Political Animal


March 30, 2013 9:19 AM Scripps Howard writes a puff piece on the KKK. No, really!

By Kathleen Geier

Is this an early April Fool’s prank, or has everyone at the Scripps Howard News Service been hit with the stupid stick — hard?

I read the piece with ever-increasing slack-jawed amazement, my eyebrows raised so high they nearly met my hairline. Clearly an attempt to portray the kinder, gentler side of the Klan, it is an epic journalistic fail. Here’s the first line: “There’s a lot to be angry about if you’re in the KKK.” Well, that’s one way of putting it! It goes on from there:

As local leader of the Loyal White Knights, Edward the Exalted Cyclops organized a barbecue last month to make plans for Saturday’s demonstration to show that white people still have rights.
Edward curses sparingly, drinks rarely, and keeps his hair clipped short — his tribute to his old-fashioned Christian values.

Does that read like a pitch-perfect Onion parody, or what? I mean, Edward the Exalted Cyclops? Hosting a barbecue?? And yes, you might, I suppose, describe decades of brutal racist terror and violence as “old-fashioned Christian values”— but only if you are a very mischievous atheist or anti-clerical-ist indeed.

The story describes plans for a Klan rally in Memphis today to “celebrate white people’s rights.” Yes, it really says that — unironically, and without challenge! According to one Klansmen, it is a protest against attempts “to erase white people out of the history books.” There are many other inadvertently hilarious moments in this LOL-rich article; my favorite is “communists (known as liberals today)” (and no, that’s not a quote from a Klansman — those are the reporter’s own words, a clumsy attempt at a paraphrase I suppose).

Essentially, the reporter is covering a Klan rally as if it were no different than a Sunday school picnic. It should be emphasized that the only people interviewed for or cited in the article are Klansmen and one academic who says something neutral and academicky. No anti-Klan experts or activists are interviewed or cited in this trainwreck of an article.

I have some advice for the reporter and editor responsible for this wretched POS, which by all rights should be a career-ender. Attempt to save face by passing this off as an early April Fool’s joke gone horribly wrong, and submit your resumes to The Onion ASAP. You may well have a genius for the kind of stories they publish — albeit an inadvertent one.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • buddy66 on March 30, 2013 10:47 AM:

    Gotta be an Onion sneak attack.

  • Ack Ack Ack on March 30, 2013 11:04 AM:

    How is the cited-academic "Klan-friendly"? Her assessment of the Klan's use of tempered language isn't controversial but well-accepted.

  • Bokonon on March 30, 2013 11:06 AM:

    Since when did it suddenly become OK for the media to take the KKK's propaganda at face value? Christian values? Defending white people's rights??

    No ... sorry ... that is NOT what the KKK does, and that is NOT what they stand for.

    This article would be a career ender if someone went and interviewed an Al Queda leader this way - or enabled the rebranding efforts of some other hate group. And it SHOULD be a career ender here. What is troubling is that it probably won't be - either for the reporter or their editors.

    I really wonder what the hell is going on here.

  • c u n d gulag on March 30, 2013 11:17 AM:

    And here I though "Edward the Exalted Cyclops" was the name of that squid who picked all of the World Cup matches a couple of years ago?

    Now I come to find out that this leg-impaired even dumber non-squid, is the head of the local KKKlan.

    Oh, and the comments!!!

    It's all Lincoln's, Grant's, and Sherman's faults.
    Grant should have told Sherman not to stop until he had burned EVERY DAMN FECKIN' THING TO THE GROUND!
    And then Lincoln should have ordered the ground to be sown with salt.

    Lincoln was the Obama of his day - always looking forward.
    And in six generations, there'll be some "Journalist" writing about how the nasty Liberals are trying to change the names of George W. Bush Park in Texas, and The Dick Cheney Recreational Facility in Montana.

    Actaully, no there won't be any "Jounalists" left - because people like this woman stuck a stiletto into the profession, and her Editor provided the final twist.

  • T-Rex on March 30, 2013 11:22 AM:

    This is the source of the story on Scripps Howard:Memphis Commercial Appeal, Scripps Howard News Service. I suspect that Scripps Howard, like the Boston Globe's online service, has "content providers" that are not vetted properly. That was how the Globe ended up partly taking the fall for the fake story about Paul Krugman's bankruptcy, even though they were not responsible for posting it. Google "Memphis Commercial Appeal" and see what pops up. Uggh!

  • Nick on March 30, 2013 11:22 AM:

    @Ack Ack Ack: I wonder if Kathleen misread the article as I did. It unfortunately follows up quoting Baker (the Klan-studying academic) with quoting Barker (the Klan-belonging racist). It wasn't until I read your comment that I went back and noticed this. If Baker (again, the academic) had said the thing that Barker said, I think Kathleen's charges would have been quite fair.

  • cwolf on March 30, 2013 12:18 PM:

    Edward curses sparingly, drinks rarely, and keeps his hair clipped short his tribute to his old-fashioned Christian values.

