NOTE: Please see the update to this alert.
Mississippi Republican Senator 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 lost his position as Senate Majority Leader after comments he made at a December 2002 party for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond were made public. Lott saluted his home state’s support for Thurmond’s 1948 run for the White House on a Dixiecrat platform staunchly supporting segregation and opposing anti-lynching legislation:
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 heard or read Lott’s words, and knew the history of Thurmond’s campaign. But the Post chose not to dwell on the past; instead, their 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, readers of the Post certainly aren’t aware of them, since none are quoted. The closest the article comes to a critical point of view is in the very last paragraph, which alleges that some people “who do not care for Lott” think he might be “engaging in advance damage control.”
While Lott’s many critics go unmentioned, so does Lott’s long history of racist affiliation. 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 and several mainstream media outlets– including the Washington Post (12/16/98).
The CCC is the successor to the notorious white Citizens Councils, whose history dates back half a century to the 1950s when the groups were referred to 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 over 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 (Associated Press, 6/2/78). In 1981, Lott prodded the Reagan administration into taking the side of Bob Jones University and other segregated private schools that were suing the Internal Revenue Service to restore tax exemptions withdrawn a decade earlier because of the schools’ discriminatory racial policies (Washington Post, 1/18/82).
In 1982 and 1990, Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, the law passed to insure that minorities– especially Southern blacks– had access to the voting booth. In 1990, he voted against continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the crown jewel of civil-rights legislation that desegregated education and public accommodations. In 1983 Lott voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1994 he voted to de-fund the MLK Jr. Holiday commission.
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.”
None of this history is mentioned in the 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‘s profile that Lott would find objectionable.
Ask the Washington Post why their profile of Trent Lott glossed over Lott’s racism– ignoring the paper’s own coverage of Lott’s racist past.
Michael Getler, Ombudsman
Phone: (202) 334-7582
As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone.
Read the Post article at: