Tuesday, April 9, 2013

THE 'HOW-DARE-YOU' CALLER

While I was metro editor at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., the staff produced many extraordinary investigative projects, but few were better than one we published called "North Mississippi Justice." It was deep look into the circumstances surrounding the unsolved murders of a number of African-American men in North Mississippi. The bulk of the work was done by Rick Tulsky, who is now teaching at Northwestern University and was one of the best and toughest bulldog reporters I have ever known.
 
We gave the question of presentation at lot of thought and finally decided to publish the project as a tabloid special section instead of a series because we figured the subject matter was better presented en masse instead of piecemeal considering the racial attitudes that still prevailed across most of the state.
 
The project went on to win a bunch of awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award print media, photo and grand prizes -- the first triple crown winner in the history of the awards. (At first, Publisher Robert Hederman Sr. didn't want us to accept the award because he hated the Kennedy's, but his son, Executive Editor Rea Hederman prevailed and we accepted it anyway). In addition to the awards, the project also prompted a visit from a man who at least claim to be the grand Kleagle or head beagle or whatever the call the state's top Ku Klux Klan moron and a henchman who had the butt of a .357 magnum poking out under his sweater. But that's isn't the point here.

The Monday following Sunday's publication of the special section, I started getting the "how-dare-you" phone calls, lots of them, from irate white readers. All of whom were upset not about the murders, but about the fact the we had exposed the racist reasons behind their having gone unsolved for years. Finally after something like the 100th call, I had had it. The next call was from an ignorant (there, I said it) sounding woman with a very heavy drawl. It went something like this:

CALLER: I'm tired of this, y'all are turnin' this into nothin' but an (n-word) paper. Nothin' but stories about (n-words) and pictures of (n-words). Everywhere I look nothin' but (n-words). Y'all ain't become nothin' but a bunch of (n-word) lovers.

ME: Ma'am, sorry but I really don't care to listen to this any longer.

CALLER: Why?

ME: Well, because I'm black.

CALLER: (After a protracted pause) Oh, uhhhh...I'm sorry (Click)

I never knew whether she was sorry for herself because of what she said, or sorry for me because she thought I was black.


                                                                   -30-