News tars Hootie with Klan brush

Controversial golfing figure is unfairly associated with racist organization

by David Kopel

April 26, 2003, Rocky Mountain News

Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette is leading opposition to Bush administration proposals to cut Veterans Administration health care.

DeGette's campaign is predicated on veterans groups having a good public image. But it's hard to have a good image when the Ku Klux Klan is supporting your cause. According to the KKK Web site, one of the Klan's top issues is support for veterans' benefits.

Did you think it was unfair for me to use the Klan connection to disparage DeGette's position on veterans benefits (which is a position held by millions of mainstream Americans)? Of course it was unfair. That fact that an extremist and very unpopular group happens take a particular side on an issue doesn't mean that advocates on that issue should be tarred by association.

Yet that's precisely what the Rocky Mountain News did in its Sports section cover story (April 10) on the controversy over Augusta National Golf Club. The article cited club Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson's hope to preserve the legacy of club founder Bobby Jones, the great golfer associated "with honesty, integrity and fairness."

The News then averred, "Hootie might have lost on this one, too. It's tough to keep a pristine image when the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are lining up to support you." A picture of a hooded Klansman accompanied the three-page News article.

Now if Hootie Johnson were using Klansmen to organize pro-Augusta demonstrations, or if Augusta had some kind of actual association with the Klan, it would be fair to point that out. But the Klan has no more relationship to Johnson than it does to Diana DeGette.

As USA Today reported (Oct. 9, 2002), Johnson has been a life-long supporter of civil rights and integration in the South. Back in 1968, he worked on the plan that desegregated South Carolina's colleges. During the recent controversy over the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina, Johnson was the first businessman in the state to call for removing the flag from the Capitol.

The News article concluded with a paean to a 13-year-old female golfer who hopes to qualify for the Masters in a few years. "And, at that point, Hootie might have a bigger problem than Burk," said the News. Not really. The Masters tournament has no rule against female players. (Masters qualification standards can be found at

The Saturday News Home Front section includes a Home Talk page with the Right at Home column by Mary Winter. Last Saturday's column started with a TV show that Winter had apparently watched (about persecution of alleged witches in the Middle Ages) which led to wide-ranging exploration of the subject of scapegoating.

Winter said that she thought that fired TV reporter Peter Arnett was being scapegoated, and so were the French. She warned against hasty judgments of who is a public enemy: "At the time they were published, the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate affair were very unpopular. Many considered The New York Times and The Washington Post almost treasonous for printing them. Thirty years later, we herald those two events as hallmarks of a free press' role in democracy."

Actually, the Watergate reporters were far from "very unpopular" in their time. Some pro-Nixon partisans complained about the press coverage, but there was hardly a general public indignation against the press - in contrast to the wave of anger against Arnett following his propaganda interview on Iraqi television a few weeks ago.

For decades, the Gallup Poll has been asking about how much people trust the media. The polls during Watergate (April 1974) and not long after (June 1976) established record highs for media trust, and record lows for distrust of the media.

As for the Pentagon Papers, according to the Dictionary of American History, the initial publication in June 1971 "drew little public attention or comment." After the Nixon administration tried to halt publication and lost a few days later in the Supreme Court, "The outcome was widely hailed as a landmark in the history of a free press."

An Op-Ed in the News (April 21) took issue with my April 12 description of members of the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement as "war activists." Readers who want to learn more about the ISM, including the many reasons to doubt ISM's dubious versions of the injuries and deaths of some of its members recently engaged in confrontations with the Israeli army, should check out Brian Sayre's April 17 article "Solidarity with Terrorists" at ( 7361  ).

Finally, the News and The Denver Post have both been doing a superb job on the mayoral and other Denver election races. The tremendous amount of in-depth coverage on the issues and on the candidates gives Denver voters the opportunity to be very, very well-informed. For both papers, the 2003 coverage is by far the best work they've done on Denver election races in at least the last half-century.

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