Spreading hate or sounding the alarm? A newspaper in Fulton County, New York is facing criticism from subscribers for publishing a series of front-page articles about the Ku Klux Klan's presence in the community.
The story began in February, when NewsChannel13 reported that leaflets had been placed on windshields in the village of Fort Plain, imploring them to "love their own race." The Gloversville-based Leader-Herald newspaper answered the TV station's "KKK recruitment underway in Fort Plain" headline a few days later with their own: "KKK fliers distributed by man from Gloversville." Local officials told the paper the suspect was not a member of the Klan. He was charged with peddling without a permit.
In June, the paper reported KKK rally posters had surfaced in the Fulton County village of Northville, advertising a July “Klan Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia. Similar material surfaced in nearby Mayfield.
The posters and fliers are protected by the First Amendment. The distributors were never found.
Now, the Leader-Herald is out with a three-part series some have likened to a "sales pitch" or recruiting effort on behalf of the Klan.
Gloversville Mayor Dayton King blasted the series as “tabloid journalism” that "basically gave them (people from out of the area) front-page coverage to recruit to their hate organization." "Although I can say that they have been identified through social media. And whether it was the Leader-Herald's intention to do this or not, it's just unfortunate because I think now these four people are probably targets. And there's gonna be some violence unfortunately that will happen, unintendedly, whether form African-Americans or friends of African-Americans who will see this and wanna stand up to it. So I just think it doesn't do anything positive for our community. You know we've been working very hard over the course of the past few years. Businesses are lookin' to move in. People are lookin' to come here and I think if somebody was staying in our city this weekend, picks up the front page of our local newspaper and it says 'the KKK is thriving in Fulton County,' they'd probably second-guess coming here."
The newspaper didn’t respond to multiple calls for comment Tuesday morning, but its publisher told Spectrum News off-camera that he encourages readers to withhold judgment against the paper until they see what the third article says.
Patricia Older, the managing editor, told WGRB-TV the paper stands by the series, explaining that the veteran reporter who wrote the articles fact-checked material and verified details.
But critics have charged the series made several factual errors, did not adequately push back against KKK dogma, and unnecessarily granted sources anonymity.
Mayor King says it's time for a reality check. "And I think it's important that people realize that while there may be some discrimination going on, I think in every community, I don't believe that there's 200 active members of the KKK in Fulton County. Our police chief hasn't seen that or our sheriff."
The Fulton County Sheriff's office forwarded a call for comment to the Gloversville Police Department, which is not commenting on the story.
King, who is running for reelection in November, plans to meet with the paper’s publisher and is preparing to hold a forum on race relations.