Experts on the history of lynching are criticizing an American Spectator report which claimed that Shirley Sherrod's statement that her relative Bobby Hall was lynched was "factually, provably untrue."
In his article, Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan administration official, said that because Hall was beaten to death, rather than hanged, Sherrod's statement that Hall had been lynched was a "straight out fabrication." Lord's article has come under fire, both from other American Spectator writers and from progressive bloggers and columnists, since its publication on July 26.
"I don't know how in the world you can say" Hall's death is "not a lynching," said Christopher Waldrep, a professor of history at San Francisco State University. "People at the time had no question that it was a lynching. I mean, there was no particular debate." Waldrep has authored several books on lynching, including The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America, in which he discusses the Hall case.
Michael Pfeifer, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947, likewise concluded that "Jeffrey Lord's reasoning is fallacious" and "profoundly ahistorical." Pfeifer added that while the word "lynching" "has always eluded simple, consensus definitions," its use "was most often, but never exclusively, hanging (shootings, beatings, burnings, etc. were also called 'lynchings')."
"The term had no official definition," agreed Illinois State University professor Amy Wood, author of Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940. Wood said that anti-lynching activists used varied definitions in the first half of the last century, but "No definitions of lynching limited it to hanging."
While Lord continues to dispute Sherrod's statement that Hall was lynched because lynching supposedly requires "mob action" and "Three people are not a 'mob,'" Wood says that "the NAACP (which had the most influence in crafting anti-lynching legislation) defined lynching as an extralegal killing, committed by at least 3 person in the name of justice or tradition." Pfeifer adds that "by the early to mid twentieth century racially motivated murders perpetrated by small groups -- as opposed to large mobs -- became most characteristic of such violence."
Asked for comment, University of North Carolina professor Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1990-1930, said that "Sherrod's use of the term is well within the conventions that both blacks and whites have recognized for at least a century." He also calls Lord "clearly insensitive to the ways in which African Americans used the term lynching," given what he terms an "historical imprecision of the term lynching in general."
Brundage also identified a flaw in Lord's argument that the Supreme Court agreed that Hall was not lynched because they did not identify his death as a lynching in the ruling in which the case ultimately resulted. Brundage commented, "The Supreme Court would have had no reason to label Sheriff Screws' actions a lynching; there was no federal statute against lynching so the Court would have no reason to invoke the language of lynching in its decision."
Waldrep similarly identified Lord's Supreme Court argument as "kind of crazy" and "nuts," saying that the Supreme Court did not address the issue of whether Hall was lynched in their decision because it was "not the question they were being asked."
Waldrep went on to say that while they did not address whether Hall was lynched in their decision, the Court was well aware that his death was a lynching. He cited 16 pages of notes taken by Justice Frank Murphy during the Court's private discussions on the case, in which Murphy quoted Justice Robert Jackson stating that if they upheld the convictions of Hall's murderers, they would have effectively created the federal anti-lynching statute that had failed to make it through Congress. "They knew full well it was a lynching," said Waldrep. "That was the problem."
According to Waldrep, Murphy's notes are published in Del Dickson's The Supreme Court in Conference (1940-1985): The Private Discussions Behind Nearly 300 Supreme Court Decisions. The notes are "readily available," said Waldrep. Finding them "doesn't take any great feat of detective work."
Jeffrey Lord begins his July 26 American Spectator article with this provocative assertion:
Shirley Sherrod's story in her now famous speech about the lynching of a relative is not true. The veracity and credibility of the onetime Agriculture Department bureaucrat at the center of the explosive controversy between the NAACP and conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart is now directly under challenge. By nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court. All of them dead.
Actually, not so much (except for the part about the Supreme Court justices in question being dead -- Lord did get that right).
