Sen. Trent Lott’s efforts to rehabilitate his public image were given a valuable boost by the Washington Post, which ran an uncritical profile in its April 14 edition.
Lott (R.-Miss.) lost his position as Senate majority leader after comments he made at a December 2002 party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.) attracted publicity. Lott had saluted Thurmond’s 1948 run for the White House on a Dixiecrat platform staunchly supporting segregation and opposing anti-lynching legislation. Lott declared:
I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.
Post reporter Shailagh Murray recalled that outburst as being “what some saw as nostalgic words about segregation.” Of course, “some” would interpret them that way–namely, anyone who knew the history of Thurmond’s campaign. (He ran under the slogan “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”) But the Post chose not to dwell on the past; instead, the article is a tribute to Lott’s perseverance: “It takes a certain determination for a politician to fall so spectacularly from grace and then refuse to go away.”
If Lott has detractors, Post readers aren’t made aware of them, since none are quoted. The closest the article came to a critical point of view was in the very last paragraph, which alleged that some people “who do not care for Lott” think he might be “engaging in advance damage control.”
Along with Lott’s many critics, Lott’s long history of racist affiliation also went unmentioned. The Post‘s headline, “Lott Puts ‘Little Bump’ Behind Him,” refers to Lott’s own assessment of the Thurmond episode as a “little bump” in his career. But this was not the first racist controversy for Lott: In 1998, Lott’s connections to the racist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) were revealed by FAIR (Extra!, 3=4/99) and several mainstream media outlets–including the Washington Post (12/16/98).
The CCC is the successor to the notoriously racist Citizens Councils, formed in the 1950s to combat desegregation and known as the “uptown Klan.” In December 1998, Lott denied any personal knowledge of the CCC, falsely claiming through a spokesperson that his links to the group amounted to a single speech made more than a decade before he’d entered the Senate. But the facts showed otherwise: In 1992, Lott praised the CCC as the keynote speaker at its national convention; in 1997, he met with top CCC leaders in his Senate office; his column appeared throughout the 1990s in the group’s newsletter, which once published a cheerful photo of Lott with CCC members who were also his close relatives. Lott was also the guest of honor at a 1982 banquet hosted by a Mississippi chapter of the old white Citizens Councils.
And Lott’s legislative record demonstrates that his connections to the CCC were no fluke. In 1978, then-Representative Lott was behind a successful effort to re-instate the citizenship of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (AP, 6/2/78). In 1981, Lott prodded the Reagan administration to restore tax exemptions for Bob Jones University and other segregated private schools (Washington Post, 1/18/82).
In 1982 and 1990, Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, the law passed to ensure that minorities–especially Southern blacks–had access to the voting booth. In 1983, he voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1994 he voted to de-fund the MLK Jr. Holiday commission. In 1990, Lott voted against continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the crown jewel of civil-rights legislation that desegregated education and public accommodations.
And Lott’s 2002 support for Thurmond echoed a statement Lott made in 1980: “You know, if we had elected [Strom Thurmond] 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.” Given that opposition to civil rights was the central issue of Thurmond’s campaign, the fact that Lott held on to this view for decades speaks volumes about him.
None of this history is mentioned in the Washington Post‘s fawning profile of Lott, whom the paper calls “one of most of the colorful figures in the Senate.” In an interview on CNN (4/14/05), Lott called it “a very nice article.” Indeed, it’s hard to see anything in the Post article that Lott would find objectionable.