By: Joe Strupp
Severe criticism of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., for his allegedly racist remarks is growing in a surprising place — among his home state’s major newspapers, including his hometown paper, which on Thursday joined the push for him to step aside as incoming Senate Majority leader.
“We have not had a lot of support [from readers] on that position,” Editor Dan Davis of The Mississippi Press in Pascagoula told E&P Online after his paper urged its most famous local product to step down from his leadership post. “We have had some people call and cancel subscriptions, but we expect that when we take an unpopular stand.”
Throughout the state, papers have blasted Lott since the remarks made news nationwide earlier this week. The uproar began after Lott commented at the 100th birthday part of retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., that the country would have been “better off” if Thurmond, a former segregationist, had been elected president when he ran on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948. Since then, Mississippi papers have made the story a Page One regular and, for the most part, editorialized against Lott’s remarks.
In Biloxi, The Sun Herald spoke up on Tuesday with an editorial that stated “What was Lott thinking?” At The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, the state’s largest-circulation paper, an editorial this week stated, “It was a lamentable lapse that, unfortunately, plays to a seemingly unshakable, outdated stereotype of Mississippi that no longer holds true.”
Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow suggested that Lott had “slipped into a time warp,” adding, “Old-school demagoguery has no place within our nation’s leadership.” The newspaper plans to run a second editorial Friday demanding that Lott explain his comments to local residents, according to Ron Agnew, executive editor. “We will hold his feet to the fire,” he said. “We have a responsibility to our readers.”
The Jackson paper made national news of its own on Wednesday when it reported that Lott had made similar comments about Thurmond in 1980 during a local visit by Ronald Reagan when he was running for president — a story that ran after a reader called the paper to remind editors about the incident.
The strong outcry against Lott by his home state papers takes on more significance when one considers Lott’s popularity in Mississippi, which counts on him for federal funding due to his Senate leadership status. Losing that post could mean a loss in dollars to the state’s troubled economy.
A Clarion-Ledger online poll of about 1,000 readers proved the point, with 67% saying Lott should remain majority leader. The Jackson paper plans to run a full page of letters from readers on Sunday.
“There is a strong sense that Mississippi will lose if he steps aside as majority leader,” said Lloyd Gray, editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo. “So many people here are reluctant to call for that.” That concern did not stop the Daily Journal from criticizing Lott in an editorial on Wednesday, which said the senator “didn’t help Mississippi’s image.”