Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Couple Quick Hits

Ben Feller looks at how history textbooks are treating the relatively recent history of the Clinton impeachment.
The most commonly used texts give straightforward recaps of Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation. Absent are any the lurid details of his relationship with Monica Lewinksy that spiced up daily news reports and late-night talk shows as the scandal and impeachment played out in 1998 and early 1999.
One high school text book--"A History of the United States" by Pearson Prentice--
refers to the impeachment scandal as "a sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.

Polls showed most Americans did not believe Clinton's "tortured explanations of his behavior," the book says, but also did not think his offenses warranted his removal.
I wonder if the text makes a judgement as to whether the opinion of the American people was more or less relevant than the legal issues that many believe were sidestepped by the Senate? During the time, much was made of how the opinion of the American people trumped the actual legal question. Aren't we at a point where historians should examine whether this was valid?


Mary Katherine Ham
was going to write a nice, lifestyle-type piece on Kwanzaa and was surprised to find that this ancient African traditional holiday was created in 1966 by a radical black nationalist. She ended up writing a piece that was part feel-good, part origination story and discovered that the last half wouldn't do.
In the end, I compromised. I wrote 10 inches of fluffy holiday story. The childrens' Kwanzaa artwork was beautiful and deserved to be spotlighted, no matter what kind of man Karenga was. But I also wrote 10 inches on [Ron] Karenga. Nothing too graphic. I didn't get into the specifics of the torture. I didn't list every one of his misdeeds. But I thought a little of that was important to the story, especially since it seemed no one knew anything about it.

The next day, I picked up the paper. My 20-inch story had become 10 inches long overnight. Can you guess which 10 inches they cut?

This paper never cut for space. It rarely edited a word I wrote. As a result, a 10-inch cut was conspicuous, to say the least. And indefensible. And in this case, expected.

My editor and I had a civil conversation about it, the conclusion of which was something along the lines of, "well, you just can't write stuff like that. Just just can't."

Just another mile-marker in my journey out of the newspaper business.

Now, I'm not trying to be the grinch who stole Kwanzaa here, but I think it's a sin that the rather radical, Marxist, black nationalist origins of the holiday are ignored every year-- ignored with the power of a thousand suns.

It is a shame that everyone acts as if Karenga's violent crimes are immaterial, despite the fact that he was convicted and sentenced for them several years after he invented Kwanzaa. It's not as if he reformed, then became the father of Kwanzaa.

These things are not the whole story of Kwanzaa, but they are part of it, and they should be told. They are not pleasant, but I don't ever remember being told about our Founding Fathers' accomplishments in school without also hearing about their failings.

Surely, Ron Karenga should be subject to at least the same scrutiny as George Washington in a public school setting.

I have a feeling that won't happen, though, because a lot of people feel like "you just can't write stuff like that. Just just can't."
I can understand why the paper didn't want to include such controversial subject matter in what was supposed to be a feel good story. But will there ever a time or place to present such a piece?

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