—Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man.
''If the black man wins,'' warned a New York Times editorial on the eve of the historic 1910 fight between Jack Johnson and ''Great White Hope'' Jim Jeffries, ''thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbors'' (New York Times, 7/3/1910—as cited on PBS’s Unforgivable Blackness, 1/17/05). In an earlier editorial (11/1/1909), the editors worried over the fight while revealing what passed for discretion at the Times of nearly a hundred years ago: ''[We] will wait in open anxiety at the news that he has licked the—well, since it must be in print, let us say the Negro, even though it is not the first word that comes to the tongue’s tip.''
Of course, great strides have been made by American media and society since that editorial, and many others like it, were published. But progress seems to come in fits and starts. It doesn’t help that journalists often fail to recognize and challenge racism, even when—or perhaps especially when—it involves their own institutions.
Racism, in fact, may be gaining a firmer foothold in American media institutions as its promoters adopt more stealthy and sophisticated ways of presenting it. Consider two recent episodes in which David Brooks and John Tierney, both conservative New York Times writers, touted the work of Steve Sailer, a well-known promoter of racist and anti-immigrant theories.
Following the November elections, David Brooks used his column (12/7/04) to celebrate something he called the ''natalist'' movement. Natalists, said Brooks, defy Western trends toward declining birth rates by having lots of children and leaving behind the ''disorder, vulgarity and danger'' of cities to move to ''clean, orderly'' suburban and exurban settings where they can ''protect their children from bad influences.'' According to Brooks, natalists are more churchgoing and conservative than their less wholesome neighbors in more liberal urban areas, and are an increasingly important political force.
Though the movement sounds a bit like the post-World War II demographic trend dubbed ''white flight,'' Brooks makes no reference to ethnicity until halfway through the column, when he cites Sailer on white fertility:
Brooks is well-known for lightly documented demographic analysis (Philadelphia, 4/04), but he never explains why he believes white fertility is more important than that of other groups.
Did Brooks understand his source’s views? A look at the American Conservative article (12/20/04) that Brooks presumably read, since he cited it, ought to have raised the suspicions of an engaged columnist. In it, Sailer describes the undesirable urban traits he says white people are trying to escape: ''illegal immigrants and other poor minorities,'' ''ghetto hellions'' and ''public schools.'' Are these the things Brooks meant when he alluded to ''disorder, vulgarity and danger'' and ''bad influences'' in his Times column?
As American Prospect Online found (12/7/04), a little research reveals Sailer as a leading promoter of racist pseudoscience. As a principal columnist on the white nationalist website VDare.com, named for Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the ''New World,'' Sailer (e.g., 2/23/03; 12/12/01) extols the work of academic racists who say Africans as a group are innately less intelligent than whites or Asians. He is also a staunch defender of the Pioneer Fund, a primary funder for such racist research (as well as of VDare.com).
On the rare occasion Sailer gives race a rest, it’s usually to make some other mock-Darwinian argument, as when he ruled out the possibility of a gay gene, suggesting instead that homosexuality is a disease, possibly caused by a germ (VDare.com, 8/17/03): ''An infectious disease itself could cause homosexuality. It’s probably not a venereal germ, but maybe an intestinal or respiratory germ.''
A New York Daily News column (12/13/04) rebuked Brooks for plugging Sailer, suggesting that the Times columnist ''might want to do a background check on the next 'expert' he quotes,'' pointing out that “Sailer also writes for VDare.com, which the KKK-fighting Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a 'hate group.''' According to the News, the Times failed to respond to inquiries about the matter. No other mainstream outlets seem to have commented on the affair.
Conservative “bona fides”
In addition to writing for VDare.com and American Conservative, Sailer has contributed to the National Review and National Review Online. He also maintains a private email discussion group called the ''Human Biodiversity Group'' that includes many leading white supremacist intellectuals and ''scientific'' racists.
