on Sailer, and notes that Tierney's NYT report citing Sailer preceded Brooks':
Weeks before the Brooks column, Times reporter John Tierney (10/24/04) quoted Sailer, describing him as "a conservative columnist at the Web magazine and a veteran student of presidential IQs." Tierney cited Sailer's claim that George W. Bush’s IQ was likely greater than John Kerry's, information Sailer extrapolated from the results of different tests the two had taken—tests that were not intended to measure IQ.

Were Brooks and Tierney aware of Sailer's racist work? Were they sucked in by Sailer's sophistication, his academic sounding arguments? Or was it his bona fides with "mainstream" conservative outfits like the National Review and American Conservative?

The report goes on to describe other major players in the mainstreaming of white-supremacist ideologues, including the late Sam Francis (infamous for remarking at an American Renaissance conference that whites need to "reassert our identity and our solidarity, and we must do so in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of a racial consciousness as whites").

Even more relevant, perhaps, is the career of American Renaissance's Jared Taylor, whose mainstreaming (especially by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough) we have previously noted. The FAIR report includes some noteworthy recent instances of this, particularly one noted in January by Pittsburgh Gazette columnist Dennis Roddy:
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week, when much of the nation took a holiday, "race-relations expert" Jared Taylor was hard at work. He began at 6:45 a.m. with an interview with a Columbus radio station. At 7:05 he was on the air in Orlando. An hour later his voice greeted morning commuters in Huntingdon, W.Va.

At 10:10 a.m., he was introduced no fewer than four times as "race relations expert Jared Taylor" on Fred Honsberger's call-in show on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel. Four hours later, he was back on the air with Honsberger on KDKA radio, where he repeated the message he'd been thumping all day: Martin Luther King Jr. was a philanderer, a plagiarist and a drinker who left a legacy of division and resentment, and was unworthy of a national holiday.

What Taylor did not say, and what Honsberger didn't seem to know until I picked up the phone and called in myself, was that Jared Taylor believes black people are genetically predisposed to lower IQs that whites, are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives. Race-relations expert Jared Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial "separatists" and far-right extremists.

I attribute the failure of the mainstream media to be cognizant of the tactics of these folks, and the way they disguise their agendas and beliefs, more to ignorance than maliciousness.

Unfortunately, there is all too often a willingness (if not outright eagerness) among mainstream conservatives, from pundits to politicians, to conveniently overlook these matters when it suits their purposes -- see especially Michelle Malkin, who writes for VDare. And I don't think ignorance explains it all away.

Teens and the terrorism laws

One of the more troubling aspects of anti-terrorism laws generally -- and the Patriot Act in particular -- has been the likelihood that they are open to a kind of prosecutorial abuse: namely, that they can be used to charge people whose crimes have little or nothing to do with terrorism.

This was especially clear in the case of the Patriot Act's "sneak and peek" provisions that allow federal agents to conduct searches of people's homes without ever notifying them. These provisions were already available to the FBI in terrorism investigations; what the Patriot Act did was enable law enforcement to use them in non-terrorism-related cases. And sure enough, as TalkLeft's TChris reported recently, there has been a dramatic expansion of sneak-and-peek warrants since Bush took office.

Now comes an Associated Press report out of Michigan that says that teens who are suspected of plotting attacks on their schools are being charged under anti-terror laws:
LANSING -- Michigan's use of an anti-terrorism law to curb school violence has sparked debate over the law's intent and raised an important question among prosecutors, school officials and others: When is a troubled teen a terrorist?

Law enforcement officials say the law against threatening terrorism, enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, gives them a vital tool to avert shootings like the one last month in Minnesota, where a student shot and killed nine people before turning the gun on himself.

With no specific state law against threatening to kill someone, law enforcement official say, the terrorism law is the only one that works.

But many school-violence experts say labeling a disturbed or angry teen a terrorist is going overboard. In some cases, they say, what the student needs is psychological help, not jail time.

"(We have to) discern between students who pose a threat and students who are making threats," said Glenn Stutzky, a clinical instructor at the Michigan State University School of Social Work. "It appears the terrorism law doesn't make that distinction."

