Accuracy in Media

    The New York Times and other papers recently ran stories about a report submitted by the Clinton Administration to a U.N. committee monitoring compliance with a treaty against racial discrimination. The report mentioned a suit filed against the Denny’s Restaurant chain back in 1994, alleging racial discrimination against black customers. Denny’ s settled the case. But the report and the stories failed to mention that the company has won some of these cases of alleged racial discrimination by producing evidence that the charges are phony.

    The National Law Journal broke the story in August, and it’s been followed up by Frank Murray of the Washington Times. In one case, a black couple, Ronald Flagler and Janet Jones, claimed they went to a Florida Denny’s, were shunted to the rear of the restaurant, and ignored for 45 minutes while whites were seated and served. But the restaurant had a security camera which showed the couple being greeted courteously and being quickly seated, and leaving less than 10 minutes later. The chairman of Denny’s stated, “This was…a disturbing example of two unscrupulous plaintiffs and their attorneys trying to take advantage of our court system through lies and deception.” Officials of the company said they were bitter that the press has highlighted lawsuits against the company but not their dismissals.

    In a Maryland case, two plaintiffs alleged racist conduct at a Denny’s restaurant. But here, too, there was a videotape showing the customers had been treated like anybody else. The lawyer for the company took depositions from the plaintiffs, whose statements contradicted the video. The attorney said, “We offered a private showing to their lawyer, who immediately quit the case, which was then dismissed.” In another case, a black man’s lawyer-son filed suit on his behalf, claiming a white couple arriving after him was served first. It turned out that the black man had been eating at Denny’s for 20 years with no problems and that the clientele was 50 percent black. The suit was dismissed by a judge.

    This summer, in Mississippi, Jesse Jackson and other so-called civil rights leaders created a national controversy by claiming that a 17 year-old black man, Raynard Johnson, had been lynched and had his throat cut. Jackson led a protest of more than 1000 people.

    Robert S. McElvaine, chairman of the history department at Millsaps College in Mississippi, says none of that is true. Photographs of the body show the throat was NOT cut. The body was found hanging from a tree, but all of the evidence pointed to suicide. There were no defensive wounds on the body to indicate a struggle. A full official investigation, using state, federal and FBI personnel, came to the same conclusion. “But the Rev. Jackson was not alone in his rush to judgment,” says McElvaine. “The national media eagerly joined him.”

    In discussing racial hoax crimes in the state of Maryland, commentator Blair Lee says, “It’s a perfect environment for black demagogues and charlatans to inflame fear and hate—just like white demagogues did in the Old South.” This is a problem that is national in scope, and the media contribute to it.

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