    Does that "Lefty Media" have no shame?

  • cwolf on March 30, 2013 12:28 PM:

    From the article:
    "Edward's sister qualifies one of her statements by saying that they don't necessarily hate gay people, just homosexuality.

    Okkk, "Edward's sister"
    You can put your hood back on.
    I'm sick of your Mayo on Cracker face.

  • Lyansaine on March 30, 2013 12:37 PM:

    Kathleen, I attend the University of Tennessee, and I can promise you that despite what you might think, we don't employ any Klan-friendly academics. Hopefully you confused Baker and Barker; regardless, you need to correct this post ASAP.

  • Lionel Galway on March 30, 2013 1:06 PM:

    As I read the piece, the communist/liberal comment is part of an indirect quote of Mr. Barker's prescriptions for society; it's not the reporter's words.

  • jjm on March 30, 2013 1:39 PM:

    Oy. Vey.

  • Steve P on March 30, 2013 2:13 PM:

    Maybe someone could run Kathleen's posts past an English major some time for editing. She might learn something about the difference between straight-faced and po-faced. Until then, please keep her away from any programs featuring Stephen Colbert.

  • Robert Goodman on March 30, 2013 2:18 PM:

    I think you pulled the trigger too quickly on this on KG. Poorly composed article but not sinister. Seemed to intend ironic stance toward subject.

  • Citizen Alan on March 30, 2013 2:18 PM:

    What I find most ridiculous about these pig-people is that they have the audacity to claim entitlement to an elevated status based solely on their skin color without having ever achieved anything of any importance in their entire lives other than being born to the right mother. I'm white, and I consider myself superior to these barely human troglodytes in every way that matters because I've gone out and made something of myself instead of spending my entire life blaming the fact that I'm a loser living in a trailer with two goats in the back yard on minorities I don't even know.

  • cathmac on March 30, 2013 3:23 PM:

    I suspected the piece was ironic. Then you used the word 'hilarious' to describe it, which made me pretty sure. Haven't read it yet, though.

  • Marc Bloch on March 30, 2013 3:38 PM:

    Kathleen (and other commenters), I appreciate your linking the article and bringing it to our attention, at least. But I think it's obvious that you're misreading it, and what's worse is that you're falsely characterizing both the author of the piece and the university lecturer who is quoted in the piece.

    The article shows how at least one Klan leader (and, presumably, others) are trying to keep the group alive and active, by dialing down their rhetoric -- without, evidently, changing any of their hateful beliefs. That's news to me, and (I think) to other readers too.

    The author has taken the trouble to find this out by talking with the "Imperial Wizard" character. It should be obvious to you - and I'm pretty sure it's obvious to other readers - that this isn't a puff piece. Look at that last sentence.

    I suppose you can argue that the author is to blame for being ironic and overly subtle, or insufficiently explicit in her condemnation of the Klan. I would maintain that she has done nothing wrong here at all. If Klansmen are making a bid for respectability, then that's something that should be known and understood. If that bid for respectability is to be exposed as an effort to conceal the same old complex of violent hatreds, then I think it's more effective to have the Wizard do it through his own words.

    Kathleen, I think you owe an apology to Samantha Bryson for some of what you say here, although you might still argue that there are problems with the article. But your attack on the university lecturer is actually worse and you really should take it back, with an unconditional apology. Kelly Baker clearly is not defending the Klan here either, and for you to call her a "Klan-friendly academic" is the kind of drive-by smear which could seriously impact someone's career (especially an untenured "lecturer") if left to stand. If you're not willing to do this, then I think it must be brought to the attention of your editors.

  • Andy Hall on March 30, 2013 3:46 PM:

    Kelly Baker's (the academic's) observations about the Klan are accurate. Taken in the larger context of the article, though, they seem to be apologetic for the Klan, which they're not. Baker has extensive scholarship on the Klan and similar groups; religious intolerance is her area of study:


  • Mimikatz on March 30, 2013 4:18 PM:

    After reading the article and checking out the academic via the link Andy Hall helpfully provided, I think Kathleen jumped too soon. The academic, Baker, is clearly not Klan-sympathetic; her whole body of work is in religious intolerance. She is showing how they are trying to "rebrand". And it is Barker the Klansman who hates homosexuals and considrs liberals to be communists, not the author or Baker the academic. It was an attempt to be ironic, and perhaps a testament to how hard it is to get irony past the editors of the Commercial Appeal. Apologies are due to both the author and the academic.

  • Geoff G on March 30, 2013 4:49 PM:

    The last three sentences in the article are "Edward's sister qualifies one of her statements by saying that they don't necessarily hate gay people, just homosexuality. Edward rebukes her. Of course we hate 'em, he says." I'd hate to live in a world where this quote would be thought to make the speaker look good. I read it as a pretty explicit indication that the speaker is beyond the pale.