Two Michigan cases, one in Macomb County northeast of Detroit and one in adjoining Oakland County, appear to be among the first in the country where terrorism laws are being applied to school violence.

One involves a 17-year old accused of threatening to bring a gun to school to kill a school liaison officer and whose home, when checked by police, revealed a cache of firearms, ammunition, bomb-making materials and instructions, Nazi flags and books about white supremacy and Adolf Hitler.

Andrew Osantowski of Macomb County's Clinton Township was arrested last September after authorities received a tip from an Idaho girl who had been exchanging messages with Osantowski over the Internet. He has been charged as an adult and faces up to 20 years in prison.

The other case involves a 14-year-old whose backpack contained a notebook with a "kill list" that included a dozen people, including his mother, several students and school officials.

A police search of Mark David O'Berry's home in Oakland County's White Lake Township in mid-March found no weapons, and he has denied making the list. He is being dealt with as a juvenile and could be held until age 19 if found guilty.

Prosecutors in both cases say they used the state's terrorism law because no other charge applied.

There's little doubt, I think, that school rampages like Columbine and, more recently, the killings in Minnesota, represent a kind of inchoate terrorism, since it's clear that the purpose is to terrorize their classmates and teachers. They generally, however, lack the real policy-driven and issue-specific nature of most terrorism (see, e.g., Eric Rudolph).

Applying anti-terrorism laws to cases involving troubled teens strikes me as deeply wrong-headed. Not only do we dilute the meaning of terrorism, and expand the law into places it was not intended to be used, but we really blur the line between intention and action.

People talk loosely about committing acts of terrorism relatively regularly, especially in Internet chat rooms and forums like Free Republic and Liberty Forum. Generally, however, law enforcement draws the line at taking concrete action toward making those fantasies into realities -- say, buying guns and ammo or making pipe bombs or incendiary devices.

Now, in the case of the teen with the weapons cache -- which included bomb-making materials and instructions -- the arrest seems prudent, and it appears from the outside at least that there's a gap in Michigan's laws if someone with such a cache (especially a minor) can't be charged with some kind of explosives violations. But in the case of the teen caught with the "kill list," I'm still looking for evidence that he had moved beyond simply talking about it (in which case he needs counseling, not jail) to doing something to implement it (at which point law enforcement should be able to act).

Unfortunately, it's pretty common for kids to fantasize about killing classmates or authority figures -- common enough that, were we to charge every kid who did so, our jails would need to triple in size. Arresting troubled teens for such fantasies seems like another step toward Minority Report-style law enforcement.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Minutemen and the mainstream

It should be clear by now, I hope, that one of the chief achievements, as it were, of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is that the infiltration of the extremist agenda in mainstream conservatism has become rampant in the past months since the 2004 election, embodied by the Schiavo mess.

Even more noteworthy, perhaps, has been the mainstream embrace of the far-right extremists operating the Minuteman Project, and the extent to which they are being portrayed both by media and officialdom as jes' plain folks.

Leading the charge today was none other than Tom DeLay himself, interviewed in the Washington Times, who even went so far as to suggest that President Bush might want to change his tune on these patriotic folk:
Mr. Hanner: Do you agree with the president that the Minuteman Project on the border right now are vigilantes?

Mr. DeLay: No. I'm not sure the president meant that. I think that they're providing an excellent service. It's no different than neighborhood-watch programs and I appreciate them doing it, as long as they can do it safely and don't get involved and do it the way they seem to be doing it, and that's just identifying people for the Border Patrol to come pick up.

This line of reasoning, of course, emanates from the apologists for extremism who populate the right-wing pundit class, from Michelle Malkin (who first compared them to a "neighborhood watch") to Mark Krikorian at The Corner, who described them as "a handful of ordinary Americans." The same storyline, of course, is a regular feature at Malkin's immigration blog as well.

Perhaps no one has been more prominent in promoting the Minutemen's image as a group of law-abiding, concerned citizens than CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has made the Minutemen into the symbol of his ongoing campaign on behalf of immigration reform -- meaning he has adopted, essentially, far-right anti-immigrant nativism.

