Apathy, Hypocrisy, and Justice: The Grating Rhetoric of the Leesburg Daily Commercial

On Sunday, September 16th, the editors of the Leesburg Daily Commercial stuck their heads a few inches above the parapet of local minutiae to level a broadside at their own readers. Leaving behind such weighty matters as an imperfect process of prescribing school dress codes or the horrific possibility of a small increase in property tax millage rates, the newspaper mustered its strength and lectured us all about the need for civic responsibility. The last time they worked up this much of a lather was when they launched their stillborn campaign against what they regarded as excessive compensation for civil servants, a cause that evoked not one response from the readership and probably didn’t even earn them a footnote in a Koch brothers progress report. The motivation for this Sunday sermon seemed more genuine: outrage at the prospect of a murderer escaping justice for want of willing witnesses to a shooting at an illegal nightclub in 2010. Since we have often called on the Daily Commercial to elucidate and edify, what could possibly be wrong with the newspaper using this incident to encourage the citizenry to report crime? Plenty.

Southern Discomfort

The Daily Commercial has been covering this story since it first broke, reporting on all three trials to date. Against this backdrop of detailed reporting, its sudden decision to eschew details was exceedingly disingenuous. The editors’ claim that “[t]he name of the suspect and the details of this case aren’t important” rings hollow. Readers unfamiliar with the case might be able to discern why from the following extract:

This republic isn’t about entitlement. It isn’t about getting all you can from community and government and giving nothing back.

Our American system requires we become involved, we become engaged in its principles and we become participants in its development.

We cannot function as an abiding society if we as individuals are unwilling to take bold, sacrificial stances against injustice, against wrongdoing and against corruption.

Now, it must be said that the editors might actually be aiming these remarks at their entire readership, since their in-house propagandist, Russ Sloan, has equated all recipients of federal benefits – including Social Security and Medicare – with wild animals who should not be fed lest they become dependent. But the carefully omitted context of the case makes it clear that the Daily Commercial is aiming its lecture at a particular subset of Jack Colbert Mugshotthe community. The felon in question, Jack Colbert, is black. The crime took place at a black club in a black area. The witnesses who aren’t coming forward, or who are contradicting themselves on the stand, leading to mistrials, are black. Thus, while the language here is not as obvious as Clinton Fish’s diatribes about people driving cars with oversize rims, or George Herbert Walker Bush’s Willie Horton campaign ads, those of us who understand the climate that once harbored a sheriff like Willis McCall get the message loud and clear. Massa is disappointed with his Negro children.

We are particularly disappointed with Gene Packwood – who evinces the only signs of intelligence on the editorial board – for participating in this patronizing charade by making all the “timid citizens” in his accompanying cartoon white. We would have a lot more respect for the Daily Commercial if they would refrain from hiding behind coded language and come right out – like Bill Cosby has done on numerous occasions – and speak directly to their intended audience, or at least to the leaders of that community. After all, what have they got to lose? The people they’re not happy with don’t read their newspaper anyway, and most of those who do would have no problem with calling a spade a spade. Sniping about welfare queens is not our idea of a “bold, sacrificial stance against wrongdoing”; on the contrary, it is cowardly journalism that reinforces existing racial stereotypes and does nothing to begin the interracial dialogue that is so badly needed here.

The tendency of the black community to circle the wagons around one of its own is a notorious problem in American society. Quite apart from the national circus that was the O.J. Simpson trial, many of us have encountered this phenomenon in the workplace. To some extent, this protective herd instinct has an obvious basis in history, yet there must come a point in American social development where it ceases to be necessary. When are we going to get there? What will it take? We’ll never find out if we continue to shelter behind the white picket fence of coded epithets instead of discussing the issue candidly with one another.

Thus, while there is no denying the reality of the failing identified by the Daily Commercial‘s editorial, their response to the problem is insulting in its innuendo, inadequate in its analysis, and guaranteed to be ineffective. But there is a far larger problem than this. Quite simply, the Leesburg Daily Commercial is in no position to lecture anyone about civic responsibility and wouldn’t know a bold stance against injustice if it shot them in the face during a Texas quail hunt.

You Can Not Be Serious

Trying too hard to reach a tricky, buried area with a broad brush, and perhaps overcompensating for the failure to say anything significant for months, the Leesburg Daily Commercial ended up sounding like a tenth-grader seeking to impress the attractive social studies teacher on whom he has a teenage crush:

We must recognize our obligations to each other, to our communities and to each of our rights to life.

We must move through the short days of our lives looking to embrace the opportunities to make this place better and more humane.

We are under moral and civil authority. Ignoring these tenets of our human condition for fear’s sake only diminishes us.

Let’s give a gold star to these bleeding-heart liberals! Or not. For this is hypocrisy of gag-inducing intensity. A newspaper that, by design or sheer ignorance, aggressively propagates the self-serving talking points of the American plutocracy has absolutely no business laying claim to a position of moral leadership in this, or any other, community. (Readers who do not understand this point may find ample evidence here, here, and here.) Positively oozing with pro-corporate, anti-government messaging, the Daily Commercial is only slightly more credible than the mafia in respecting civil authority. It is the clear aim of these people and their paid propagandists to undermine the organs of the community that bind us together as a nation and replace them with corporate structures that concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, no matter the cost to social justice, environmental sustainability, or the lives of America’s many unacknowledged victims around the world.

The black community should ignore the Daily Commercial until its editors disavow the loaded language of contemporary racism. The whole community should ignore the Daily Commercial until its editors foreswear propaganda and learn the meaning of true, public-service journalism. With respect to both issues, we shall proceed to provide the Daily Commercial with an example of what a bold stance for justice really looks like.

Great Whites and Bloody Waters

For those of us who do more than pay mere lip service to the ideal of justice, the most outrageous crime in recent American history did not take place in a few heated moments in a crowded nightclub in Wildwood, Florida. It was played out over several years in a country that had done absolutely nothing to harm us and was witnessed by the entire world. And yet,Archbishop Desmond Tutu strangely, the leaders of the world’s supposedly most advanced countries who declared unilateral war on Iraq, with no footing in international law, have been rewarded not with prison terms but with six-figure retainers on the global speaking circuit. Among those who have dared to question this perverse state of affairs is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero of South Africa’s long struggle against apartheid. Choosing not to participate in a leadership conference at which Tony Blair, Britain’s Prime Minister when the Iraq war was launched, was paid to speak, Tutu delivered a verdict against the murderers that deserves extensive citation:

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history. […]

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world. Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer. […]

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague. […]

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

Tutu’s complete remarks are available at the website of the Observer, a real newspaper that makes the Leesburg Daily Commercial look like the Triangle News Leader.1 We commend it to the editors wholeheartedly, for they might just learn something about journalism, morality, and the true meaning of justice.

  1. A local shopping guide.

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