Media Beat: NO EASY PATH TO ASHCROFT CONFIRMATION
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- We've come a long way in this country since the 19th=
Century -- but not so long that an admirer of the Confederacy can't be nom= inated to run the Justice Department of the United States. The president of= the Confederate government, Jefferson Davis, is a hero to Sen. John Ashcro= ft, the man nominated to be America's next attorney general.
Ashcroft told the Southern Partisan quarterly in a 1998 interview= : "Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage = of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonew= all] Jackson and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. = We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taugh= t that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortu= nes and their honor to some perverted agenda."
Evidently, Ashcroft can't abide the idea that preservation of sla= very was a "perverted agenda."
In the coming days, as Ashcroft prepares for his Senate confirmat= ion hearing, some of George W. Bush's media spinners will be working overti= me to explain away those comments. They can take comfort from the fact that= national news outlets have been slow to probe the meaning of Ashcroft's in= terview. Among its most disturbing aspects is his assertion that Southern P= artisan "helps set the record straight."
A year ago, The New Republic reported that Southern Partisan "ser= ves as the leading journal of the neo-Confederacy movement" -- and, for two= decades, has been publishing "a gumbo of racist apologias." For instance, = in 1996, Southern Partisan said that slave owners "encouraged strong slave = families to further the slaves' peace and happiness." In 1990, the magazine= lauded former KKK leader David Duke as "a Populist spokesperson for a reca= pturing of the American ideal."
The racial politics of Southern Partisan could not be more clear.= Ashcroft's endorsement of the magazine in 1998 could hardly be more unequi= vocal. And the need for journalists to probe this issue could hardly be mor= e pressing.
Overall, a bit of a media stir has begun. Hours after Bush announced his= nomination, a New York Times editorial declared: "Mr. Ashcroft's ha= rd-line ideology and extreme views and actions on issues like abortion and = civil rights require a searching examination at his confirmation hearing." = The next day, a prominent newspaper in Ashcroft's home state of Missouri di= sputed his fitness to be U.S. attorney general.
In an editorial that urged the Senate to "investigate Mr. Ashcrof= t's opposition to civil rights, women's rights, abortion rights and to judi= cial nominees with whom he disagrees," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch r= ecalled that "Mr. Ashcroft has built a career out of opposing school desegr= egation in St. Louis and opposing African-Americans for public office." No = wonder Bob Jones University, notorious for bigotry, gave Ashcroft an honora= ry degree in 1999 -- and no wonder he was proud to accept it.
A sampling of daily newspaper editorials published on Dec. 27, fi= ve days after Bush gave Ashcroft the nod, reflects an array of media attitu= des. "Mr. Bush deserves congratulations for the Cabinet assembled thus far,= " the Christian Science Monitor proclaimed, downplaying objections t= o Ashcroft's appointment. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune editorializ= ed: "The question facing the Senate is whether Ashcroft is committed to ful= ly and fairly enforcing the laws of the land. From what is known, his criti= cs will have a hard time showing that he is not."
But on the same day, the San Francisco Chronicle drew very= different conclusions in an editorial that said Ashcroft "faces a Herculea= n task of reconciling his new duties with his views on abortion and civil r= ights, which are completely contrary to established national standards... .= His nomination to head the Justice Department was widely viewed as a payof= f to GOP right-wingers. That hardly squares with Bush's stated intention to= keep politics out of that office."
Several days after the announcement of the Ashcroft pick,informat= ion about his reverence for the Confederacy began to seep intonational news= accounts. We'll see whether January brings sustainedfollow-up.
The Ashcroft nomination could turn out to be the defining issueof= the presidential transition. Will Senate Democrats knuckle under orfight f= or minimal principles? How deeply will journalists probe beneaththe new adm= inistration's rhetoric?
All too often, major news outlets and politicians look to eachoth= er for basic cues rather than going ahead with decent steps, a kind ofgrim = parody of a comedic routine: "After you, Alfonse. No, after you,Gaston." Wi= th the odious nomination of John Ashcroft, we're at a fatefulthreshold.
<= I>Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "TheHabits o= f Highly Deceptive Media."