On several occasions, Dobbs' program has featured remarks from Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox, including an extended interview with Simcox that featured some genuinely noteworthy exchanges. Dobbs had reported on his program that the Minutemen were unarmed, and Simcox had to correct this:
DOBBS: And to be clear, you're not permitting any of your volunteers to be armed.

SIMCOX: No, that's not true. I can't do that. We have encouraged them, if you've read our standard operating procedure, that they are to be, again, aware of the laws of the state of Arizona. They're not to carry long arms, because that would make us an offensive -- that would give it an offensive-type attitude.

DOBBS: Well, Chris, let's...


DOBBS: ... be straight up, 1,500 volunteers, untrained, unorganized, and without drill, that is not a reassuring statement that you just made, if you're going to have people with weapons, whether they are sidearms or not.

SIMCOX: Well, Lou, we have -- most of our volunteers are retired law enforcement officers, military veterans, and professional people who -- and not all of them are going to be armed, but the ones that want to be have that right to be.

But we have interaccountability by grouping people together in teams, so that we have people watching each other and making sure that we hold each other accountable. Because this is a political protest, no matter what. We know that. And it would be hypocritical of us to want the government to enforce the laws if we were out there to break the laws.

What was really appalling, though, was the way Dobbs fawned on Simcox, especially at the end:
DOBBS: Outstanding. We wish you all of the success in the world. And you know, you said it at the outset, that it's a shame that it takes activism on the part of citizens. You know, I think that we could also make a counterargument. It's kind of nice to know that Americans still have that activism in their hearts, the capacity to volunteer to do the right thing. And we thank you, Chris Simcox, for being with us.

Mind you, Simcox is someone with a history of militia organizing and spouting extremist beliefs, including bizarre conspiracy theories linking Latino immigrants to the Chinese Army. He also has a conviction for carrying a loaded firearm in a National Park. In March 2003, he told a crowd in California that "so far, we've had restraint, but I'm afraid that restraint is wearing thin. Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary."

There have been a lot of other warm-and-fuzzy treatments of the Minutemen in other organs, including a largely friendly account in the Ventura County Star, which does nonetheless mention the paranoia that pervades the scene in Arizona:
As the sun sank, rumors descended across the border like darkness.

Minutemen organizers said they were warned that the Central American drug-smuggling MS-13 gang was planning an attack on the Minutemen.

McCutchen had a flak jacket and a .38-caliber snub-nosed pistol, in case.

But the night would grow darker without immigrants or gangs.

Far more disturbing was the report from a news team that went undercover for KPHO in Phoenix, and produced a pretty remarkable report that largely ripped the lid off the Minutemen's carefully controlled image of being a cooperative neighborhood watch:
[B]ehind the scenes, our hidden cameras show there are problems and plenty the Minutemen are not telling reporters.

A lady on Hidden cam says, "We don't want the press to find out where the information is being handed out because we'll have CNN and FOX and yeah." They're controlling what you hear, from why some of these volunteers "really" came to southern Arizona:

John says, "If the border's gone, they're going to be pushing drugs on every one of our kids at school." To problems the organizers are having controlling the extremists who showed up.

John says, "The guys up here, on what we were talking about earlier on Mountain View, with the shotguns and the flag and lighting the fire. And lighting a fire on G-----n BLM land."

The piece goes on to explore in some detail the extent to which the Minutemen organizers are controlling what's given out to the media. It also features some deeply disturbing material captured in chats with some of the volunteers, in which it becomes clear that the project is having its most trouble keeping a lid on the collection of extremists who are part of the scene:
But as the sun goes down, problems keeping control of a group as big as the Minutemen begin to surface. Marc says, "There was a standoff and people got killed." The man from Tucson is asked to leave our group - because he keeps talking to reporters. John says, "People like that, they'll drag down, they'll drag down the whole thing." And as the night goes on, a drama unfolds across the highway. Some of the volunteers are carrying shotguns, which is against the rules and our group leader admits: Minuteman organizers are having trouble deciding what to do about it. Adahm/John says, "(What's up with the shotgun guys? How are you going to deal with those two?) I have no idea.. that's out of my.. I don't even want to go up there." Adahm/John says, "(Well don't they have a guy like you are with us? Don't they have their?) He's not there. I can't find him." The man says, "I hope they're not drinking or anything. I didn't see any beer there."

