Facts? We Don’t Need No More Stinking Facts!

As Donald Rumsfeld famously said of the Iraq War, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns — things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t have a clue we don’t know. The same thing could be said of Governor Ralph Northam’s now-infamous medical school yearbook photo of a young man in black face and another in KKK attire — either one of whom, or neither, may be Northam himself.

Northam told the nation in a press conference that he believes he was not in the photo, and he doesn’t know how the photo came to appear on his personal page in the yearbook. No one appears to be paying much attention to his denial, which conflicted with an earlier apology and was undercut by his own admission in the press conference that he had appeared in black face during a Michael Jackson dance contest — in other words, that he’d dressed in black face, just not in the particular photo in question.

Democrats made up their minds about Northam’s irredeemable guilt even before the press conference. Almost every conceivable Democrat-affiliated group from the Democratic National Committee to the Virginia League of Democratic Dogcatchers has demanded his resignation. Republicans, only too happy to kneecap a Democratic governor, have called for the same.

Here’s what’s extraordinary about the episode: No one seems terribly interested in finding out if Northam’s version of events holds water. With minds already made up and political commitments made, no one is thinking about what we know, what we don’t, and what entirely unexpected evidence might be lurking out there. In another moment in our political history, people might say, “Yeah, this sure looks bad, but Northam says he’s innocent, so let’s sort through the facts.” What we hear now is, “Facts? We don’t need no more stinking facts. We’ve got all the facts we need.”
Here are some questions that occur to me. I’m sure others could add to the list.

Coonman. Northam was known at Virginia Military Institute by the nicknames of Goose and “Coon man.” Based on the fact that the word “coon” is a pejorative for African-Americans, many observers have assumed that the nickname strengthens the case that Northam was racist. And perhaps it does. But “coon” is also short for “raccoon.” A breed of hunting dog used in hunting raccoons is known as “coon hound.” It is not self-evidently obvious that “coonman” has a racist meaning. It could just as well have a hunting connotation, or some other origin we can’t even guess. Northam said he didn’t know the derivation of the nickname, but attributed its use to two older VMI classmates. The question could be readily settled if the classmates could be identified and queried. What did they mean by the name? Did Northam understand and accept that meaning? Rather than assume a racist meaning shouldn’t someone look into this?

Who’s in that yearbook photo? The identity of the figures in the offending photo are impossible to identify. Northam insists that neither man is him. Is there any proof to suggest otherwise? If there is, let’s hear it.

Who submitted the yearbook photo? Let’s posit for purposes of argument that Northam was not in the photo. Who submitted it to the yearbook for publication? Northam did not address the issue directly. He said plausibly that he never acquired a copy of the yearbook and had never seen the photo before it was recently brought to his attention. I haven’t seen his detractors address the issue either. Could someone else have submitted or inserted the photo as a prank? To draw a firm conclusion, it would be exceedingly helpful to know what the protocols were in the mid-1980s for selecting photos for the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook. EVMS, it appears, is in the process of doing that. Ideally, the school will track down the original editors of the yearbook and they will shed light on the circumstances.

Whether we’ll get honest answers from potential witnesses is another matter. In the current rush to judgment, any witness offering information that might exonerate Northam surely would weigh the potential consequences — being subjected to the furies of the Twitter Outrage Mob. Regardless, the effort should be made.

I don’t know what the result would be if we managed to surface all the relevant facts and testimony. A full picture might confirm Northam’s version of events, in which case we’d be debating if it was racist to don blackface in a Michael Jackson dance contest — very different from appearing in a photo next to someone in a KKK hood. Or a complete picture might shred Northam’s version, in which case the only question worth asking is if someone deserves forgiveness if the intervening 34 years had been spotless.

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25 responses to “Facts? We Don’t Need No More Stinking Facts!”

  1. From what little I’ve read, the person submitted photos by a sealed envelope. I would certainly be checking it out. What I also have been given to understand is that the person who reported it was upset over his abortion issue, and brought it up. Btw, there are also now allegations about a sexual assault against LG Fairfax. Same people who did the Gov. one. Supposedly a 3 am press release said that it was checked out bfeore and given the ok, nothing happened.

