Jan
19
2001

Ashcroft Quizzed About Southern Partisan Endorsement

Attorney general nominee refuses to condemn white supremacist magazine

John Ashcroft, George W. Bush's nominee for attorney general, was questioned during his Senate confirmation hearing about his on-the-record endorsement of the white supremacist publication Southern Partisan.

Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.) asked Ashcroft to respond to a series of quotes from the magazine, each of which had appeared in FAIR's January 12 media advisory on Ashcroft and Southern Partisan. The statements included claims that David Duke represented the "American ideal"; that slave-owners were concerned about the "peace and happiness" of slave families; that ethnic groups from outside of Northern Europe "have no temperament for democracy"; and that only "Italians, Jews and Puerto Ricans" live in New York, not "Americans."

In response to this questioning, Ashcroft responded:

On the magazine, frankly, I can't say that I knew very much at all about the magazine. I've given magazine interviews to lots of people. Mother Jones has interviewed me. I don't know if I've ever read the magazine or seen it. It doesn't mean I endorse the views of magazines. It's a telephone interview. And I regret that speaking to them is being used to imply that I agree with their views.

Of course, it is not his speaking with Southern Partisan that implies that he agrees with its ideas, but his telling the magazine:

Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Gen. Robert E.] Lee, [Gen. Stonewall] Jackson and [Confederate president Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.

Presumably he did not make a similar statement to Mother Jones.

Given several chances to explicitly distance himself from Southern Partisan, Ashcroft declined, saying carefully, "I condemn those things which are condemnable." When asked directly whether he thought the magazine was racist, he said, "I should probably do more due diligence on it. I know they've been accused of being racist.... I would rather be falsely accused of being a racist than to falsely accuse someone of being a racist."

Biden suggested that Ashcroft must have been briefed on the content of the magazine for the confirmation hearings, given that his association with it was an obvious topic to come up. Ashcroft responded:

I don't want to be disrespectful, but for you to suggest that I was told that all these things that you've alleged are true, I wasn't told that. And, frankly, I have been told that some of them aren't true.... And I don't know the source of your things.

That a nominee for U.S. attorney general would endorse a magazine that he knew celebrated the Confederacy is troubling in itself. That he would make no effort to check whether he had in fact promoted a racist magazine, even after his endorsement became a national issue--or would lie under oath about not having done so--is deeply disturbing.

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Columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times (1/18/01) discussed Ashcroft's dodging of the Southern Partisan issue in a column that cited FAIR.