Sunday, February 3, 2019


Revelations that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apparently posed in blackface for a 1984 medical school yearbook photo has sparked calls for his resignation from three daily newspapers there, including the state's largest.

But most of the Virginia dailies, at least nine, have yet to urge his ouster following Friday's first reports that the photo depicting him in the racist image appeared in the Eastern Virginia Medical School annual.

Those that have called for him to step down include the largest circulation paper, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, as well as the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press in Newport News.

"He is by all accounts a decent and considerate man," The Times-Dispatch editorial board wrote Friday. "And yet, his poor judgment has undermined his standing with Virginians in ways that we believe will permanently impair his ability to act as an effective governor. He should resign and return to his profession as a physician, with the thanks of those he has served as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and for the past year, governor."

The co-owned Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press in a joint editorial stated: "Unfortunately, the bonds of confidence have been broken and they cannot be repaired. This Editorial Board endorsed Northam as governor to be the steady hand on the tiller, a man in whom we could trust. But we cannot anymore. Ralph Northam must resign."

But others that stopped short or have yet to editorialize on the story include The Roanoke Times, The Bristol Herald Courier, the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, The Culpeper Star Exponent, The Danville Register & Bee, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, The News & Advance of Lynchburg, The News Leader of Staunton, and the News Virginian of Waynesboro.

Some, like the Roanoke Times, came close, opining with the question: Can Northam still represent Virginia? Then punting when it came to their view: "Realistically, can Northam now represent Virginia in the way that people expect of their governor? Northam is a genial man who is well-liked on a personal level even by many Republicans. His low-key tone has been a welcome tonic to the poisonous politics we see on a national level. He has understood the way the economy is changing in deeper ways than many politicians. Sadly, none of that really matters now."

The News Leader called it "an unforgivable stain," but would not go all the way to urge a resignation.  

The Daily Progress has yet to weigh in on Northam and the blackface. But it might have won the bad timing award for an editorial it ran a day earlier, on Jan. 31, that advocated for a change to state law that would lift the current one-term limit on governors.

As for Northam, he hasn't helped himself much during this debacle. He first admitted that the blackface photo was his, then later claimed it was not and that he had not seen that yearbook page. But he did admit that he had worn blackface at another time, but said it was part of a costume depicting Michael Jackson.

It is this kind of divisive and offensive issue that allows those who oversee news operations to use their power and influence to call for change or improvements. If no more newspapers choose to do so, it will be interesting to see the impact.

One of the Virginia daily papers I do not expect to come around is the Star Exponent. During my research I came across an editorial that paper ran on Jan. 22 titled, "In Praise of Richard Nixon."

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