For lack of a more creative phrase, lets call it the Trent Lott syndrome. Or better yet, the Trent Lott drill.
Push the racist envelope as far as possible, and just short of shouting, “sieg heil.”
In the midst of the firestorm/response issue a (patently contrived and coerced) heartfelt apology about not being “sensitive” to the fact that the subject of your racist wrath takes offensive.
And finally, walk gleefully to the woodshed, promise to be more “sensitive” in the future and begin anew.
Which brings us to the Knight Ridder daily “Tallahassee Democrat”, veteran reporter Bill “Capital Curmudgeon” Cotterell, cartoonist Doug Marlette and Knight Ridder’s great white hope of an executive editor, John Winn Miller.
On Friday morning, January 3d, many Tallahassee Democrat readers were startled and stunned (I wasn’t one of them) to read the below the fold headline, “Democrat reporter suspended following offensive e-mail.”
This delicious, scandal promising headline was accompanied by an explanatory letter “To Our Readers” from editor John Winn Miller, who provided readers with the who, what and why of the matter at hand:
“On behalf of the Tallahassee Democrat, I apologize to all of our readers, and most especially to members of the Islamic faith everywhere, for the intemperate e-mail comments of political writer/columnist Bill Cotterell.
They absolutely do not represent the views and SENSITIVITIES (MY CAPS) of this newspaper.
“Bill spoke, via company e-mail in anger and frustration to a reader. Shortly after he sent the message, he realized his mistake, and he has since apologized to all of his colleagues for the hurt and embarrassment he knows he caused.
‘ I was wrong and I am sorry,’ he (Cotterell) said in an unsolicited statement (yeah, right John) to his editors.
‘My remarks were grossly inappropriate and do not reflect my views toward Muslim people.'(Perhaps he meant Arabs of all faiths?)
Groveling further, Cotterell continued:
‘It would be bad enough if my comments reflected only on my own lack of judgment, but I realize that I have embarrassed the newspaper.’
Cotterell’s violation of Knight-Ridder’s sensitivity strictures took place in the context of a letter/reply to a reader who as it happens was upset that editor John Winn Miller had pulled/censored a cartoon by Pulitzer boy Doug Marlette that appeared on the Democrats web edition.
The cartoon showed an angry Arab driving, of all things, a Ryder Truck. The caption read, “What would Mohammed Drive?”
After receiving numerous complaints about Marlette’s crude cartoon Miller did the Lott grovel, publishing a tortured apology in the print edition of the paper.
After some less than Voltarian huffing and puffing about Marlette’s right to free expression (but not in the Tallahassee Democrat), Miller pled out, and informed the offended why he never knew it was on the website in the first place!
And now that he knew, Mohammmad’s Ryder truck was being returned to the garage for sensitivity repair.
Miller’s missive was followed by a Marlette guest column lambasting censorious readers, in particular “The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the organization which also protested Cotterell’s offending e-email.
And which, by the way, if memory serves, endorsed George W Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign, as did most other major U.S. Islamic organizations.
Marlette solemnly lectured offended readers that “free speech” was what this country is all about, but let Miller off the hook, never mentioning that it was actually Miller and not the readers who actually censored his cartoon.
Cotterell’s Lott-grovel became necessary after he emailed one of Marlette’s detractors a red-necky rendition of recent Arab-Israeli relations.
And which, speaking of cartoons, rather resembled a “Hustler” magazine cartoon in its crude conceptual presentation of the middle east conflict:
“Except for Jordan and Egypt, no Arab nation has a peace treaty with Israel. They’ve had 54 years to get over it. They choose not to.
“Ok, They can squat around the camel-dung fire and grumble about it, or they can put their bottoms in the air five times a day and pray for deliverance; that’s their business.
“And I don’t give a damn if Israel kills a few in collateral damage while defending itself. So be it.”
Ironically, Winn Miller was installed as Democrat executive editor after the controversial sacking of black editor Lorraine Branham a couple of years ago. Branham’s firing was the subject of and article in Editor and Publisher. The buzz was that Branham’s sacking came because after her appointment, many white subscribers began to cancel subscriptions.
Although the Democrat, which preaches the diversity, affirmative action gospel, denied that race had anything to do with Branham’s dismissal, they installed Winn without interviewing any black or white applicants. The appearance, as they say, is that Knight-Ridder chucked affirmative action quicker than you can say Trent Lott, in hope of winning back the white subscriber vote.
None dare call it liberal Lottism.
As for Cotterell, his punishment is a week’s suspension without pay and a lifetime of Lott grovelling. And some tender kissing of air hanging Arab bottoms.
And while facing east of course.
JACK McCARTHY lives in Tallahassee. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org