July 24, 2015

The Roanoke Times

The (Lexington, Virginia) News-Gazette has apologized after a surge of reader criticism after running a prejudicial ad that makes vague reference to controversy stirred up by the “black race” in connection with the Confederate flag.

The ad, which was purchased by area man Raymond Agnor this month to espouse his views on a number of tangentially related topics, has prompted readers to draw up a petition calling on the paper to apologize.

“About the confederate flag,” the ad reads. “Because of all the trouble the democrats and black race are causing, I place this ad. No black people or democrats are allowed on my property until further notice.”

The ad then veers abruptly into concerns about the national debt, social security and taxes.

Furthermore, I believe our government purposefully put our country in $18 trillion debt, knowing it could cause bankruptcy. It is a plot to take away our Social Security and cause taxes to skyrocket.”

In response to the backlash from readers (so far the petition has garnered more than 300 signatures) News-Gazette publisher Matt Paxton first issued an explanation on the weekly’s Facebook page last week.

I’ve read the comments posted regarding the ad in the July 8 issue of The News-Gazette. I know many have found the ad troubling, and even offensive. You may be surprised that I agree with you, but I made the decision to publish the ad because I felt that it was important for our readers to see that the views expressed in the ad are held by people in our community.

Paxton followed up with an editorial in the newspaper’s Wednesday print edition (which the newspaper sent to Poynter) calling the advertisement “repugnant,” explaining that he regrets letting the newspaper be used as a platform for bigotry:

Allowing such a message of hate to be published in our newspaper violates a basic standard that we’ve always tried to adhere to — that of maintaining a civil level of discourse within these pages.

In an interview with The Roanoke Times, which first reported on the controversy, Agnor doubled down on his comments, reiterating his desire not to have “them” on his property.

“I don’t want them on my property because I have seen what they did in Baltimore and Ferguson and other places,” Agnor said during an interview, referring to protests and riots in those cities. “They’re not going to come on my property and do that.”

The News-Gazette also published a front page news story that extensively quoted many readers who blasted the ad on Facebook and those who supported it. When asked by the newspaper whether he regretted taking out the ad, Agnor said no:

“Agnor said he’d actually wanted to add the names of other groups who aren’t welcome on his property — ‘communists, athiests, dictatorships, [those who show] bigotry, jealousy.'”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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