Haley Barbour's Close Shave
If I were a professor of journalism—anyone? anyone?—and I wanted my eager young scholars to ponder a case study in the rhythms of modern newsmaking, I’d have them pick over the rough patch Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi went through in mid-December. It lasted 72 hours or so, during which he went from plausible and respected presidential prospect to the subject of an Economist story with the death-rattle headline “Is Haley Barbour Racist?” I had a good vantage on Barbour’s descent because I wrote the article that got him into so much trouble. No, that’s not quite right: better to say, I wrote the article that was read by the people who used it to get him into so much trouble. That’s the way trouble gets made in our wired-up, blogged-over, twittering world of never-ending media. It doesn’t take much.
Indeed, in Barbour’s case, all it took was saying this: “I don’t remember it being that bad.” I had asked him about growing up in the segregated South, just as the civil rights movement and the spirit of racial equality had been seeping into places like his hometown of Yazoo City. He told me integration came to the town without violence—and without the interference of the Ku Klux Klan—because civic and business leaders had organized a Citizens Council to keep the Klan at bay. In the end, as I noticed wandering around Yazoo City, the era of integration didn’t last long. Today the public schools are nearly all black and the private schools all white. The residential neighborhoods are divided, too, with a faded downtown slowly collapsing in between. Barbour enrolled his own boys in one of the private schools, an “academy” built explicitly as a refuge for whites fleeing integrated public schools.
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