Berkshire Eagle publishes, defends a racist column

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See this follow-up post.

The venerable Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, founded in the 1890s and winner of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, recently published a racist column by a “conservative activist” named Steven Nikitas. After outraged readers complained, editor Kevin Moran responded in a column of his own that though he vehemently disagreed with Nikitas’ screed, he considered it well worth publishing. Moran wrote:

Views and opinions — whether they be considered by some, most or all people to be ignorant or brilliant or somewhere in between — tell us a lot about the community in which we live, work, go to school, vote, debate, worship, pay taxes, make choices and decisions, etc.

That’s true. And a community paper like the Eagle should provide a public forum — to act as “a town square,” as Moran puts it. But it should also have standards for what it chooses to publish, and that’s where I think the Eagle blew it. Presumably Moran would not publish a column calling on white residents to burn crosses in order to drive their African-American neighbors out of the area. And no, Nikitas’ column isn’t as bad as that. But if you read it, you will see that it’s bad enough. Here is how Nikitas begins:

After the burning and looting in Baltimore and Ferguson we are seeing endless media hand-wringing that somehow “we” must all do something more to help black America. And “we” means white people, taxpayers, businesses, the criminal justice system, the universities and the government. But blacks must now pull themselves up. “We” have done far too much already with tens of trillions in handouts in the last 50 years, and it has backfired badly.

Conservatives and Republicans have offered sure-fire solutions for black America and they have been rejected repeatedly. Our advice has been for African-Americans to discard the leadership of the Democrat party and charlatans like Al Sharpton. After all, far-left liberalism has obviously failed. The proof is everywhere.

Conservatives have recommended over and over that blacks reform their culture from top to bottom by respecting marriage and the family and the law, returning to their churches, embracing education and hard work, avoiding violence and debased rap music, speaking clearly, shunning drugs and profanity, and pulling up their pants. And to stop blaming all of their problems on everyone else. That is immature, cowardly and counterproductive.

What respectable business owner would hire a young black male from the “hood” who won’t even show up for work? What successful enterprise is going to establish itself in crime-ridden inner cities? Isn’t looting and burning self-defeating?

And so it goes, for 750 words in total.

A few observations.

First, if your instinct is to argue that Nikitas has a First Amendment right to his opinion, my answer is yes, he certainly does. He should get a blog. The Eagle is not the government. It is a newspaper, and it has a First Amendment right to choose what to publish and what to reject. The Eagle has risked its brand and reputation for the sake of providing a platform for a racist screed.

The New Haven Independent, a nonprofit community news site that is the subject of my book “The Wired City,” offers a useful counterview: it screens comments before they are posted, and won’t publish those it considers racist. The policy begins: “Yes we do censor reader comments. We’ll continue to.” And these are comments, mind you, not full-blown columns.

Second, since we began talking about this on Twitter and Facebook Sunday (here’s the public Facebook link, where you’ll find a lively discussion), I’ve seen several people argue that the Eagle was providing a service by calling attention to a racist in the its midst. I find that argument ridiculous. You call attention to racism with reporting, not by providing a platform to a racist. Besides, racists are not particularly exotic; you can find them everywhere.

Third, this is a challenge for the Massachusetts Republican Party because, as Moran explains, Nikitas’ column is part of a regular series called “Right from the Berkshires” produced by members of the Berkshire County Republican Association. Will that group disavow Nikitas’ views? If not, will the state party disavow the regional group? I’ve already heard from one Republican activist who believes the state party should order the Berkshire group to stop using the party’s name.

I have a feeling that there’s going to be more to come. It’s already starting to circulate nationally — after I found out about it, I discovered that Talking Points Memo was already on it. It will be interesting to see where this goes from here.

21 thoughts on “Berkshire Eagle publishes, defends a racist column

  1. NIkitas has published a number of pieces for the Eagle. (I’ve found 3 since February.) It’s not a regular gig, but it’s not a one-off either.

  2. Dan Mitchell

    Ah, the old “all viewpoints are valid” schtick. A particularly mindless notion, but one shared by a lot of people, including many of our leading media pundits who think comments sections are journalism, and etc. It’s downright scary that people who are supposedly veteran journalism professionals also believe it:

    Here are my further thoughts on this deranged worldview, applied to another situation

    View story at Medium.com

  3. Michael Goldman

    Mr Nikitas writes:
    “…And “we” means white people, taxpayers, businesses, the criminal justice system, the universities and the government”.
    Clearly in Mr. Nikitas’s world Blacks aren’t taxpayers; business (owners); lawyers, police, and employees of the criminal justice system; professors, administrators, administrative personnel, or support staff at universities; and certainly not elected leaders and workers for federal, state, and local governments. And according to the warped view of Mr. Nikitas, only white people work and only minorities riot. While there is probably no way to convince him that minorities work, I nevertheless urge Mr. Nikitas to read ’11 Stupid Reasons White People Have Rioted’, by Kali Holloway published in Alternet on November 27, 2014. At least he’ll see that rioting is not driven in any way by skin color!!

