WHO COULD ever believe that Mayor James Councill III of Franklin, Va., might have said to a Washington Post reporter for a piece about race relations that appeared on Christmas Day: "It's not that we [white people] don't like to live next to the blacks. It's just that people don't like to see the junk in the yards." The mayor himself, after all, denied having said it at a city council meeting the other evening. "I would never had said anything so stupid or divisive," he told the overflow crowd.

Then, just to make clear what an injustice had been committed, he gave an interview to the Richmond Times-Dispatch in which he referred as follows to The Post's reporter, Steven Ginsberg. "He's Jewish," the Times-Dispatch quotes the mayor as saying. "He doesn't care about Christmas, and he ruined a lot of people's Christmases in Franklin."

Not least the mayor's own, we imagine, and with good cause. The Times-Dispatch has him pleading with his audience the other evening not to let "an outsider from Washington" split the town. With a mayor such as Mr. Councill, the town needs no outside help. The Post stands by Mr. Ginsberg's work. The mayor, by the ugly bigotry of his second remark, only lends credence to the reporting of the first.