The Washington Post editorial board attempts to recap the mudslinging in the George Allen-James Webb race for Allen’s Senate seat, but while announcing that it considers allegations of decades-old use of racial epithets germane, it fails to account for all of the accusations in the contest. This seems rather odd, since the Post slams Allen for his alleged use of the N-word but never mentions the allegations reported yesterday about Webb’s use of it and purported race-based assaults on Watts residents. What’s odd about that? That story got reported … by the Washington Post:
DID REPUBLICAN Sen. George Allen use racial slurs years ago? Did his Democratic challenger, James Webb? Does it matter, in a race between two candidates with long public records and substantial differences on Iraq, health care, the economy and other critical issues?
Yes, it does matter. Mr. Allen said he does not recall having used what newspapers delicately call “the N-word.” But at least a half-dozen people, including ones with upstanding reputations and no evident political agendas, have now told journalists that he did. The stories they have recounted about Mr. Allen’s behavior raise disturbing questions about his character and credibility.
In the wake of the furor over the senator’s reported comments, Mr. Webb would not deny that he had employed the ugly term. He said he has never used it as a slur but added to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “I don’t think that there’s anyone who grew up around the South that hasn’t had the word pass through their lips at one time in their life.”
First, let’s dispense with the canard that the allegations came from people without a political axe to grind. The only three that have made the allegations public are Ken Shelton, Christopher Taylor, and Larry Sabato. Both Shelton and Taylor have openly stated that they want to see Webb elected. Sabato has no first-person knowledge of Allen’s supposed use of the epithet, and still hasn’t explained why he didn’t mention Allen’s purported racism when he moderated Allen’s debate in the 2000 election. Everyone else making the allegations have made them anonymously, as if Allen was some sort of John Gotti instead of a public official, and those teammates of Allen who have gone on the record have all said that he didn’t use that kind of language or show that kind of animus.
Second, the Post gives an incomplete picture of allegations of Webb’s use of the epithet. John Hawkins notes its use in Webb’s fiction, as an example, but the Post published this rather damning story from one of Webb’s former acquaintances:
Webb’s comments to the Times-Dispatch prompted Allen campaign officials to direct a reporter to Dan Cragg, a former acquaintance of Webb’s, who said Webb used the word while describing his own behavior during his freshman year at the University of Southern California in the early 1960s. Webb later transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Cragg, 67, who lives in Fairfax County, said on Wednesday that Webb described taking drives through the black neighborhood of Watts, where he and members of his ROTC unit used racial epithets and pointed fake guns at blacks to scare them.
“They would hop into their cars, and would go down to Watts with these buddies of his,” Cragg said Webb told him. “They would take the rifles down there. They would call then [epithets], point the rifles at them, pull the triggers and then drive off laughing. One night, some guys caught them and beat . . . them. And that was the end of that.”
The Post found this newsworhy enough to print one day, but not enough to include in its one-sided indictment of Allen the next. Not only is that unfair, it’s rather revealing of the paper’s bias in this race. The omission of the allegations of anti-Semitism coming from the Webb campaign, starting in the primary and crescendoing in the general election (which the Post has also covered) makes this editorial even more suspicious.
Does any of this matter? No, it doesn’t, and the Post should know better. When one starts down this path, then elections become nothing more than a series of gotcha games where only the private investigators benefit. Instead of looking at issues that matter to Virginians, the campaigns start interviewing college buddies to find out whether someone got drunk or made stupid statements about race, women, or Elvis Presley. What’s next — a list of tasteless jokes told in middle school by each of the candidates?
George Allen just introduced a measure intended to benefit black farmers who missed a deadline for a settlement of a discrimination lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture. The Post could have talked about that, or about policy initiatives of both candidates, and demanded an end to the mudslinging in Virginia. Instead the editors chose to paint a one-sided picture of the controversy, ignoring even their own reporting, in order to kneecap a candidate they want to see defeated. I’m disappointed — the Post’s editors usually show more integrity than they did today.