  • exlibra on March 30, 2013 6:13 PM:

    A little background to what prompted the KKK rally (that's one of the reasons I like to browse through the printed version of my NYTimes; I'm much less likely to miss an interesting article, just because its title doesn't sound enticing):

    Barker is, of course, "all wet", nobody is trying to "eradicate white people out of history books across America". On the contrary, I hope that KKK will continue to feature, prominently, in all school history textbooks for many years to come. But here's no reason to *glorify* them, via naming parks and streets after them, is there?

    Re "Edward curses sparingly, drinks rarely, and keeps his hair clipped short his tribute to his old-fashioned Christian values.":
    If more than a 1000 years of art is to be believed, Jesus did not sport a crew cut; quite the opposite. As for the "drinks rarely" bit... Maybe, but, when he did, oy! Think of The Wedding at Cana (with everyone in a stupor hours and hours later), not to mention The Last Supper.

  • smartalek on March 31, 2013 1:02 PM:

    NPR covered this story the other day. Apparently, despite their corporatist sellout, they still have their uses.
    The parallels between the Klan's efforts at re-branding by changing their rhetoric, without altering the underlying realities of worldview, values, goals, and policy prescriptions, and the equivalent efforts of today's Publican Party, are simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
    Happy Easter / Passover / your favorite Equinox celebration to all!

    Interesting: the captcha now appears to be putting words in exponent form. Anyone know how to format "Leu to the power of t" on a 'droid?

  • TG Chicago on March 31, 2013 3:08 PM:

    There are three posters here who accused Kathleen of calling the academic "Klan-friendly" and one that says "Klan-sympathetic". However, those phrases do not appear in the post. I'm only seeing the academic's words referred to as "neutral and academicky".

    Did Kathleen change the post? If not, perhaps the apologies should be going in the other direction -- from those who put words in her mouth to the author of the post.

    Granted, given Andy Hall's post, it seems that Kathleen may have been wrong to say "[n]o anti-Klan experts" were quoted. That's a fair point. But the idea that Kathleen said the academic was pro-Klan is (judging by the post as it currently reads) completely misguided.

  • DJ on March 31, 2013 3:57 PM:

    Did Kathleen change the post?

    It would be the professional thing to say so, if that were the case. Considering how poor the piece was, I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for professionalism.

  • David on March 31, 2013 6:46 PM:

    Hear hear @Marc Bloch. In taking a straight forward approach to this story, the author exposes much more than I imagine Kathleen's ranting ever could.

    Thanks to Samantha Bryson and Commercial Appeal for writing this.

  • ANM on March 31, 2013 7:40 PM:

    Kathleen, I'm a fan of your writing, and look forward to your weekend blogging. But what you did in this post is, at best, crass and unprofessional. Having misread the tone of the article (see Marc Bloch's critique above) and having egregiously smeared the quoted academic, the correct thing to do was to add an update to the original post--perhaps with a strikethrough of the offending material--and apologize. Instead, you edited the post to eliminate your reference to Baker as "a Klan-friendly academic." This is very poor journalistic form

    You might feel under pressure to produce a certain number of weekend posts, so I can understand errors and too-quickly posted entries. We all say things we later regret. But you should be following the example of the best bloggers in the field and be thoroughly forthright and transparent when you make mistakes. Otherwise, you're riding a taxi straight to Jennifer Rubin street

  • Pseudonym on April 01, 2013 1:19 AM:

    Maybe the disconnect here is that Samanth [sic?] Bryson is approaching the idea of a modern-day Klan rally as ridiculous on its face while Kathleen Geier doesn't.

  • Rick on April 01, 2013 2:11 AM:

    Edward the Exalted Cyclops sounds like a name some guy gave his penis in an attempt to be clever

  • Heliopause on April 01, 2013 4:00 PM:

    This is a bad mischaracterization of the linked article, and it's sad to see that some others in the blogosphere are picking it up apparently without checking the original source. My suggestion is not to Kathleen Geier but to anybody who reads her; check source material whenever feasible, don't rely on another party's summary of it.

  • Steve Bryson on April 01, 2013 4:51 PM:

    As a parent who raised children to believe that racism is no joke. I remain amazed at people who are protectors of right and wrong and yet are as hysterical as the KKK. Have we forgotten that freedom is about letting people say whatever they believe and to quote them without interjecting ourselves and our opinions. The lady who wrote this piece happens to be my daughter, disclaimer time. I am a liberal democrat, my son and daughter were raised to be as color blind as possible. She wrote no opinions personal or otherwise. She did quote exactly what the KKK said, period! Every man in my direct blood line including great grand parent, uncle in the uncles, grandparents, myself my son, (medically retired 100%) has fought for the right to maintain our way of life. I may not agree with what is said but I damn sure believe EVERYONE has to the right to speak and be heard.


  • Lionel Galway on April 01, 2013 5:49 PM:

    To Steve Bryson

    I'm with you. I think your daughter did an excellent job of reporting, letting Mr. Barker and his colleagues and family have their say. They can't complain that she wasn't objective and fair.