  4. Lisa Williams

    Particularly tasteless to suggest that African Americans “return to their churches” after what happened in Charleston and the continued burning of black churches since then.

  5. Peter Sullivan

    Dan, I find it interesting that any opinion on race put forth by a conservative is instantly labeled as racist… There are race problems a plenty that need America’s attention, from trigger happy police to employment discrimination and on and on…. There are also a lot of problems that the black community has to own up to and try and fix themselves… This is a side of the discussion that is taboo to discuss and has rarely been addressed in the media… I personally applaud the Eagle for having the courage to discuss the other side of the conversation, that the liberal media and the black community refuse to address….

    1. Dan Mitchell

      Well, maybe if conservatives weren’t so tin-eared, this wouldn’t be a problem. For instance, when they group all black people together and say “they” (all of them, presumably) have “problems” that they “have to fix themselves,” that’s pretty tin-eared. It’s also pretty much the definition of racism.

      1. Bill Duncliffe

        This is pretty funny because you denounce the use of “they” right after saying “if conservatives weren’t so tin-eared.” All of them, presumably. Physician, heal thyself.

      2. Dan Mitchell

        This isn’t difficult, or it shouldn’t be. Race and political ideologies are, you know, very different things. I know you people like to cast yourselves as a put-upon victim class, even while declaring rugged individualism and bootstrapping to be the highest goods, but most halfway intelligent people aren’t fooled.

      3. Dan Mitchell

        Yeah, that was on purpose. But you go on thinking that “conservatives” and “black people” are demographically and rhetorically comparable. You were born that way, you can’t help it.

      4. Peter Sullivan

        Mitchell, Yes, I get that I would be the starting right winger on the Media Nation hockey team and that your preaching to the choir just to hear yourself talk comments are what they are…. Why not actually have a discussion as opposed to calling me racist…. By the way, I never used the word they, but I did say Black Community, because that was the topic of the article being discussed…..

    2. Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: Can you find any instances when I’ve overreached in labeling something as “racist”? It’s a word I’m careful to stay away from except in very clear-cut cases — such as this one. Unless you can find other examples, you should retract your comment.

      1. Peter Sullivan

        I never said that YOU label everything conservatives say as racist. My point was that any time someone dares to address urban gun violence, high levels of single parent households or god forbid wearing a belt to keep your pants up,everybody screams racism… . While I may not agree with all the opinions of this author, I think it is important to discuss the things that people can do to improve their own communities, and I don’t see that conversation taking place very often…..

    3. Dan Mitchell

      But you’re not arguing, you’re just venting and listing things — the buzzphrases and hot buttons that are generated in the propaganda media and then passed around by the Internet Commentariat as if they were arguments. What I said was that grouping all black people together and demanding they be held to account together and individually for the bad actions and social problems of all other black people is the definition of racism. I didn’t call you racist, but that’s a clearly racist sentiment — in that it meets all the criteria for calling something racist (despite the absence of epithets).

      I mean, how do you envision this “black people solve all their own problems” thing going down, exactly? A meeting of the National Negro Coalition, where they draft rules and then send them out to the membership — all the blacks? Or, what? Seriously. You asked for conversation — fill us in on all the thinking you’ve applied to this issue.

      And elsewhere, you’re just mentioning things, as if that amounted to making some kind of point. My favorite was that old Angry Facebooking Boomer standby: the saggy pants. The way you tucked it in there among “gun violence” and “single parent households” was positively artful.

      1. Peter Sullivan

        Mitchell, thank you for helping me to make me point. The saggy pants and other things I mentioned were referenced in the article, not sure if you read it . Point is that we are so concerned with political correctness, that actually having a conversation that does more than blame the police and society for the conditions of urban low income neighborhoods is impossible. And I didn’t demand that black people need to solve all their own problems, I said that a critical part of the solution is not being talked about. And by the way, I am not on Facebook.

      2. Dan Mitchell

        Yes, the saggy pants are mentioned in the column because the column was written by a dimwitted, angry buffoon whose spittling rants should remain on Facebook right next to the complaints about dialing “1” for English and the lies about FEMA camps and the Pledge of Allegiance being outlawed.

        In other words, not a serious person and not a person whose ideas are worth publishing. Which was the reason for the post we’re commenting under. And I’m not sure why you’re pretending you weren’t citing him approvingly and agreeing with his stance on the Sag Issue, since you explicitly are defending him, and you listed those things to make the same point he did.

        Anyway, you’re clearly not a serious person either, so I’m done here.

  6. at the very least, there should have been an edit of or a [sic] after “Democrat Party,” since no such thing exists. It’s a term that’s increasingly used by the right in recent years to denigrate the DEMOCRATIC Party.

  7. Pingback: Racism in the Press: America's democracy hinges on open dialogue, but where's the line? - Valley Advocate

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