September 26, 2018

Meek Disinherited

Offense of the Month, September 2018
In this time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, there are many candidates in the contest for offender of the month. For example, Rep. Ralph Norman (R.-SC), who distinguished himself opening an election-related debate at a Kiwanis Club in Rock Hill, South Carolina with this doozy: “Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news on the Kavanaugh hearings? . . . Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.” And there’s Sarah Jeong, the young tech writer who joined the editorial board of The New York Times despite a plethora of sketchy anti-white tweets, but that controversy exploded in August, and besides, I’ll soon post a longer piece on the problem tweets like hers pose (for her and for the rest of us).

So I’m anointing Ed Meek, a less well-known offender, who likely blundered into his moment of infamy, despite a background that should have kept this honor at bay. Meek served for nearly 40 years as head of public relations for the University of Mississippi, and his $5.3 million donation prompted Ole Miss to elevate him to eponymic status, affixing his name to its Meek School of Journalism and New Media. But a week ago, September 19, Meek posted a short piece to his Facebook page, apparently responding to a brawl in the Oxford (MS) city center following a football game the previous Saturday night. He exhorted city and university leaders to

get on top of this before it is too late. . . . A 3 percent decline in enrollment is nothing compared to what we will see if this continues … and real estate values will plummet as will tax revenue.

Had he stopped there, the Meek name would safely adorn the J School still.

But something drove him to affix two photos to his post, both of young black women, both with short dresses, one with an extremely revealing top. Meek said it was “important that our community see what the camera is seeing at 2 a.m. after a ballgame.” It turned out that both women are students at Ole Miss and happened to be with friends in the town square, a popular gathering place. But they had nothing to do with the fracas.

The response to Meek was fierce. Within hours, Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter went online: “I must condemn the tone and content of Ed Meek’s post from earlier today. The photos in his post suggest an unjustified racial overtone that is highly offensive.” Though Meek removed the post and apologized later in the day, it was too little, too late.

The next day, Mahoghany Jordan, one of the women, denounced Meek’s piece in a guest column in The Daily Mississippian, the student paper:

The post reeks of racist ideology as well as misogyny and is not representative of who either of us are. . . . [O]ne should never use the physical appearance of a person as a measurement of their morality.

By later that day, more than 1,800 people had signed an online petition demanding his name be removed from the J School. The faculty called on Meek to volunteer to erase his name. On Saturday last, Meek himself agreed, and wrote the dean, urging the School to do so. A decision is pending.

Perhaps it’s no longer open to us to express amazement at the many ways people with credentials manage to give offense despite their expertise. How could anyone who headed Ole Miss’s PR effort from 1964 to 2001, given all that that university in particular went through, be so thoughtless? It’s shameful for a practitioner to be so inept at his own art.

Or perhaps it was something else. As the Mississippi Clarion Ledger pointed out a day after Meek posted the photos, he had an early history of similar photographic exploits, and even reminisced about it last New Year’s Day online. It seems that in his undergraduate days at Ole Miss in the early 1960s he was a roving photographer. Among other things, he covered the 1962 riots when James Meredith enrolled. But apparently his favorite pastime came when he was appointed “Campus Cutie Editor,” with the responsibility for selecting and photographing the “cheesecake” of the week. You can take the boy out of Ole Miss but you can’t take his Ole Miss out of the boy — or is that offensive?