Smearing the South: Group Attacks Georgia Governor for 'Segregated Proms'

At Democracy Now! on April 26, Amy Goodman introduced the story with a reference to students “making history … nearly sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education.” One of the Little Rock Nine, Carlotta Walls LaNier, was brought on to revisit 1957.

Goodman posed a question to Wilcox high school student Brandon Davis in order to flog Governor Deal:

Your governor, the Georgia governor, Republican Nathan Deal, was asked by a group called Better Georgia to publicly support your integrated prom, as some Republican and Democratic state officials have already done. Governor Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, responded by attacking the group rather than addressing the question. He wrote, quote: "This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic party, and we’re not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt."

The statement forced Governor Deal to clarify his position. He later told a reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quote: "I believe that anything that’s associated with a school should not have the distinction or discrimination made based on race or gender or any other separation, but it appears to me that the parents and students have worked that out on their own, as they should."

The founder of Better Georgia, Bryan Long, admits that the students themselves -- without any help from school or government officials (other than voluntary donations) -- put on the prom this year.

There has been no change in school policy; the high school still does not sponsor the prom.

Long says that he found out about the issue about two months before the April 27 prom through a news story. Their efforts began on April 10, however -- five days after the money was raised. He says his organization never contacted the students, but that Better Georgia wanted to make sure that elected officials knew about the issue.

When I asked him what had changed between this year and last, he said that it was a matter of four teenagers displaying “courageous leadership skills” and “taking a stand.”

No one gave Everson, working in the governor’s office, credit. Instead, they used a non-issue to tar the governor and all Republicans in Georgia.

The negative publicity about Governor Deal did raise traffic to Better Georgia’s website, according to Long. He estimates that their email subscriber list is up to 75,000. He says the site had “record traffic numbers in the days leading up to the prom.”

On their website, Better Georgia says they are “thrilled” by a glowing Atlanta Journal-Constitution profile that admits they were “mining social media” to find gaffes to pounce on. One minor point: Better Georgia wants to clarify the reporter’s conclusion that Long sees a “coming Democratic tide.” “Better Georgia is strictly nonpartisan” and hoping for a “progressive tide in Georgia,” wrote Bryan Long.

Yet, a solicitation email sent on April 5, 2013, announced: “You have the power to change Georgia politics.” It featured a video of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall, with a quotation from her: “I think there’s a future for liberal politicians, for progressive politicians, in your state.”

Better Georgia boasts on its website about exposing politicians, like (Republican) Representative Terry England’s “shockingly insensitive comments about pregnant women,” turning (Republican) Senator Bill Jackson’s speech about gun violence into a “national embarrassment,” and “taking down” (Republican) Senator Majority Leader Chip Rogers.

This won’t be the first time Democratic operatives have exploited race issues and children for gain. In the 1960s radicals recruited in high schools, and segregationist Democratic politicians suddenly did an about-face and supported civil rights legislation.

Today, they have more than the nightly news with reporters like Bill Moyers. They can add “social media” to their 50 years of experience in stirring up racial issues. Better Georgia appears to be a bunch of white guys in a high-rent area of Atlanta (Midtown) generating stories of racial tension for their own benefit. If they really cared about the kids, they would have donated money and done honest work.