Jim Gilchrist, the Project spokesman, explains these folks away later by claiming, "They are not Miuteman Project volunteers. They are rogue patrollers posing as Minutemen."

Be sure to check out the video link to the story. It includes some chilling footage, as well as a disturbing footnote from the anchor for the piece, Morgan Lowe, who adds that the crew heard plenty of racial remarks out in the field, including one from a volunteer who told him he looked forward to "hunting a certain group of people."

You can also get a sense for some of the paranoia that pervades the camp from reading the first-person report filed by a Freeper named "Spiff":
Nine days of blockade has begun to result in desperation.

We believe 500-700 illegals and their coyotes are bottled up in the Huachuca Mountains at present. They are running out of food and water. We have also figured out the system used here for putting out food and water caches and have been routinely using them to add some variety to our dogs’ diets. Our canine companions are most appreciative.

A recap of last night’s action: several Minuteman were almost run down by a fleeing load vehicle last night. Fellow LePer idratherbe painting is now on the injured reserve list after a bad fall into a dry wash at the same location. Another Minuteman is “under investigation” for making physical contact after saving an illegal from a bad fall.

This morning began with round up of the illegals who missed their ride in the fleeing vehicle the night before. Two had become thoroughly lost and confused and walked up to one of the MMP teams asking for directions. When the realized who they had approached, they took off running and practically jumped into a Border Patrol vehicle.

The daylight hours were uneventful other than a prolonged visit by CNN’s Lou Dobbs. He spent most of his time out on the Naco Line along the border fence. Those of us in the canyons got a visit from those fine folks from the ACLU. They chose to set up in a dull spot with a fine view of Ash Canyon.

All hell has broken loose since nightfall. Several groups have come down out of the mountains to attempt a getaway. Scanner traffic gives a tally so far of five load vehicles captured, about 70 illegals in custody, and a similar sized group scattered throught the west end of Hereford and being picked up piecemeal. We have recovered three coyote cell phones and the call histories should prove interesting.

As I said before, we'll be lucky if the month of April passes in Arizona without some grotesque tragedy occurring. Actually, I'm beginning to think the Minutemen are more a danger to each other (as well as any law enforcement in the vicinity) than they are to any immigrants who happen into their clutches, though that danger hasn't exactly subsided.

Simcox and his project have inspired some of his cohorts, including Casey Nethercott of Ranch Rescue. According to report from KVOA in Tucson, Nethercott is planning to ratchet the craziness even higher:
Eyewitness News 4 has learned an armed militia along the border near Douglas may take matters into its own hands this July.

Casey Nethercott, the leader of the group said Friday that he doesn't yet want to go into detail on his plans.

He supports the Minutemen, but his backup plan is a much more aggressive approach.

Nethercott pointed to two black SUV's, saying, "These are armored vehicles. They got quarter-inch steel in them. They'll stop small arms fire and some rifles."

The headquarters of the militia, called the Arizona Guard, sits along the U.S./Mexico border near Douglas, Arizona, in the Southeastern corner of the state.

Pointing again to the vehicles, Nethercott continued, "You'll get killed without them, here's been so many shootouts out here."

Gosh, Lou, that sure is some nice little neighborhood watch you've got going there.

The lingering question: Will President Bush take DeLay's advice and change his tune on these folks?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The old Injun disguise

American white men have a colorful history when it comes to dressing up as Indians, dating back at least to the Boston Tea Party. They also have quite a history of using the ruse to make money, while simultaneously victimizing the Indians they're pretending to be.

One of the very last Indian wars, the Sheepeater War of 1879, was a classic case of this. Having seen how deeply the Nez Perce War of 1877 had enriched the towns of LaGrande and Baker in northeastern Oregon, which had served as supply depots for the cavalry, community leaders in the Yankee Fork mining district in south-central Idaho decided that a little Indian war was just what was needed in their neck of the woods.

