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Tulsa World endorsement of Sen. James Lankford is undemocratic

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
Tulsa World endorsement of Sen. James Lankford is undemocratic
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In 1921, a Tulsa newspaper published the incendiary article that led to the massacre of Black Tulsans and the destruction of Black Wall Street’s Greenwood District. Recently, the Tulsa World endorsed Republican Senator James Lankford, a man who challenged the 2020 electoral vote results of majority-Black cities.

No, the Tulsa World didn’t publish an article titled “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator” like its former operating partner, the Tulsa Tribune, a century ago. Nonetheless, the endorsement of Lankford represents an immensely irresponsible, unethical, and undemocratic action for a newspaper to take.

In the endorsement, titled “Sen. James Lankford should get another term, but needs to abandon divisiveness,” the Tulsa World appears to jump through mental hula hoops to justify supporting the re-election of a man who has consistently shown over the past few years his willingness to put power and party over truth and reconciliation.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., appears on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP, File)

Tulsa World endorsement is irresponsible

Attempting to challenge the results of a free and fair election makes Sen. Lankford unfit for a second term and undeserving of a newspaper endorsement, especially one coming from the leading newspaper of a city that still has not reconciled with the survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Massacre.

Lankford knew what he was doing when he signed a joint statement calling into question the legitimacy of the 2020 election. He didn’t back down until after he was warned a violent mob (that he called a “protest“) was coming his way.

Even today, Lankford continues to cast doubt on the electoral process in order to appease his right-wing base. For the Tulsa World to overlook this unethical behavior is irresponsible.

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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on July 1, 2021, that Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will chair the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection. Thompson, top right, sat in the House gallery on Jan. 6 where he and fellow members sheltered while rioters attempted to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Endorsement is unethical

The article admits Lankford has strayed from his previous rhetoric of bringing people together, but in the paper’s weak defense of its endorsement, it boasts Lankford’s town halls in historically Black north Tulsa and his desire for people to share dinner with neighbors of different races. He also spoke up on the Senate floor about the Tulsa Race Massacre, perhaps the first sitting Senator from Oklahoma to do so.

Yet, should we be celebrating the bare minimum? Does the Tulsa World believe Black people are so gullible to accept this as progress? This isn’t 1965. Having a Black friend isn’t enough.

Nostalgia has no place in the newsroom. It’s wrong to make editorial decisions that give more weight to what a politician has said in the past over what they’re doing today. Actions speak louder than words, and Lankford’s attempt to silence the voices of voters from majority-Black communities felt like a sonic boom of betrayal to the Constitution and already-marginalized constituents.

Yet, the fact that they still chose to endorse him has me wondering if it was more about maintaining proximity to power in an election he’s favored to win.

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Thousands of Trump supporters break into the U.S. Capitol building during the former president’s Stop the Steal Rally on January 6, 2021. (AP)

Endorsement is undemocratic

When I attended the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism, I was taught that journalism is meant to serve as a pillar for democracy, the fourth estate, another check on government power. Indeed, Black-owned media has always served that purpose, while White-owned media outlets upheld the status quo of institutions like slavery, racial violence, Jim Crow and segregation.

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FILE – In this photo provided by the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa, a group of Black men are marched past the corner of 2nd and Main Streets in Tulsa, Okla., under armed guard during the Tulsa Race Massacre on June 1, 1921. On May 31, 1921, carloads of Black residents, some of them armed, rushed to the sheriff’s office downtown to confront whites who were gathering apparently to abduct and lynch a Black prisoner in the jail. Gunfire broke out, and over the next 24 hours, a white mob inflamed by rumors of a Black insurrection stormed the Greenwood district and burned it, destroying all 35 square blocks. Estimates of those killed ranged from 50 to 300. (Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa via AP, File)

The Tulsa World endorsement of Lankford doesn’t strengthen democracy, it weakens it.

The newspaper has a responsibility to tell the truth to its readers. Yet, by downplaying Lankford’s egregious, dangerous actions, the newspaper has signaled to its readers that truth and reconciliation aren’t as important as gaining Republican control of the Senate.

As a trusted source of information with a large platform, I’m disgusted by the Tulsa World endorsement. With truth, reconciliation and our very democracy hanging in the balance, the Tulsa World must do better.

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