Hell of a Times
Inside the Times newsroom, Coombs has played a critical role in expanding Pruden's neo-Confederate cabal. For years, one of Coombs's closest friends at the paper was the late Samuel Francis, a right-wing intellectual who joined the Times as an editorial writer just as he plunged headfirst into white nationalism.
Pruden felt compelled to fire Francis in 1995 after conservative author Dinesh D'Souza reported on Francis's remarks at the American Renaissance conference, a gathering of academic racists, international neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis. (Francis said, "The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people.") Recently Coombs praised Francis as "the voice of the Founding Fathers speaking down through the ages," on a website promoting a posthumous collection of Francis's writings called Shots Fired.
In 1997 Coombs and his wife organized a dinner for American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor, a man the SPLC describes as "a courtly presenter of ideas that most would describe as crudely white supremacist."
That same year Coombs recruited a reporter from a paper in rural Georgia, Robert Stacy McCain, to work at the Times as his national assistant editor. McCain belonged to the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, which routinely promotes slavery apologias and favors a "second secession" of the South from the Union. By 2002 McCain had been promoted by Coombs to edit the Times's Culture Briefs section. In short order, McCain turned that section into a bulletin board for the racialist far right. At Coombs's behest, McCain attended four American Renaissance conferences as a Times correspondent, only once reporting criticism of the group's white supremacist agenda.
By deliberately soft-pedaling the racial ideology of groups like American Renaissance and the Minutemen, the Times under Coombs has coated them in the balm of mainstream conservatism. True to form, Coombs defended McCain and American Renaissance against allegations of racial extremism. "My understanding," Coombs told me, "is there were some academics at the conference, people like Joe Sobran, and other people who don't fall into that [racist] category. So maybe there's some guilt by association." (Sobran is a right-wing columnist drummed out of his post at National Review for his anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism. The Times syndicated his columns until 1999.)
But McCain's views on race are well-known among his colleagues. In August 2002, according to Archibald, during a discussion in the newsroom about civil rights, McCain defended slavery as "good for the blacks and good for property owners." "We were just appalled," Archibald said. "He is just a complete animalistic racist." Describing Archibald's allegations as "bullshit," Coombs said McCain "has not made any comments in the newsroom like that, and if he had, there are African-Americans in the room who would kick his butt."
Marlene Johnson, the former Times arts section editor and an African-American, bristled at Coombs's remarks. "All African-Americans don't beat people up when they have a disagreement," Johnson told me. "That just shows what a racist Fran is. You had a guy, Stacy McCain, who was an avowed segregationist, and Fran always overlooks that, he overlooks McCain's behavior." Johnson said that while at the Times, she was given an order from Pruden, delivered to her by Coombs, to stop doing "so many black stories."
Finally, this August, Coombs and Pruden placed McCain on administrative probation. Their reason, according to the Times senior staffer, was not McCain's racism but rather his anemic work ethic. When asked about his probation, McCain said, "I'm too lazy to be evil."