Mind you, it little mattered that there were only scattered bands of Shoshoni, known as Sheepeaters, who were known to dwell in the vicinity, and they rarely posed a threat to the lives of locals, because they tended to keep to themselves. As it happened, there were also a number of Chinese in the Yankee Fork, and some of them had the audacity to cross the line from providing services to miners to trying their hands at staking some mining claims themselves.

So it happened that a group of five Chinese miners were found massacred at their claim a little ways west of the Yankee Fork district that summer, and the corpses were littered with arrows, though supposedly they all died of gunshot wounds. Indeed, there was no evidence that Sheepeaters had even been in the vicinity, but the legend of the massacre soon spread, and an "Indian panic" shortly resulted.

Sure enough, the cavalry was called in, and a battalion of soldiers spent the next several months traipsing up and down the high mountain ridges of the Middle Fork country, chasing a few Indians hither and yon. Finally, at the end of the campaign, they managed to round up 50 or so women, children, and elderly Indians who they had captured as prisoners, and sent them off to the Shoshone-Bannock reservation in Fort Hall, thus declaring victory. The Yankee Fork communities briefly benefited from the influx of government money, but it didn't last long. By the turn of the century, the district had dried up, and all that remains there now are ghost towns.

I was reminded of the Sheepeater scam recently with the rise of the Little Shell Pembina Band, which made a brief appearance on the local scene in the Seattle area by trying to give posthumous tribal membership to a slain cop.

Essentially, the "tribe" is actually an operation that allows anyone of any ancestry to claim tribal membership, a status that is supposed to confer all kinds of tax and insurance exemptions. It is, in essence, a bunch of whites (and other non-Indians) dressing up in tribal sovereignty in a way that undermines the rights of legitimate tribes, and enriches the scamsters in the process. As I explained in a follow-up post, the Pembina scam includes insurance and tax schemes that are closely related to old far-right conspiracy theories.

Now my longtime source Mark Pitcavage and his merry band of researchers at the Anti-Defamation league have put together a definitive report on the Pembina Band scam, laying out how it is the latest manifestation of the right-wing attempt to establish "sovereign citizenship." It also makes clear its origins:
At some point during these unsuccessful legal battles, Delorme transformed the Little Shell Band into a sovereign citizen group. Its ideology was not new to the region: sovereign citizens had been active in North Dakota, where Delorme and his extended family lived, dating back to the 1980s, when Posse Comitatus leader Gordon Kahl ambushed and killed two federal marshals in Medina in 1983.

By 2004 the Little Shell Band claimed to be a "completely sovereign tribe" that held "allodial title" to over 53 million acres of land (for some reason, this figure was later increased to 62 million). Saying it no longer sought federal recognition, the group declared its own executive, legislative and judicial powers, bestowing on itself the right to establish a legal bar and "tribal lawyers" as well as a "sovereign tribal financial and banking institution."

Perhaps most importantly, the "new" version of the Little Shell Band allowed anyone, regardless of ancestry, to become a member of the group, opening the door for a variety of anti-government figures to join (for a fee) and claim membership in the "sovereign" Little Shell Band. As a result, Little Shell Band activity spread around the country.

Also noteworthy is its cast of characters, including a couple of figures I described earlier:
Navin Naidu (Circuit Court Judge and Finance/Economic Advisor). Naidu is perhaps the strangest Little Shell character of all. He first achieved notoriety when he appeared in Fiji in 2001 as the lawyer for George Speight, a former insurance salesman who had spearheaded an unsuccessful coup d'etat and was subsequently charged with treason. When the Fiji government checked Naidu's qualifications, it discovered that his University of London law certificate was spurious, as was his claim to be practicing at the "International Ecclesiastical Law Offices" in Seattle, which turned out to be non-existent. Naidu, a Singapore-born ethnic East Indian and U.S. resident, admitted that he had no license to practice law in the U.S. but that his credentials came from "Jesus." Naidu was arrested and later deported. Back in the United States, Naidu moved to Kent, Washington, where he identified himself as an "ecclesiastical lawyer" and began devising plans to create a church court that could marry or divorce people and even decide criminal cases.

