Confronting Duke With His Own Words

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S1: I am just looking to the left or something, which is like and say things to you. Our sleepless members, for all your support and for making this season of Slover impossible. We hope that you’ll continue to talk about and share this season with others. And if you have any questions or comments about the show yourself, host Josh Levine and producer Christopher Johnson will be doing a live Q&A on Slate’s Facebook page. Next week on July 29. Head over to sleep dot com slash live. To learn more about that, and for today’s episode, we’ll have an extended interview with Norman Robinson, a news anchor in New Orleans who challenged Duke during a televised debate right before the 1991 election. But first, let’s talk to Joshua. Christopher? Hi, guys. Congrats on the season.

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S2: Thank you, Chad. Congrats to you as well.

S1: Thanks, Joe. How you doing? How are you doing? All right. So this is episode focused on the Louisiana governor’s race in 1981 between David Duke and Edwin Edwards. And the episode highlighted various efforts that people began to make to take it down in this election. What do you think changed people’s minds here during the runoff? Like, what do you think made people realize that Duke was actually a threat?

S2: So because we have a secret ballot in this country, we don’t know how many people changed and voted for Duke in the primary or in previous elections and did not vote for him in the runoff. I would wager that it was a very small number if he did. And the thing that changed was getting people who had not voted in previous elections to come out and vote, people who weren’t registered. We heard in this episode about the massive registration drive that took place a couple days after the election. And there are a couple reasons why I think that the Duke vote kind of got swamped in the runoff. The economic message of if this guy gets elected, the state is going to get boycotted by the entire nation and you’re going to lose your job. I think that that was effective. For whom? The morality question was not as salient. And then I think the fact that Duke got as far as he did and this was this kind of climbing up the stairs and, you know, he had been a local official. He had run for the Senate. But this was, you know, hitting people right where they lived. He was going to potentially be the governor of the whole state. And that was, I think, the biggest threat to people in Louisiana in this three Iran. And so that motivated people, I think, in a way that they weren’t necessarily motivated in previous elections.

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S1: Yeah. Josh, he had spoken before about how important iconography was for Duke, that you remember the seen his campaign stickers everywhere growing up. And then here in this race, there was actually a counterpoint visual, the vote for the crook. It’s important stickers. Did you also remember seeing those around?

S2: Oh, yeah, for sure. That was the iconic slogan of kind of this whole era. Like, if you ask people who don’t know much about David Duke, the politician, then that might be the one thing that they know is vote for the crook. It’s important. You also see people talking about it all the time is just this classic American political slogan. And yeah, I was really happy that we were able to get Kirby Newberger, who came up with the slogan to talk with us because he’s mentioned in Larry Powles book Troubled Memory. We’ve talked about that book before. It’s about an Levie and David Duke. But there’s also this frame story around the election. And Larry talked to Kirby Newberger and had a story in there. But I don’t think he’s mentioned anywhere else ever. And I’m not really sure why. And he really wasn’t sure why. But the slogan gets mentioned a lot, but not the creator of it. And so I was happy to be able to tell that story. And it really, really resonated with people. And there’s this question of whether, you know, it’s vote for the crickets important. Was that slogan actually important in framing the election and driving turnout and encouraging people? I think it actually might’ve been. Or was it just a kind of pithy slogan that people like to say, whichever it is, it did truly encapsulate that election and is one of the things that’s persisted for decades.

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S1: Yeah, I’m sure it’s hard to track down people who make up looking like a campaign sticker. It’s not like there’s like a signature on the bottom or something.

S2: So and he didn’t have much of an ownership kind of belief. You know, he called the guy who printed up and then when other people wanted to print, you know, further copies, he was like, yeah, fine, do it. I don’t need any kind of fee. So it kind of took off, you know, had a life of its own after his initial print run, but.

S1: He was the instigator that got you like grassroots sort of campaign, like word of mouth, right? Yeah. And in previous episodes, you also talked about the quote unquote, silent army of supporters that David Duke had. So the people who didn’t necessarily voice their support for him outwardly but did give their vote to him at the polls. So were they still present in this gubernatorial election?

