Mayday: Williams, The Blogging Journalist

It’s time to settle an old score, and tell you the new one. Here’s the new score:

The Hylant racism letters story came to me in exactly the same manner that my writing career came to me in the fall of 1973, sitting on the dried, yellow grass near the Student Union at TCU (demolished on July 16, 2008, see video),

lawn was out of frame, extreme left, bottom (two wings of center already demolished)

as my then-girlfriend-and-future-wife, Candy, her best friend across the hall, Wendy, and Wendy’s latest boyfriend prevailed on me to right an injustice.

He had tried out for the TCU basketball team as a walk-on, and with hard work, grit and sheer hustle, made the team.

And then TCU (a team that was lucky to have a year with two figures in the ‘win’ column) decided that there weren’t any “prospects” and cancelled the Freshman basketball team.

July 16, 2008, the final, fatal, dinosaur attack

And another American story of hard work and grit and all that kind of crap that we’re regularly fed was squashed. Stomped into the hard-packed tarmac of the Texas prairie.

“You’re in Honors English,” they said. “Won’t you write a letter to the school newspaper about this?”

I wrote the letter. Crickets. But Wendy and Candy were happy and the boyfriend was consoled, and then Wendy got another boyfriend. But the bug was in me, and I haven’t shaken it. I had not recognized the hand of destiny on my shoulder at the time, but, looking back, it was the single most important moment I ever spent in college. That sophomoric letter on a quixotic point of justice in a small newspaper in Texas changed my life, the moment when I found what the priests call my “vocation.”

Death is quick and stark and filled with luminous angst

Flash forward thirty-six years, almost exactly.

In September of 2009, I received a tip to this blog, which was on the same order: Kiwanis International officers, insuring a fundraising event had received an email entitled “You’ll love these” and filled with hate, savagery and racism that went far beyond the usual attacks on a sitting American president that we accept as a matter of course.

The plea was the same: You’re good with words. Won’t y0u say something about this?

I had been toying with shutting down the blog altogether, and certainly for a few months to finish a book.  I was increasingly feeling that this blog was an exercise in political and auctorial futility. I will not reveal the source of the tip, because I believe in protecting my sources, but suffice it to say that the forwarded email that I received was shocking. Shocking for the depths of hatred that it exposed, and shocking  because it was, seemingly ubiquitous within its mileau: in other words, the letter’s sender (not the creator of the images) was so much a part of a “mee too” pass-it-along club that it never occurred to him that there was anything remotely offensive about the images in question.

I was able to interview some of the principals (because it hadn’t gone out to just ONE member of Kiwanis International) who confirmed that the Kiwanis International insurance agent had, in fact, sent out the letter in question. And then I posted the story that changed this blog’s entire dynamic, on 09-09-09.

And, as it died, it assumed the spectral aspect of a horned frog

That story is the spike you see in the statistics above. I had done a careful journalistic job, and both Hylant and their Agent confirmed it in all particulars, adding the excuse:

On Thursday, Denton “Denny” Flahault, vice president of Hylant Group of Bloomington, acknowledged sending the e-mail. “Unfortunately, yes,” he said. “It was not intended for the individual who received it and it was completely a mistake.”

But it was too late. Hylant and Kiwanis International wanted this story OUT of the news. The VP was canned by Monday, and all was more or less forgotten. Since the Bloomington, Indiana newspaper exists almost completely behind a firewall, it remained in Indiana, although, for a day, my blog was featured by the Washington Monthly, Crooks and Liars, Alan Colmes’ Liberaland, and others. That’s the spike.

The follow-up was little seen, because it seemed pointless, but it was probably just as important in understanding the social dynamic. And, ironically, that post that caused the one-day spike was not much viewed thereafter, but the previous day’s blog, almost unread at that time, has become one of the “evergreen” posts of this blog, regularly read multiple times a day all over the globe: “” 09-08-09.

The title of a well-known song by the band “Kansas” comes to mind …

Finally, I posted , on 09-25-09 and it all seemed over. Except that the growth of his vorpal sword has been steady and spectacular since that point. And for that, I humbly thank you. Ultimately, while a writer requires the pay, what he’s IN the business for is TO BE READ, after all.  But there is one piece of unfinished business that needs attending to.

When I said “among others” as regards blog attention to my 09-09-09 story, unfortunately one of the others was DailyKos on September 27th. Which is what started this column, when I saw this as I checked my stats this morning:

Daily Kos’ coverage of my “scoop”

Oh yeah, I thought. THAT asshole.

Because, while I am willing to defend injustice done to others at the drop of a hat (or a platen guard), I have a bad habit of NOT defending myself from outrageous behavior that I would never allow were the victim anyone BUT myself. Today, I correct that oversight.

