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Klan coverage sparks reaction from readers

September 19, 2004|by LIZ THOMPSON

I found it interesting last month that a Ku Klux Klan member took exception to his organization being referred to as a "hate" group.

After we published a story about a planned KKK rally in Sharpsburg and that community's decision to stage a unity rally in response, we received an e-mail from a man who said he was from the Realm of Kentucky for the World Knights of the KKK.

"... you need to stop talking about people trying to "stop hate" (because) we don't hate we just want our white rights back," he said in the e-mail.

Uh-huh.

The stories we wrote before, during and after the KKK's Aug. 28 march in Sharpsburg generated a lot of discussion in the newsroom. It also generated discussions with and among our readers. The man from Kentucky was the only one to complain about the coverage of the unity rallies. Most of the readers we heard from thought we gave the KKK too much coverage.

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We wrote about plans for both groups' activities before they happened and then covered them on the day of the rallies and march. As part of the coverage, we had a picture on the front page of a handful of KKK sympathizers and members walking down the street.

I talked with a reader this week who was irritated by our coverage of the KKK march. She got even more irritated when we published a story about two weeks ago that the group was considering another event.

She said we were right to cover the unity rally, but should not have given the KKK front page space as well. And, she said, when we published the most recent story on page A3 that the KKK might come back, we increased her irritation level to the point that she called us.

Her opinion is shared by many of our readers.

Deciding how much to write about an issue such as this is one that our newsroom has struggled with off and on for many years. The KKK comes and goes in our area. Members pop up periodically to hold membership drives, stand on a street corner somewhere or plan a march such as the one in Sharpsburg last month.

We have ignored them. We have sent reporters, but written nothing or just briefs. And, we have written stories.

One of the arguments we have in the newsroom is the same argument we hear from some readers - don't give groups such as the KKK publicity.

Let me try to explain why we decided this time to cover the KKK. This is what I talked about with the reader. At the end of our conversation, she understood our reasoning, but I had not changed her mind. She continued to believe we should have ignored the KKK in our coverage and, if you feel that way, I may not change your mind either. That's OK. At least you will know our thinking on the issue.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center Web site, coverage of events held by the KKK, white supremacists and other similar groups are wake-up calls for communities.

Founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm, the Montgomery, Ala., center is known today for its work in tracking hate groups and in countering the messages from such groups. Organizers of the local rallies received a $2,000 grant from the center under a program that encourages communities to organize counterdemonstrations and rallies.

The more a community is told about events happening in their own back yard, the more they will react as the Sharpsburg/Keedysville community reacted - with counterevents that focus on tolerance, understanding, unity and love, according to the center's Web site. We agree.

Ignoring something doesn't always make it go away. Standing up for what you believe is right - or wrong - sends a much stronger message.

What I remember of that coverage is the KKK march involved less than 10 people walking down a street, while the unity rallies at Antietam National Battlefield and in Keedysville drew crowds.

In my mind, that is one powerfully positive story.




Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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