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S2: Yes. So Duke’s voters did get swamped. As I said earlier, it was a 61 to 39 vote. But Duke actually got more votes in this election than in the Senate race than in any other race. And so Duke’s fans did not break from him. There was this kind of accumulation. Lance Hale of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism, a Naziism, talked about how the stuff that they were putting out about Duke’s past, about his Nazi ideology, that that didn’t really sink in until this third election, that it took three elections. But for a lot of people just never worked. And there might have been a backlash or they might not have cared. But I do feel like after the Senate race, you know, it certainly wasn’t as intense in terms of the amount of coverage that the race got and the Duke got and the amount of investigation they went into it. But the stuff was mostly known at this point. And so this question of, like, naivete or I didn’t just didn’t know who I was voting for. I mean, like maybe you could make that argument during the House race, state House race. And we get into the Times-Picayune and this episode, and they made a choice during that race to really not cover Duke and his past that extensively. So I think although I would still cast some doubt on it, I think you could have at least made a claim at that point that you didn’t really know who this guy was or where he came from. But, you know, after the Senate race, that was no longer possible. So he had this really, really hardened base of support. And he did try to make this appeal around his supposed religious belief. He tried to kind of sound more moderate during this election than he had previously. So it’s possible that he drew in more voters that way. He was at least trying to he was trying to get some of these more moderate Buddy Roemer supporters to go to his side. But so Susan Howell, who we heard from in Episode five, the pollster, you know, she talked about kind of tweaking the polls and cooking the numbers to try to get the people who might be lying to a pollster. She said that by the end, no matter what assumptions you’re making, the kind of most radical assumptions you could not get Duke’s vote total up to where it would need to be from to win this race. And that’s, you know, what we saw on Election Day.

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S1: So after this loss, Duke did make a few more runs at big political seats, but didn’t get anywhere close to getting enough votes. Why do you think that this governor’s race ended up being the nail in the coffin for him politically?

S3: I think the answer is simple. It’s the black vote. I mean, it’s not just that simple, but I think that that is central to this story. Is the power of the black vote giving out to kind of take a collective stand against David Duke’s campaign? You know, one of the things that I think allows for Duke’s longevity is the actual narrative of America itself. And you see this come out in a much earlier episode in the debate between Jesse Jackson and David Duke, where they’re kind of talking about America’s founding narratives and America’s founding story and the promise of America and all of this. And in that, of course, they talk about Christianity, Jesse Jackson being a Reverend Duke apparently being a Christian, but they’re also talking about democratic values and work and all these sorts of things. And David Duke is able to play on these things repeatedly. And we see this all the way up through the final episode where he is saying, and I’m not one to say whether he was or wasn’t a Christian, but he’s pulling on this idea of a kind of very Protestant evangelical idea of redemption. This idea that you can be redeemed from all of the things that you’ve done and said in the past, all of the evil that you’ve perpetuated. There’s that. And then there’s also work like this idea of progress and hard work and all these sorts of things that David Duke also pushes a lot. And this idea of sort of fairness. Right. Which is a very kind of Protestant work ethic thing that’s very much a part of this country. And those sorts of things very much seem to appeal to a lot of at least on the outside. It was a lot of the reason why people seem to kind of like him and say that, well, people can change. I like the things that he stands for. And it’s around these ideas of both his religious turn and his sense of what is fair in America around welfare and affirmative action and taxes and all these kinds of things. And so it really is actually like a lot of our kind of founding narratives in our founding stories in this country that allow for him to succeed, you know, and also allow people to kind of hide behind their reasons for supporting him. But I also think it’s the black vote because black folks saw through that shit.

S2: I think that is definitely right. And I think that after the governor’s race, when he immediately turned around and ran for president, you know, it’s amazing how quickly the juice was, you know, went out of the lemon or whatever metaphor you you want to use. That seems like an appropriately sour one. But he, you know, was seen as this perpetual candidate, as somebody, you know. And this came up, I think, in some of the debates, like, you know, that he’d never had a job. And I think his message became decreasingly resonant and powerful because the messenger himself was, you know, kind of tiresome. I think, you know, we got a little, you know, more than a little tired of listening to him say the same thing over and over and over again. And I think even if you’re inclined to agree with him. He just wore out his welcome in a way that’s kind of independent from ideology, like people who liked what he was saying, got tired of them. But also, you know, the fact that he immediately ran for president. There are ways that on a national level, you can stop someone that I think are not as readily available on the state level. Like I think the Louisiana Republican Party deserves a lot of criticism for how they handled Duke. But, you know, fundamentally, they couldn’t keep him off the ballot. Whereas in these national races, whether it’s the 88 race where the Democratic Party kind of succeeded in no platforming him or the 1992 UN where the Republican Party again succeeded to some degree in keeping him off of state ballots and keeping him off, you know, from becoming a major candidate with all the levers you can pull when you’re in that category. I think, you know, that is definitely a factor. And then there’s, you know, the fact that we bring in in the very end end of this episode that Pat Buchanan came along, took all of Duke’s issues pretty much identical to Duke in terms of what he espoused. Kind of also similar to Duke in terms of being, you know, an anti-Semite or accused of being an anti-Semite and, you know, had not literally been a Klansman. And so I think that’s a little bit of proof of concept of something we talked about in a previous episode of this question of whether Duke would have been more successful and would have been able to get further than where he got if he had not worn the Klan robe and not worn the Nazi uniform. And I think Buchanan showed in that race that you can have the exact same views. And if people can’t point to a photo of you wearing this regalia, then you have more deniability. And so I think that’s really important factor. I mean, some people have said and I think it’s probably true that if Duke had turned around and run for Congress and run for the House in a district that had the same kind of all white demographic that his statehouse district had, then he potentially could have made it to Congress. But it was his ego. I think that told him that he was going to be president someday. And so that’s what he immediately turned around and did. And it was just a huge flop. And he kind of just really dipped pretty substantially and pretty rapidly.

