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Monday, May 23, 2016
MRC Repeatedly Tries To Shield Reagan From Criticism Over 1980 'States' Rights' Speech
Topic: Media Research Center

In a May 10 post, the Media Resarch Center's Brad Wilmouth got offended at Katrina vanden Heuvel's statement that "Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists":

But Reagan's appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi -- which was in August 1980 and therefore not even near the beginning of his campaign -- took place a few miles away from the city of Philadelphia, Mississippi, at a fair that was known for attracting a large number of the state's residents. Even the murders themselves did not actually take place in Philadelphia, making it a leap for liberals to try to connect the two events.

If that defense sounds kind of familiar, it should. Wilmouth issued the same defense of Reagan nearly word-for-word on March 3 (when Michael Eric Dyson brought the subject up) and March 7 (when Bill Maher referenced it).

And if it sounds like Wilmouth is being suspiciously specific in his defense, he is.

Yes, Reagan's speech was not at the beginning of his overall presidential campaign, but it did take place a couple weeks after that year's Republican National Convention, meaning it was one of his first speeches of the general election campaign.

Wilmouth's attempt to evade the symbolism of Philadelphia, Miss., by claiming not only that the fair isn't actually in city limits but that the murder of the civil rights activists also didn't take place inside city limits is laughable. It's highly unlikely that Reagan didn't know the history, or that his reference in the speech to "states' rights" -- which is what the controversy over the speech is ultimately about, though Wilmouth curiously doesn't mention it -- was not a dog-whistle reference that white Southerners would not understand.

Joseph Crespino wrote at History News Network that "Reagan knew that southern Republicans were making racial appeals to win over conservative southern Democrats," adding that "it’s no slur to hold Reagan accountable for the choice that he made. Neither is it mere partisanship to try to think seriously about the complex ways that white racism has shaped modern conservative politics."

David Greenberg added at Slate:

Building on the efforts of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon before him, as well as of a generation of Southern Republican leaders, Reagan succeeded in altering the terms of political debate when it came to race. Stripping away the crude bigotry that had cost the white South the rest of nation's sympathy in the 1950s and 1960s, he and other conservative political leaders fashioned an ideology in which racial politics were implicit, and yet still powerful. 

Wilmouth's writing on Reagan needs to be a little less reflexive (and a lot less copy-and-paste-y) and a little more tied to reality.

Posted by Terry K. at 2:15 PM EDT

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