Tag Archives: Stetson Kennedy

An Evaluation of Journalistic Principles in “The Klavaliers Ride to a Fall” by Stetson Kennedy

In Stetson Kennedy’s article “The Klavaliers Ride to a Fall,” the principle of journalism that he best follows is one from Kovach and Rosentiel. The principle is that journalists must have an “independence from race, ethnicity, religion, and gender.” (Kovach and Rosentiel, 132) Throughout the article, Kennedy successfully lacks any bias on specifically race and gender. Even during the early 1950s in the deep South when African American men could not pick up white women in taxis because of the law, Kennedy looked beyond the laws and the prejudices to write this article. During this time period, Kennedy could have also shown a bias towards the woman in the article; possibly blaming her less because she was a woman. He shows no bias towards her and states harshly:

I looked, and saw a buxom peroxide blonde of the sort generally found in third-rate bars.” (Shapiro 255)

The successes of Kennedy’s articles are due to his lack of bias towards anyone in his article.

Kennedy was not as successful at a second journalistic principle that Kovach and Rosentiel mention. While going undercover in the Klan, he did not “maintain an independence from those that [he] cover[ed]” (Kovach and Rosentiel, 118) Kennedy should have looked deeper into the evil of the clan to see men that were also victims of wrong teachings and centuries of prejudice. He could not help but show a strong bias to the African American man that was killed, which is understandable but not the best for his writing. He also was extremely deep into his story, so deep that his independence from the Klan could be questioned. Although he tried to make a call to warn of a possible harm doing, he made the decision to keep his cover.

Kennedy also successfully follows stylistic journalistic principles in this article. He is very successful with, what Knight calls, “separating the craft from the profession.” (Knight, 118) For example, near the end of this story after Kennedy includes the obituary of James Martin, he concisely and powerfully concludes the article:

I wondered how many Negroes had died similarly violent deaths in the South, only to have one-inch obituaries bury the atrocities as “accidents.” James Martin, I swore to myself, was not going to be buried that way.

Kennedy is a legendary journalist because of his ability to “make the most economic use of words without losing [their] meaning or flavor” (Knight, 118)

“The Klavaliers Ride To A Fall” by Stetson Kennedy

In an excerpt from Stetson Kennedy’s “The Klavaliers Ride To A Fall,” Kennedy uses a first person narrative to describe the terrible and inhumane actions that happened on that fateful night.

Kennedy describes each persons movement while in the bus stations.  He goes on to narrate each movement and turn of the cars.  He even goes so far as to give the reader conversations of what the different people were saying through the actions.

By using direct discourse, Kennedy draws in the reader because one feels directly connected to the story.  Personally, I felt as though I was standing in the bus station, sitting in the car, and watching each event as it took place.  The direct discourse reveals a sense of honesty from the speaker.  Knight and Kovach both discussed the merits of journalistic honesty.  I believe one can use Kennedy’s excerpt as an example of how honesty pulls in the reader and makes the article both informative and interesting.

The Role of Objectivity in “The Klavaliers Rise to a Fall”

“The Klavaliers Rise to a Fall”, taken from The Klan Unmasked by Stetson Kennedy, begins from the perspective of the author. He has befriended a group of Klu Klux Klan members who are planning an attack on a black cab driver, masquerading as a fellow member named Perkins.

The piece is written in the first person narrative form and offers readers an inside perspective of group dynamics in the KKK as well as the dangers of infiltrating that group. While writing from this perspective helps validate and verify the sources of direct quotes and events, it also crosses the line of objectivity in journalism that Kovach and Rosenstiel support in their text. They state that “personal and cultural biases [should] not undermine the accuracy of…work” and yet in “The Klavaliers Rise to a Fall” there is an obvious bias from the author against the KKK (Kovach & Rosenstiel 82). Kennedy continually uses phrases that support his bias against the group, stating that he was “completely frustrated” and “felt like vomiting” from “[his] disgust” during the attack (Shapiro 258, 259). The last sentence of the piece also holds obvious bias as the author states that he swore to himself that “James Martin… was not going to be buried” with only a one-inch obituary (Shapiro 260).

While I fully respect the opinion of the author against the KKK and the values that they preach, as a reader I felt that Kennedy was completely biased and showed no objectivity towards the events he reported as a journalist. The article gave no room for reader interpretation or perceptions of their own opinion for or against the KKK.

Kat Allen 9/14/11 – The Fine Line of Undercover Journalism

While reading through Kovach and Knight’s recent chapters assigned to the class I was wondering what I was going to post for this assignment and which articles would be presented to us in Shapiro.  The one article I found the most interesting and emotion rendering to the reader was Stetson Kennedy’s The Klan Unmasked.

The article begins with a direct quote (which we were taught are sometimes good lede’s if used properly).  But it does not give us any indication as to who is who or where is where, which makes you want to figure out why this article is using the “I.”  We soon realize that Stetson is actually undercover in the Klan and is essentially recording everything they say and do, which is very dangerous.  Even at first glance, perhaps the reader may think Stetson has some sort of ties to the Klan or used to be in the Klan and it reporting on those past experiences.  This would bring up some of the subjects discussed in Chapter 4 and 5 in Kovach’s book The Elements of Journalism, which discuss bias and truthfulness in reporting.  I believe that Stetson reported the truth of the Klan and kept most of his own biases at bay. His undercover reporting led to a murder and luckily his wasn’t found out by the Klan because it could have ended indefinitely in two.