Friday, June 16, 2017

That problematic Danae Columbus column

This Medium post by Jordan Flaherty is probably going to get some circulation. The attention-grabber at the top is a story about how political consultant and current Uptown Messenger columnist Danae Columbus was fired from her job as a City Council PR specialist in 2006 for using a racial slur.  Not everyone thinks this is a big deal, apprently. Already the social media response has included a fair amount of shrugging. I've seen various iterations of "It was ten years ago and widely known," popping up.  OK. And Uptown Messenger publishes this column anyway.  Is that worth asking about?  A lot of people don't seem to think so.

But before we pretend to be surprised at this, we should remember that the punditing profession continues to employ despicable racists, sexists, and homophobes like David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Ross Douthat, and Bret Stephens.. and that's just at the New York Times!   So let's not flatter ourselves with the conceit that Columbus is violating a professional norm just by being racist.

Flaherty also calls out Columbus's massive conflict of interest given that she often appears to use her column to promote the agendas of candidates and officeholders who also happen to be clients of hers.
Columbus, who also was caught using ethically dubious tactics in a 2012 city council race against LaToya Cantrell, writes for the Messenger while maintaining her job as a publicist for local politicians, and her columns read more like press releases than political analysis. A March, 2017 column about Stacy Head, a client of Columbus, is an uncritical list of Head’s accomplishments. Columbus describes Head as a popular candidate who “soundly defeated” her opponents..

It would be more accurate to say that Head, one of the city’s most racially divisive figures, is popular among white voters and deeply unpopular among Black voters. In her first election, Head likely only defeated Black incumbent Renee Gill Pratt because most Black residents of the district were still displaced after Hurricane Katrina. Pratt, who was under federal investigation at the time, was still more popular than Head among the Black residents of the district. Head won her 2010 election in that same district with 98 percent of the white vote and 30 percent of the Black vote. In Head’s 2012 primary race for the city council at-large seat, Head received 96% of the white vote and 5% of the Black vote.
So the complaint is Columbus is a racist writing promotional material for paying clients to a largely racist audience. To put it another way, she's pretty well in line with the standards and practices of political punditry at large. There are a number of underlying reasons for this which I don't intend to go too far into here. This CJR piece by Farai Chideya on diversity in newsrooms is a good place to start although there is a more expansive power and status analysis to tack onto it. But, like I said, it's more than I want to deal with here.

Instead I thought it was worth pointing out the conflicts and motivations that animate a lot of what Columbus produces in a column which I do read regularly. It's a good source for local political rumors as they tend to surface there before other outlets. And, yes, one supposes that is the brand Columbus sells to the Messenger; Juicy insidery poop with a healthy side of questionable ethics and a dash of racism. Still, if one is willing to wade through it, one is likely to learn a thing or two.

For example, Columbus's latest column is one of her worst. She takes shots at the group, Indivisible NOLA who are hosting the first public forum of the mayoral election this weekend.  It turns out that only Latoya Cantrell and Michael Bagneris are able to make it. Columbus's objection, though, is that pro-monument carnival barker quasi-candidate Frank Scurlock wasn't invited.

In an especially gross turn, Columbus even goes so far as to invoke this week's shooting incident endangering the life of Steve Scalise to suggest that a progressive group's exclusion of the Bouncy House guy from its meet and greet is a furtherance of that violence. Because, of course in such times, it is incumbent upon Indivisible to reach out to the guy who was arrested "defending" the Jefferson Davis monument. This is the only way the healing can begin.  At least he seems to think so. When "reached by text" Scurlock basically told Columbus that they are the real racists here.
Reached by text in Singapore where he is attending an international amusement parks convention, Scurlock said he believes INO’s decision was “all racial.”

Anyway here are the details on that forum, again. Scurlock has made it known that he intends to show up and "protest" whatever that means. So be ready for fun.

Update: Scurlock says he is a victim of "reverse racism" But also, according to Gambit, "Scurlock has said he plans to formally kick off his campaign in early July." Dude has already had two "official kick offs" to his campaign. One was a sort of press conference at Armstrong Park. The other was something he called "Cinco de Scurlock." Is he even going to actually qualify?

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