Sailer’s job as a national correspondent for United Press International (UPI) may seem surprising to those unaware the old mainstream wire service has drifted far rightward since its purchase by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church in 2000.
A lucid writer with an accessible style, Sailer is a smooth propagandist operating in a community of increasingly sophisticated nativists and racists. Neither a researcher nor a scientist, Sailer’s value to the movement is as a popularizer of its ideas and theories.
Weeks before the Brooks column, Times reporter John Tierney (10/24/04) quoted Sailer, describing him as ''a conservative columnist at the Web magazine VDare.com and a veteran student of presidential IQs.'' Tierney cited Sailer’s claim that George W. Bush’s IQ was likely greater than John Kerry’s, information Sailer extrapolated from the results of different tests the two had taken—tests that were not intended to measure IQ.
Were Brooks and Tierney aware of Sailer’s racist work? Were they sucked in by Sailer’s sophistication, his academic sounding arguments? Or was it his bona fides with ''mainstream'' conservative outfits like the National Review and American Conservative?
American Conservative was co-founded by Pat Buchanan, Peter ''Taki'' Theodoracopulos and Scott McConnell, who serves as editor. When McConnell was a New York Post columnist in the mid-'90s he suggested a brand of apartheid might be the solution to U.S. race problems (10/11/95):
McConnell would later be named the Post’s editorial page editor, before being fired in 1997 for writing a series of anti-Puerto Rican columns—but only because they reportedly threatened Post owner Rupert Murdoch’s business prospects (New York Daily News, 9/17/97). Sailer is just one of the racist writers McConnell has published in American Conservative (see, e.g., Robert Stacy McCain, 5/19/03; Sam Francis, 6/7/04).
The National Review’s support for racism traces back to its founding in the mid-'50s. A 1957 editorial titled ''Why the South Must Prevail'' (8/24/57) asked ''whether the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically?'' Citing the ''cultural superiority of white over Negro'' and ''civilized standards'' National Review editors answered, ''Yes—the white community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.''
Similarly, the magazine supported apartheid South Africa’s white minority rule (4/23/60): ''The whites are entitled, we believe, to preeminence in South Africa.'' When Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, National Review editors mocked critics of the verdicts (6/30/64): ''The South African courts have sentenced a batch of admitted terrorists to life in the penitentiary, and you would think the court had just finished barbecuing St. Joan, to hear the howls from the liberal press.''
Over the years many leading eugenicists and ''scientific'' racists have been warmly received by National Review. In a positive review of Race, Evolution, and Behavior, a 1994 book by Philippe Rushton, the current Pioneer Fund president, reviewer Mark Snyderman eagerly recounted the book’s ''ambitious'' and ''fearless'' thesis (9/12/94): ''Orientals are more intelligent, have larger brains for their body size, have smaller genitalia, have less sex drive, are less fecund, work harder and are more readily socialized than Caucasians; and Caucasians on average bear the same relationship to blacks.'' (To be fair, this kooky book also got a thumbs-up from New York Times science writer Malcolm Browne—10/16/94. See Extra! Update, 12/94).
National Review tapped Rushton to write a review of a new edition of The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould’s critique of eugenics—resulting in a predictable pan (9/15/97). And when Gould died in 2002, the magazine called on Steve Sailer (5/22/02) to do some grave-spitting.
''War against the white race''
Until his death on February 15, the award-winning writer Sam Francis was another member of this tightly knit circle of sophisticated racists. Francis had come far since his 1995 firing by the Unification Church-owned Washington Times for a speech he gave at the white supremacist American Renaissance conference.* Francis (Washington Post, 9/24/95) had told the gathering that a ''war against the white race'' was underway, and insisted that fellow whites
Francis was also a contributor to VDare.com, and since 1999 he had been the editor of the Citizens Informer, the publication of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the racist offspring of the old white citizens' councils of the Jim Crow era.
