Friday, February 29, 2008

Stand Up And Be Heard ** UPDATED

Today I sent the following letter to the poltical editor of my local paper.

Ms. Reeve,

I am following up on a voice message I left for you a few weeks ago. I was responding to something I had read in the Pioneer Press following the Super Tuesday election and was given your name by the reader advocate as the appropriate contact.

Following Super Tuesday, your paper printed several articles commenting on the strong showing by Barack Obama. One article in particular caught my attention, not for its content so much as the inflammatory language used to establish the argument.

The article, authored by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen writing for Politico, outlined a list of reasons why Hillary Clinton should be worried by the Super Tuesday results. The opening paragraph went like this:

“Hillary Clinton survived a Super Tuesday scare. But there are five big reasons the former first lady should be spooked by the current trajectory of the campaign.”
Spooked?!? Seriously?

Needless to say I was shocked that a 21st century newspaper would allow such an obvious racial slur to appear in print. Especially in a so-called news story. Regardless of one’s feelings for Barack Obama and his fitness for the Presidency, one can’t deny the clear implications of such offensive language and the possible hidden agenda of the authors. So, with righteous indignation in hand, I attempted to contact them to share my reaction.

Because your paper didn't provide any contact information for either writer I tracked them down via the internet. does not list e-mail addresses but does provide the option to contact its reporters via a comment box on their profile page. For both Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, I left the following comment.

“I wanted to comment on something I read in your Feb. 6th column regarding the challenges Hillary Clinton is facing from the Barack Obama campaign following the Super Tuesday elections. You wrote:

“Hillary Clinton survived a Super Tuesday scare. But there are five big reasons the former first lady should be spooked by the current trajectory of the campaign.”

Spooked?!? Seriously?

Surely you must be aware of the obvious historical use of that word as a racial epithet. Even assuming that your intentions weren’t to subtly disparage the first African American in the history of the country with a legitimate chance of winning the presidency, it is difficult to understand how you, and your co-author, and your editor, could allow such a racially loaded term to appear in print.

Were there really no other options? The Microsoft Word program I am using to compose this E-mail carries 10 synonyms for scared in its thesaurus. Any one of which would have had said the same thing without setting a discriminatory tone, unless that was your objective. I hope not. Given the tenor of the article, I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt and presume that you weren’t attempting to bias the readers with prejudicial language but instead fell victim to an unfortunate word choice.

To paraphrase Spiderman, “With great privilege, comes great responsibility.” As white folks, we rarely suffer the micro-aggressions so familiar to people of color. And because of that we must be even more cognizant not to commit them.”
Upon submitting my comment I received an error message indicating that my comment contained “inappropriate language”. Here I am trying to contact national political reporters about their use of racially loaded terms in the most diplomatic way I know how and I’m flagged for being inappropriate. The irony was overwhelming.

After stewing over the issue for several more days I decided that I would try to contact the Pioneer Press, as they too had some responsibility in allowing the article to run. I called the reader advocate and was given your name and number. I left a message over two weeks ago and have not heard anything since. I also tried to guess at what might be an e-mail address (based on the domain name) for Mr. VandeHei and Mr. Allen. I have not received any acknowledge from them either.

It would be easy for me to simply let this issue go. Afterall, these types of micro aggression don’t really hurt me. However, as I reflect further, I’m reminded of the famous poem “First they came…” by Pastor Martin Niemöller, which concludes, “And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

I’m speaking up now.


South St. Paul, MN

I recently received this response from the political editor of my local paper.

Hi Sven,

First, let me apologize for not getting back to you. I did get your voicemail and in the midst of the activity of the past few weeks neglected to call you back.

I appreciate the efforts you have gone to to make us aware of your concern. We have a partnership with Politico and you're right, they aren't our staff writers. I would be happy to forward this on to those writers and their editors.

My guess is there was no intent, but you raise a good point that that word is a bit loaded, especially when used in the context of writing directly or indirectly about a black person.

I appreciate your view, will pass it along to Politico and again I apologize for not getting back to you.
If you want to discuss this further, feel free to call me. I promise to respond.

Political Editor of the local paper

P.S. It's interesting. I think we ran another Politico story this week in which the Republicans are trying to figure out how they can talk about/attack Obama should he become the nominee without appearing racist.


Charlie said...

HEADLINE: "Sven runs into Freedom of the Press going 50mph"

Apparently nobody wanted to touch your potential hot spud.

But don't worry--things will get a lot worse before the "campaigning" is over.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Good for you for speaking up now. I find it hard to believe the use of that particular word was an unfortunate accident when as you point out, there were at least 10 synonyms which could have been selected to make the same point.

Do they seriously believe that their readers are so stupid and suggestible that they will fall for such subliminal advertising? And did they really expect that no one would bust them on it?

OneEar said...

Sven, you might have accused the paper of niggardly use of a thesaurus.

Superstar said...

Most papers are written at a 6th grade reading level. Chances are they didn't understand the "damage" of picking the first word listed in a thesaurus...heheheh
A common mistake my middle school kiddos make ALL THE TIME!!!

Good for you writing a letter and bringing it to their attention. Have you ever thought about becoming a editor?? You would be good!!