This week, we met with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joey Kennedy to discuss this upcoming presidential election, southern politics, and the media. Joey was born in Texas, raised in south-central Louisiana, and moved to Alabama in 1977. He began writing for The Birmingham News in 1981, and he’s covered politics in the South across platforms for more than thirty years.
Political concepts of the South often aggregate the region into a solid mass of red states. Joey explains how, during the Nixon administration, politicians modeled after George Wallace used red button issues sway voters. Early on, those issues were centered around race relations, appealing to white voters. Since then, red button issues have included LGBTQ rights, immigration, and Islam. Joey figures the ideological “angry white man” as the southern base many politicians appeal to using fear. He notes that the angry white man isn’t a person; it’s an attitude. Using fear, some politicians, such as Donald Trump, scare voters with descriptions of evil Muslims and Mexican rapists.
Despite the neo-confederate logic guiding white voters to act against their own best interests, Joey sees Donald Trump as perhaps the dying gasp of white supremacy in this nation. He believes that the Republican party must either adapt or split apart after this election, asserting that a party can no longer win national elections with an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim agenda.
Joey emphasizes how changing business models have affected the way that news is reported and the consequences of those changes on politics both regionally and nationally. He believes the media, through focusing on scandals, are culpable for the level of discourse in this election cycle. He partially blames a new click-based business model for sensationalized headlines, noting how few newspapers have examined the more serious accusations against Trump, opting instead for stories which will attract more traffic. He also notes that, on a local level, the press plays a vital role in exposing corruption. When newspapers can no longer assign staff members to cover city councils and other governing bodies, then politicians are more likely to engage in corruption because their constituents are less likely to notice.
We end today’s show with difficult questions about how to reach an audience that feels so disenfranchised, yet so distrustful toward the press, especially when politicians foster distrust. We also question how media corporations might place a greater emphasis on public service and documenting history in an increasingly market-driven industry.
Recent polls indicate that southern states may not be as solidly red as they have been in the past.
We would like to thank Joey and Veronica Kennedy and their wonderful pugs for welcoming us into their home in Birmingham. Joey worked at The Birmingham News for more than 33 years. He is currently a columnist at B-Metro magazine and Alabama Political Reporter. He also teaches English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing along with his colleagues Ron Casey and Harold Jackson for their series, “What They Won’t Tell You About Your Taxes.” He also publishes Animal Advocates of Alabama, and his creative nonfiction has been published in Redbook magazine and in several literary journals.
Curious about Alabama politics? Watch this:
Note: Even though this episode airs on November 4, we recorded this conversation in mid-October, during an especially tumultuous election season. Therefore, we will not have covered any news events that might have happened in the intervening period.
We'd like to thank our special musical guest, Stuart McNair. Please visit his website, stuartmcnair.com, to purchase his music.
Please join us on November 6th at The Wren's Nest for their Blues and BBQ Fundraiser. Details can be found here.