Francis also wrote a twice-weekly column for the mainstream Creators Syndicate. According to Creators, the column was distributed to 22 of its newspaper clients. The column also ran on right-wing and racist websites such as Townhall.com and Amren.com.
In one recent column (11/26/04), Francis attacked an ABC Monday Night Football promo because it featured a sexually suggestive scene between a black football player and a white TV actress. Francis wrote that the ad was meant to ''hurl a pie in the face of morals and good taste, but also of white racial and cultural identity,'' concluding:
When the media watch group Media Matters for America (12/7/04) wrote to Creators decrying the ''clear bigotry'' of the column, and asking why the syndicate would circulate it, Creators editor Anthony Zurcher defended publishing the column: ''Did I disagree with the column? Yes. Did I feel it was so reprehensible that it shouldn’t have been sent out? No.'' With that judgment, Creators asserted that white supremacism was just another point of view in the marketplace of ideas.
Francis' death occasioned fond remembrances across the white racist spectrum, from groups he contributed to like VDare.com and American Renaissance, to neo-Nazi websites like Stormfront.org (''A Great Man Has Fallen''--2/16/05) and NationalVanguard.org (''Pro-White Columnist Will Be Missed by Many''--2/16/05). David Duke’s website (2/16/05) had a telling farewell to what the one-time Klan leader called a ''true brother in the Cause'':
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jared Taylor was talking about King on half a dozen radio shows in cities spanning from Orlando, Florida to Columbus, Ohio. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Dennis Roddy (1/23/05), who carefully tracked Taylor’s media appearances that day, summed up Taylor’s depiction of King as ''a philanderer, a plagiarist and a drinker who left a legacy of division and resentment, and was unworthy of a national holiday.'' According to Roddy, in one appearance, on Pittsburgh’s KDKA radio station, Taylor was introduced repeatedly as a ''race-relations expert'' by conservative host Fred Honsberger.
Roddy described calling Honsberger to ask him about Taylor:
In fact, Jared Taylor is one of the country’s leading white supremacists. Yale-educated with a soft-spoken manner, Taylor may not fit the stereotype of an active racist, but he has links to Ku Klux Klan and Council of Conservative Citizen leaders. And as the president of the Virginia-based New Century Foundation, he publishes the racist magazine American Renaissance and organizes conferences featuring speakers such as Philippe Rushton and Sam Francis. (It was at one of these conferences that Francis gave his job-ending speech.) The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/23/05) describes Taylor as “the cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy. He is the guy who is providing the intellectual heft, in effect, to modern-day Klansmen.”
The past isn’t even past
Although sophisticated racists are thriving in conservative outlets and are gaining a foothold in centrist, mainstream outlets, the subject of racism is not one to which most newsrooms devote a great deal of resources.
When Ken Burns' PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (1/17/05) highlighted the poisonous racism that Johnson's career had inspired on the part of editorialists a century ago, the Los Angeles Times published a belated editorial mea culpa (1/14/05) titled ''Shame on Us.'' In it, the editors republished some of the paper’s ugliest commentary of the time, e.g., an editorial (4/6/1910) headlined ''A Word to the Black Man'' that cautioned, ''Do not point your nose too high.''
In concluding, the modern-day L.A. Times editors joined a call for a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who’d been the victim of a phony federal morals conviction, and stated: ''Count the members of this editorial board among those who believe that the best way to surmount the past is to confront it.''
That’s good advice. Would it be too much to ask that they confront the present too?
* Francis’ firing shouldn’t give people the wrong idea about the Washington Times. As the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report (8/14/03) noted, the Times continues to employ assistant managing editor Robert Stacy McCain; McCain, a member of the white-supremacist League of the South, is noted for posting Internet comments like, “The media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion” (New York Press, 12/11/02). Managing editor Francis Booth Coombs, meanwhile, is married to Marian Kester Coombs, a contributor to racist publications (as well as to the Times) who has urged white men to marry “racially conscious” white women (Intelligence Report, 2/9/05). [back]