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S3: And I think the Buchanan comparison is a telling one, because, you know, I don’t pretend to know all of Buchanan’s backstory, but I know that he, of course, spent time working for Nixon and for Ford and even for Reagan. And it kind of gathered that sort of political clout at that tier, at that level of both influence and experience. And I’m not sure I mean, it takes a lot to be a good politician. And there are a lot of things about Duke that people talk about how intelligent he was. Obviously, he knew all of this sort of code words to accumulate a following and to get backing and support. But you also hear Tyler Bridges say that outside of pushing his own kind of agenda and his rhetoric forward, he wasn’t very charming. And this isn’t to say that I think Buchanan is or isn’t charming, but I think that that’s an important part of the political game. And it seems like there’s a piece of the game that Duke either wasn’t able to play or wasn’t willing to pay or couldn’t play. I don’t know. But it seems like there’s a piece of being a politician that he hadn’t quite a corner. He hasn’t quite turned.

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S2: He was missing a bunch of pieces. It’s interesting just because he he had a lot of the tools that you would if you’re somebody who has these kind of horrifying beliefs and you want to try to launder them like he had a lot of the tools to do that, just to kind of superficial looks and superficial kind of ability to charm people in some ways. But, you know, it was only in a very kind of specific scenarios, like in that statehouse race where he was. Well, to seize on a taxation issue that he was able to actually apply his kind of core values and ideology to what was happening in the world currently and to kind of put his spin on it, because a lot of the time that he succeeded to a large degree in convincing people, people who wanted to be convinced their welfare was the biggest problem facing the world. You know, it’s two percent of the state budget. So it has nothing to do with real life. But, you know, maybe if he had been able to actually think more deeply or look at the world in a more sophisticated way, he could have figured out ways to speak to people that resonated even more. I mean, that’s scary to to think about. But like for all the talk about how kind of intelligent he was, there is a real kind of lack of sophistication when you listen. It’s just the same thing over and over again. And, you know, to some degree, that repetition probably worked in his favor in convincing people that these are the most salient issues. But I think ultimately, back to your previous question, how I think it just gets to be too much. Laken and people got tired of hearing that message after this group senatorial campaign.

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S1: Yeah. And in his last run for office was in 2016. Is that right, for a Senate?

S2: Yes. He ran for Senate. He did manage to make it into a debate in that race. I think he got like three percent of the vote. And by that point, I mean, it’s I don’t know what the word is that I’m searching for, but it’s sort of after he falls off the map here. You know, he gets under public Holocaust denial and sort of, you know, that the mask that he had put up for these years sort of falls away. So there are these kind of like peaks and valleys, I guess, where in the first race in eighty nine, he is trying to be like, oh, I’m I’m a changed man. This thing that I said like two years ago, you know, how dare you look at my past. That was so long ago. And then he tries to kind of build up this quote unquote, credibility around like, oh, I’m a changed person. I have these, like, mainstream conservative beliefs. And then, you know, once he drops that mask and it’s clear that that was all like a total facade and he was lying the whole time. I don’t think there’s any, you know, going back for that and be like, oh, yeah, the second time that I didn’t actually think I did the first time. That was also in my past. And I don’t believe that either. So, I mean, I think his days, obviously, of being a plausible mainstream candidate. I mean, that should have never been a possibility. But now it’s it’s truly, truly not a possibility.

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S1: All right. So this season is done now. I would love to hear your big takeaways at the end here. Christopher, as someone who might not have known a lot about this period in history before working on this season, and from Josh Esserman, who has wanted to pursue this story for a while.

