Whatever Patterico's intent in blogging about it, the main effect is that I've been provided ample materials for a discussion of how this smear got started. I didn't plan to spend any more time dealing with it, but one of my commenters asked me to address it, and so I will. The provenance was explained this morning:
Wheeler was -- and, so far as I know, still is -- a white separatist or white nationalist, call it what you will. In the 1996 e-mail list-server messages he collected, you will see that I argue against Wheeler's insistence that the Southern League (which subsequently became the League of the South) should adopt his own racial views. Others on my side in that debate included George Kalas and Gary Waltrip.Rather than starting with the how and why of my participation in that list-server, I'll begin by pointing out the when: It was 1996, and the occasion of the Atlanta Olympics had led to a lot of controversy over the Confederate symbol on the Georgia state flag and a lot of ill-informed MSM punditry about the "legacy of slavery," etc. Being a native Atlantan, I was outraged by the attempt of reporters for the New York Times and other major media outlets to smear my hometown, a thriving metropolis that had long boasted of being "The City Too Busy to Hate."
Wheeler's arguments did not prevail; he left the list-server and subsequently posted lengthy excerpts of the colloquy on his own site, without permission of the participants. Wheeler obviously believes himself correct, and considers the 1996 debate a vindication of his own views. It's a free country, and I can't tell him what to think.
Ride With the Angels
As a reporter, editor and columnist for the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune, I approached this ugly mess in the Gonzo way, stomping straight into the middle of the fight and becoming directly engaged with the fight and the fighters.
Arbiters of journalism ethics are free to criticize this method, but it gets results. If you're going to write about the Hell's Angels, ride with the Hell's Angels. Whatever is lost in terms of Objectivity is more than compensated by the elimination of misinformed bullsh*t, which is the real problem in American journalism.
From the standpoint of the news consumer, it doesn't matter whether Katrina Vanden Heuvel is a Marxist or whether Sean Hannity is a member of Opus Dei. What matters is whether they get the facts right or whether they are engaged in the dissemination of misleading distortions. What makes the MSM an object of criticism is that they strike a pose of Objectivity while disseminating such distortions.
Hunter S. Thompson was always a man of the Left, yet despised mainstream journalism on the same grounds as do most conservative bloggers today: The media get the facts wrong, or omit facts more important than what they report. Most often, to borrow the terminology of liberal analyst George Lakoff, the MSM "frame the narrative" in such a way as to prejudice the reader's perception of personalities (e.g., Howard Dean or Sarah Palin), events (e.g., the Iraq War or the NY23 special election) and social phenomena (e.g., homosexuality or crime).
If you allow your perception of the world to be controlled by the MSM -- permitting them to be the primary lens through which you view events -- you will be misinformed and disinformed. Just as Hunter S. Thompson saw the bogus "'terror on two wheels" hype about the Hell's Angels as an opportunity to seek out the Angels and discover the unreported reality, I have often found myself in the position of trying to discover similar realities, e.g., the absurd "Send the Body to Glenn Beck" claims about the death of Bill Sparkman.
Trolls and Hidden Agendas
All of this is by way of outlining a distinction that is very important. As a professional journalist, I was paid to cover the controversies of the mid-1990s. As a citizen, however, I felt a duty to become involved in those controversies, which is how I found myself on the list-server in July 1996, praising George Kalas for his efforts to prevent the League of the South from being marginalized as a racist organization:
I have never understood those black or white who say that the South should necessarily be riven by racial antagonisms.It was my praise of Kalas, you see, that elicited Wheeler's subsequent response and the debate that then unraveled. And as anyone who reads the whole thing will see, I got an early introduction to a phenomenon that bloggers now know as the "concern troll."
-- Robert Stacy McCain, July 17, 1996
Wheeler didn't start out by declaring himself a white separatist, a provocateur attempting to hijack the organization whose e-mail listserver was, at that time, a public forum open to all. Instead, he began with a subtle attempt to undermine the authority of Kalas to speak for the League.
Thus began a long train of events which now, more than a dozen years later, results in me being accused of racism -- when my entire purpose was to argue against what I am now accused of advocating. I note this comment on the Patterico post:
I think DaveC is right that this can basically be put in enough context to be forgivable, if RSM wants. . . .Well, I've never met Dustin and perhaps never will. While I appreciate his message of support, the "forgiveable" part bothers me. Whom have I wronged, that I should seek their forgiveness? Granting that people have been offended, this was when they were led to believe (by the framing of the narrative) that I was expressing some personal doctrine of my own, rather than discussing the attitudes of others.
That this discussion has been fairly criticized, I cannot deny, but I wasn't writing for publication, I was trying to prevent Wheeler's attempt to hijack the League as a vehicle for his own purposes. That this preventive engagement was successful ought to be counted to my credit, rather than being cherry-picked in an effort to discredit me.
Yet it would be dishonorable to say that the end justified the means, so if my readers feel more explanation is due, I will try to satisfy that demand. Over and over, I've said that this is a long story, and a story of such value that I did not intend to tell it for free, merely to defend myself against an accusation that my friends know to be false. I am not a "white supremacist" or a "segregationist" or whatever other perjorative label my enemies wish to attach to my name.
Nevertheless, since I am in the middle of a fundraising drive to collect $2,000 for a trip to Pasadena -- Roll, Tide, Roll! -- I'll put aside whatever else I might have done today, and try to explain the basics, so long as the readers keep hitting my Pasadena tip jar.
The Discussion Continues . . .