I had not brought it up at the time, because I had thought that the dialogue about the underlying racism of the current atmosphere was IMPORTANT. But that conversation did not happen, and, arguably, hasn’t happened, as the Racist Reb-publicans fire back their schoolyard-tested, Frank Luntz-approved® “I’m rubber, you’re glue” bray — I am not saying that all Republicans are racists, of course, just that all racists seem to be Republicans, their phony bray of “reverse racism” notwithstanding.

Yeah. Like freed Blacks in the American South have been beating the shit out of White Crackers for over a century just because they don’t like honkies. Sure. Just like those nasty Jews kept hitting the defenseless Nazis in the fist with their testicles, and those awful, mean Hopi beat up on the poor, traditionalist Navajos in Arizona, peacefully weaving their rugs and not bothering anybody.

Anyway, listen to “Heartland Liberal,” as he takes bows for my work:

Racist Email Costs Bloomington IN Exec His Job

by HeartlandLiberal

Sun Sep 27, 2009 at 10:23:34 AM PDT

Almost six weeks ago, the ObamaCare racist photo making the rounds, in which Obama is portrayed as Black tribesman with ObamaCare with a Communist symbol instead of the letter ‘C’ captioning the photo cost me a speaking relationship with my brother down in Alabama.

Now an email sent from a company account has cost an executive with a health insurance company his job in Bloomingon, Indiana.

My brother had sent his email from his private account to a list of his friends and some of our relatives, including my only surviving uncle, and my brother’s daughter. It was a last straw for me, after putting up with covert racism for decades in order to keep family ties. I blasted a couple of emails back that were, well, not mild, listing examples of all the racism in such emails making their rounds on the Internet.

My brother responded in a phone call with my wife (he won’t speak to me) that I ‘embarrassed him’ by sending my complaints back to the whole list, then emailed me he was no longer communicating with me.

The reaction for the executive is a bit stronger. It has reportedly cost him his job.

A recipient of the email has published the entire email, with all of the images in it, on his blog. Follow the link to see all of the images for yourself.

Recently, while working on the insurance rider for a charitable event, officers of that organization received the following email from a Vice President of their insurance company, from his office in Bloomington, Indiana, on — as you will see — the company account.

The company? The Hyland Group, which is a diversified insurance company that also includes health insurance. According to the Huffington Post, the officers of that company gave almost exclusively to Republicans in the last presidential campaign, with the exception of one broker who gave $2,300 to Hillary Clinton.

… [Author of blog explains long Indiana roots]

In that context, I present the letter IN FULL, with recipients’ information removed to protect their privacy, and the privacy and integrity of the service organization (in whose youth auxiliary I was a member in high school).

Health Ins. VP sends Obama Hate-mail on Company Account

The following quotes from the Sunday, September 27th, 2009 edition of the Bloomington, IN Herald-Times, the local newspaper. Please note: You have to have subscription to access the links.

City cutting ties with Hylant Group Executive who sent anti-Obama e-mails has resigned

Bloomington will suspend its work with Hylant Group of Bloomington after a vice president sent an insensitive and racially charged e-mail on his company account, Mayor Mark Kruzan said Saturday.

Also, a Hylant Group executive said Saturday that he had accepted the resignation of Denton “Denny” Flahualt, the Hylant vice president who sent the racially charged e-mail.

Hylant does not have a contract with the city, but acts as a middleman between the city and insurance carriers. Hylant reviews and analyzes insurances plans from carriers and then provides the city with input as to which plan the city should choose. The insurance carriers, and not the city, pay Hylant.

Kruzan said it was a combination of the inappropriateness of the e-mail and the company’s response to it that led to his decision.

“It’s not even a close call that there has to be a response from the city of Bloomington as a Hylant customer,” Kruzan said. “That response is not to do business with the company in 2010.”

“The company’s lack of direct ownership of the issue requires that the city act in a way that makes it clear that we expect more from companies with whom we’re doing business,” Kruzan said.

The e-mail, sent by Flahault, the former vice president of Hylant Group of Bloomington, includes various images of President Barack Obama: as a communist, as Adolf Hitler and more. One image depicts Obama, surrounded by communist and Muslim symbols, urinating on a map of the United States.

Richard Hylant, regional vice president of Hylant Group of Toledo, said the images in the e-mail portray bigotry and are political hate messages, which serve no purpose in this world.

“I hope people don’t have the impression that we haven’t reacted strongly, because the organization condemns this kind of behavior,” Hylant said.

Hylant said he’s not worried about losing other business and will explain the situation to any customer who asks.

Reached Saturday afternoon, Flahault declined to comment for this article.

