Occasionally, you make the wrong choice — no matter how much you justify your intentions.I have to admit: I felt a bit sheepish when I woke up last Thursday to news in the Kansas City Star of the Confederate flag coming down off the wall of the Dirty Shame Saloon. Our biggest newspaper neighbor sent a reporter — and photographer — to the 152nd Platte County Fair on opening night with a purpose in mind. Questions were asked about the controversial symbol, which has hung on the wall of the iconic building for decades.
If I had listened to my own conscience, I might have asked those questions instead, possibly at a better time. The fair board members were forced into swift action, taking the flag down that afternoon with knowledge that the KC Star planned to make this controversy, even if no one publicly had spoken up to that point.
The message had been sent.
I had thought about doing a similar story ahead of time, a part of our annual fair preview section that is always so well received and well supported by our advertisers. I eventually bristled up and passed on the opportunity — perhaps a bit too trusting that the fair board would know better and perhaps worried about creating the controversy myself.
I will admit that we recently ran a file photo of Matt Snook on the front of our paper, touting his appearance on the NBC reality show “The Voice.” I certainly did receive one very strongly worded email about that image that featured the Confederate flag on the Dirty Shame wall from last year’s fair.
At the time, I shrugged it off.
What was I supposed to do? I didn’t hang the flag there. I needed a picture, and the Stars and Bars couldn’t be cropped out. So I ran the picture without much thought or regret.
In the months since, the debate over the flag, which many view as a symbol of hatred and racism, has reignited. I thought back to that Snook picture shortly after the murder of worshippers at a historically black church in South Carolina.
I thought more about it when I considered doing the fair preview story. I didn’t do it, and I have some regrets.
The topic is relevant, but I also think I could have used the opportunity to have a reasonable discussion about the display. Perhaps my questions could have spurred some action prior to the event.
Instead, the fair took a public image hit when the Star story hit the streets and the internet.
I do know that fair board members and stockholders were forced into damage control. There had been a vote on whether to take the flag down prior to the fair, but they voted to keep it.
However, the flag lasted only a few hours once the questions from the media were posed.
I know that I experienced plenty of questions about who I worked for while taking pictures over the four days. Most were happy to find out I was with the Citizen and not the paper that had “caused trouble,” so I guess that’s good for me.
Yet, there’s still that voice in my head that says I didn’t do my job — even at the risk of angering members of this community and sources we use to do our job around here. That’s the hard part of being a reporter, and maybe I fell short in this instance.
My instincts were probably correct. My actions were hesitant.
I moved on quickly after reading the story and did my best to simply do our job and document the fair. I did notice Confederate flags among the patrons and displayed on vehicles that competed in motorsports events on Thursday and Friday.
That’s nothing new, but it was hard to ignore some signs that at least a few of the displays were a mild protest to the decision. Attention was certainly increased for both sides of the argument.
Even where I didn’t see an imminent controversy, the power of newspapers could still be seen in the aftermath.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.