James J. Kilpatrick's Racist Past Not Easily Forgotten
Black journalists have not been so quick to forgive the conservative columnist for his role in organizing "massive resistance" to school desegregation.
James J. Kilpatrick, the conservative commentator known to television viewers as a commentator on the "Point/Counterpoint" segment of "60 Minutes," or as a panelist on the old "Agronsky and Co.," died in Washington Sunday at age 89, his family said on Monday.
To some African Americans, however, the Virginian's support of Massive Resistance to school desegregation in the 1950s overshadowed the other aspects of his career highlighted in many of the mainstream media obituaries.
He was "a cheerleader for racism," said Raymond H. Boone, editor and publisher of the Richmond Free Press, a black weekly in the Virginia capital. He called Kilpatrick a tool of longtime Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd's organization, "a puppet who used his talents in a despicable manner." Although Kilpatrick later admitted he was wrong, "he could have come out as strong for civil rights as he did for civil wrongs," as some other whites did, Boone said.
In a Times-Dispatch interview in 2000, Mr. Kilpatrick said that in later years, he remained troubled by his former editorial stance," taken as editor of the old Richmond News Leader, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote. "But, he added, his argument on school integration was 'an effort to elevate the debate above the blood in the streets. The hope was it might in some obscure way have calmed the waves of passion. That was one of the motives, and the other was to keep the schools segregated until things settled down.' "
On the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists, Charles Robinson, a reporter for Maryland Public Television, recalled his student days at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where several of Kilpatrick's conservative colleagues taught journalism courses.
"Many of them continued the ideas he championed about no need for integration, even in the wake of court rulings telling institutions to break down barriers. A number of black students wondered about the high attrition rates in the Mass Communications Department. We remained vigilant in spite of the antagonistic attempts to lessen our contributions," Robinson wrote.
"Remember, there were no role models (Black professors) to turn to for advice. Instead we turned to each other creating a Black newspaper called 'Reflections in Ink.' . . .
"I believe it was Soledad O'Brien who urged us to 'bear witness to change the dynamics.' I can't say that I changed the dynamics, but my time at my alma mater taught me a lot about perseverance in the wake of overwhelming odds. I will not speak ill of the dead, but may he rest in peace knowing his brand of journalism did not prevail with members of my class, nor with the majority of journalists who practice our craft."
"The New York Post has had a somewhat contentious relationship with black New Yorkers over the past couple years, and it didn't help matters this weekend with a story that mixed up two African-American media powerhouses in a clumsy attempt to discredit a prominent supporter of President Barack Obama," Jeff Bercovici wrote Sunday for the Daily Finance.
"The item in Sunday's 'Page Six' gossip column claimed that former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers is a hypocrite for taking a job as CEO of Johnson Publishing because 'her new boss, Bob Johnson, who also founded Black Entertainment Television, was one of Obama's harshest critics.'
"The only problem with the Post's reasoning: Bob Johnson has nothing to do with Johnson Publishing, which is run by Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of deceased founder John H. Johnson, and which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines. A number of sharp-eyed Post readers pointed out the error in the comments section of the website. 'Bob Johnson isn't the only black man to have owned a media company,' wrote one."
The Post pulled the column from its website.
The episode became a comedy of errors when Bercovici rendered Rogers' name as "Desiree Johnson."
Such mix-ups aren't restricted to African Americans.
Saturday's Sacramento Bee carried this correction:
"On Page 7 of Friday's Ticket, a photo of Bruce Springsteen was incorrectly identified as Bob Dylan."
In South Africa, "President Jacob Zuma has reacted angrily to suggestions that the creation of a media appeals tribunal is an attempt by the ruling party to control and bulldoze the media using the tactics of apartheid regime," Issa Sikiti da Silva reported for that nation's bizcommunity.com.
"Writing in ANC Today, the party's online weekly newsletter, the sexagenarian head of state said [that] to suggest that the ANC and its government could have any similarities to the apartheid regime is not only preposterous, but also disingenuous and an unbearable insult," referring to the ruling African National Congress.
One of those making the comparison was the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which wrote to Zuma on Monday:
"The Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament is meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982. Yet the broad language and far-reaching provisions of the legislative proposal introduced by Security Minister Siyabonga Cwel is reminiscent of apartheid-era regulations since it would virtually shield the government from the scrutiny of the independent press and criminalize activities essential to investigative journalism, a vital public service. Journalists, under the proposed law, would face heavy jail time for violations.
"Under the bill, officials and state agencies would have unchecked authority and discretion to classify any public or commercial data as secret, confidential, protected, or sensitive based on vaguely defined 'national interest' considerations and without any explanation, according to our research and legal experts."
In South Africa's Sunday Independent, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane said the ruling African National Congress held misguided expectations of black journalists:
"There was a wrong expectation that black journalists in particular were meant to opine as sheep and never say a negative word about the ANC and its various leaders.
"This silly expectation was soon quashed by the reality that every black journalist, columnist or analyst has a brain of his/her own and that no newsrooms caucused anti-ANC stories.
"In fact, some among the ANC faithful who have been journalists would be able to debunk that myth if their colleagues were to listen to them. It's simply lies to paint the media, made up of so many activists of yesteryear, as suddenly common-minded about their hostility to the ANC.
"What we should focus on is what they are reporting and whether that constitutes lies or truth."
*Samantha Henig, the New Yorker: Debriefing: Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Jacob Zuma (June 28)
*Raymond Louw, Southern Africa Report: South Africa: Threat to Press Freedom is Already Here
*Jonny Steinberg, Sunday Times: Something else lies behind moves against the media
*Jacob Zuma, African National Congress: Let the Real Media Debate Begin