Many of us with ties to the University of Alabama have been watching the unfolding of Tuscaloosa's outrageous school board election story. To put it briefly, incumbent Kelly Horwitz - who happens to be the wife of Bama lawprof Paul Horwitz - was narrowly defeated by Carson Kirby, a darling of local real estate interests, in an August 27 election. And this would truly be mundane Alabama news (moneyed interests defeat the eggheads) but for the fact that Kirby pulled off the win with the support of a shadow University of Alabama Greek organization known as The Machine. (Get a little background on the Machine from this New Republic article from 2002. Or perhaps this Esquire article from 1992. Or even this 1961 piece from the UA newspaper, the Crimson White.) How did the Greeks do it? With party buses, free booze, and perhaps a fraudulent registration or two. Or three.
This story got lots of attention around T-town and statewide. But it didn't really go national until the New York Times picked it up on Saturday - 18 days after the election. Why then?
As media scholars know, editors typically publish news that fits into an existing media frame. News is more recognizable to editors and more compelling to readers when it fits into an existing storyline. And while Greek shenanigans is an existing media frame, it's not really the dominant Alabama media frame. That, as we all know, is race.
Thus, nobody was surprised when the newest example Alabama's unrelenting Greek racial segregation - the universal sorority rejection of an overachieving African-American woman (the step-granddaughter of a former Alabama Supreme Court justice and university trustee, facts that really matter when you're talking about a white prospective) - made it into the NY Times. The news of Greek racism first surfaced on September 11 (all kudos to the Crimson White, which broke the race story). This Greek story made it to the Times on September 12, the following day. It did perfectly fit the Alabama media frame. And two days after that story, weeks after the bad election, the election story surfaced in the Times.
What interests me is that it took the activation of a University of Alabama fraternity misconduct frame, which only appeared (I believe) because of the race angle, before the paper chose to follow through the opening the race story created and published the not-quite-so-fresh school board story two days later. Thus, the media frame effectively inverted the chronology of these two stories. On the Times Facebook line, presumably, Alabama Greeks performed their racism first then proceeded to steal an election.
While that is the opposite of what actually happened on earth, perhaps the timing is irrelevant. This Greek Tragedy is one of hubris and exceptionalism - the endless ability of Alabama Greeks to maintain segregation and treat public affairs as a playtoy. And, sadly, the tale of two hapless administrators - Chancellor Robert Witt and President Judy Bonner - who, unlike those of us sitting in the audience, perhaps do not see their complicity in the unfolding drama.
Updated to edit for clarity.