“I hope I don’t offend anyone….”
One of the first rules of civility is a simple one. If you hope you don’t offend anyone by something you’re about to say, keep your damn mouth shut.
Multi-millionaire political contributor Rex Sinquefield forgot that simple admonition last Thursday in a speech at Lindenwood College in St. Charles when the discussion turned to teacher tenure, which Sinquefield adamantly opposes and is investing a lot of money into an effort to eliminate. He’s also the moneybags behind the Fair Tax proposal that would eliminate the income tax and make up for lost revenue to the state by upping the sales tax. And he pours thousands of dollars into other campaign contributions.
What he said, and what he later didn’t say and what some other people have said reacting to news accounts of his remarks is frightening. In fact, when I read some reactions to his remarks Saturday morning, I was just plain scared.
If you want to hear what Sinquefield said and hear it in the context of his general discussion of teacher tenure and educational quality, go to YouTube. There are a couple of versions shot with cell phone cameras.
Here’s what Sinquefield said after criticizing the teacher tenure system:
“I mean, this is–you know what. there was a column written and I hope I don’t offend anyone. There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss, who was a former judge in Missouri. He now owns and writes for a newspaper in Central Missouri called the Unterrified Democrat–what a name–and it’s in Osage County, Missouri, and he starts off and its something like this. He said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”
There’s no way to describe that kind of talk as anything but inflammatory. Statements from a few legislators and from educational organizations immediately hit the e-mail system.
Not only was the remark inflammatory, it was historically inaccurate and it was a serious misstatement of what Ralph Voss wrote.
The story was picked up by several media outlets on Friday. We talked in our newsroom about how we should handle the story. The first thing we did was see who recorded the remarks and first reported the comments. The reporter who did, Jason Rosenbaum of the St. Louis Beacon, is a good reporter. So were confident the story was not being circulated out of context by a special interest group with an anti-Sinquefield axe to grind.
Our Capitol press corps colleague Rudi Keller at the Columbia Daily Tribune, set the historical record straight in his column, noting that “the idea that government…should fund public schools is older than the Klan, and, in fact, older than the U. S. Constitution. The first national government to set education policy for the states was the Continental Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation…”
Our next question was whether Sinquefield was telling the truth when he cited the piece from the Unterrified Democrat, a newspaper published in Linn, a small town about 20 miles east of Jefferson City. All of the news accounts we had seen seemed to accept Sinquefield’s description of the newspaper article as an accurate recounting. We called editor and owner Ralph Voss who told us the column had been a satirical comment on the condition of public education and the sorry state that liberals had cause it to be in. He said there was no way anybody who read the column could see it as anything but that. He sent us a copy Friday night and we did a story Saturday morning and posted Sinquefield’s comment and the pertinent part of Ralph’s column with the story at Missourinet.com. Whether one agrees with Voss’ politics, it is clear he is correct about the contents of the column and Sinquefield is nothing but wrong. We’ve added it at the end of this blog.
Late Friday, Sinquefield had a spokesman issue a statement:
“I apologize for my reference to a quote from Ralph Voss of the Unterrified Democrat. The public discourse on these issues is too critical for an ill-timed, inappropriate reference. It is my sincere hope that this does not distract us from the important mission of helping all children access a high-quality education.”
Note some important omissions in Sinquefield’s statement. He accepts absolutely no blame and no responsibility for his remarks. He does not say his “facts” were wrong. He does not say he misquoted Ralph Voss’ column. He does not apologize for insinuating that the public education system was designed by the KKK to retard the social and educational development of black people.
“I hope I don’t offend anyone,” he said. He didn’t start his apology with that phrase but some folks might be excused if they think he should have.
The St. Louis Riverfront Times, a newspaper poles apart from the Unterrified Democrat politically, ran the story of Sinquefield’s speech and his apology Friday afternoon. On the newspaper’s web page, people were invited to comment. This is what scared me Saturday morning:
“Look at the nose on that heeb sh–tbag. He’s a God Damned kosher pinnochio.”
“F–k this jew. Jews are always trying to come up with some s–t about Nazis or the Klan, anything they can do to disparage Whites but dumb f–king whites still don’t see the 800 lb jew in the room, starting wars, stealing millions from Americans… Mark this one ‘typical jew behavior.'”
There were a couple of other comments that were somewhat less alarming than those two.
The ugliness of Rex Sinquefield’s observation in St. Charles last Friday, which cannot be wiped from the slate by a non-apology apology, gives permission for more ugliness lurking too closely under the thin crust of social order to surface.
