District of Columbia

Sherwood's Notebook: Words Matter… a Lot!

Well, The Washington Post certainly set off a firestorm with its published poll on whether the word "Redskins" offends Native Americans.

The Post went to a lot of trouble to describe how it located people self-identifying as Native Americans. The poll of just over 500 respondents showed nine out of 10 took no offense.

Some used the results as justification to back away from demands that team owner Dan Snyder change the name. Native American activists denounced the poll, declaring that no poll and no appeal to pride could erase the racist meaning of the name.

The New York Times was among several publications that picked up reporting on the poll. Times sportswriter Dan Barry allowed how offensive names can be muted over time: "Not long ago, for example, 'queer' was considered a pejorative for gays and lesbians; now it has become what linguists call a reclaimed epithet — a word adopted by a group in empowering defiance."

But Barry mostly quoted activists and academics about the racist history of the name and its lingering effects. The Barry article had 780 responses by the time the comment section was closed two days later.

The backdrop of this poll has important implications. If you believe city leaders, Snyder is serious about funding a new team stadium on the site of old RFK. But Snyder has said he would never change the team name. That's a sticking point because the entire D.C. Council has voted against the name, signifying that it would be a deal-killer.

■ Huh? No. 1. The Daily Caller is a conservative news and opinion website. It focuses mainly on national and international political affairs. But on May 21, it put up a much-mocked story on seven reasons why the District of Columbia doesn't deserve statehood and why it would be "an epic disaster."


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The No. 1 reason listed? "The city's mismanagement of the dysfunctional Metro system." Woefully, there is not even a hint that Metro is a regional transportation system.

The story also slams the city's history of corruption. If corruption were a standard for denying voting rights and self-government, many states — New York and Illinois come immediately to mind — would forfeit their statehood status.

The Notebook will give the rookie reporter some slack. His LinkedIn profile says he has worked for the Daily Caller only since January and that his previous job for three years (while in college) was as a conference center technician who set up ballrooms and audiovisual equipment. No professional journalism background, but again, you have to start somewhere.

■ Huh? No. 2. Federal prosecutors may have given up their investigation to prove former Mayor Vincent Gray knew all about that dastardly 2010 shadow campaign.

But the upcoming prison sentencing of two key players in the scheme is keeping the scandal in focus for the media and, especially, The Washington Post. The Post has several reporters still trying to untangle the scheme and connect Gray to it.

But Gray's supporters are crying foul at the latest Post story. It fills in the blanks of some redacted court documents addressing what Gray knew or didn't know during the scheme at the time. The Post story has Gray's former girlfriend confirming she is the person in the documents emailing about the shadow campaign, suggesting she at the time told Gray about those concerns. (If true, that would tie Gray to having at least contemporaneous knowledge of the shadow effort, something he always has denied.)

The "huh" comes in when the former girlfriend, public relations veteran Linda Greene, talks to The Post for its latest story. Did Greene, in fact, tell Gray of concerns about "off the books" spending?

"I think I did," Greene told The Post. "I would say it's most likely I did. I can't say I definitely did."

Read that sentence again. No wonder the prosecutors were wringing their hands trying to indict Gray. As Gray's veteran campaign aide Chuck Thies so simply put it, "Summary: She said she said that she said something she said to him that maybe she didn't say or maybe he didn't hear."

Gray now is running for the Ward 7 council seat held by Yvette Alexander, a former ally. Greene has held a fundraiser for Alexander.

Gray's supporters contend the Post mashup is just another story trying to derail Gray's comeback. (A Post editorial on Gray slammed him again and endorsed Alexander, saying that although she hadn't been a very good council member, she was at least ethical.)

Supporters of Gray firmly believe prosecutors in 2014 derailed Gray's bid for re-election as mayor by getting Jeffrey Thomson — who financed the shadow campaign — to plead guilty and implicate Gray just a month before the primary won by Muriel Bowser that year.

The moneyman Thompson — who steadfastly has refused to make any public comment on the case — will be sentenced June 10 for his role in the shadow campaign and other corruption crimes. Gray's Democratic primary faceoff with Alexander is four days later, June 14. (The sentencing was set before Gray announced his campaign.)

■ Clarification. It wasn't the bourbon. We promise. Reporting last week on the Bourbon & Bluegrass event at President Lincoln's Cottage, we bungled a key fact. The Lincoln Cottage is on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, but the cottage is independently run by a nonprofit. Find all you need (and maybe donate) at lincolncottage.org. Our apologies go to the hard-working folks who support the cottage.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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