The Strib fawns over Ron Paul -- again -- ignoring evidence of racism
Last week, the Star Tribune once again reported on Ron Paul's campaign, covering the candidate's trip to Rochester. This is the latest in a long line of neutral-to-effusive reporting on the candidate.
They run fawning section front profiles of him. They send photographers whenever he comes to the state, just to augment wire copy. They videotape his speeches for Web-only content. They frame his campaign as an insurgent one, a principled group battling the GOP establishment.
But never -- not once -- does the paper acknowledge that there's even been a controversy about the candidate, let alone well-documented ugliness involving a lightning rod issue like race. This is a glaring and shameful failure.
A search of the Strib's site yields about 1900 results involving Paul from stories, blogs and comments. A lot of that is duplicative, of course, and a lot of it's wire content -- but a goodly portion of it isn't. A lot of it is original laudatory or neutral coverage that the paper is responsible for.
Of these, zero acknowledge that there has been any type of race controversy involving Paul. Zero, at least that I've been able to find. Of all the stories, none of them even reference the most important issue from Paul's past, and indeed his present.
This is embarrassing. It's not quite the equivalent of running stories about David Duke without mentioned his background in the Klan, but it's not far off, either. You don't have to note the racism allegations in every story -- although I think a strong case can be made that you should -- but to never, ever even mention the issue is inexcusably bad journalism.
The point of journalism is to disseminate information to the public. The Strib has failed utterly to communicate to its readers that this is even a concern, which prevents the readers from making an informed decision on the allegations' merits. It's fine if, once you've seen the evidence, you don't believe the conclusion that Ron Paul's movement is steeped in bigotry.
Well, actually, no, it's not fine -- it makes you practically blind. As Jamie Kirchick, author of the comprehensive New Republic story on Paul's racist newsletters, has written:
"At this point, it seems that the only people still defending Ron Paul are the openly bigoted or the comically credulous. For the former, the revelation that Paul had (at best, negligent at worst, complicit) involvement in the publishing of and profiting from paranoid and bigoted newsletters for over two decades neatly confirms the reasons why they had chosen to support the Texas Congressman presidential campaign in the first place. For the latter, no amount of evidence will ever convince them that “Dr. No” is anything less than some saintly, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” caricature."
This is hard to dispute. But multiple Star Tribune reporters have repeatedly failed to even offer throwaway references to any amount of evidence, let alone all of it. Let's remedy this by running down the lowlights of Paul's career.
1. The Overview: Ron Paul's base has, for years, been composed of fringe groups. As a Texan congressman, Paul has pandered to them to raise funds and get votes, pushing far-right conspiracy theories and endorsing the kooks who believe them. He's the chosen candidate of the racist right, at least one of whom is a major donor and another (a Neo-Nazi and Klan member in Michigan) is one of his field organizers.
He takes donations from them, they work for him, and ideologically his ideas speak to them.
I think most well-meaning Paul supporters project on the man what they want him to be rather than what he actually is. That's understandable. What's not understandable is ignoring the absolute mountain of evidence that shows that this man has made a career out of appealing (both openly and covertly) to bigots. He's done so like this:
2. The Newsletters: By now, almost everyone has heard about the venomous material published under his name in the Ron Paul Political Report. For two decades, people were writing the vilest type of racist, sexist and homophobic drivel under Ron Paul's name. Paul himself might or might not have been one of them. My guess is that he wasn't, but he certainly knew about it, and there are strong indications that one of Paul's closest friends -- libertarian Lew Rockwell, a man he's still close to today -- was the scribe.
I am not now and will never be a U.S. Congressman. But if someone were writing "the Jeff Shaw Political Report," I would be damned sure I knew what was in it. Especially if the claims that were being made on my behalf were inflammatory, and made over the course of years, and especially if a long-term friend of mine was the prime suspect. I refuse to believe that Paul didn't know what was in those reports, and of course it's worse if he did know.
