Posted on November 19, 2009

The Washington Times’ Confederate (Fifth) Columnist

Sue Sturgis, Institute for Southern Studies, November 17, 2009

A column by Wesley Pruden that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Times is generating anger and controversy because of its views on race and President Obama.

Writing critically about Obama greeting the Japanese emperor with a deep bow, a move the State Department said was meant to show respect, Pruden opined:

Mr. Obama, unlike his predecessors, likely knows no better, and many of those around him, true children of the grungy ’60s, are contemptuous of custom. Cutting America down to size is what attracts them to “hope” for “change.” It’s no fault of the president that he has no natural instinct or blood impulse for what the America of “the 57 states” is about. He was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream.

He no doubt wants to “do the right thing” by his lights, but the lights that illumine the Obama path are not necessarily the lights that illuminate the way for most of the rest of us.

The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America reported on the column, which triggered a storm of critical commentary around the blogosphere.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly slammed Pruden as part of a persistent “Know-Nothing strain” in U.S. politics. Left in Alabama called the column “Racist, Xenophobic, and Clueless.” And Pam’s House Blend blogger Pam Spaulding–a civil rights advocate and board member of the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South–bluntly denounced what she called Pruden’s “miscegenation analysis” as “racist bullsh*t.”

This isn’t the first time Pruden–a Little Rock, Ark. native who once covered the civil rights movement for Dow Jones’ now-defunct National Observer–has generated controversy over his views on race and politics.

Four years ago, while still serving as the Washington Times’ editor-in-chief, Pruden wrote another controversial column in which he denounced the U.S. Senate for unanimously approving a resolution apologizing for failing to enact a federal anti-lynching law during the height of Jim Crow-era violence. He accused the resolution’s sponsors–Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and George Allen (R-Va.)–of putting on a “demonstration of manufactured remorse.”

Pruden has also at times openly expressed sympathy for Confederate causes, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in a 2003 story about the Washington Times’ promotion of extremist views. After Pruden was promoted from managing editor to editor in chief in 1992, he gave an interview to Southern Partisan, a pro-Confederate political magazine:

After singling out the Southern culture warrior, Sen. Jesse Helms, as a political hero, Pruden bragged about his great-grandmother shooting a Union cavalryman and boasted that the Times was the most “in-your-face” conservative newspaper in America. When Robert E. Lee’s birthday rolls around every year, he said, “I make sure we have a story”–especially because the occasion “falls around Martin Luther King’s birthday.”

In 1997, Pruden hired as the Times’ assistant national editor the Georgia-born Robert Stacy McCain–a member of the neo-Confederate League of the South, a pro-secessionist organization that SPLC classifies as a hate group for its defense of segregation and slavery. With Pruden’s approval, McCain began covering conferences sponsored by American Renaissance, a white nationalist journal, and reprinting excerpts from the journal in the paper’s culture section.

And in 1998, Pruden spoke to the neo-Confederate United Daughters of the Confederacy at the Manassas Battlefield Park in Virginia, praising them for their efforts to “cherish and protect and preserve the heritage of our great Southern people.” As SPLC reported:

Concluding with a flourish, Pruden said “Southerners . . . hold loyalty to two countries in our hearts.” The second country is one “baptized 137 years ago on this very field in the blood of First Manassas, a country no longer at the mercy of the vicissitudes in the tangled affairs of men, a country that lives within us, a country that will endure for as long as men and women know love. . . . God bless America, God bless the Confederate States of America, and God bless you all.”

Loyalty to the pro-slavery CSA? What does that say about Pruden’s instinct for what America is about?

[Editor’s Note: Wes Pruden’s column “Obama bows, the nation cringes” can be read here.]