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Covering White Supremacy
Experts advise media caution in stories involving white supremacy

After recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio, media outlets have been tasked with covering the attacks responsibly. Often, this means minimizing mentions of the shooter, according to Kelly McBride, chairwoman of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute.

McBride said giving undue press attention to perpetrators of gun violence can contribute to a mass shooting culture.

Similarly, McBride warned that the way the media covers white supremacy can have an impact on the spread of racist views. According to McBride, journalists must be wary about giving extremists a platform.

“It’s been pretty well documented that white supremacists share strategies with each other and one of those strategies is to get the media’s attention by saying really outlandish things because it works as a recruitment strategy for them,” she said.

Jerry Swope, chairman of the Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts Department at Saint Michael’s College, said the media must cover the rise of white supremacy without focusing on individuals.

“The media has a responsibility to cover newsworthy events, but at the same time the media also has to be aware of not being manipulated by people,” Swope said. “Journalists have an important role in offering context to any individual and any story.”

While it is important for the media to report when elected officials or community members sympathize with or identify as white supremacists, McBride explained a story in context should warn the public of the dangerous aspects of white supremacy, rather than simply draw attention to the ideology’s existence in the community.

One tip that Hunter College Sociology Professor Jessie Daniels recommended was to focus on racist actions and their impacts rather than perpetrators. Daniels has written several books about white supremacy and said the best journalistic practice is not to name individuals whenever possible.

McBride expressed a similar sentiment.

“There are times when, if you take the name out, there’s no need for a story and that’s a good test because if that’s the case there’s no need for a story anyway,” McBride said.

Daniels explained that white supremacists use the media to build a following and spread their message. For this reason, right-wing extremists often seek media attention, which appears to be the case for a white supremacist from Bennington, who was charged in late July with violating a court order that prohibited him from possessing or purchasing guns.

Indeed, the man’s public defender, Frederick Bragdon, said his client enjoys media attention, so much so that he may be less of a flight risk. VTDigger reported that the attorney said, “I’m sure as long as the press keeps coming, he’ll also be here.”

According to Daniels, journalists commit two common errors when covering white supremacy issues. The first is to dismiss the ideology as a “deviant subculture,” which she said fails to convey the legitimate danger it poses. The second is to normalize white supremacy and focus on the similarities between right-wing extremists and the reader.

“Part of the fascination on the public’s part is we’re not used to thinking about white supremacy as a real problem in the United States, but it is,” Daniels said. “It has been for a long time.”

McBride said another mistake that journalists make is repeating white supremacist terminology. She used the example of the word “incel,” which stands for “involuntary celibate,” a term made popular by white supremacists on the internet.

“This was insider language that reporters picked up on,” McBride said. “In doing so, they validated the word and they created a search term for people who were looking for it.”

However, McBride acknowledged that with newsrooms shrinking, devoting resources to covering white supremacy at the local level has become more challenging.

“You have to spend a lot of time reporting on white supremacy but you need to publish judiciously and infrequently,” she said. “The complexity of covering white supremacy is so difficult that most news organizations are realizing that you really need journalists who are developing expertise in the subject to do it well.”

This debate about how the media should handle white supremacy is fairly new, and according to Jack Gierzynski, chairman of the University of Vermont’s Political Science Department, this is in part because the internet has allowed white supremacy into the mainstream.

“If you go back to the pre-internet era, the flow of information through the news was controlled by the gatekeepers in the media organizations,” said Gierzynski. “White supremacist ideas were really seen as being fringe and therefore not covered and not part of our discourse.”

Gierzynski explained that hate groups have gained power and visibility online, which means journalists have to cover them carefully.

One strategy Swope recommended was for reporters and readers to break the habit of assuming that every story has two sides.

“Often there are more than two sides to any story,” he said. “The media has a role to adjudicate truth. Not only to say this person says this, and this person says that, you decide.”

Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland County branch of the NAACP, said it is especially important not to frame racism and white supremacy as a legitimate perspective.

“Black people have the right to exist, and white supremacists think that we do not,” she said. When the news presents these two sides as equally valid, Moore explained, it does damage to communities of color.

