When one reports on the 150th anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan, as the Longview News-Journal did on Sunday, one must be cognizant that people reading the paper might give the cover special scrutiny. In a region with as fraught a history with the Klan as East Texas has, the burden is even higher.
The News-Journal did not meet it. As described by outraged East Texans on social media, the paper's story includes a handy map for finding your local Klan chapter, information about the ease of joining the hate group and description of Klansmen and women "gather[ing] by the dozens under starry Southern skies to set fire to crosses in the dead of night."
After the story — which was adapted from an Associated Press wire story — ran on Saturday, reader Hillary Sandlin laid out the case against the paper on Facebook. "This makes us look like a bunch of backwoods racists and only further reinforces incorrect stereotypes about most of the people in this area. These 'chapters' could be six guys who made a group, but the map makes it appear like it's a thriving organization," she says.
Another reader, Patrick Carl Williams, commented on the site. "As a black man in the south, this is what I wake up to as a headline in the Sunday paper?" he asked. "Ok, I look through comments in this section daily and racist comments run rapid. Of all the news going on in this city, this is what you cover?"
Late Sunday night, the paper addressed accusations that it was sympathetic to the Klan in an editorial:
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Some who are upset have suggested the story’s publication somehow indicates the News-Journal’s support of the Klan or of the hatred and divisiveness it fosters.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The News-Journal publishes stories about many subjects and in most cases that coverage indicates only that the subject is newsworthy, of importance or interest to its audience. The newspaper has covered a frightening increase in murders in our city but does not support murder. It has documented a sizable increase in the number of rapes reported this year but does not support rape. It has published many stories about business closings and layoffs but does not support East Texans being thrown out of work.
Which is fine, as far as it goes, but the lesson here is in the execution. The incendiary images and ambiguous tone left open the question of the coverage's intention. The map is likewise flawed. It didn't contain analysis of the location of the Klan chapters — why are they clumping in the northeast, for example — and so can be confused as an aide to finding them.
The paper notes that the Klan is not thrilled with the coverage, either. "Other readers argued from another side, saying the story’s publication was unfair because while the Klan remains a white supremacist reality there also are black supremacist groups," the paper's editorial says. "And a couple of those we’ve heard from said they are Klan members in Texas who said they wanted to make clear the group today is not about lynch mobs and murder but white pride and nationalism."
Check out the article here.