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S3: Sure. So I I’m pretty familiar with the time period. I mean, culturally and politically in the U.S. and more generally, certainly the 80s and the 90s, like that kind of cultural historical moment in the U.S. have it solidly in my head. I’m less way less familiar with the nuances of Louisiana state and local politics. And so one of the things that kind of going down this road and following Duke’s path in this time period is sort of like in some ways, unfortunately reinforced my cynicism about the nature of of race and the direction of this country, because it reminds me of like, you know, Duke comes along in this window between the end of essentially the civil rights movement and the beginning of the 1980s, which is the beginning of a kind of very different moment for black life in America and black empowerment in America. And you see language shifting, public language and rhetoric, racist rhetoric around black people and black life shifting. And Duke plays on that and he cashes in on that. He’s not the only one succeeding with that, but he’s doing it and he finds success with that. And so it shows the kind of like slipperiness of race and racial language, like once the kind of no coloureds or like coloreds, only signs come down. For many people, that was the end of racism in the United States. Like Brown v. Board. You can now go to colleges, you can live in more places, and maybe you are able to you have this sort of access to political and cultural life. We are now all equal and free. And so there’s no such thing as racial and coded language anymore unless it’s super explicit. And we certainly know at this moment that that is very much not true. I mean, for black and brown people, we’ve known that that’s not true for the longest time. But it just reminds me the things that David Duke was able to. Find success with. He’s not alone in finding success with it. In that moment, in fact, others find far more success. And we see it continuing today at a sort of successful clip not to take anything away from the resistance to a lot of that that’s going on right now as well. So I think that that’s all superimportant. But like, I just think that one of things essentially interest me the most about this time period is that it sort of reflects these larger trends that, like we’re both reminded of the ugly racist roots of the country and the willingness of people, black people and Jewish people, especially in this series, to try to stop the nonsense. But it’s interesting for me to see that like this particular snapshot of this era that you’re hearing in Sloper in season four, you see these relatively little sea walls of resistance that are really pushing against almost this inevitable neoconservative anti black, anti poor tidal wave. That is the culture wars. Right. We end with Pat Buchanan. And we see kind of what’s coming. Like David Duke didn’t succeed. But even as Duke says, the message lives on.

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S2: Yeah, I cosign all of what Christopher just said. Somebody tweeted, I think, a few weeks ago that they enjoyed the series, but it feels like the host every few seconds is stopping and whispering. See? It’s just like Trump. And I promise I was not doing that. And actually, you’re saying to yourself, it’s inside your heads. And if that’s what you think, then that’s it. That’s what you think. You can’t blame me for that. But so I don’t know if that’s one of the takeaways for me. That’s just something that popped into my head. But I was glad that in this last episode we were able to, I think, gesture towards answering that question that you just asked Chao about the lessons. And there were a couple of people that said things that we featured in this episode that I think are really correct and resonant across any time period. And one of them was Keith Woods and what he said about Norman Robinson’s questioning of Duke at the debate. He said, I don’t think it changed anyone’s mind to thought, oh, I’m going to vote for a Klansman. And now I’m not because of what Norman said. But it made people like me feel better about the place where we lived, that someone would have the courage to do that. And then wetlands, hell said about the kind of power of the horizontal approach. And we’ve heard repeatedly in this series and I think currently about this issue of sort of backlash towards elites, whether they’re elected officials or, you know, cultural leaders or business leaders. And this idea of you can’t tell me what to do, but if it’s like your fish guy who’s telling you about this Duke guy or if it’s somebody else in your community or friend, your neighbor, you know, the student body president at Southern and talking to his fellow students, then I think that has a different kind of valence and kind of power. And you could see all of these kind of horizontal lines coming out from people in the Jewish community. You know, people who were in various religious groups, people who were, you know, at HBC use whatever. It wasn’t any kind of one message or one person or one group. It was all of these horizontal lines. And I think that there is a kind of optimistic message in that I don’t want to be too kind of hallmark about it. But everybody can make a difference, you know, and I think appropriately, there should be a pessimistic message here, because one of the lessons from this series is that this stuff is cyclical and it doesn’t go away and it hasn’t gone away and it will not go away. I believe is that in order to move forward in a way that I think. Right. Thinking people believe is forward, it’s often not about persuasion. It’s about showing force and coming out in numbers and swamping the beliefs of people who are reactionary and regressive. And again, Duke got more votes in this governor’s race than in the Senate race, but won a smaller percentage of votes because there were lots of people, I think black Louisianans in particular, who did not let him win.

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S4: And that’s that’s kind of how it has to go. Yeah, I agree with that 1000 percent.

S3: And I think, you know, I am also thinking about women and men like Kent Smith, who is proof as a student organizer, like he’s proof that whatever group you’re a part of, when you’re motivated to say, let’s say in this instance, come out and vote when you feel like you have a reason to sort of. Use your vote, whether it’s to stop someone else’s success and you feel like that is going to somehow protect your own interest and protect your community. Speaking specifically of black folks in Louisiana and just sort of humanity in Louisiana, then people turned out. So, you know, there is something to be said for, as Josh was saying. Kind of like flooding the zone. I mean, even the fact that they’re at this moment where they can organize and vote, it’s clearly I mean, he’s saying this was a movement for us. This was like a kind of our moment. And I can’t help but think that he’s signifying on the 60s that he’s sort of invoking this idea that, like, this was our chance to kind of recreate and honor what our ancestors had done just a couple of decades ago in terms of turning out the vote, to use it as something to protect our communities and defend our interest as black people. And so there is also that, like, as Dr. King says, that arc of justice, you know, but through like real political action.