The news about the email had been reported in an earlier article in the Herald-Times, September 25, 2009. Again, the entire article requires subscription.

Exec’s e-mail on Obama termed ‘very disturbing’ VP of local chamber’s Large Business of Year criticized for sending out images of president

A day after Hylant Group of Bloomington was honored as the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce’s Large Business of the Year, a vice president for the company is being assailed for sending out an inappropriate and racially-tinged e-mail on his company account, using his company signature.

The e-mail includes various images of President Barack Obama: as a communist, as Adolf Hitler, as the nerdy African-American child character Steve Urkel from the television show “Family Matters,” and as Mad magazine icon Alfred E. Neuman. One image depicts Obama, surrounded by communist and Muslim symbols, urinating on a map of the United States.

On Thursday, Denton “Denny” Flahault, vice president of Hylant Group of Bloomington, acknowledged sending the e-mail. “Unfortunately, yes,” he said. “It was not intended for the individual who received it and it was completely a mistake.”

Jon Strole, regional chief operating officer for the Hylant Group, also said it was a mistake by an employee. “We do have a policy for employees in terms of you are not supposed to use your office e-mail to send personal things of that nature. We will deal with that internally,” he said.

“Denny has apologized to the Kiwanis organization and that has been accepted by their folks,” the Toledo-based corporate officer said.

Williams, the blogging journalist, linked the e-mailed images to the “pernicous racism” underlying attacks on the president, particularly over his call for health care reform. Audrey McCluskey, director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at Indiana University, viewed the materials and wrote in an e-mail that they were “very much racially-tinged.”

She continued: “The easiest response would be to keep the temperature up by branding this outrageous slander as racist and giving the perpetrators the attention they crave. My question is, what is it about the American character that produces such images, and why do so many good people remain quiet in the face of it?”
Carolyn Calloway-Thomas, associate professor in the department of communicaions and culture at IU, termed the images “brutal and very disturbing” and wrote: “The images also serve as awful, scary replacements for argument and reason, which should be elevated in civic discourse. If health care matters and President Obama’s public polices ARE THE main issues under contention, then why is it necessary for one to resort to pushing images of President Obama with a dark mustache (with a swastika nearby) against a red background — all signifying that President Obama IS Hitler? Words and images matter!”

Update:

As I glanced over this diary and responses as I get ready to leave for work this morning, I want to say that I am, as always, impressed when the thoughtful members of this community show up for a discussion. Many of you have gotten the point I wanted to get across by reporting this incident in the context I chose of comparing my personal recent experience with family.

It is not just the public instances like this. It is how we choose to deal with our friends and our family. Remember: Silence is consent. No matter how you handle it, the time is well past to just remain silent in the face of the greatest resurgence of overt racism I have seen since my late teens and early twenties, the teens lived amidst the era of Bull Conner and the dogs and fires hoses in Birmingham, and the early 20′s amidst the era of national race riots and the Vietnam war, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Silence is no longer an option. I point out in a comment I added this morning that the time is well past when Obama and the Democrats should be responding to this madness, not sitting in silence. Even Doonesbury is turning on Obama on this point:

Doonesbury Hits the Nail on the Head

Update Part Deux:

I do in fact believe that there is implicit criticism of Obama in the Doonesbury cartoon, as I note do others in the blog-o-sphere today.

For instance, John Aravosis over at America Blog had the same take, in fact, he titled his blog entry‘Doonesbury has turned on Obama’.

I think there is definitely implicit criticism of Obama for not responding strongly enough to the incredible unhinged attacks by the right wing, which I think are clearly what is portrayed in the panels of the cartoon leading up to the final frame.

Really? It’s now Obama’s fault that people are calling him racist names and such? That’s quite a reversal.

Ghod: I love this line, stealing the credit and belittling (me) the author. Listen:

A recipient of the email has published the entire email, with all of the images in it, on his blog. Follow the link to see all of the images for yourself.

Except that I was not a ‘recipient,’ but was, in fact, a journalist pursuing a story. Or this:

… [Author of blog explains long Indiana roots]

As in, I’m not as interesting as Mr. Heartland and his “brave” stand against racism. But, happily, I DO have friends at DailyKos, and this comment warmed the cockles of my little heart:

In case anyone is interested (1+ / 0-)
Hart Williams posts here as harto. He used to diary about Howard Rich and his various front groups pushing ballot initiatives that would enable the fat cats to more easily rape the commons.

But HeartlandLiberal was too deep in the Pon Farr, the blood-fever in which HeartlandLiberal was some kind of racial hero for having reported his own heroic story and arrogated mine. So, while the denizens of DKos lined up to congratulate him, HeartlandLiberal conveniently forgot that it wasn’t about HIM. Or a story that I broke some 18 days earlier on September 9 for his September 27 posting. Nor did the Kossacks. A few hours later:

Dear HeartlandLiberal: (4+ / 0-)

I just logged in to thank you for taking a stand against the impulse of racism that has tormented and marred our nation’s history and politics for far too long.