    1. Reportedly the yearbook photo was disclosed to a web media outlet by an anonymous fellow student upset about the Gov’s abortion remarks on WTOP Ask the Gov program. Also reportedly each student was responsible for submitting their own pictures for their yearbook page.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Still no Infanticide? Amazing!

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    so these folks who released the yearbook info KNEW about it PRIOR to the election and chose to not release until AFTER the abortion thing?

    Something is smelly here – there was no shortage of folks doing opposition research way back then…. and I presume that there were MANY folks who got the yearbook and/or were involved in publishing it…

    but: ” No one seems terribly interested in finding out if Northam’s version of events holds water. ”

    well, at this point, even his supporters have lost confidence in his ability to lead and govern and that trumps the reasons why…. it just is…
    His “advisors” seem to have failed him on how this should have been handled from the get go.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, ditto for the materials submitted in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. There were earlier confirmation hearings when Kavanaugh was nominated to serve on the Court of Appeals. Why didn’t those materials surface then?

      Why did the Post dig deeply into the “gifts” received by McDonnell but not Kaine? Why did the Post dig deeply into a 2017 Senate race in Alabama but not the 2017 Governor’s race in Virginia?

      This is all-out war and character assassination. The Democrats and the media have been expert at it for decades. But now when the GOP and its allies fight fire with fire, character assassination is now wrong.

      We will not have any improvement in our political environment unless and until one set of rules applies to everyone and to both political parties.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        TMT – you seem to gravitate toward conspiracies and one sided-ones at that!

        What keeps the Conservative media like the Washington Examiner and FOX News, Brietbart, RTD, and other from reporting these things?

        Are they also part of the conspiracy to hold info and then release it?

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I suspect, Jim, a platoon of MSM types is working overtime to find the people involved, since Northam chose to take this line of defense (it wasn’t me.) Woulda coulda shoulda said it Friday night, if true, but too late now and of course to some, a one inch stripe of black on your cheek (a glare shield for a football player) is equally damning since it was meant to suggest resemblance to a black entertainer.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I suspect the same. So thanks to Ralph Northam, off we go on another manufactured witch hunt. Why? To stay in power.

      What a tragedy.

  5. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    As a Pennsylvanian who lived in Richmond in the 60’s and moved here again in 2000, I hope you Virginians will read this excellent article by
    Gregory Korte, in USA TODAY.

  6. djrippert Avatar

    Gotta love Jim Bacon. He’s three steps ahead of the other conservative Republicans in Virginia. If we can stretch this fact finding mission out past the end of the current General Assembly session then maybe Governor Coonman stays in office through the November election. What could be better for the RPV than that picture of the guy in blackface and the other guy in the Klan suit endlessly broadcast during the run up to the GA election?

    Alternately, a young man named Justin Fairfax – who is much more liberal and vastly more competent than Gov Storychange – gets to spend almost 7 years as Virginia governor (assuming he wins the election of 2021). That would make him 47 when he’s finished his extended tour as governor. Perfect time for national office.

    As for my opinion of Governor Northam …

    Comment on “How to look fiscally responsible while being fiscally irresponsible” (2019/01/13) …

    “Ralph Northam is rapidly establishing his case as the worst Virginia governor in living memory. Hopefully, the Republican majority General Assembly can reel this “Bernie Sanders lookalike” governor in before he does any more fiscal damage to the Commonwealth.”

    Comment on “Bacon Bits: Rider U Screws U Know Who” (2018/12/21) …

    “Northam’s foolishness won’t be apparent until sometime in the future.” In fairness, I was commenting on economics but Northam’s inability to see the forest for the trees is startling.

    Comment on “Northam to Ask Again to Spend Carbon Fees” (2018/09/06) ….

    “Northam is turning out to be a squirrelly little guy.”

    Comment from “Micron Incentives were behind Layne Warning” (2018/09/03) …

    “I am getting the growing sense that Ralph Northam is turning out to be a very weak governor.”

    I don’t know what to say here … Northam is a bumbler at best, a dissembler for sure and a racist at worst.

    Maybe it’s time to cut our losses here.