S2: Before we wrap this up. Now, I just want to say a couple words about the team that we’ve had working on this season. Christopher? First and foremost, folks who’ve heard of these episodes know how smart and incisive he is on this stuff and just the kind of craftsmanship around just actually producing the episodes. And the reason that they sound so good is because of him. And so it’s just been a real pleasure to be able to go on this journey with him. And as we’ve talked about on previous plus episodes. It’s really challenging material. Emotionally, it’s also challenging editorially to try to figure out what what story to tell. But it’s not easy stuff to dig into. And so it’s just been great to be able to feel so much kind of trust and confidence in and be able to work together and talk about this stuff and figure out the story that we we want to tell. So that’s been one of the most rewarding parts of this. Absolutely mutual. And then we have a couple of other producers on the show. We’ve got Madeleine Ducharme and Sophie Sommer, grad. And, you know, a lot of the material, maybe all of the material on the show, Christopher. He has their finger, their fingerprints on it. Yes. Some way from finding the people of, you know, finding the some of the bites to doing the. A lot of reading and and research and their dedication to this project is on unmatched and unparalleled in their kind of ears and eyes and their ability also to kind of look through this challenging material, to figure out ways for us to tell the kind of real personal close up stories of how this happened rather than the like. Zoomed out 30000 foot version has made the series kind of immeasurably better.

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S4: Yeah. I won’t take too long. And sort of a meaning that and echoing that, you know, I’ve said it to you, Josh, before. I’ve said it here before. I’ve said it in my own head many, many times that this is an incredibly demanding project for all the reasons that you’ve laid out. Josh, like the material itself is complex and dynamic and challenging in its own right, but also emotionally and quite frankly, particularly in these very specific moments that we’re in and in this country, all of the things that have stirred up in the last six months or so. And I cannot think of a better travel partner than working with Josh. It’s just been an amazing experience of both like artistry and compassion, like that combination.

S3: I’ve said, as you before, of real just journalistic skill and technique as a craftsman and as a storyteller, but also being a real person and being superhuman and really connected someone I also feel like I can actually talk to and process this stuff with. It’s been having that combination, especially right now, has been pretty invaluable and have to give massive shout out to our other two producers, Madeline and Sophie. Listeners don’t necessarily get it. They don’t need to get it. They should just kick back and enjoy what they hear. But all the wiring and the flooring and the plumbing and all of the stuff that makes this show sound as dope as it does as something it’s fun to listen to. Enjoyable, pleasant to hear, but also the deep, intense word by word research, fact checking tape and all of that stuff.

S4: They came through a thousand times over. So have to show them love.

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S2: Final shout outs, Gabe Roth and Lone Lou, our editor. Yes, our editors. And made the scripts beautiful. And listen to all the rough cuts and talk through the structure and. And all that stuff that I know about because I’m an editor, too, and was on on the first three seasons, they were just so amazing and helpful and and made the show into to what it was. And then also got to give massive props to Chout, too, for these plus upscale way and making them so great and bringing these extra conversations and giving us the forum also to have this conversation. So thanks, Chow, for all that you do now.

S1: Thank you guys for coming on and chatting about all the stuff. It’s been a really great season and yes, I have worked hard throughout all this other stuff going on in the world. So congratulations. Really happy to work with the guys on this. Thank you. So today’s bonus interview is with Norman Robinson, who was the journalist who challenged Duke about his views during a televised debate in 1991. Can you tell us a bit more about him, Josh?

S2: Yeah. So if you’re from New New Orleans, you know Norman Robinson. He’s kind of that guy. He’s the guy who is the TV anchor in my youth and a lot of people’s youths. And there’s just somebody who was a force in local media and just in that in the city more broadly, he’s an iconic figure. And for him to step out and do what he did in this debate was a massive moment. And I hope that that came across in our episode, as you heard in the episode. He got really deep with us as so many people dead. And I think this is another opportunity for us to step back and say thank you. He is just an example of the willingness that so many people had to really go deep and share with us and bring the kind of emotion and depth of knowledge that’s required to put together a series like this. And so just so grateful to have his reflections on his life at all the events that brought him to that day. And I think there’s something so poetic about his journey and Duke’s journey. And then meeting in that moment and then what happened there. And then, as you hear at the very end of that said, what happened after. So I think his arc is so amazing and you got to hear some of it. And the main episode and you’ll get to hear more. Just a really amazing interview. One of my strongest memories from the season was having this conversation with Norman Robinson.

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S4: I think those Norman Robinson type folks are also super interesting to me because he’s from this very particular generation of black journalists. They have a power because of all the things that many of them were the first. This is the first stat like Keith was is a good example of that as well. Could kind of climb through the ranks when there were even fewer black people in newsrooms than there are now. If you can’t imagine that.

