To be clear, Mississippi candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith could very well have been at one point and could very well now be what most in society would deem a racists. I don’t personally know her, but having grown up in the deep south myself I can testify that adults from all walks of life fit that bill. Some you would expect and others you would never know it until you catch them in their most honest moments. Yet, for the free press to call a 15-year-old Cindy Hyde-Smith a racist days before a special election is fake news at its worst. With little disregard for objective truth, to label a human being as such is what one would expect from the National Enquirer. A report by the Jackson Free Press issued an article with the headline “Hyde-Smith Attended All-White ‘Seg Academy’ to Avoid Integration.” If that were true, and this 15-year-old girl went out of her way to avoid having to be schooled with people of color then there might be some merit to the notion that she was at one point a racist. However, given that most 15-year-old girls don’t get to make their own education choices I’m left to believe that the press has failed the public good again. Worse, I think in this case the press doesn’t care that they failed the public good.
The Election is Over
With intentionality, I am writing this particular opinion-editorial the day of the special election in Mississippi to potentially place Hyde-Smith in the Senate. Unlike the Jackson Free Press, my intention is not to sway the public in any manner to vote for one or the other. I have family in Mississippi and they are free to choose as they please without commentary from myself. However, I want all of America to look at this news story and come to realize why the attacks on “fake news” have gained such legitimacy and momentum. Love or hate Trump, we all should loathe poor journalism as was on display here.
For the headline and the mood of the article was written as such to indicate that Hyde-Smith made a specific choice for a specific reason. Moreover, using her now married name before an election it is intended to impugn the woman today for what a 15-year-old version of herself may have done. Yet, how many 15-year-old girls get to make their own education decisions in the first place? It is possible that Hyde-Smith had no intention of switching schools and certainly didn’t want to do so to avoid sitting beside people of color.
It is a fair question and one that the Jackson Free Press didn’t bother to explore before they wrote their salacious headline. Yes, there were terrible acts and thoughts of racist ideology back in that day but it was also common for youth to be far more progressive than their parents. Hyde-Smith’s parents could have been card carrying members of the Klan and that in no way should automatically impute guilt and racism on a 15-year-old girl. Then again, the entire goal of the article was t impute guilt and racism on a 50-year older version of a modern Senate candidate. That is fake news my friends.
Race Relations in the South are Complex
Again, I say this having grown up in the south myself. Race relations in the south are complex and certainly more complicated than can be summarized in a salacious headline. It is possible that Hyde-Smith begged and pleaded to attend a ‘seg academy’ as those did exists. However, life has a way to inform one’s world view over time. Are we now to hold every modern political candidate accountable for thoughts and actions prior to the age of adulthood? Living in the south I’ve met many racists, but I’ve also met many would-be racists who allowed life to inform them on the matter.
Molded by their parents into hateful thought, their experience as an adult not only repudiated the teachings of their parents but turned them into advocates for social justice and improved race relations. You simply cannot hold a 65-year-old woman accountable for her worldview may have been 50 years prior as a minor. Real news would have been to say that she attended this school as many did back in the day. Fake news was to say that she did for a particular reason which is just speculation and she should be held accountable 50-years later for this speculative reason. This was a hit job intended to malign a Hyde-Smith. In reality, it wound up being a hit job on the integrity of the free press. Is Hyde-Smith a racist? I don’t know, but neither does the Jackson Free Press. That is fake news to the core.