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Family that owns Post-Gazette denounces Trump editorial

January 19, 2018

A Pittsburgh newspaper editorial denouncing efforts to brand President Donald Trump a racist for his vulgar comment about Africa and Haiti is causing a firestorm — even within the publisher’s own family.

The editorial ran in The (Toledo) Blade last week and then appeared in its sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It addressed the Republican president’s comment about the desirability of immigrants from Haiti and African countries by contending the “racist” label is applied too casually and, in the case of Trump, was an attempt to undermine his presidency.

“Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism,” it said.

“It is not racist to say that this country cannot take only the worst people from the worst places and that we want some of the best people from the best places, many of which are inhabited by people of color. That’s not racism, it is reason,” the editorial added.

Condemnation was swift — and came from some unusual quarters.

Publisher John Block approved the editorial. He’s part of Block Communications Inc., a family-run media company that has owned the Post-Gazette and its sister paper in Toledo, Ohio, for nearly a century.

In response, 16 other members of the Block family, including two members of the company board, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette that said the editorial attempted to “justify blatant racism” and was printed “without the Post-Gazette editorial board’s consensus.”

“We do not condone the whitewashing of racism, nor the normalization of it,” said the family’s letter. “We cannot remain silent and by implication approve of the use of the Post-Gazette to provide cover for racism.”

John Block didn’t immediately return a call for comment Friday.

The Post-Gazette’s editorial page editor, John Allison, said the editorial was written in Toledo. Allison said Block “liked it” and made the call to run it.

“Anybody who becomes an editorial page editor, no matter the size of the paper, knows the publisher has the first and the last word,” Allison said Friday. “We know going in that John Block is strong-willed. And when he says, ‘I want something one way,’ we know that he proceeds with it.”

Through their union, some 150 Post-Gazette reporters, photographers and other staff wrote Tuesday they were “appalled and crestfallen” by the editorial’s “mindless, sycophantic embrace of racist values and outright bigotry” displayed by Trump.

Days earlier, a tweet from the Post-Gazette’s account said Block had requested the removal of Trump’s “vulgar language” from an Associated Press story on the controversy. Trump is said to have used the term “shithole” to describe certain countries as places of origin for potential immigrants to the U.S.

Meanwhile, two major Pittsburgh philanthropies, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, also denounced the editorial, calling it “a silly mix of deflection and distortion that provides cover for racist rhetoric while masquerading as a defense of decency.”

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