S1: Yes. Good interview. Let’s listen to it.

S5: Norman Robinson and I’m a retired television news anchor.

S6: So what was the first, if you recall, time that you remember hearing about or encountering Davidic?

S7: When I was a rookie reporter at WVU Eat the ABC station, I was covering a story at City Hall and there was a break in the council session. So we were we being the reporters covering the case were outside. And this guy walks up and he introduces himself as David Duke and these darts to hold a conversation with us. And one thing leads to another. And he’s all of a sudden talking about the white race needs an organization like the NAACP has for the black Americans. The blacks have the NAACP and of course, the whites don’t have anything and the blacks are trying to take over. And so we got in a big debate about that. And I thought he was a bit misguided.

S8: I thought he was feeling rather, you know, inferior. And I was wondering why why would he be feeling inferior or threatened by black people?

S7: He was so defensive and he was so he was so sure that a white race was under attack, was being threatened by black people, and that we had all of this going force and we had affirmative action and black people were now on television. Black people are now in legislative bodies and black people who are now on city councils. And I was bowled over by that. I think the whole thing amounted to his fear of losing power to black people.

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S6: So this would have been in the later 70s.

S8: Do you think this would have been around 1976, 1977.

S6: So Duke is at that point. He’s known as the grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He’s gotten some national airplay. He was on Tom Snyder and he has this new face of the Klan and all that stuff. Was he somebody that you had heard of before you run into him at No Holler or wherever that was?

S8: No, he was. He was not on my radar at all. It was I’d never I mean, that was the first time I ever heard the name Duke. I was new to New Orleans. I came here in 1976, January 1976. So I started, you know, reading articles about him in some of the people who were in college at the time that he was at LSU used to talk about him, you know, being this guy standing around and preaching, you know, anti-Semitic rhetoric on campus, stumping for, you know, the rights of whites who were being pushed out of power by Jews and blacks. So that’s when I started to pay attention. It was almost like he singled me out to come talk to me about it. I guess it must’ve been because I was the dark arts person in among the group. I don’t know. I can’t explain it to this day.

S6: Did you continue seeing him around or following him throughout the 70s?

S8: Yeah, I would see him on on these various shows and I would read about him in the newspaper and I would hear about him on radio newscasts.

S6: Did you get the sense that he was a threat and that his message was it was resonating or did he kind of strike you at that point as a sort of pathetic guy with no constituency?

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S8: He kind of struck me as a as a person who was out in the middle of the desert striving to be heard. I mean, he just to me, was a wandering voice looking to make a connection. I mean, I just saw him as some poor, misguided white guy who was was looking for an audience. You know, he wanted to be heard. He wanted to be seen.

S6: So what’s your analysis of what happened in 1989 with the race in District 81 in Metairie?

S8: Well, you know, there is this sense that memory became memory because people left New Orleans after integration. They didn’t want to have anything to do with black people. They formed their own schools. They formed their own government, their own society, in a sense, void of black people. So my sense of that is simply, we elected one of us, you know, a person who thinks like us, a person who is us, a person who will stand up for us, a person who is us and not them.

S6: So if you listen to what the voters said, who supported him and he goes on national TV spot where they capture this woman talking to do can kind of whispering them. It’s about time that the white people stick together. Exactly. That’s one group. The other group says race has nothing to do with that. It’s about taxes and the homestead exemption. And I resent that you would even possibly suggest that race has something to do with it.

S8: Yeah. That’s a disingenuous aspect of that, too.

S5: I had a woman say to me once when I was a reporter, you know, these people don’t pay taxes. The welfare system is just bleeding the white race. And I’m thinking there are more whites on welfare than there are African-Americans. You know, it’s like I mean, disproportionately African-Americans are poor, but numerically there are more whites on welfare than there are African-Americans.

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S8: So but the mentality is, you know, when it comes to taxes, when it comes to revenue, when it comes to operating budget, is that the liberals want to control this so they can give it to the, you know, the the minorities and make the Jews wealthy so that, you know, white people are suffering at the expense of Jews and minorities. I just think that whole way of thinking is just totally wacky. That’s pathetic. It’s to the sense that you got to make yourself a victim. It’s whining like a victim where there is no victim.

S6: Were you surprised how the 91 race played out with Roemer and Edwards and Duke?

S8: Yeah. I was quite surprised. I didn’t know that his popularity. I didn’t know that his ideology was that intrinsic. And I was quite surprised by that. I thought surely people will come to their senses. But no.

S6: Can we take a quick Edwin Edwards detour? Do you have any good Edwin Edwards dice?

S7: A very colorful guy who tried to hire me as his press secretary once we walked into a room and he just walked in. He had this air of just being on top of everything. He walks into the room. He looks at me at the time. I was a reporter for WWL. To me, this is nineteen ninety nineteen ninety one. He looks at me and he says, OK.