Traci Griffith, a professor of media studies at Saint Michael’s College, said the media can avoid legitimizing racism and white supremacy by naming it for what it is.

“Pick any kind of unreasonable rhetoric,” Griffith said. “Once it’s identified, it’s the responsibility of the media to speak the truth about it and not hide from it.”

Griffith pointed out that individuals who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies are often open with that fact. This is true of the man facing charges in Bennington.

“I don’t think that he denies who he is, so why would the media be so reluctant to acknowledge that?” she said.

As media outlets grapple with how to cover racist extremists, Swope said that the people participating in those conversations matters.

“It speaks to the need to have diversity in newsrooms,” he said. “Not just racial diversity but more socioeconomic diversity...to talk about these kinds of choices about what’s newsworthy and what will most impact our readers in our community.”

sarah.asch @rutlandherald.com

Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Remembering Hiroshima

Despite Tuesday evening’s thunderstorms, Vermonters concerned with the use of nuclear weapons gathered at Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier to honor the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings 74 years ago.

Police: Montpelier man trafficked fentanyl

BARRE — A Montpelier man is accused of trafficking the powerful opiate fentanyl.

Eldin Kamberovic, 30, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to felony counts of trafficking and selling fentanyl, and a misdemeanor count of violating conditions of release. If convicted, Kamberovic faces a maximum sentence of 50½ years in prison. He was ordered held at Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury on 10,000 bail.

According to its affidavit, the Vermont Drug Task Force started an investigation in April into the distribution of fentanyl in Washington County. The task force said the target of the investigation was Kamberovic.

The task force used a cooperating individual who reported Kamberovic was actively selling fentanyl and the individual had bought the drug from Kamberovic in the past, according to court records.

The task force said it set up a controlled buy in April using the individual. The individual told the task force he or she would text Kamberovic to set up the buy and the individual called Kamberovic in the presence of the task force to confirm the deal.

The task force said it gave the individual money to purchase the drug. The individual was then seen by the task force walking up to Kamberovic and making the exchange of money for drugs, according to court records.

The task force said it weighed the suspected fentanyl and with the packaging the substance weighed 0.7 grams.

Kamberovic was initially charged last month with a misdemeanor count of unlawful sale of a drug because a judge did not find probable cause for a felony charge for selling fentanyl. That changed after the suspected fentanyl was tested at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory. According to court records, the substance tested positive for fentanyl and weighed 236.7 milligrams.

For the violation of conditions of release, police said Kamberovic had a curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. after he was charged with the misdemeanor. Police said they went to an East Montpelier home for an unrelated matter Aug. 5 and found Kamberovic at the home violating his curfew.

Report weighs options of alternative fuels

MONTPELIER — A comprehensive report outlines efforts by the city of Montpelier to go green with its public works department fleet of vehicles.

The report to City Council is in response to a request by Mayor Anne Watson to review alternative energy sources for city vehicles to help meet the goal of being net-zero in fossil-fuel use by 2030.

The report notes that there are challenges to moving quickly because of the importance vehicles operated by the Department of Public Works to maintain city operations in all seasons.

Two immediate steps proposed include a pilot project as soon as possible to convert one of the city’s Ford 550 dump trucks to biodiesel fuel. The DPW also proposes to monitor and prepare for the availability of a renewable diesel or fuel that is expected to be available in Vermont in the near future.

Ongoing efforts to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint have already included sealing old windows in City Hall, restoring controls and insulating piping for the ice-melting system for the exterior apron of the city fire station, adding interior storm windows at the Public Works Garage and improving the heating and cooling system at the Montpelier Police Department. The MPD will also soon purchase a hybrid vehicle suitable for law enforcement, which only recently became available, the report said.

The report was prepared by Public Works Director Tom McArdle, DPW Equipment Supervisor Eric Ladd and Assistant City Manager Sue Allen.

According to a March report by the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee, the city uses about 28,000 gallons of diesel and 15,000 gallons of gasoline a year.