Throughout the history of our collective struggle for racial and social justice and gender equality, one consistency remains; real change and justice can only be achieved when blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, male and females, gays and straights stand together with the same degree of indignation and determination to end injustice.

I’m sorry that your resistance to the racism impulse cost you a relationship with your brother. I hope that one day he will also realize how badly the stain of racism has scarred America’s social and moral conscious and prevented us from fulfilling our collective destiny.

In the meantime, speaking as an African American, I want to thank you for refusing to take the easy way out by acquiescing  to the status quo and instead choosing to speak out against the offense and pain of racism that is perpetrated against people of color everyday in America.

We must use time creatively… and forever realize that time is always ripe to do right. Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Jezreel on Sun Sep 27, 2009 at 08:29:25 PM PDT

And then there is THIS masterpiece of arrogation:

Where is the racism (0+ / 0-)

I do not see it. The photos were insulting at times, but I don’t see how they were racist.

The one with the watermelons in the front yard and Obama as a witch doctor, yeah. But I didn’t see those in the list.

I guess my standards are high.

The dumb & dumber one was actually pretty funny. Actually several were good. The Urkel one & 46 y.o. virgin were clever.

  • I am assuming you would not find this a problem? (2+ / 0-)

    Exaggerated portrayal of racial or ethnic characteristics is at the heart of much of the ‘artwork’. And it is all racist to the core.

    In my collection of post cards I have a late 1800;s card with a black female child with spiked hair, a big grin, who is eating watermelon. Real cute. Real racist to the core. It does not have to be that obvious. The message being sent is clear in every last image, and expected to be understood by the recipients who share these racist views and stereotypes: Look, the president is a ni66er.

    If you do not understand that, then here is a great movie for you to watch sometime to get the drift of the power of such propaganda and stereotyping:

    The Eternal Jew

    And if you have to have home brew to get the point, then here you go, from the early days of film:

    Birth of a Nation

    “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    by HeartlandLiberal on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 03:47:04 AM PDT

After all, this is about HIM. And, just to make sure that it is Heartland Liberal‘s protean intellect that we worship, this final interchange from He Who Has Arrogated My Work (from his non-sequitur update on the cartoon strip “Doonesbury” above):

Doonesbury did not “turn on Obama” (0+ / 0-)

I don’t think you understood the strip.  The point was that the people who are making the comparison of Obama to Hitler are dumbasses because Obama hasn’t done a damn thing Hitler-like….the “morans” are pretty much equating Obama’s policy-making and speech-giving with Hitler’s atrocities.

  • Actually, others are seeing implicit criticism (0+ / 0-)

    For instance, John Aravosis over at America Blog had the same take, in fact, he titled his blog entry ‘Doonesbury has turned on Obama’.

    I think there is definitely implicit criticism of Obama for not responding strongly enough to the incredible unhinged attacks by the right wing, which I think are clearly what is portrayed in the panels of the cartoon leading up to the final frame.

    “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    by HeartlandLiberal on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 05:40:25 AM PDT

    Parent ]

Actually, others wrote damn near the entire diary that you so pompously take the bows for, HeartlandLiberal. And blaming Obama for not fighting back on the racist taunts while quoting Mahatma Gandhi has got to be some of the best unintentional hum0r since Nixon claimed he was “not a crook.”

Williams, the blogging journalist, linked the e-mailed images to the “pernicous racism” underlying attacks on the president, particularly over his call for health care reform. Audrey McCluskey, director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at Indiana University, viewed the materials and wrote in an e-mail that they were “very much racially-tinged.” (The Bloomington Herald-Times)

You know what? When someone takes the hard work I’ve done, and pretends that THEY did it, and takes the praise or the cash for it (which has happened too much since my sit on the lawn by the old Student Union at TCU), I don’t think I’m going to keep quiet about it anymore.

So, in the end,  what is it that lasts?
The thing itself, or our memory
of the thing?
Consider the Colossus of Rhodes, or
the Brown Lupton Student Center at TCU …

Hey, “HeartlandLiberal”!

What Dick Cheney said to Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor.

Only this time, it’s actually utterly appropriate.

So, as I wend my way through my thirty-seventh year as a writer, I offer this toast, courtesy of my late friend Theodore Sturgeon* (although it is a  much older turn of the American phrase):

‘Here’s to champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends.’

[* "Maturity," by Theodore Sturgeon © 1947 Condé Nast Publications.]

Courage.

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