A book is coming out about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette owners' legacy and it's ... something else | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A book is coming out about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette owners' legacy and it's ... something else

Remember when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial defending President Trump’s use of the word “shithole” when he was describing African countries? The editorial also postulated that calling someone racist for doing racist things was a step too far, and that only mass-murdering white supremacists can be deemed racist.

You probably do remember it because it was widely condemned by local leaders, foundations, and by the union of Post-Gazette journalists. But in case you don't remember the title of that panned and racist editorial, it was “Reason as racism: An immigration debate gets derailed.”

And it has recently been revealed that, for some incredibly strange and inexplicable reason, a book that is soon-to-be published about the Block Family, which owns the Post-Gazette, will be titled Reason vs. Racism: A newspaper family, race, and justice.

In a recent Facebook post, Post-Gazette owner and publisher John Robinson Block wrote “a book is about to be published containing, some good, if little known, history about my family over the decades. I am proud of this legacy.”
The book is real, and is described on Google Books as the story of Paul Block, longtime owner of the Toledo Blade and the creator of the Post-Gazette, which combined two Pittsburgh newspapers when purchased by Paul Block.

According to the summary, the entire Block family, including current Blade and P-G owners and Paul’s grandsons Allan and John Robinson, “have taken courageous stands on many issues - including race” and that “This book chronicles that rich journalistic history, including pioneering investigations into racial conditions around the nation. [Block Communication Inc.'s] Toledo and Pittsburgh newspapers were among the first to champion the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.”

The book’s summary is basically arguing that the Blocks are actually champions of race relations because they "have a Black friend." Granted, both the Blade and Post-Gazette do have histories of outstanding civil rights reporting, but those feel like ancient history at this point.

The editorial departments of the Blade and P-G, aka mostly just musings from controversial writer Keith Burris, not only endorsed President Donald Trump this year over Obama’s former Vice President Joe Biden, but they also haven't really led on any regional or national race-related issues as of late.

In fact, with Burris at the helm of the P-G, management banned a Black journalist from covering the Black Lives Matter movement, bogusly claiming she was biased due to a satirical tweet. The P-G is currently being sued over that infraction, and is arguing in court that it's allowed to ignore workplace civil rights laws because it is a media company and the First Amendment protects it from following civil rights laws.

A Toledo Blade staffer who requested anonymity believes this book is an attempt by the Blocks to use their family’s legacy as a shield against attacks on their current reporting and editorial stances on civil rights.

“It’s an example of using the legacy of other people to defend their racism and misconduct against people in the workplace,” says the Blade staffer. “They don’t view themselves that way, as racist, they view themselves as from the barons of an earlier era, where they were known for civil rights reporting.”

The Blade staffer says that this book has been in the works for a while, and that it was largely worked on by its author Jack Lessenbury, who used to be a columnist at the Blade.

Additionally, Lessenbury has quite the checkered past and was actually banned from the Blade newsroom, according to the staffer. In 2018, Lessenbury resigned as the head of Wayne State University's journalism program, and the school said that he would have been fired had he not resigned, due to allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Lessenbury also quit as a columnist at Metro Times in Detroit. That action came shortly after an investigative report from Deadline Detroit revealed Lessenbury’s behavior was considered offensive by female colleagues at a Memphis newspaper and the allegations from students he taught at Wayne State.

Similar accusations have been levied against former Post-Gazette reporter Mike Fuoco, and the New York Times and Pittsburgh City Paper have written stories about the paper’s lack of urgency to investigate Fuoco.

The Blade staffer said that because Lessenbury was barred from the Toledo newsroom, a former editor at the paper actually had to conduct research in the Blade archives on the Block family. The staffer believes that the former editor was assisting Lessenbury when he was writing Reason vs. Racism.

Either way, if you are looking for the worst belated-Christmas gift available, put a pre-order in for Lessenbury’s book. I mean, don't actually put one in, since it’s not yet available at online booksellers. Just imagine doing it, then chuckle about the absurdity. Happy New Year!

Ephemeral art made at Chalk Fest
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Ephemeral art made at Chalk Fest

By Pam Smith