When does a news story cross the line from being legitimate coverage of the happenings in the world to an advertisement for a vile political ideology?
That was the question raised by the actions of a local newspaper in Virginia, the Westmoreland News, with their coverage of the sudden appearance of “zip-locked bags containing Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers and DVDs” on residents’ front lawns last week.
It wasn’t the writing of the story that was controversial, but the paper’s decision to reproduce a full copy of the KKK recruitment materials on their front page with all the racist and anti-semitic references intact, according to a report in Newsweek.
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“They posted the whole flyer as if they were giving them free advertising,” Colonial Beach resident Betty Tate Thompson told WTVR. “It even had the number on flyer to contact the head of the KKK. Which I thought was totally ridiculous.”
The questionable editorial decision was somewhat offset by this disclaimer that Westmoreland News posted next to the recruitment flyer on the front page.
“Westmoreland News in no way condones or supports the content or message of this flyer, nor does it condone or support any branch of the Loyal White Knights, or the KKK.”
The disclaimer didn’t satisfy some of the paper’s local readers who complained to the paper’s Facebook page and called for a boycott over the lapse in judgment.
“When I look into a newspaper from my community, I expect to be informed about the happenings of my local atmosphere. I don’t expect to feel threatened, belittled, and unwanted,” Facebook user J Lemar Smith wrote.
“There is no problem with making the locals aware of the events surrounding these advertisements, but submitting a free advertisement on the front page is unacceptable.”
Another reader, Jeremy Edouard Whitfield, said:
“This story could have been told without promoting these lunatics. Them and any other racially biased hate group have no business on the front page of any paper. Or any page for that matter. It is utterly ridiculous that you would print something like this without thinking of the repercussions.”
Westmoreland News discovered the story when it was informed about the incident by Colonial Beach Police Chief Danny Plott who was disturbed to see the entire flyer turn up on the front page. He called the paper’s editor to find out the motivation behind the move.
“She explained that she wanted to put it in to show people that those of us in Colonial Beach who may think there’s not racism…I think she didn’t expect for this to blow up the way it did,” Plott said.
While it certainly fulfilled the purpose of demonstrating that racism, anti-semitism, and white supremacy is alive and well in Colonial Beach, Virginia, the publishing of the flyer with a conveniently included number to call to join the abhorrent organization crosses the line from news coverage to propaganda.
Perhaps next time a brief summary of the hateful messages will suffice.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.