Friday, November 1, 2019
Donald Trump is coming to Mississippi today—up there in Tupelo where the American Family Association is headquartered—to urge conservative Mississippians to turn out and elect Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as governor Tuesday. It seems pretty certain that the New Yorker-turned-Floridian president will be riding in on a red-baiting carpet. Should you be lucky enough to attend, you'll likely hear the names Elizabeth Warren (or "Pocahontas"), AOC, Nancy Pelosi and Bernie alongside the word "socialist" a lot.
Republicans are already sending out glossy mailers warming up the crowd in Mississippi and other southern states to the necessity of electing Trump apologists and enablers—that is pretty much what Reeves' whole campaign is about at this point. They are promising us, in no uncertain terms, that men like Tate Reeves will stop the scourge of socialism from taking over our state and America.
Of course, they define that term loosely—as always, "socialism" is a euphemism for any expenditure of taxpayer money to help poor people, ensure access to medical care, regulate corrupt corporations, ensure all American children have equal access to good education, and so on. Oh, and apparently it's socialism to use taxpayers' own money to fix roads and bridges. Not requiring young teenagers to bear their father's child and allowing women to make our own health-care decisions? Socialism.
The Mississippi Republican Party blanketed the state with glossy mailers last week with photos of (from left to right) Nancy Pelosi, Jim Hood, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders crammed up close. One of these pics is not like the other: Hood, a moderately conservative Democrat, is running for office in Mississippi. None of the others has a connection to our state, and their politics do not match Hood's, either. Far from it.
No matter. "Vote Tate Reeves on November 5th and STOP the socialist Democrats," our erudite Republican Party proclaimed on the mailer, adding, "Fight the Democrats' socialist agenda" and "STOP the socialist Democrats from taking over." (Repetition is a Republican virtue, apparently.)
But our local geniuses clearly didn't come up with the socialist shtick. Apparently, the mailer is adapted from a national Republican "the commies are coming!" template. Kentucky Republicans sent out a mailer this week with photos of Warren, AOC, Sanders and Democrat Andy Beshear edited to hug close to each other. (Where is Nancy?) It proclaimed, "Andy Beshear and the national Democrats want to bring socialism to Kentucky," listing the old southern-strategy racist trope, "Punishing success and giving your money to others."
Both mailers are designed with tabloidy splashes of neo-communist red and yellow. They really do think southerners are stupid.
A Shift Back to Dixiecrat Rhetoric
This red-baiting is like 1964 déjà vu all over again—or basically all of Mississippi history before 1970. Back then, "communist" and "socialist" were slightly softer versions of the n-word, or n-lover for white folks, that the Dixiecrats used for anybody of any race who dared suggest in Mississippi that Jim Crow segregation had to end. It was a time when local racists, led by men like William J. Simmons of the Citizens Council here, blasted the "outside agitators" who wanted to end our "way of life." (Note how Tate Reeves and other Republicans here still talk about "outsiders" trying to change the state, pointedly ignoring the natives even of their own party trying to do it from within.) Red-baiters also sometimes killed those agitators, native or guest, as in my hometown with the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Jews, especially, were coming in here and trying to rile up black people in a socialist/communist plot, white leaders told white Mississippians constantly.
In fact, as Dr. Robert Luckett, a Jackson State University historian, revealed in the Jackson Free Press in 2017, Gov. Phil Bryant graduated from one of the most outwardly racist high schools in Mississippi: a Citizens Council school in south Jackson. The curriculum of the Simmons-run schools included teaching white children they were biologically superior to black children. And they talked a whole lot about civil rights as communism and socialism in those schools.
In 1960, the Citizens Council's essay-contest topics for schoolchildren was "Anti-Communism & Civil Rights. Read the two winning essays here by a teenage girl in Madison, Miss., and a boy in Itta Bena.
To fully understand the past that is not past these days, just read Millsaps College professor Stephanie Rolph's recent book that lays it all bare: "Resisting Equality: The Citizens' Council, 1954-1989 (Making the Modern South)." It's hard to find a more honest and detailed book about the recent history of the South, Mississippi and Jackson.
What is sickening is that the Mississippi Republican Party has fully completed its shift into the Dixiecrats of old by employing the same old despicable red-baiting strategies that Rolph details in that book, despite views of many Mississippi-born Republicans and conservatives. They don't seem to want Mississippians to turn the corner on our past.
As for Reeves? Vote for him, he says, because he backs anything and everything Donald Trump does, no matter how hideous. He's not shy about it: "Help Donald Trump by voting for Tate Reeves on Nov. 5th."
Meantime, the federal government keeps increasing subsidies to U.S. farmers to help offset their losses due to Trump's ill-considered trade tariffs. It feels like there ought to be a word for that.
Hey TV, Stop Getting Rich Off Ads Riddled with Lies
The socialism mailer wasn't the first, and clearly not the last, attack flyer that the Mississippi Republican Party sent this cycle. A few days earlier, JFP reporter Ashton Pittman reported on a mailer the state party sent out with outright falsehoods about Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Hood, including on his abortion stance. This one wasn't unlike the one Tate Reeves' campaign sent out with lies and distortions about Republican challenger Bill Waller Jr.—or the one the state GOP sent out about Democrat Mike Espy in last fall's Senate race against Cindy Hyde-Smith.
