Sutton an embarrassment to newspapers, state

Posted 2/24/19

An Alabama newspaper publisher made global headlines last week when his editorial “Klan Needs to Ride Again” encouraged the Ku Klux Klan to return to power and flex its muscle to Democrats and …

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Sutton an embarrassment to newspapers, state

Posted

An Alabama newspaper publisher made global headlines last week when his editorial “Klan Needs to Ride Again” encouraged the Ku Klux Klan to return to power and flex its muscle to Democrats and “Democrats in the Republican Party” amongst other racist and ridiculous statements.

At the time the editorial was released, Goodloe Sutton was the editor and publisher of The Democrat-Reporter in Linden, a small community in the state’s Black Belt. Sutton also owns that newspaper.

I do not personally know Mr. Sutton. I’m sure that I have met him or said hello in passing a few times over the years at Alabama Press Association (APA) functions, but stories of his wild editorials have made the rounds for quite some time. This particular editorial just happened to top them all.

I have spent my entire 23-year journalism career working in small communities in Alabama and Mississippi. I have chosen to remain in those kinds of communities and in this area of the country because I believe in the importance of community newspapers and the service that we provide to the cities and towns that we cover. A newspaper plays a vital role in the health of its community, and that is a fact that I do not take lightly.

What Mr. Sutton did with his editorial was without a doubt a black eye to our profession. Promoting hatred and violence should never be the position of a community newspaper. Our efforts should be much more focused bringing members of our communities together, no matter their differences. 

The editorial was also a black eye to our state. Alabama was in the center of the Civil Rights movement. The world watched and memories of dogs and hoses, violence in Selma, four little girls and other awful images are still what come to mind when an outsider thinks of our state. Many have worked hard to change that image, but one misguided newspaper clipping can damage much of that hard work when the world again sees that type of careless and heartless message coming from our state.

As a member of the APA Board of Directors, I felt it was the absolute correct decision when our board voted last week to censure Sutton and suspend the association membership of The Democrat-Reporter. I might would have had a slightly different opinion if Sutton had written his piece as a personal op-ed, but to push it as an editorial from his newspaper was a slap in the face to all newspapers.

Sutton followed the backlash against the editorial by printing letters to the editor supporting his thoughts on the front page of his next edition. I’m sure there are people across the state who would agree with his thoughts, and they are welcome to those opinions, but they were at least brave enough to sign their names to the letters. Sutton also said he would do the same thing all over again because it was a $1 million worth of publicity. 

By the end of last week, a press release came out saying a new editor and publisher had been named at the The Democrat-Reporter. Elecia R. Dexter was named the leader of the paper on Thursday. The Associated Press reported that Sutton would retain ownership, but he admitted that he is in the process of selling the newspaper. With all the stories that I’ve heard of Sutton over the years, he probably created the buzz simply to sell the paper. If that is the case, he should be chastised even more.

It is sad to say, but I’m sure there are people in our community who would agree with Sutton’s statements regarding the KKK and bringing back lynchings. I feel sorry for those people. I do not understand that kind of darkness and hope that light will pierce those feelings and illuminate the fact that as humans we are all created equal and can make much more of an impact on our world for future generations if we find ways to work together despite any differences we might have.


James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.