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Mar 8, 2007 2:38 am

History and The Press

Tomorrow, Cliopatria will feature a symposium on Sam Tanenhaus's essay, History, Written in the Present Tense." The editor of the New York Times Book Review has agreed to respond to comments on his essay. Cliopatricians participating in the symposium should send their comments to manan*at*uchicago*dot*edu by this evening. Other history bloggers should comment on their own blogs and send a link to their comment to Manan's address. He will collate all the responses and post the symposium tomorrow afternoon. We'll hear from Tanenhaus shortly thereafter.

Now that the first phase of the Lewis Libby trial is closed, Anthony Lewis argues"Not All Sources Are Equal," NY Times, 7 March.

I do not think the press can have both the Sullivan decision and a privilege not to testify in civil cases. Otherwise the decision would be a license for reckless or even deliberate falsification, which the author of the Sullivan opinion, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., certainly did not favor.

Lewis's op-ed engages some very difficult issues.

Last July, Cox News journalist Elliott Jaspin published a four-part series of articles about communities in the United States that drove out their African American residents between 1864 and 1924. The syndicate had allowed Jaspin to devote five years of his time on its payroll exclusively to the series. His story covered 16 pages in Cox's Austin American-Statesman and versions of it appeared in five other Cox newspapers. The American-Statesman even created an interactive website devoted to the subject.

But Cox's flagship newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, published none of Jaspin's reportage. In the runup to Monday's publication date for Jaspin's book, Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America, charges flew thick and fast. See: Richard Prince,"Atlanta Paper Accused," Journal-isms, 21 February;"‘AJC' Whitewashed My Series on Racial Expulsions," Editor & Publisher, 23 February; Doug Monroe,"The AJC's Racial Cleansing Firestorm," Atlanta Magazine Online, 27 February; and John F. Sugg,"White Washed! Elliot Jaspin's book is the last thing the AJC's editors want you to read," Creative Loafing, 7 March.

The controversy is undoubtedly good for Jaspin's book sales and there's more to come. In January, the Sundance Film Festival showcased"Banished," a documentary featuring the return of descendants of African Americans driven out of three counties Jaspin identified to those counties. The film has its own website and its producers are planning"a major public education campaign to maximize the impact of ‘Banished'."

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