S8: The job pays twenty seven thousand dollars a year. I looked at it and I said, Governor, I make 60. It. He looked at me and says, I don’t want to talk to you. Yeah. He was, he was quite popular. You remember that the bumper sticker that said Vote for the crook. It’s important. Yeah. Yeah. But I liked Edwards. I still like it.

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S6: You were not dismayed by his rampant corruption?

S8: I was dismayed, but I wouldn’t say this. He never, ever robbed the people. And that’s what he would he would say to you. I never harmed the average person. Just people who are like me.

S6: Before we get to the debate, did you notice any kind of change in the tenor of the media coverage of Duke after he gets under that the runoff? Because there’s no allusions after that that this is serious. Was he covered differently or was there was there that kind of line of demarcation?

S8: I think they. My personal impression of the news coverage of Duke after he got into the race was that the news media was walking on eggshells. They went out of their way to appear not to. How should you say, overly scrutinizing? I thought they were handling him with kid gloves, is what I thought a lot of them got angry with me for saying that, but that was my impression.

S6: That’s The Times-Picayune.

S3: That’s that’s local TV. That’s all everybody.

S8: That’s all of them. I don’t know so much about the Times-Picayune because I really didn’t pay that close attention to the print media at the time. But I was watching very closely the broadcast media and I thought the broadcast media was walking on eggshells when it came to David.

S2: Do you have any theories as to why?

S8: Yeah, I think they didn’t want to agonize his base. I think they were were trying to make sure they went out of their way to ward off any kind of potential negative blowback that might erupt if they were to confront him aggressively.

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S6: So how did you get that assignment to do the debate?

S8: I’m not quite sure how I got the assignment to get. So do the debate. I think they were looking for the anchors from the various markets because, as you know, it was the Louisiana public television broadcast. So they were looking for representatives from all of the major markets. And they called to ask me, I think I have a reputation of being a good, solid interrogator.

S6: Was there any possibility that you wouldn’t take the assignment?

S8: I thought about not taking it, but then I thought, you know, I’m shirking my responsibility, why should I shy away from from a challenge? I considered it in the final analysis to be a challenge, to be a challenge to to face and to confront him and compartmentalize my my anger.

S6: Did you know before it happened that this was going to be a really important moment in your life?

S8: Well, I had no idea. All I knew is that I wanted to challenge the man. I wanted to challenge his ideals. I wanted to get to the human part of him. I wanted to talk to him about his humanity, his humanity as it relates to the people he was kind of denigrating. I was looking for some honesty and some some truth. I was looking to have a human discussion with another human being. I thought it was worth an effort because remember, I talked to him in 1976. I’d already sized him up as a person who was kind of troubled in his thinking. And I wanted to investigate that. And in a setting that that required both of us to be honest about how we felt. And I asked him questions in a way that he couldn’t spin. He had to deal with me as a human being asking a question. And I wasn’t so much worried about me being a journalist. I was asking questions for the African-Americans and the Jewish people who had been excoriated by his actions. You know, I saw a man who was hell bent on doing everything that I and people like me have been able to accomplish along the way. And I just had to confront that. And I couldn’t leave it undone if he was going to be elected. He was going to be elected in spite of the fact that his humanity had been exposed or his lack thereof when it came to Jews and blacks and minorities. Because, you know, it’s like he looked like something he was not. And what I mean is as the song goes, and that’s it, James Baldwin quote is, how can I believe what you say when I see what you do? Mm hmm. I wanted to have a real conversation so that people would have an opportunity to make an informed decision when they went to the polling booth.

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S2: What did you do to prepare?

S8: I did research on him from morning to night. I looked at all of the television shows he’d been on. I looked at all of the documentaries that he managed to be a part of a read, transcripts about his statements, things that he wrote and things that he had said about Jews belonging in the ash bin of history. And blacks, never a mule, contributed more to the building of America than black people. So things like that. I didn’t make up anything.

S6: I just read back to him things that he had said and nobody that ever looked at your questions in advance, right?

S8: No. No one.

S6: So you said that you were scared.

S2: Yeah, I was. And you made yourself Vonna.

S8: Yeah, exactly. Because I wanted to talk to him as a human being. I wanted him to see me as a human being and not as some journalist, not as some might stand or somebody holding a mike, you know, not as a suit and tie. I wanted this. I wanted him to see me as a human being. Yeah, I was care. Absolutely. And I am yet fearful. I am yet fearful for the country for the same reason that I was fearful then, because people are just absolutely nuts. The only thing that matters to them is their their reality and then their reality. A black person or anybody who is not white in their reality is capable of doing anything untoward. Lee. Not even worthy of breathing the same air. Not even worthy of being in the same space.