Lord is writing about a reference in Sherrod's now-famous speech to a county sheriff in segregation-era Georgia by the name of Claude Screws. To summarize the case: Screws and two other law enforcement officials arrested a black man named Bobby Hall at his home on a warrant over a theft charge; he was handcuffed and taken to the courthouse. According to the Supreme Court ruling that this case ultimately resulted in, when Hall got out of the car at the courthouse, Screws and his companions began beating him with fists and blackjacks, and continued beating for as much as a half-hour after Hall had been knocked to the ground. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail. He was later taken to a hospital, where he died. Screws and his companions claimed that Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language against them, but there was also evidence that Screws had a grudge against Hall and threatened to "get" him. Screws and his companions were convicted of depriving Hall of his civil rights; that conviction was appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1945 essentially overturned Screws' conviction on a technicality over jury instructions.
"Claude Screws lynched a black man," Sherrod said in her speech. This is false, Lord asserts. Why? Because Screws and his companions didn't use a rope, and the court ruling didn't use the word "lynching."
From the July 19 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Numerous media outlets seized on a dubious January London Sunday Times report which claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 statement on Amazon rain forests was "unsubstantiated" and without scientific basis in order to attack the IPCC's credibility and global warming science in general. However, The Sunday Times has now retracted that claim, noting, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." Will these media outlets follow suit?
From a June 3 American Spectator article by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.:
The declining state of the American newspaper apparently warms a lot of hearts. Polls tell us about the general public's disrelish for Congress. Equally disrelished are journalists and newspapers. Frankly I sympathize. The American journalist is an odd creature. Most are as arrogant and provincial as the average American college professor. Curiously, many journalists even look like university professors, especially journalists from the major liberal newspapers.
There was a day when the average newspaper reporter was a bit of a roughneck and looked the part. Now many are frankly nerdy, though it is not their nerdy looks that inflame the general public. It is the arrogance and insularity. Well, as I say I am in sympathy with the general public, but that does not mean I rejoice in the present sickliness of newspapers. Newspapers are essential to the public discourse of any nation and to the public record.
I most recently expressed these wayward views in a discussion of the notoriously Liberal New York Times. I was being interviewed by that very fine conservative journalist Terry Jeffrey, former editor of Human Events and now editor and chief of CNS News at that bastion of conservative media bashing, the Media Research Center (MRC). Terry was delighting in regaling me with a burlesque he had observed at New York's Penn Station. The Times was conducting a subscription drive, with an employee handing commuters gifts emblazoned with the Times logo for subscribing. Prospective subscribers treated the poor sap as though he were carrying the plague. They ducked around him, hastening down the hallway, grateful to be free of the New York Times bacterium.
Well, it is an amusing story, but there on the hallowed conservative ground of the MRC headquarters I had to express my sympathy for the glum journalists at the Times. I want the newspaper to survive. Even in its ideologically perfervid condition it is better than no newspaper at all. We conservatives have our own newspapers, led nationally by the Wall Street Journal. Actually, against mainstream Liberal media we have our own conservative counterculture led by the Journal,Fox News, talk radio, our think tanks and magazines. We can hold our own against the Kultursmog the mainstream media culture besmogged as it is by Liberal prejudice and bugaboos.
Yesterday, my colleague Kate Conway pointed out that the American Spectator blog Washington Prowler had published another of their trademark anonymously "sourced" hit pieces on progressives, this time speculating why Colin Crowell -- a senior adviser to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski -- is leaving his position. Kate warned that readers should consider the Prowler's report skeptically due to the Prowler's past record, and it looks like she was right: their story is quickly unraveling.
According to the Prowler piece -- based on unnamed "sources," "FCC staff," and "speculation" from the "telecommunications industry" -- Crowell is leaving because Genachowski has decided not to regulate broadband networks, which would have "left Crowell's many friends on the extreme left very angry" and put Crowell "in an untenable position and unable to defend it, and thus forced to resign."