In both reports, it is noted that the demands of heavy diesel vehicles and equipment makes it difficult to convert to alternative fuels, particularly in winter.

Biodiesel is primarily petroleum-based, with 20% vegetable-based product added during the summer months (known as B-20) but reduced to 5% (known as B-5) in colder months because the fuel will congeal at lower temperatures, the report said, adding that the addition of a chemical treatment to combat the problem is a possible option.

Biodiesel has a tendency to congeal in cold temperatures and can leave deposits in fuel tanks and can clog and damage fuel lines, reducing performance and fuel efficiency. There is also no steady local supplier available to provide biodiesel which would have purchased at a local station. It also costs about $3.99 a gallon versus $2.29 for regular diesel obtained in bulk deliveries, the report said.

Nonetheless, the city is proceeding with a pilot project to measure the performance of biodiesel in a Ford 550 dump truck to gauge the benefits and challenges of the alternative fuel. The Ford 550 are already rated to use biodiesel. The manufacturer of the pilot vehicle will allow the fuel change use without impacting its warranty, the report said.

Other problems with biodiesel are that the city would need a new standalone tank for biodiesel. Also, there is no space at the DPW Garage for an above-ground tank that would have to meet costly state regulations.

City officials are pinning their hopes on a new renewable biodiesel fuel made from recycled fats and oils as well as other raw materials that is much-better suited to public works fleets, the report said. The best-known brand is Neste, an oil refining and marketing company based in Finland with operations in 14 countries and the largest maker of renewable diesel in the world.

The report noted that Neste claims its products have 50% to 90% lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel diesel, is compatible with petroleum-based diesel and could be used in DPW vehicles without any modifications needed.

“Fleet vehicles have demanding performance requirements, in addition to the need to manage the biodiesel fuel that is corrosive in nature which impacts the vehicles itself and our fuel tanks, which are relatively old,” McArdle said. “Renewable diesel is a fuel that you can start running in your equipment overnight.

“You don’t have to drain your fuel tanks, you don’t have to flush them, you don’t have to make any equipment modifications, it blends equally well with petroleum diesel or biodiesel. It’s literally as simple as picking up the phone, calling up your supplier and saying, ‘We’re going to need some fuel,’” he added.

However, demand for Neste products by larger states like California and New York has meant that smaller states like Vermont may have to wait awhile before supplies are available, the report said.

On the electric vehicle front, the report said DPW is interested in a light-duty pick-up truck and a utility van, known as Workhorse, that show “great promise” replacing similar fleet vehicles. Another hybrid company vehicle made by XL – Fleet is also being considered, although it adds $25,000 to $27,000 to the cost of a standard half-ton truck, costing $21,000, the report said.

There is also some concern about the environmental sustainability of mining for lithium for hybrid vehicle batteries, the report added.

Watson said she grateful for the DPW’s “thoughtful evaluation” of the options available to the city.

“I appreciate that this plan is both forward-looking and takes some action now,” Watson said. “Of all of the energy sources to convert to renewables, transportation has been the hardest to move forward.

“It’s the trickiest to plan for. The Energy Advisory Committee has discussed some of the renewable fuel options here, and they all sound like they have potential,” Watson continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that the types of vehicles that DPW uses are very expensive and very relatively uncommon pieces of equipment. They don’t just exist as electric vehicles, and so planning for them to use renewable fuels is particularly hard.

“This is a great step and I’m thankful for everyone on the city staff who put this together,” she added.

The report will be present to City Council at its August 14 meeting at City Hall, at 6:30 p.m.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Making Progress

Construction continues behind the former Homer Fitts building on Main Street in Barre on Tuesday, where fine meat producer Vermont Salumi will soon have a production and retail space.


“It’s time for everyone in office, especially those who represent all of us in Washington, D.C., to say racism is wrong ...”

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Collected Stories

Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies explores the complicated relationship between a famous teacher and her student as they battle over what, if anything, is off-limits in art. $15-$20, 7:30-9 p.m. Montpelier Unitarian Church , 130 Main St., Montpelier, jogreenvermont@gmail.com, 802-734-1013.