Trying to get used to my new computer, Microsoft 10, files I can’t find and many other things. Everything is going sloooooowly. Be merciful.
1. More on the Martin Luther King revelations. Yesterday I wrote about King biographer David Garrow’s article revealing the some disturbing and previously unrevealed results of the FBI’s (illegal) surveillance of Martin Luther King. Predictably, Garrow is under fire for daring to sully an icon’s reputation, and because the source of the material is Hoover’s attempt to undermine King, that is the mode of attack. Garrow won a Pulitzer Prize for “Bearing the Cross,” his 1986 biography of King, and has said in the past that FBI files should be treated with skepticism. However, he is obviously so disturbed at the new revelations that were inadvertently released that he is performing what he sees as his duty as a historian. He told the Washington Post that the summaries made by FBI agents who were spying on King are accurate, noting that different types of records warrant different levels of trust in their accuracy. The files claiming King was communist, he said, “are coming literally third- or fourth-hand from a human informant,”so their accuracy is “highly dubious…But with the electronic surveillance records, those are very highly reliable, other than when the FBI can’t understand who’s talking.”
Confirmation bias is the key here. Garrow has none that I can see: his reputation is at risk if he is wrong, and he was an admirer of King, though not blind to his previously known flaws, like his epic infidelity. So far, the reflex deniers of Garrow’s conclusion all appear to be “keepers of the flame,” or at least invested in keeping King’s reputation intact.
It is encouraging to see the Post, which apparently refused to publish Garrow’s article, covering the story. Most media sources are not, and that is signature significance. Many of the same sources have assumed that Donald Trump engaged in wilful sexual assault based solely on his recorded hyperbolic boasts to Billy Bush. The integrity of journalism in the U.S. could not be at lower tide.
In my case, I know enough about history and the important figures who stroll, dash and charge through it not to be surprised when any of them are revealed to have engaged in objectively horrible conduct at various points in their lives. Given King’s documented sexual appetites and epic infidelities, the likelihood that he was a sexual predator is strong. Again, my position is that King’s personal, even criminal conduct shouldn’t affect the assessment of or national gratitude for his public achievements at all. This isn’t the “personal conduct” dodge that Bill Clinton’s enablers used: his conduct with Lewinski and others was related to his job, his position, and in fact occurred in his office. That’s professional, workplace conduct, not personal.
I assume this will be another story inconvenient to the news media’s favorite causes, that journalists and editors will attempt to bury, muddy, and minimize. Yes, and anyone who attempts to raise it, analyze it and verify it will be tarred as a racist. Perhaps I am naive and optimistic, but I don’t think that will work here. Just as eventually we had to face the truth about Thomas Jefferson and Bill Cosby, even those who want to deify King will have to deal with his private character, and decide whether they really want his statues and memorials, street signs and holiday, to come down.
Of course, there will be some good people on both sides of the argument. Continue reading