By: E&P Staff
The author of an upcoming book on the long post-Civil War history of white intimidation that forced African Americans from their hometowns charges Atlanta Journal-Constitution editors tried to derail the original newspaper series that formed the book to cover up for their own “soft-peddling” of racism in Georgia’s Forsyth County.
Author Elliot Jaspin, who works in the Washington Bureau of the Journal-Constitution’s parent Cox Newspapers, wrote the original four-part “Leave or Die” series in a series sponsored by the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. But even as the series was in the editing stage, Journal Constitution Editor Julia Wallace and others in the Atlanta paper lobbied to soften its reporting on the history of driving out blacks to create all-white communities around the U.S., Jaspin says.
Wallace replies that the accusation is absurd given the paper’s aggressive coverage of racial issues.
“The stories I had written were edited to obscure the Atlanta newspaper’s lackadaisical coverage of race,” Jaspin writes in his forthcoming book, “Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America,” which has been obtained by E&P. A chapter on the dispute comes near the end of the book and runs 24 pages. It will be published by Basic Books next month.
He writes: “Editors ignored clear conflicts of interest while editing the racial cleansing series. Procedures designed to protect the integrity of the reporting process were dispensed with. And finally the head of the company’s newspaper division overrode the judgment of editors in Austin and Washington and ordered that a different term be substituted for ‘racial cleansings.’ It is a cautionary tale about the lingering shame that trumps honest discussion of the full history of America’s racial cleansings.”
Jaspin’s account of how his series was treated, and responses by Wallace and Cox Washington Bureau Chief Andy Alexander were first reported, and are detailed in full, in an extensive story on Richard Prince’s “Journal-isms” online newsletter on the Web site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Wallace told Prince: “At the time we are accused of hiding Forsyth County’s past, we were reporting on discriminatory lending practices against minorities and exposing a long-forgotten murder of two black couples 46 years earlier.”
In the end, the Journal Constitution never ran the series, which was picked up by several other Cox papers. But the reason had nothing to do with past coverage of Forsyth County, said Wallace, who added: “To suggest the decision not to run the series was made by white executives is untrue. I asked a diverse group of my top editors to review the series before I decided not to publish.”
Alexander wrote to Prince: “I find the charges in Jaspin’s book sad and very difficult to understand. The Washington bureau of Cox Newspapers made a huge commitment for Jaspin to spend more than five years on the project. It was published in our ‘partnering’ newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, at extraordinary length, filling roughly 16 full pages on consecutive Sundays spanning a month last summer. …In the end, we were disappointed that Jaspin, then hard at work on his book, rejected our efforts to give the series even more exposure.
“Jaspin didn’t like the editing process. That’s our job as editors, to challenge every fact and theory to see how to best write a story. After more than five years of work, our readers would expect no less. Ultimately, other Cox newspapers ran portions of the series but Atlanta passed. It is a rare occurrence when all newspapers in a chain publish the same material. Every newspaper makes its own decisions about what to run.”
But Jaspin then replied, also on the Prince site, that “Wallace claims she did not print the series on racial cleansing because of factual problems. What these problems are she never says. …
“The uncontested facts are that the Cox editors openly discussed among themselves the Atlanta Journal-Constitution?s shoddy reporting but would not print what they knew. The AJC editors were told repeatedly that their coverage of the Forsyth racial cleansing contained numerous errors but to this day they have refused to correct the public record. Cox editors, who edited the series, had serious conflicts of interests, which they ignored….The public was ill-served.”