In 1964's Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung observed that symbols "imply something vague, unknown or hidden from us." Reporters at The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times and the Daily Pilot have apparently never read Jung. In the past few weeks, these papers have ignored the finer points of symbology, force-feeding their readers a crudely drawn tale of Nazis run amok on high school campuses and in the clothing industry—fashion fascists, you might think.
Writing in the June 11 Daily Pilot, Deirdre Newman reported that Newport Harbor High School students Eric Weller, Brandon Marshall and Wes Pohlmann were campaigning to expose what Newman called "fascist" symbolism on T-shirts and hats.
At issue was the German Iron Cross on clothes produced by Costa Mesa-based designers Silver Star Casting Co. and Johnny Suede. The students "branded [the cross] a symbol of hate," Newman wrote and worried that their classmates were unaware of the symbol's "current interpretation."
The Register's coverage a day later was similar. Under the headline "Anti-hate campaign hopes to pull shirts off backs," Registerreporter Zaheera Wahid described the students' effort to persuade school district officials to ban the Iron Cross. Reason? According to Weller, "A lot of people don't know what the symbols mean, and we want to inform them."
Misinform is more like it. Both papers left the impression that the Iron Cross is so provocative that the student campaign averted an oncoming race war. But the reporters failed to offer any evidence of racial hatred caused by the offending signs and nominally challenged the students' characterization of the Iron Cross as a Nazi symbol. With its origins in the coat of arms of Prussia's Hohenzollern dynasty, the Iron Cross predates Hitler by almost five centuries and remains to this day a proud symbol of the German military. In fact, the oldest fighter outfit of the U.S. Air Force (the First Fighter Wing) has five Iron Crosses on its emblem signifying the five major World War I campaigns credited to the First—and no one's accusing the veterans of fascist sympathies.
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The mischaracterization continued in the Times' June 24 edition.Echoing the Register's coverage with the headline "Sensitivity Is Back in Fashion," reporter Milton Carrero Galarza revealed Weller, Marshall and Pohlmann's successful efforts to persuade Silver Star owner Luke Burrett to discontinue his company's use of another supposedly reprehensible symbol: the lighting-bolt double-S used by the Nazis but also by skaters, bikers and such bands as KISS. "If you're going to use a symbol, you have to use it with all of the aspects of its history," Marshall told the Times. "You can't choose only some part of its meaning." In other words, don't be like the students.
The most inadvertently revealing journalism came in a June 12 column by Pilot writer Byron de Arakal. In manufacturing a sense of clear-and-present racial danger, de Arakal breathlessly commended the three students, characterizing their campaign as an "offensive to uproot the sprouting ensigns of the Third Reich." His evidence of this impending thousand-year reign? An attack upon Weller's Latino friends "by a pack of young white men tossing out straight-armed salutes and hailing Hitler."
There are problems with this "evidence": de Arakal offers nothing to show that the "young white men" were students at Newport Harbor High or even students at all, and he offers no evidence that the attack occurred on campus. The Iron Cross was nowhere raised during the viciousness.
Indeed, only one symbol of hatred flew during the mini-pogrom against Weller's Latino friends: de Arakal notes the white "goons" drove "pickup trucks trailing American flags."