The story we're about to bring you is sad on so many levels. Well, two levels. First, it illustrates the disappointing and kind of disgusting decline of a legendary civil rights institution, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), former home of Martin Luther King, Jr. Second, it shows what a farce half of the things you see on editorial pages are, if they come from public figures. We'll give you a condensed version of this ongoing media vs. advocacy group vs. PR firm controversy-as you read it, ask yourself whether MLK would have found himself caught up in this crap. Charles Steele, Jr., president of the SCLC, wrote an editorial which ran in several southern newspapers. The editorial was against upcoming legislation that would limit credit card fees-a bill favored by retailers (which would save money) but not by credit card companies (which would lose money in fees). Here's the problem: Steele didn't write the editorial. A PR firm working for the credit card companies contracted a third party to write it, and it somehow got submitted to the papers without getting approved by Steele. Fucked up, right? It's obviously a huge mistake by the PR firm. It makes the papers look foolish for running an editorial that the "author" hadn't even seen. And, of course, nobody wants to wake up one day and read something in the paper with their name on it that they've never seen. But Steele and the SCLC aren't heroic in this. Check out their main complaint:

The [editorial that ran] reads: "The proposed law would boost the profits of Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Home Depot, but it would take money out of the pockets of the small businesses and consumers it's supposed to help." Wal-Mart is listed on the SCLC's Web site as a sponsor of the organization. No one at the SCLC would want to insult a large benefactor.

It's not that the SCLC is too preoccupied with real civil rights issues; they're obviously known as a group-for-hire that various lobbies can sign on to support their various causes, in order to give them a sheen of support from the civil rights community. It's just that they didn't want to piss off Wal-Mart. Let freedom ring. [WP]