October 7, 2011

In the matter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and his hunting camp with the racial slur in its name, The Post’s exclusive Oct. 2 article, written by Stephanie McCrummen, makes several points clear.

In the early part of Perry’s political career, certainly from 1985 to 1990 or 1991, and perhaps later, people saw the name “Niggerhead” painted in block letters on a big upright rock marking the entrance to the leased camp. It’s also clear that locals knew the camp by this name going way back.

Perry was a young state lawmaker in the late 1980s, and he took colleagues there to hunt on several occasions. Perry insists that the name on the rock was painted over in 1983 or 1984, before he was elected and before the hunting excursions.

If the seven sources The Post relied on for this article are truthful, then Perry is lying or is badly misinformed about when the rock was painted.

The article also paints a complete and fair portrait of life in rural West Texas during Perry’s younger years, with the area’s legacy of segregation, where attitudes about race were slow to change and African Americans were a small slice of the population. In this particular time and place, the name for the camp was taken for granted, and people didn’t read too much into it.

The article does not declare Perry a racist or present the Texans interviewed as ignorant rubes. McCrummen was originally assigned to write a profile of Paint Creek, Perry’s home town. She learned of the name of the camp and the rock only after spending considerable time there. In one long interview with a local, the hunting camp and its name came up.

She then interviewed more people to corroborate that resident’s recollection. Of the seven who confirmed the rock and the time period, some were Perry fans and some were detractors, as the story makes clear.

I wish more of the seven people upon whom The Post relied were named; only one is. But these are memories going back 20-plus years. Perry’s family still lives there, and he is still the governor; you can see why people might not want to put their names to those recollections. Post editors say they have the names and backgrounds of the sources, and they judge them to be credible.

One of the sources, a person from Dallas who visited the camp in 1990 or 1991, remembered the sign vividly: “It was so blatant, so in your face,” the source said.

So what do we conclude from all of this?

I think it means that, at the very least, Perry was insensitive during a time when he carried the public trust of an elected official.

I covered the Maryland General Assembly during this same period, in the late 1980s. Maryland is not Texas, but it had then, as now, many conservative rural lawmakers — from the lower Eastern Shore andSouthern and Western Maryland — some of them Democrats, some Republicans. If it had come out in the late 1980s that a lawmaker was taking colleagues to a duck hunting property off the Chesapeake Bay or a deer hunting camp in Western Maryland with that offensive name, the story would have made both The Post and the Baltimore Sun.

According to my count, using the online Legislative Reference Library of Texas, about 20 African American lawmakers were serving alongside Perry in the Texas legislature of the late 1980s. And Perry was taking colleagues down to a hunting camp with that unfortunate name.

That’s at the very least insensitive, and probably offensive. And if Perry is lying about the sign, that’s something voters should know as well.

I think it’s also important to note how the Perry campaign handled this article. Before it was published, McCrummen and Post editors traded two rounds of questions and answers with the Perry campaign. As Post National Editor Kevin Merida put it, “We submitted detailed written questions to the Perry campaign and included in our story all of the points Governor Perry wished to make.”

After the article was published, the Perry camp put out a carefully worded statement reiterating its point that the rock was painted over in the early 1980s and stating: “A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous.” Anonymous, yes, but incorrect how and inconsistent how?

Since the article ran, no one from the Perry camp has contacted The Post to request a correction or dispute specific points made in the article. Politico also asked the Perry camp to detail its objections to The Post article. Perry officials said no.

It makes you wonder.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com.