John Lloyd Kirk (Clerk; Tribal Lawyer). A Tukwila, Washington, sovereign citizen and anti-Semite and a friend of Montana Freeman Leroy Schweitzer, Kirk was one of a group of seven Washington sovereign citizens and militia members arrested in 1997 on a variety of weapons and explosives charges. Convicted of possession of a pipe bomb and conspiracy to possess and make destructive devices, Kirk received a 46-month prison sentence. It was not his first conviction: in 1980, according to author Jane Kramer, he had been found guilty of statutory rape in an incident involving his daughters.

You know the saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Corrections Department

In a couple of previous posts, I unfairly characterized the coverage of the Irving-Lipstadt trial by T.R. Reid of the Washington Post.

Specifically, in the first post, I charged that Reid hadn't attended the trial itself, but only became involved in coverage of the trial at its tail end. I clarified this further in the second post, but let the charge remain uncorrected.

It is clear to me, after some conversations with Mr. Reid, that he did in fact attend at least several days of the trial itself.

This characterization of his work (largely a surmise from the actual reporting that Mr. Reid produced) was incorrect and unfair. I owe Mr. Reid a sincere apology for that.

However, all other aspects of the posts, including the observation that the Post did not cover the trial in the traditional sense -- which is to say, by assigning a reporter who was there nearly every day, who in addition to regular (if not daily) reports, filed pretrial and postrial reportage as well -- remain uncorrected.


Some background on this:

I was a cops-and-courts reporter for some time, and have covered a number of trials in subsequent years as well (most notably the Washington State Militia trial in 1997 and the Minh Hong/Ocean Shores trial in 2000). "Covering a trial" has always meant, for me, two things: a) having a reporter there for most court sessions, and b) consequently providing your readers with regular reports from the court. I've also attended sessions of certain trials (notably the Montana Freemen's trial), but decline to claim I've "covered" those trials.

I've always tended to take a dim view of those of my colleagues (TV reporters and major-metro types especially) who show up on the day the trial opens and then return the day of the verdict, and then proceed to report on it as though they were as expert on its contents as the rest of us (and often, subsequently, go on to claim they've covered the trial). This is, of course, something of a gross insult to those who've done the nitty-gritty work of sitting through those tedious daily court sessions and gleaning facts from them, reporting on the ebb and flow of testimony as it occurs.

From the outside, it certainly appeared that this was what Reid had done at the Irving trial. If you look at the index compiled by Dan Yurman of the Irving trial coverage, you'll note that there were some 430 pieces written on the trial -- nearly four months' worth of coverage -- before the Post ran any pieces on it by Reid. This first piece, titled "Historians Fight Battle of the Books," ran April 6, 2000 (the trial opened on Jan. 11 that year). This was just after closing arguments. Reid wrote only one other piece on the trial, from April 12, describing Lipstadt's court victory.

My characterization of Reid's work, though, jumped the gun. He wrote me over the weekend:
I see from your web site that you are an award-winning journalist. So I'd expect you'd would want to be sure you have the facts straight before you report something. But your "reporting" about T. R. Reid's coverage of the Lipstadt-Irving trial is wrong.

You didn't bother to check with me before maligning me. And Dan Yurman specifically told you that your reporting on me was wrong.

You say I did no reporting on the London trial, and did not attend it. But this is wrong. I interviewed almost all the principals, plus lawyers, historians, etc. I did attend the trial, over and over again.

You also "report" that I didn't mention on C-SPAN the historians who testified. If you would watch the program, you'll see that that I did.

Once again I ask you to correct your mistakes about my reporting. When you post these errors, they show up all over the Internet, copied by people who believe, incorrectly, that David Neiwert is a reporter who checks his facts before writing.

I don't understand why you're so reluctant to get this right.

I replied:
I'm more than happy to run a correction if I'm factually in error; however, like any journalist, I also want to make sure the correction is accurate.

For instance, you'll have seen, I'm sure, the fact that I clarified what I meant by saying that you didn't cover the trial: Specifically, I meant that you didn't cover it in the traditional sense of having provided the Post's readers with reportage from the trial as it happened. Why should I correct that when it's a simple part of the record that there were no stories in the Post on this trial until the judge began deliberating?