With horse-race reporting, Mississippi media buries candidates who want to focus on real issues.
Here's the thing: It's one thing to frame an issue in one party or the other's direction, but since when is it OK to just outright lie? We tell kids not to do it; we fire employees who are dishonest; we even leave partners we can't trust. But political candidates do it as sport, and too often the lies go unchallenged, especially in the horse-race news game that too many journalism outlets play. To The Clarion-Ledger's credit, reporters Giacomo Bologna and Luke Ramseth factchecked assertions by both Reeves and Hood this week. This is the work journalists are supposed to do, and our outlets aren't here to promulgate smears. That's not journalism.
Real journalists must check facts before asserting them and quickly issue corrections when we get it wrong. We don't pass around rumors without checking them out. We don't even entertain a rumor about someone we don't like without evidence, if we're worth our salt, because we're in a profession where we know garbage flies constantly, and it is unethical to spread it even if that is what too many on social media live to do.
But, certain "journalism" outlets (and blogs) will publish any obvious trash if they're paid handsomely for it. Take local television stations. The Ledger reporters said the Reeve and Hood campaigns are spending $1 million locally on advertising, and that's mostly TV attack ads these days. Print journalism that does the heavy lifting of reporting on policy and issues gets very little political advertising dollars anymore from any party.
We'll leave the conversation for another day about Mississippi candidates expecting a quid pro quo of an endorsement from an outlet in exchange for political ad dollars, or a candidate running ads in unethical forums so those forums won't run negative content about them.
One reason we quit official endorsements is due to the corruption wrapped up in it, and the personal attacks on our staff due to our editorial board's choices.
Meantime, Facebook is both pushing into "journalism" itself (after cutting us off at the knees in so many ways), and refusing to stop accepting false political ads. Twitter, on the other hand, announced that it won't take political ads at all. (Maybe that's not the best First Amendment solution, but it's better than anything else under our current threats to democracy seeded through social media.)
Here's a thought: If you're making a boatload of cash off political advertising, factcheck the ads before you run them. Do as we do and look up the heavily edited quotes they use for original sourcing. If the ad is a clear distortion, tell the campaign you won't run it. Even if you're local TV and perhaps never heard of factchecking, be responsible and refuse to run openly false advertising. Or, at least run a factcheck next to it.
If you stop accepting trash ads, the campaigns will work harder to get it right in what they send. What a way to speak truth to power, which is what good journalism is supposed to do.
Of course, our television stations tend to be satellites of national corporations, and money is what matters to them, not the effects of bad advertising on a poor state on the bottom of most indicators.
I won't hold my breath, but still.
The Jackson Free Press revealed to the world in February 2016 that Gov. Bryant had declared April "Confederate Heritage Month," but with no mention of slavery.
'Please Take My Photo Out of your Commercial'
A somewhat-amusing fallout from the wall of television ads this past week was Gov. Phil Bryant getting his knickers in a twist over Hood using video of the two of them announcing the large BP settlement in the wake of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast in 2010. This was a good example of bipartisanship—and the kind many Mississippians would welcome rather than the constant partisan bickering and power games.
But Bryant took umbrage. In this tweet, he shared a video of Jim Hood with his big-ass gun off in the country looking, shall we say, more down-home country than Bryant just about ever does. The governor tweeted, "Jim, as you may remember, my office and @MDEQ worked for years to achieve the BP settlement while you were at your house in Houston. Please take my photo out of your commercial."
It seemed that the Hood campaign was a chess move ahead, though, responding: "It was YOUR office that made a joint announcement of our settlement. We do more by working together—Democrats and Republicans." The tweet included a link to and a screenshot of an announcement Bryant's office sent out at the time of the $1.5 billion BP settlement. "Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood announced today in Biloxi that Mississippi has received an agreement in principle with BP to settle claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster."
"So let's work together and get my photo out of your political commercial," Bryant then responded less forcefully.
As of press time, that ad is still circulating, with Bryant smiling prominently next to Hood over bringing all that corporate money into Mississippi's coffers, even as winning lawsuits against corporations to bolster the state's revenue is one of Republicans' big complaints about the attorney general's track record in office.
We dig for the documents you deserve to see. Poke around years of material in our morgue.
Sunshine Victory in Hinds County
Locally, we applaud the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, which is allowing reporter Seyma Bayram and investigative fellow Nick Judin to comb through all the documents on their recent list of items they planned to destroy. If you've been following her reporting, and my Dossiers, you know that this has been a slog. We are insisting on having a chance to both review the documents, to scan what we want to keep and to ensure that all documents will still be available for public view locally, which is not clear so far.
It took weeks to get this far, but the county has assured us that they will give us access to the documents without destroying any of them to examine and scan until we have gone through them all.
Cheers to Seyma's tenacity and commitment to shining a lot on public documents. The taxpayers, after all, own them.
Finally, Nick Judin did a terrific story following his guest Dossier last week (just after my shoulder surgery) that included a document dump of several years of Institutions of Higher Learning minutes that it had unlinked from its website. Be sure to read his beautifully written piece on the concerns about academic freedom being behind the fiat choice of Glenn Boyce as chancellor of the University of Mississippi. And spend quality time in the JFP Documents Morgue packed full of PDFs of vital materials, including many we fought to get.