Prowler's claim that Genachowski is planning to leave broadband unregulated was based on an anonymously-sourced May 3 Washington Post article that reported that Genachowski was "leaning toward" such a decision. And -- wouldn't you know it -- Prowler has "sources" saying that "Crowell or his allies may have been the sources for the Post piece."
And then today's Wall Street Journal hit the newsstand, and the Prowler piece dissolved.
American Spectator's Washington Prowler is not backing down from their debunked claim based on dubious, anonymous sources that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) withheld a report on health care reform until after the health care vote. However, they are now lying about what they originally reported. From today's post (emphasis added):
The Prowler reported via sources inside Health and Human Services that data from the study that indicated that costs would hit consumers in the pocketbook was made available to the senior officials in HHS, prior to final passage of the legislation in the House. The report never stated that it was submitted for approval.
Where would people get the crazy idea that the HHS report had been "submitted for approval"? From the Prowler's actual original report (emphasis added):
The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama's health care "reform" law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius's staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.
The analysis, performed by Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which in the past has been identified as a "nonpolitical" office, set off alarm bells when submitted. "We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff," says the HHS staffer, "and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary's office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report."
This is how the Prowler is apparently getting around Medicare chief actuary Richard S. Foster's response that Prowler's article was "completely inaccurate" because they only "began working" on the health care reform reconciliation bill when it was released March 18, and so couldn't finish by the March 21 House vote on the Senate reform bill - claiming that the "report" wasn't done, but HHS had some "data."
Prowler goes on to basically say that HHS officials should have leaked that raw data, which sounds like a complaint they should be directing to their HHS "sources." Incidentally, "HHS had raw data and it didn't leak" isn't a story. "HHS had a report and withheld it" is -- which is probably why that's what the Prowler originally (falsely) reported, contrary to their current protestations.
In short, Prowler has entirely changed the story they claim to have gotten from their "sources," all the while claiming that those "sources" are "stand[ing] by" their claims.
From an April 27 post on David Weigel's Washington Post blog Right Now:
For nearly two full days, this anonymously sourced story in the American Spectator -- alleging that the Department of Health and Human Services buried an actuarial report on the costs of health care reform -- has burned up conservative blogs. But HHS tells me that the story isn't true.
"If this issue hadn't consumed my entire day so far," said Richard S. Foster, chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, "I would have found it fairly amusing." The article, he said, was "completely inaccurate."
"We began working on the reconciliation bill for the health reform legislation once it was publicly issued on March 18 - three days before the House vote took place on March 21," said Foster. "Because of the details and complexity of the legislation, it wasn't possible to estimate the package before the Senate vote.
"We began work on the estimates right away, but we didn't finalize them until the afternoon of April 22. We finished our memorandum on the health reform act later that same day and immediately sent it to those individuals and organizations that had requested it, including Congressional staff, HHS staff, and media representatives. Consistent with the Office of the Actuary's longstanding independent role on behalf of Congress, we did not seek approval or clearance from HHS (or anyone else) before issuing our analysis."
HHS is looking for corrections from Big Government and other sites.
Right-wing media are using an exchange between President Obama and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to falsely claim that the Senate health care bill would cause individual health insurance premiums to increase. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate's version of health care reform would result in lower premiums for most individual enrollees.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer raised the tired specter of ACORN receiving federal funding to attack Department of Housing and Urban Development funding included in President Obama's 2011 budget proposal. Conservatives in the media have exhaustively cited the possibility of federal money going to ACORN to attack health care reform legislation, the financial bailout bill, and the economic recovery act.
On February 1, Ben Stein falsely claimed that charges were not filed against "a gang of men calling themselves Black Panthers" outside a polling place on Election Day 2008 and that the decision not to prosecute was made by Attorney General Eric Holder. In fact, the Bush administration made the decision to file a civil complaint instead of criminal charges, and the Obama administration did not drop the civil case -- rather, the Justice Department "sought and obtained" the "maximum penalty" against one of the two individuals.