I'm an old cops-and-courts reporter, Mr. Reid, so perhaps you'll excuse me if I'm over-rigorous, but for me, "covering a trial" means something specifically: being there every day of the trial itself and, if I'm writing for a daily, filing daily reports from the trial. If I can't make it (not an uncommon occurrence), I've always made sure I had immediate access to transcripts or other details of what transpired. Trial coverage, to me, also includes pretrial reporting; that is, not merely gathering info before the trial, but also providing my paper's readers with background before the trial even begins. And you don't appear to have provided that, either.

I've covered over the years several federal trials. I've also, as it happens, been forced to only partially cover other federal trials, poking my head in when possible. In these latter cases, I've always been careful not to claim that I actually covered the trial. Because, as you know, covering a trial daily provides you with real expertise in its contents in a way that secondary coverage simply cannot.

Now, I was careful to say that it only appears that you didn't cover the trial, because I couldn't say so definitively. But your protests notwithstanding, I haven't seen any indication that you actually did. The trial, after all, lasted 32 days -- not counting the days the judge spent deliberating, and the announcement of the verdict. How many days did you actually sit through the court session? I'm not insisting, of course, that you have covered every single day, but in order to claim you covered the trial, you should at least be able to demonstrate you were there a majority of the time the court was in session.

But if you can at least do that, I will correct my post to indicate that you did cover the trial, and will offer an unconditional apology. However, regardless of your work, I will note that the Post itself (as per my description) did not cover the trial until its end. Because as far as the Post's readers were concerned, there was no coverage of it at all until the final stages. Certainly there were no regular dispatches.

I'm hoping we can clear this up to everyone's satisfaction.

He responded:
As you know, it's fairly common for a foreign correspondent to put in days, or sometimes weeks, of work to produce one or two stories. I did cover the trial, in the traditional sense and every other sense. I did do "pre-reporting," days and days of it, and in fact interviewed everybody I could find, including the principals.

It's not surprising that the WashPost didn't have room for a daily file from a trial in London. I don't think any American paper did. For that matter, I don't think the London papers ran stories every day. Given all that was going on in the world in early 2000, I think our coverage was about right. We fronted the trial at the end, and I think we gave our readers a good picture of what happened. That was possible because I was there covering the trial even when we didn't run stories on it.

I don't understand why you didn't contact me before you wrote about what I was doing in the winter of 2000. I don't understand why you are so reluctant now to get this right.

Actually, I'm quite serious about getting this right, which is why I've been trying to explore the facts of it with Mr. Reid and weigh them.

One minor point, first of all: I didn't "report" that Reid didn't mention on C-SPAN the historians who testified. What I said was this:
The worst part of Reid's description of the trial was his failure to explain the many historical facets that emerged, particularly the testimony of other historians that laid bare the utter poverty of Irving's methodology. He regaled the TV audience with quaint details about the courtroom setting and the appearances of the bewigged barrister, solicitors, and judge -- but seemed incapable of describing some of the key historical points involved.

... Reid also was content to characterize the bulk of Irving's "Holocaust denial" as consisting of a claim he actually does make: that Hitler himself was unaware of the mass murder operation his underlings had set into motion. This is, of course, only a small portion of the distortions and falsehoods which he promotes.

I stand by that in every regard, and I think a review of the C-SPAN program will corroborate it.

More to the point, I think it's instructive to look at reportage from other major American news outlets. Returning again to the index of Irving coverage, you'll note that, for instance, Ray Moseley of the Chicago Tribune filed a story from the trial's opening day, and continued to file stories for its duration (again on Jan. 23, Feb. 4, March 11, and March 16), finishing with verdict coverage on April 12. D.D. Gutenplan wrote a piece for the New York Times on the case June 25, 1999 (the first piece in the index) and went on to file dispatches for the Atlantic and Guardian on the trial, as well as conducting a couple of NPR radio interviews. Guttenplan, who evidently did attend nearly all of the trial, is writing a book on it as well. Both of these constitute what I would fairly characterize as having covered the trial.