S6: Did you have the sense that you were taking a risk?

S8: Yeah, I did, because of the letters I got and the phone calls that I got to have changed my phone number. And obviously, some of my friends on the police department felt that I was at risk because they would escort me to work and then escort me from work back home. And for like months, I didn’t go anyplace but work at home. They gave me a pistol. This is the first time I had a pistol in my in my possession since I left the Marine Corps in November of 1973. Yeah, I was concerned.

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S6: What did the letter say?

S8: That you got the letter said go back to Africa. The letters sent one letter said, we thought you were intelligent. We thought you were were of the same mind at us. Now we see your true colors. You’re you’re just a suit on TV, stuff like that.

S6: And there were lots of phone calls to the station. Right.

S8: There were so many phone calls to the station from Duke supporters that the phone line crashed for the session, just couldn’t handle any more phone calls. And there were protests at the station. His supporters started calling and then my supporters started calling. So there was a doulis protest taking place from supporters and opponents.

S6: There is a way in which I’ve thought about this, that whether it’s the district eighty one race or the Senate race or the governor’s race, that they were much more than just elections, that it became this bigger movement and cultural phenomenon. And part of it is the signs and the hats and that shirts and the bumper stickers that they would be kind of everywhere and it was inescapable. But it also just I think it generated the sorts of conflicts and made everybody angrier. There is this kind of like air of dread and hostility that I can remember feeling. Again, it was just like more than an election or a political race. It just felt like a kind of like culture war or something. And if there are specific ways in which you felt that or if you agree with that sentiment.

S8: No, it was more of a culture war in the sense the scab was being pulled off the wound. When blacks seek parity and it appears that they are making progress, then it ratchets up the A.I. black movement in the sense that, well, if blacks are getting parity, then that means we are getting less parity. That means that we’re being pushed out. So we better do something to write this shit before we find ourselves under water. So, yeah, there was a shift change in the sense of how do we approach this without seeming like we’re anti black? How do we change the conversation? So, yeah, it’s a movement that continues today.

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S6: You mentioned that a scab in a wound like what is that wound in your mind?

S8: The wound in my mind is slavery. It was never reconcile the great sin.

S9: And America has never really been addressed. I mean, this is painful. I mean, you were asking me about the things that occurred during my childhood, like witnessing the bombing and the killing of the four girls and the torture and the mutilation of Emmett Till. The pictures I saw when I was four years old, getting beaten with a chain for drinking out of a white person water faucet. I mean, those kind of things. I mean, there needs to be a healing. And I’m going to quote James Baldwin again. You know, there are many ways of which to be despicable that would quite make the head spin.

S8: But for one, to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.

S9: And I think that, you know, when people say you ought to get over slavery, I mean, 400 years of dehumanization, of 400 years of oppression, of subjugation, 400 years of doubting your own self-worth. Can you imagine what it’s like to walk into a room where you’re the only African-American? And wondering whether you’re good enough to be in that room? Can you imagine looking in a mirror and saying to yourself, you know, but for this blackness, you know, I could be somewhere and be comfortable. I could go to a place and not worry about being confronted. I could drive my car and not worry about a police officer stopping me for some. Ridiculous reason and gunning me down and telling people that I resisted arrest or that I could just travel the world and just be left alone just to feel the freedom of just enjoying life. Just enjoying the scenery. Just watching nature. And not be worried about being accosted because I’m somewhere that I’m not supposed to be. And I just happened to be wearing the wrong color skin. I mean, give me a break.

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S8: What human being can honestly say that that wouldn’t grate on them from time to time? I mean, this is these are things that I try to suppress and compartmentalize, but they come out every now and then.

S6: Is there a particular moment that you remember of pride around what you did? Was there something that somebody said to you or or anything that comes to mind where you were just kind of confirmed and doing having done the right thing?

S8: Yeah. The first black mayor was Dutch Morial. His wife called me. I think Dutch had been dead for a couple of years. And she said, I’ve never been more proud of you. Thank you for doing what you did. And I had a lot of people calling me saying that.

S6: Were you sure? Right away, as soon as you asked the question that you had done the right thing like were you.

S8: Oh, yeah. Would you feel like. Oh, I was sure. There was no question in my mind, even if I’d gotten fired for there was no question in my mind that I’d done the right thing. No, I never second guessed myself. Never. Absolutely. Some of my friends in the news media would say, well, you know, you violated a Canada, you know, the news that you made it personal as a non. I’m a human being. No, I’m a human being first. If I was a reporter standing on the corner and a house was burning down and I heard a lady or anybody in there crying help you think I’d still be writing in the goddamn notebook while this lady is screaming or this child is screaming for help? No, I thought the damn notebook down run in the house and try to save the person screaming for help. I’m a human being. That’s the most important thing.