Is Lee Too Politically Correct?

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

In most ways, newspapers at Lee Enterprises Inc. reflect the conservative corporate culture you’d expect from a chain that chooses to publish in places such as Missoula, Mont., and Baraboo, Wis. Yet, in the last couple of weeks, one Lee paper has stirred a nationwide debate for adopting a policy that far more politically liberal papers in New York, Washington, and elsewhere have shied away from: eliminating references to sports mascots and team nicknames that many American Indians say are insulting.

At the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, “Redskins” is out as an acceptable reference to Washington’s professional football team. Also gone: The Cleveland Indians’ weirdly grinning mascot Chief Wahoo, and the adjective “Fighting,” which the paper says is a “stereotypical modifier” when attached to tribal names used by such college teams as the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois or the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota.

Journal Star Editor Kathleen Rutledge laughs off the accusation — made repeatedly in about 500 letters and e-mail messages triggered by the style change — that the paper is run by “PC” (politically correct) leftists. “This paper endorsed George Bush for the presidency, so we’re not exactly Liberal City here,” Rutledge says.

Rather, she says, the paper was motivated mainly by the increasing diversity of its community, which has taken in large numbers of refugees from Africa and Asia, and has a growing Hispanic population. “One area this newspaper has been making strides in is diversity,” Rutledge says. “We’ve just become more aware of other cultures, other ethnicities.”

While the torrent of e-mail had slowed by last week, Rutledge says almost all the complainants asked the same question, as if each writer were the first to think of it: “Hey, what about the ‘Fighting Irish’ of Notre Dame?” What was the editor’s favorite complaint? “The one that said I needed more post-menopausal hormone therapy,” Rutledge says.

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