We and other reporters could have ignored the comment as an unfortunate slip of the tongue from an impassioned foe of teacher tenure and there might be some who think we should have done that because Mr. Sinquefield meant no harm in passing along what he thought was an amusing anecdote.
No we couldn’t ignore it. When someone with the political influence of Rex Sinquefield tosses off a remark that is so wrong on so many fronts, reporters cannot ignore the issue he created with that remark. We have to report that kind of thing and the reactions, some civil and others frighteningly uncivil, because they say something about who we are as a people. And sometimes we are not nice.
I hope I don’t offend you, Mr. Sinquefield, by what I have written today. Here’s Ralph Voss’ Unterrified Democrat column:
For the Record, By Ralph Voss
In early 1962 the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan was really out of sorts. Ever since the Civil War the Klan had been trying to control blacks, and up to that time had been relatively successful. But times were changing and the country was no longer in the mood for blacks to remain as second class citizens. The grand dragon didn’t know where to turn, so he called a meeting of some 10 leaders from throughout the country and someone suggested scraping up all the money they had and hiring one of those
Washington think tanks to come up with a plan.
So the grand dragon and his cohorts traveled to Washington D.C. and walked into the office of a think tank with two shopping bags full of $100 bills and explained their dilemma. The think tank manager was hesitant at first, but he saw the bags of money and decided that maybe they could help after all.
“This will take a little time,” the manager advised. “Come back in two weeks and we will have a plan for you,” he said. “The plan will be presented to you orally; we are not willing to put it in writing.” The two Klanners agreed to this, turned over the money and departed.
In two weeks the Klanners went back and the think tank people presented their plan. “You need to place liberals in charge of the public schools,” the think tank folks explained. “The liberals will hurt the public schools in every state, but their policies will simply devastate the big city public schools that the blacks and poor whites attend. The big city schools will get so bad they will lose their accreditation and the dropout rates at those schools will just be unbelievable. Liberal judges will take money that should be going to schools outside the big cities and pour that into the big city schools, but it won’t help because of all the corruption. The extra taxes ordered into effect by the liberal judges won’t help either. The big city schools will continue their downhill slide and finally realism will set in and the blacks and poor whites will ask for vouchers so they can send their kids to the same schools the politicians, trial lawyers, big city school teachers and big city newspaper folks send their kids. The request of these blacks and poor whites for equal treatment for their children will go unheeded for 45 or 50 years, but by then some conservative Republicans will be pointing out the hypocrisy of the liberal position and the people with kids in these inner city schools are going to become very restless and the demand for vouchers will become impossible to resist. But at least you will have bought yourselves 45 or 50 years. That’s the best we can do for you.”
The Klan members did not comment on the plan, but thanked the think tank people and left. When they got outside the grand dragon was ecstatic. He turned to his buddy and said, “Man, is that ever a plan. We sure got our money’s worth.”
The unfortunate thing for Missouri and most other states is that the above plan was put into action. The Klan had nothing to do with it. But the fact remains liberals were placed in charge and the results are what we see unfolding in front of us. The public schools in St. Louis-with 32,000 students-are no longer accredited. Kansas City schools are about as bad. And remember, this is after the state of Missouri poured hundreds of millions of dollars into those schools. And do you recall U.S. District Judge Tom Clark in Kansas City ordering a tax increase on the people of Kansas City to pay for all kinds of ideas he thought were advisable. In St. Louis U.S. District Judge William Hungate did about the same thing, although he did not order the tax increase. The result was huge sums of money that should have gone to outstate school districts was instead shipped to the two metropolitan districts.
And how much good did it do? None. The schools in St. Louis and Kansas City are worse now than 30 years ago. Vouchers are the only answer. The residents of St. Louis and Kansas City need to be given the means to send their children to other schools, public or private. We need a voucher system. Without this the problem will only get worse and we will be taking more and more money away from other schools.
Liberal ideology is so sick and twisted the government will help a young girl terminate her pregnancy without the consent of her parents, but will not help a 30-year-old black couple send their kids to the same schools the liberals send their children.
The above column appeared in the April 11, 2007, issue of the Unterrified Democrat, a weekly newspaper published since 1866 at Linn, Mo. The owners of the U.D. from 1866 to 1979 were conservative Democrats. Three liberal Democrats bought the paper in 1979, ran it into the ground and were forced to sell it. At that time it was purchased by the current owner, a Reagan Republican.