Keyes: Paper could not ignore cross burning

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Why would our hometown paper publish a photo of a cross burning along with a story on Page 1?

Is this the epitome of sensationalist reporting? Have we lost our minds? Do we have any idea what this will do to real estate prices?

These sentences pretty well summarize the vast majority of phone calls, emails and comments we received at the Daily Bee Wednesday morning.

For many of us it was a case of deja vu - as in we thought we got rid of these rodents a long time ago.

If you missed it, reporter Cameron Rasmusson shared in Tuesday's Bee the fact that sheriff's candidate, KKK member and social misfit Shaun Winkler invited a few friends and family over to his property and had his weekly, monthly or semi-annual cross burning on Friday night.

As most people know, cross burning is considered sacrilege by Christians and the KKK has used cross burning as a form of intimidation since the early 1900s.

With a little research I found that: "In 1915, the same year Birth of a Nation was released, Jewish-American Leo Frank was lynched. Two months after his lynching, the lynchers burnt a cross. William J. Simmons, who founded the new Ku Klux Klan later in the same year, burned a cross at the mountaintop founding ceremony. Many of the participants in Simmons's ceremony were the same men who had helped to lynch Frank."

I don't need Wikipedia to tell me how I - and most people - feel about cross burning and the types of folks who participate in such an act with such a despicable history. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and bullies who hide behind white hoods are the lowest of the low. Again, we had hoped these folks and their antics had moved along.

So why did we cover it and/or put it on Page 1?

A couple of questions arose in the newsroom as we learned about this event on Monday and were given photographs.

• Is it news if a sheriff's candidate - a man who is vying for your vote on Tuesday - has a cross burning?

• Is it news if we don't report it?

• What about the fact that we know about the cross burning by a candidate but chose not to report on it?

• If Winker weren't running for sheriff, would we cover it?

The bottom line is that the only reason the cross burning story and photo were in your local paper is the fact that this parasite is on your ballot on Tuesday and we are afraid that if even one person votes for this guy, he might take it as a tacit endorsement of his anti-social behavior.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We have been down this road before. If we ignore a cross burning by a person on our ballot Tuesday, what do we ignore next?

If there is a hate crime here, do we choose not to run a story about it because it runs counter to everything we believe in?

If we ignore events like this crossburning, will it make it go away? History proves not.

I believe it is the responsibility of this newspaper to report on news - warts and all.

Does that mean we spend a lot of time or energy looking for stories with shock value? No, we really don't.

So did candidate/KKK member Winkler gain some notoriety by inviting a photographer to his publicity stunt? Yes. Did he also succeed in scaring the living daylights out of voters who might have accidentally voted for him on Tuesday? Absolutely.

This sting of bad publicity hurts but it will go away a lot faster than if Winkler has any kind of showing in Tuesday's election. If a person compounds the many years of bruises left here by the Aryan Nations and the fact we thought most of these hate mongers had scurried off, the photo and story in the Bee was a shock.

The only thing that might be more disturbing would be if your local newspaper knew something like this was going on and chose to look the other way.

David Keyes is publisher of the Bonner County Daily Bee. Comments can also be left on this column as it appears on that paper's website, by visiting the following link:

It would have been worse to look the other way

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