Media Hound a Black Mayor for His Offense But Let Lott Off the Hook

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe columnist
Boston Globe, Friday, February 5, 1999, page A27
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company

A white aide of the black mayor in Washington, D.C., says ''niggardly.'' A black co-worker gets mad even though the word, which means stingy, is not related to the similar sounding slur.

The white aide resigns. The black mayor accepts the resignation. The press fries the mayor for accepting the resignation. This week the tarred and feathered mayor asks the aide to come back.

Everybody done now? Everybody have fun proving that black people can be racists, too? They must have, for on Wednesday National Public Radio had two separate reports, in the morning and at night. There were no less than five syndicated columns on the subject on the wires on Wednesday and 13 in the last two weeks, a huge amount for anything other than Monicagate.

The speed and the fury of the press has now given us a century-by-century dissection of ''niggardly.'' Yes, the mayor deserved his tar and feathers. But that was child's play, stomping on a politician who runs a beleaguered city with little control over its finances and no votes in Congress.

The press has had the same chance in recent weeks to humiliate another politician who has played fast and loose with racism. This politician is far more powerful than the mayor of D.C., and the creators of the racism he plays with are never misunderstood when they use the word that sounds like niggardly.

But the tar remains in the bucket. Except for isolated corners, there is no fury. This politician preens rightously in the podium of the Senate. His hands are deep in the impeachment trial of President Clinton. His scissors snip away at social spending. He does so with no fear that anyone will hound him about his skeletons like the black mayor.

This is Senate majority leader Trent Lott. The Mississippi Republican was momentarily exposed by The Washington Post and The New York Times for his past, warm connections to the Council of Conservative Citizens. The council, which claims 15,000 national members, grew out of the citizen's councils of the South, the white-collar Ku Klux Klan.

Lott has given speeches before the group three times - in 1991, 1992, and 1995. The council publishes Lott's newsletter. Less than two years ago, top officials of the council visited Lott's office on Capitol Hill. Also less than two years ago, a smiling Lott posed for a photograph with the council's leadership.

Yet when Lott was asked about the council, he said he had ''no firsthand knowledge'' of it. The publicity forced him to condemn the group. But given a parsing of his memory that is no less ridiculous than Clinton's about Monicagate, we need to know far more fully what is in Lott's mind and how such a mind - given that he runs the Senate - affects our nation's politics.

While we wait for the press to force Lott to speak, it is critical to note that the CCC is not merely some conservatives who happen to dislike affirmative action, which is hardly news. Through its links on its Internet Web site, the Council of Conservative Citizens is linked to some of the most racist, homophobic, and sexist Web sites in the world.

For example, You can go from the CCC to the Screed (''A Bastion of the Angry White Male), which then links up with the Web page for Stormfront (''White Pride, World-Wide'').

Anyone who gives $35 to Stormfront's legal defense fund receives a free copy of the autobiography of David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who has become a right-wing politician. Stormfront also has direct links to the real KKK.

But forget the KKK for a minute. Stormfront has a category of links titled ''White Rights/Racially Conscious Conservatism.'' It says, ''These are Web sites promoting traditional, racially conscious conservatism.'' Here, with one click, you can link from Stormfront directly back to the Council of Conservative Citizens. Stormfront says of the C of CC:

''Successor to the Citizens Councils, which actively led the resistance to forced racial integration in the '50s and '60s. This is the only openly racialist group to attain any degree of political influence in recent years, and, because of this, it is currently the target of attack by the antiwhite political and media establishment.''

That is why the press needs to hound Lott until we know all that we can of his ties. The press needs to hound him until his reputation is at risk of a stain as permanent as the one that has forever lowered history's opinion of President Clinton.

The press found it easy to pursue a case of black racism. Now it has a chance to deal with one of the most powerful men in America. As of now, Lott preens at the impeachment proceedings. There is no buzz about his ties to believers in segregation. Few ask whether a man with such ties should be majority leader.

Few ask if, when he pushes for cuts in social spending, whether he is doing it out of genuine fiscal conservatism or is being - dare I say it? - niggardly with black people. Few will ask unless the press throws the tar and the feathers.