By: Dorothy Giobbe Louisiana newspaper owner takes some heat for running an ad from the Ku Klux Klan, donates revenue to NAACP and anti-Klan group sp.
STEVEN MAY, OWNER of the Times of Acadiana, Lafayette, La., accepted a large ad from the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan last month because of his paper's firm, long-standing commitment to freedom of the press. The move was a striking example of the often difficult role that publishers must play when confronted with advertising that might be deemed offensive. At the Times, a 32,500-circulation weekly with a history of running controversial advertising, the situation was particularly ironic. The paper is a member of the Association of Alternative Newspapers and has received a National Newspaper Association award for its coverage of former Klan leader David Duke's campaign for governor, which May said embodied the Klan's latest strategy of disguising its agenda in carefully chosen, toned-down language. "Clearly, the Klan had learned a lot from the Duke experience about how to make contact with people without setting off all those little buzzwords and phrases that upset folks," he said. The content and language in the ad was sanitized thoroughly and "contained the type of information that you hear on talk radio every day," May said. Still, he grappled with whether to run it. "What do you do when you're a publisher committed to the idea of freedom of speech and freedom of the press?" he asked. "Should we have rejected the ad merely because it was from the Klan as opposed to rejecting it because of its content? That was the dilemma for us." Eventually, "we decided that we would not reject the advertising simply because of who it was from. We felt that the message was a more important issue than who was sending it, and that's why we decided to print it." In a creative twist, May offered to donate half of the $900 that the paper received for the ad to the scholarship fund of the Acadiana Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the other half to Klanwatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks white-supremacist groups. "We weren't sure how well the idea would go over with the NAACP, but they thought about it for at least . . . 30 seconds before saying yes, and so did Klanwatch," May said. The ad was published along with an editorial signed by May and an explanation of how the money from the ad was distributed. The editorial, in part, said, "We abhor the viewpoints advanced by this white-supremacist organization. We consider the Klan to be an agent of hatred, bigotry and racism. This group is diametrically opposed to our fundamental philosophical and social beliefs." It continued, "The Times is deeply committed to the free expression of ideas, even repugnant ones like these. Political organizations will have the right to buy advertising in this newspaper, even though their ideas are unpopular with one segment of the community or another. That's how we define a free press." May solved his dilemma, but long-term questions remain. Should publishers accept all ads but run disclaimers or explanations every time that there's a chance that the message (or messenger) might be deemed offensive? "That decision has a lot to do with two things," May said. "One, the publisher's own conscience and two, community standards. Each situation is an individual call, something you have to take one at a time. I'm reminded of that quote, 'I may not be able to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.' It's so crazy trying to come up with black-and-white answers to these very difficult, subjective issues." Interestingly, May said, "The discussion that has come out of all this is extremely important because we've been able to discuss the Klan's increasingly sophisticated tactics. We believe it's far wiser to know what these guys are up to. They're just a bunch of cockroaches and if you turn the light on them, they run scurrying for the corners." Times editor Richard Baudouin agrees. "One of the lessons from the Duke campaign was that some of the media thought if they just ignored Duke, he would go away," he said. "Even though a lot of papers did ignore him, by the time they had to pay attention, it was almost too late. It's far better to publish an ad like this and let the public see the Klan in all their faults and hatreds than to hush it up." Reaction from the community has been mixed. Soon after the ad was published, May received a letter from a local Klansman titled "the Race Traitor," which May plans to hang on a wall "above my toilet." "This definitely brought out the reptiles, and they've been slithering all around here," he added. May said he didn't know whether the Klan would be back in the paper. "That will be their decision. It will not be a result of my having banned them from the paper." ? (The Ku Klux Klan ad published in the Times of Acadiana, Lafayette, La. The newspaper's owner donated half of the $900 received for the ad to the scholarship fund of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the other half to Klanwatch.) [Photo and Caption]