Perhaps more comparably, the Los Angeles Times ran a pretrial story on the Irving matter Jan. 7, and an opening-day piece Jan. 12, but had only a few pieces in between, with a wrapup on April 12.

At the same time, it's perhaps worth noting that when it comes to covering the Michael Jackson trial, the Post so far been running nearly daily reports (mostly by Libby Copeland). That too would constitute what I think most journalists and editors see as "covering the trial." I'm sure a case can be readily made that the Jackson trial is the more newsworthy and significant of the two, but I'm not sure I want to hear it.

As Yurman has noted in my comments, there are more than a few mitigating circumstances, of course: Being a foreign-office bureau chief is usually a thankless and over-assigned affair, and reporters like Reid are always being spread thin. He also had to cover proceedings in the Augusto Pinochet trial there that winter. Much as I might not have liked the Post's choices, they were at least defensible.

What's not as defensible, I think, is the relatively thin gruel that Reid served up for BookTV's national audience -- a natural result, I think, of his not having read Lipstadt's book. I also think, given what we saw on TV, it remains an open question just how deeply Reid was acquainted with the trial testimony; "days and days" certainly represents honest and hard work, but I still doubt that he comes close to having attended a majority of the trial's 32 days.

That said, I'd like to also apologize to my readers for this bit of sloppiness. I can't promise it won't happen again, but I can only try.

Busy, busy

It's spring break at my daughter's preschool, which means my writing time is being sharply reduced this week. I'll be posting as I'm able (and I have some good stuff in the works) but it's kind of touch and go.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Young hate

I've been writing a lot here about the seeming emboldenment of the extremist right in America, particularly manifested in the growth of hate-group ideologies among young people.

A recent spate of incidents in Boone County, Kentucky, provide the latest incarnation of this trend, noteworthy because the perps appear to be not only unchastened about it, but have escalated the threats:
Chloe Jones, 14, is black, and Cassie Blanton, 13, is biracial. Chloe said Wednesday the boy started making racial comments to them a few weeks ago in school, when he told them he hates black people and wants to kill all blacks, using various slurs.

He talked to one of the girls' friends last Wednesday on the school bus, deputies say. Chloe said the boy told the friend he was going to "bring a .22 to school" and again threatened to kill all black people, especially Chloe and Cassie.

Ebe Orndorff, Chloe's mother, said she drove her daughter to school the next morning and told the principal and a school resource officer what had happened.

Tom Scheben, spokesman for the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday that the officer filed the charge against the boy that morning. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 45 days in juvenile detention.

The school suspended the boy for 10 days (not counting spring break this week), but Cassie was once again harassed, she said.

A message was left on her cell phone from a person who said, "Don't (expletive) with my brother." The girl also said, "Just hang yourself from a tree and save me the trouble," and "I'll (expletive) hang you ... KKK style." The "n-word" was used at least 15 times in the message.

A week later there was a second incident in which four boys were caught vandalizing a local high school with white-supremacist grafitti, including a swastika, "KKK," and racial slurs.

Interestingly, school officials said this:
Scheben said he does not believe the two incidents were connected. Nor does he believe they are connected to a cross-burning incident in July in Burlington.

This is actually not very good news, because it means the total number of young people in the county participating in this kind of hate-mongering and threatening goes beyond just the suspects in hand. At the same time, the response suggests a certain naivete: These incidents aren't just occurring in a vacuum, either.

A follow-up report finds that parents are apparently conflicted about what it all means:
Concerns developed last week after an eighth-grade boy at the school was charged with terroristic threatening, accused of threatening to kill black people and singling out two eighth-grade girls.

Adding to the parents' anxieties, the boy has told deputies that he has guns and is a frequent hunter, Boone County sheriff's spokesman Tom Scheben said Thursday.

"I think he definitely needs to be kept away from school," said parent Pat Rowland. "It does concern me."

The problem is the extent to which we see this trend spreading: young people adopting white-supremacist beliefs as a rule does not just happen in a vacuum, either, especially on a national scale. A good place to look, I think, is in the atmosphere of general intolerance that has been sprouting up in all kinds of odd places in the past year and longer. Or would that be un-American?