    1. It was me in the picture and I apologize.
    2. It wasn’t me in the picture but it could have been because I appeared in blackface.
    3. I have no idea why that picture was on my medical school year book page.
    4. I never bothered to ask anybody why that picture was on my medical school yearbook page after I saw it.
    5. I don’t know why they call me “coonman” … maybe they misspelled con man (ok, he never said the con man thing).

    C’mon, man …

  7. Per above, if Justin Fairfax has a problem, who is next in line? And does that explain Northam’s sudden reversal on Saturday?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Really good article on what happens next ….


      Timing is interesting. Virginia could have a Republican governor if Northam resigned and then, before the election, Fairfax resigned. I think this is very unlikely but it could happen.

      1. OK thanks…my brain got fried reading that but we seem to have a royal mess that could explain something.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          Typical Virginia … excessively complex and allows the overpowered General Assembly to boot the governor with no more cause than they say he can’t perform as governor. On the national level it’s the President’s own cabinet who can do this, not Congress. If an independent ever managed to get elected governor it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine the Virginia elites in the Richmond Uni-party pushing the independent out of office.

          Virginia … of the elite, for the elite and by the elite.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Here is another update on the state of Virginia politics:


          2. From the National Review article that Reed pointed to. What Northam should have said:

            The atmosphere at my college years and medical school in the early to mid-80s and the types of things we found funny back then would shock many people in 2019. Even if I was never the worst offender, I laughed along with everyone else, and did nothing to stand up against it. I left those attitudes behind when I began my medical practice and saw the humanity of every patient who walked through my door. It did not take long before I realized my attitudes and behaviors in my years of higher education were racist, derogatory, and obnoxious. Because I belatedly recognized that what I had thought were harmless jokes and pranks were in fact horribly offensive and shameful, I never spoke of my actions during that time.

            But he didn’t say anything like that. Northam’s botched crisis-management response may be grounds in and of itself to impeach the guy.

            The National Review article also reminds us that the Northam campaign accused Ed Gillespie of racism for daring allude to MS-13, as if it’s racist to worry about foreign crime syndicates operating in the U.S. As the saying goes, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

            But I still think it’s a mistake for Republicans and Libertarians to legitimize, by replicating it, the notion that a single offensive act 34 years ago outweighs all the good a person may have done in the intervening period. We are reaching a French Revolution level of hysteria and accusation — just without the guillotines.

          3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Well at least one politician is America, Sen. Ben Sasse, wants to ban infanticide in America, and has “reintroduced his “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in the Senate, asking for unanimous consent to the Bill today.”

            “But the Democrats are expect to oppose the measure.”

            see: https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/02/ben-sasse-wants-to-ban-infanticide-after-botched-abortions/

          4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            And extract from the article:

            “These comments (0f Northam) very clearly leave room for doctors to allow newborn infants to die, depending on the circumstances and on whether the mother wanted an abortion. Under pressure, Northam refused to apologize or clarify, instead doubling down in a statement and later saying he had no regrets.

            Sasse was the first U.S. senator to slam Northam, calling his comments “morally repugnant” in a statement to National Review. “In just a few years pro-abortion zealots went from ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to ‘keep the newborns comfortable while the doctor debates infanticide,’” Sasse said. “I don’t care what party you’re from — if you can’t say that it’s wrong to leave babies to die after birth, get the hell out of public office.”

            Is this “piling on” Jim? Or is it telling the truth, and judging the merits of it in plain forthright language?

            And if not us, then who will stand up for these just born children? Are they not more important than a photograph, however disgraceful that photo is?

            What have we become, if we don’t stand up and speak plainly, without fear on such matters?

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Don – you may well have struck pay-dirt here, or struck very close it, a heavy dose of court intrigue, at best. For example:

        He would be crowned:
        How that might change his nature, there’s the
        It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,
        And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
        Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow
        And kill him in the shell. (2.1.12-15; 33-36)

        Stoop, Romans, stoop,
        And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
        Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords.
        Then walk we forth, even to the marketplace,
        And, waving our red weapons o’er our heads,
        Let’s all cry “Peace, freedom, and liberty!” (3.1.117-122)

        If there be any in this assembly, any dear
        friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love
        to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend
        demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my
        answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
        Rome more. (3.2.19-24)

        Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily.
        Let not our looks put on our purposes,
        But bear it, as our Roman actors do,
        With untired spirits and formal constancy: (2.1.243-246)

        O conspiracy,
        Sham’st thou to show thy dang’rous brow by night,
        When evils are most free? O, then, by day
        Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough
        To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none,
        Hide it in smiles and affability;
        For if thou path, thy native semblance on,
        Not Erebus itself were dim enough
        To hide thee from prevention. (2.1.84-93) ….

