Pilot Error?

Considering that Ferraris may outnumber blacks in Newport Beach, it's odd that Orange County's ritziest city can't avoid racist run-ins for very long. A few years back, the city's cops were accused of harassing black motorists. One allegation: police used codes such as “NIN”-short for “Nigger in Newport.” Last year, officers followed, stopped and allegedly beat a Latino who left a Balboa Peninsula bar with a white woman; the man happened to be an Orange County deputy district attorney. A $600,000 claim is pending.

Readers familiar with that history might have anticipated the Feb. 24 Daily Pilot story detailing the latest ugly racial controversy.

The story, “Limit History to One Culture, Board Told,” recounted the backwater rantings of George Grupe and Bruce Crawford. The two “history experts,” as the Pilot called them, had come before the Newport-Mesa school board to protest “the teaching practices of Angela Newman,” the only African-American teacher at Newport Harbor High School. Crawford told the board that Newman was “intentionally or unwittingly . . . part of the postmodernist efforts to destroy what is great about America.”

Newman's crimes were first exposed in a Feb. 22 Los Angeles Timesstory titled “History Takes a Multihued Turn for Newport Students: Black teacher challenges classes to stop seeing only through prism of white America.”

“I am an African-American,” Newman told Timesreporter Lisa Richardson, “and so I definitely teach history from an African-American perspective. . . . Some of the kids really resist hearing information they're not used to, so it's been quite an experience-for all of us.”

From that slim evidence, Crawford discerned a national threat. “Strong nations, strong societies are not multicultural. They are monocultural. . . . Multiculturalism is making us weak.”

Pilot reporter Jessica Garrison noted that “the two men also objected to the district's history textbook, American Odyssey. . . . They said the book was light on important facts and long on political indoctrination.”

It was the kind of Dornan-esque screed we hadn't seen since the bitter, defeated ex-congressman was driven into retirement in November. On Feb. 25, the Pilot reported that Newman had fired back, saying Grupe and Crawford weren't in a position to criticize, since they “haven't been in my classroom.”

A week later, the Pilot ran several letters attacking Newman's critics. Grupe and Crawford “threaten the very heart of academic freedom,” were “blindly criticizing” Newman, and had “better get used to it, fellows-you're going to have to share this country and its history with people who are different from you.”

There was just one problem: the Pilot story that ignited the controversy was wrong in two important particulars.

First, it was unclear what standard the Pilot used to determine that Grupe and Crawford were “experts.” Indeed, on the second day of the story, without explanation, the paper demoted the pair from “history experts” to “activists.”

Pilot editor Bill Lobdell said Garrison had originally written that the two men were “self-anointed” experts but that a copy editor believed the qualification was snide and deleted it. “I think it was a bad editing choice,” said Lobdell.

Far more serious was the Pilot's sensationalistic claim that two white men-Grupe and Crawford-had “protested” Newman's “unique approach to the past.”

Contrary to the Pilot account, Grupe says only one person slammed the black teacher at the school-board meeting: Crawford, a Fountain Valley resident with a bizarre sense of history.

“Strong nations and societies are not multicultural. They are monocultural,” Crawford lectured the school board. “People from places we now call Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North Africa were considered Athenian. You became an Athenian when you thought like an Athenian. It didn't matter if you were a free man or a slave. . . . What Newman and her multiculturalist colleagues are trying to do is to create what is known as cognitive dissonance in our students. When a person is in a state of cognitive dissonance, he is susceptible to being shaken from his values' underpinnings. The espionage world knows this.”

The Pilot lumped Crawford with Grupe, an affable 77-year-old World War II veteran and self-styled “patriot” who has lived in Newport Beach since 1923.

“I didn't touch [Crawford's] issues, but I was painted with the same tar-and-feather brush,” Grupe told the Weekly. When Garrison's story hit the streets, Grupe said, “I was very concerned with what was being said about me. . . . I didn't say those things. . . . I didn't even talk about [Newman]. . . . I thought [Crawford] was totally out of order.”

A review of a video of the board meeting supports Grupe's version. “I will not criticize her,” he said at the beginning of his remarks-remarks missing from the Pilot account.

The decidedly conservative amateur military historian attended the meeting to protest the school district's use of two history books that he believes contain false and misleading information. He told us: “I don't take issue with [Newman]. I'm not against teaching multiculturalism if we use facts. It's the textbooks I'm worried about.”

Immediately after reading the Pilot's first story, Grupe called the paper's telephone “hot line” at 6:30 a.m. and left a message for the editors. “That may be Bruce Crawford's feelings. It is not mine,” he says he told them. But the paper did not correct its story. Indeed, the next day's edition seemed to reinforce the impression that Grupe and Crawford were a right-wing joint venture. So Grupe called again, he said, but to no avail. Nine days into the story, the Pilot finally ran Grupe's guest “rebuttal” column.

Lobdell and Garrison said they did not ignore Grupe, but rather spent hours over several days meeting with him. Did Grupe convince them they had made an error? No-and that's why they never corrected their stories.

Garrison admits that having just come from a job covering the far more liberal Santa Monica school board, she might have been “in culture shock.” And both she and Lobdell suggested that, if we knew Grupe like they know Grupe, we'd lump him together with Crawford, too.

“I feel okay with [the stories],” said Garrison. “Everything [Grupe] said about the situation would lead one to infer” that the “protest” against Newman was a joint effort.

After the board meeting, Garrison explained, she spoke with Grupe and determined then that he shared Crawford's views. And, ultimately, Garrison may be right: Grupe may yet reveal himself to share Crawford's views. Problems? Nothing that would lead Garrison to that conclusion appears in her articles; Grupe denies he said anything of the sort; and the video tape of the meeting bears him out.

Grupe says he has drawn one lesson from the affair-for both historians and journalists: “Get it right. . . . Accuracy is important.”

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