From Ben Stein's February 1 American Spectator column, headlined "Free James O'Keefe":
These men were journalists trying to get a story. They didn't even touch a phone as far as I can learn. They were undercover reporters and TV operators. But that doesn't matter. Their real crime was disturbing the peace and quiet of the nation's liberal establishment and embarrassing ACORN. For this, these young overeager guerrilla journalists are charged with a federal crime. ("First Amendment? What's that?")
Meanwhile, no charges against those thugs with the clubs at the polling place.
Does this give you the feeling that maybe the prison orange for Mr. O'Keefe and his pals is a mark of courage and honor and that the rest of us should be shivering about what the Obama Justice Department thinks is law? When was the last time you read about federal charges against a liberal reporter for going undercover? The behavior of the feds here is not just worrisome. It is something beyond that. But, Mr. Holder, here is a line from the civil rights struggle I worked in before you were born: We are not afraid. And we're not going away.
Following the release of reportedly stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, numerous right-wing media figures have attempted to undermine the case for action against global climate change by comparing the scientific consensus that human activity is driving global warming to a "cult." However, as the Union of Concerned Scientists has stated, the scientific understanding of climate change is "based on the work of thousands of scientists from hundreds of research institutions" and "[t]he e-mails provide no information that would affect" this understanding.
As part of their smear campaign against Obama Education Department official Kevin Jennings, conservative media figures including Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter have compared Jennings to film director Roman Polanski, stating -- in the words of Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers -- that "there needs to be zero tolerance for this kind of stuff," specifically citing Jennings and "the Roman Polanski stuff." Thus, media conservatives are smearing Jennings -- who counseled someone who was of age at the time and who has said he did not have a sexual relationship -- with the outrageous suggestion that he is comparable to Polanski, who was charged with rape and pleaded guilty to having sex with a girl who was 13 at the time after allegedly plying her with drugs and alcohol.
In a July 22 post, headlined, "Shame on Rush," The American Spectator's Philip Klein writes that while "I'd like to continue to ignore this [Obama birth certificate] story entirely, it's hard to do when a figure like Rush Limbaugh is giving it credence. ... I've lost a ton of respect for Limbaugh this week." From his post:
While I'd like to continue to ignore this story entirely, it's hard to do when a figure like Rush Limbaugh is giving it credence, declaring this week that, "Barack Obama has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen. All he has to do is show a birth certificate. He has yet to have to prove he's a citizen." If he addresses the issue at all, Limbaugh should be using his perch to explain why this story is complete nonsense. Doing so would help to keep these citizenship conspiracy theorists in the fringe, where they belong. Instead, he's just encouraging them. I've lost a ton of respect for Limbaugh this week.
Meanwhile, Florida Rep. Bill Posey has also added cover to the lunatic conspiracy mongers by offering a House bill aimed at having future presidential candidates produce birth certificates. It has 9 Republican co-sponsors so far, and all of them should be embarrassed: Marsha Blackburn, Dan Burton, John Campbell, John Carter, John Abney Culberson, Bob Goodlatte, Kenny Merchant, Rander Neugebauer, and Ted Poe.
Some who attempt to take neutral ground on this issue ask, why doesn't Obama just release his original birth certificate and put this matter to rest? There are two reasons. The first is that it would obviously not put the issue to rest, because the conspiracy theorists have demonstrated that they do not care about facts. At this point, anybody who questions whether Obama is a citizen will not be convinced otherwise because of a document released by the White House. But beyond that, there's absolutely no reason for Obama to cave into these people. Doing so would set a standard in the future so that people can start whatever insane rumors they want about an elected official, and then the burden is on the official to dispute them. It's no different than those calling for an investigation of whether 9/11 was an inside job.
This is the last thing that I intend to write on the issue, because I'd prefer to concentrate my energy on laying out why Obama's ideas and actual policy proposals will have disastrous consequences for the nation, just one American criticizing another.