        I could go on, but we all know how that ended for Caesar. And for Cicero, and for the Roman Republic too.

  8. Former Rep. Moran’s pitch on behalf of Northam here is the only one I’ve seen, besides this blog, that tackles how to judge Northam the man, in context. Indeed those that want to chuck Northam the tainted politician seem hellbent on NOT judging the man, NOT looking at the past in rural Virginia, NOT considering anything but expediency. https://twitter.com/ThisWeekABC/status/1092067456909078529

    DJR, you make a good case for simply moving on, with a scenario that works passably. But Northam’s crime is not intrinsic evil but bumbling; is bumbling grounds for impeachment? Must we turn our backs on the Roadkill Politics involved? Is there no redemption possible through consistently good works that belie a personal faux pas 35 years ago? Maybe JB is right, here, it’s Northam’s botched crisis management response, today not in the past, that we must judge.

    1. John Harvie Avatar
      John Harvie

      I disagree. You do not ignore the offense and just criticize the apology.

      Carried to an extreme one could commit a felony resulting in just a critique of his botched apology.

      He either did it and should suffer the consequences or if not, then is when we should just move on.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Fair enough… is that what has happened to others before him who were identified by racist remarks and/or history?

        Seems like we still have some major political figures who did engage or still do in racist rhetoric and they are not considering resignation at all.. right?

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Acbar, I have not rushed to judgement. But I have judged the man, based on his words and actions, and have carefully considered and weighed that judgement, and expressed it with detail here on this bog.

    On a more general and speculative note, in my view, maybe there be two overriding forces, among many others, at play here. One is Man as God. That is a long standing problem within Humanity, one most lately arisen in one most modern form by the fact that God is dead in many modern societies.

    This loss is greatly discomforting to us all, whether consciously or unconsciously, no matter our status in life. Most of us, to overcome that discomfort, have to replace this lost God with something, so we grab onto myth (or another myth), ideology, or righteous cause of some sort, often represented by the charismatic leader. Along the way too, many of us come to believe that we are God, particularly those among us who are particularly talented and driven, but without wisdom (that only sometimes comes with age). You see this particularly with high powered professional people (scientists, doctors, lawyers, tycoons, and politicians).

    Hence, for example many such politicians will enhance their Godlike compulsion by playing on this followers’ deepest fears,’ cultural compulsions and primal instincts, such as fear of the other, obsession to belong, and related racial and tribal instincts, including many legitimate instincts. Hence, the power of racist photos. Note however how mature men like Martin Luther King handle the problem, versus Ralph Northam’s confused and child-like response.

    All this too often also gives rise to that other human trait that so commonly afflicts us all. This is Banal Evil. Banal Evil unfortunately is common as mud in unhealthy societies, lead by unhealthy leaders. One of my favorite stories in that latter regards was recently told as follows:

    “… Indeed, Johnson boldly avows, “the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century were committed by people for whom God was still very much alive.”

    David Berlinski begs to differ. In his book “The Devil’s Delusion,” he recounts an extraordinary true-life exchange between an SS guard and his victim. The guard reportedly watched with callous indifference as the old Hasidic man dug his own grave. Just before meeting his fate, the old man straightened, locked eyes with the guard, and said, “God is watching what you are doing.” They were his last words.

    Say what you will about the strange cocktail of beliefs or non-beliefs that formed the fabric of Nazism or communism. But, Berlinski writes, one non-belief was common to the SS guard, the Nazi doctors, the NKVD, and all the rest of them: They did not believe that God was watching them.” END QUOTE

    Of course, the same evil can be done in the belief that “God” is cheering the evil-doer along. But what might the difference be, if any. For an interesting discussion on that with many linked in footnotes see:


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