Rebel Hunter

Oak Cliff's Ed Sebesta helped topple Trent Lott

Ed Sebesta made sure that message got out.

In the past, Sebesta has been able to get his material before the public by working directly through major media reporters. In the birthday party blowup there was an intriguing intermediate role played by the relatively new phenomenon of bloggers. Forgive us all for not knowing: Bloggers are people who maintain private "Web logs" or Web pages in which they express their opinions and provide information. Much of what appears on Web logs is indecipherable babble, but a cadre of credentialed writer-reporters has entered the field, and some already have become go-to sources for major media reporters.

One of the most quoted of these is Washington blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, a regular contributor himself to major newspapers and magazines who also maintains a Web log called "Talking Points Memo" (www.j-marshall.com).

For his role in exposing the radical right fringe of the Republican Party, Ed Sebesta has been called "a really important national figure."
Peter Calvin
For his role in exposing the radical right fringe of the Republican Party, Ed Sebesta has been called "a really important national figure."

Marshall's Web log has been credited by a number of national reporters with having kept the Lott story alive, providing the doses of deep background that defeated Lott's serial attempts at spin.

What's striking about the birthday-party story is that it defied the typical logic of the news cycle: It started small, sputtered to nothing, smoldered for days and then leapt into flame later, after the major media had more or less abandoned it. In trying to explain the anomalous process of the story itself, Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post and Paul Krugman in The New York Times both mentioned bloggers in general and Marshall in particular. Krugman called Marshall's Web log "must reading for the politically curious" and said Marshall was "more than anyone else...responsible for making Trent Lott's offensive remarks the issue they deserve to be."

Marshall told me that Sebesta provided him much of the documentation he put on his page. "Ed was definitely a major resource for me in covering the Trent Lott story, and I know that he was for other journalists as well," Marshall said. "He [Sebesta] is a really important national figure."

Thomas B. Edsall of The Washington Post has written and co-authored some of the most influential stories on Trent Lott from 1998 until now. He told me that Sebesta has consistently been an important source during that entire span of time. "He has over the years provided me substantial material that has been very useful." Edsall said he began relying on Sebesta four years ago for stories on Lott's involvement with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

"Ed was crucial in that," Edsall said. He said in the birthday-party story that resulted in Lott's ouster as majority leader, the historical background was key. "The historical record has been crucial, and Ed is a guy who keeps track of things from the present to way, way back."

Peter Applebome at The New York Times gave me a nuanced view that probably is not far from what many reporters at his level think of Sebesta: "In his role as an accumulator and collector of information, he is without peer." He said Sebesta's archival material is invaluable for the light it sheds on "the vast world of people who are very, very loosely associated as neo-Confederate."

Applebome said he thinks neo-Confederates "range from groups that are either entirely benign and have benign qualities to groups that are Klan and worse, genuine hate groups.

"If there is a part of Ed that I am a bit skeptical about, it's that I don't know that his interpretations are always entirely ones that I would always agree with. But that really doesn't matter, because you're not really going to him for his interpretations. You're looking for what Trent Lott has said about neo-Confederates and where, and he will get it for you."

I don't disagree with Applebome. When I had lunch with Sebesta a week ago at Gloria's in Oak Cliff, I was struck again by two things. Sebesta is hard to understand when he expresses his views. But he makes more sense and sounds more cogent the more effort I invest.

He promised ominously that all his far-flung chickens may come home to roost in Dallas some day, given that this is where he started and that Dallas has always been home to a crypto-encampment of ultra-right rejectionist Jeff Davis Dixiecans. Maybe it's the effect of the holiday season, but, for me, just imagining those chickens winging their way home at last is like sugar plums dancing in my head.

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