This means, at the very least, Paul knew that members of his inner circle were writing deranged racist screeds and putting Paul's own name to the ideas. And did nothing. Remember, this is the most charitable possible explanation for Paul's behavior
Remember also that this is only one example of a pattern of behavior. Forget the newsletters, let's talk about fundraising strategy.
3. Fundraising from Racist Groups: For decades, Paul's fundraising letters were using inflammatory bigoted language to appeal to the radical racist right. Paul himself admitted in public that their strongest source of donations was a Holocaust denier's tabloid list:
Eric Dondero, Paul's estranged former volunteer and personal aide, worked for Paul on and off between 1987 and 2004 (back when he was named "Eric Rittberg"), and since the Iraq war has become one of the congressman's most vociferous and notorious critics. By Dondero's account, Paul's inner circle learned between his congressional stints that "the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period." Cato Institute President Ed Crane told reason he recalls a conversation from some time in the late 1980s in which Paul claimed that his best source of congressional campaign donations was the mailing list for The Spotlight, the conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid run by the Holocaust denier Willis Carto until it folded in 2001.[Emphasis added]
You know all about the leader of Storm Front, a white supremacist organization, donating to Paul's campaign -- and the campaign refusing the return the money. What you may not know is that as a congressman, Paul's been raising funds from these people for years.
4. The Rhetoric Shift: Ron Paul has been a fixture in extremist conspiracy-theory politics for decades. There's a reason why he attracts Klansmen as organizers. So how did this guy go from pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories like the New World Order on far-right radio to a candidate taken seriously by the media?
By lying, of course -- or, to be charitable, by moderating his rhetoric. For a long time, he's spoken in code phrases designed to appeal to the fringe right . Now, he's begun equating himself to Martin Luther King. But a short time ago Paul not only said that the civil rights movement King led was "bad from the beginning" due to pushing for "forced integration," he voted against the King holiday. Just four years ago, he was ripping the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on Lew Rockwell's web site. Again, Rockwell is the most likely author for the vilest racist screeds from those newsletters.
As a national figure, he's claimed that King is his hero. This strategy to broaden his appeal is not surprising. The fact that it's fooled mainstream newspapers like the Strib is a shock.
5. The Recap: Let's sum this up. In order to believe Paul's hands are clean, you must believe all of the items on the following list:
a) he didn't write any of the material that appeared under his name over the course of many years
b) he didn't read any of the racist material that appeared under his name over the course of many years
c) he didn't discuss these issues with personal friend Lew Rockwell, the likely author of most of these passages and a man he is still close to ("Hey, Lew -- why are you saying racist stuff under my name? Repeatedly?")
d) he didn't know that, at the same time, his campaign was sending fundraising letters with racist language to white supremacist groups (and it's awfully tough to deny this, given that Paul himself admitted that his best source of campaign donations was the The Spotlight's mailing list). You must believe he did not know this even though he admitted to knowing it
e) he kept the guy from Storm Front's money "just to keep it out of that group's hands," you know, the same way he does for the National Right to Life Committee
f) he doesn't understand that pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about a "New World Order" where the U.S. will be taken over by international interests is bigoted and insane
g) he doesn't know that one of his top field organizers in Michigan is in the Klan
h) he's not condemning the racists among his closest friends, supporters and staff because he's a libertarian, and as such just wants everybody to have a right to express their opinion, whether they think people of color are human or not.
If you don't believe all of those things -- every single one -- then you must acknowledge that Paul is at least complicit in the virulent racism of a close friend perpetrated in his own name over the course of years.
If you do believe all those things, and still think Ron Paul's just a gentle ol' libertarian, well ... I don't know what to tell you, and I'm not going to convince you.
Even today, where are the condemnations? Where is Ron Paul's statement of zero tolerance for bigotry in his campaign? Why hasn't he drummed out the guy who is the open Klan member running his on-the-ground efforts in Midland County? Why won't he come out and say "there is no place for these people in the Ron Paul Revolution?"
The answer to these questions is simple. They are part of his base, and they have been for years, and he doesn't want to alienate them. That's an easy answer.
Why the Strib has been totally silent on this at every opportunity? Well, that's tougher to say.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.