Richard Oppel Jr.’s front-page New York Times story on Monday, “Snag for Perry: Offensive Name At Texas Camp,” catches up with a long, thinly sourced Washington Post article on a hunting camp in Texas, leased by Perry’s family, whose name included a racial epithet written on a rock by a camp entrance.
Although the Perry connection is extremely tenuous (the camp’s name predated the Perry family's involvement, and the family had the rock painted over years ago) both the headline (“snag”) and a photo caption wishfully insisted the new controversy had already knocked Perry off stride: “His presidential campaign has been on the defensive in recent days.”
The campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas found itself on the defensive on Sunday over a report that he had hunted at and taken guests to a West Texas camp with a racially charged name that his father, and later Mr. Perry, had leased.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that at least seven people it interviewed said the name for a portion of the property, Niggerhead, was visible on the rock at the entrance “at different points in the 1980s and 1990s,” and that a former worker said he believed he had seen it as recently as three years ago.
The hunting camp is near the small town where Mr. Perry grew up. The Perry campaign did not dispute that the racial slur was used as a name for the property. But it issued a statement saying that the name was changed soon after Mr. Perry’s father, Ray, joined a lease that gave him hunting rights there almost 30 years ago.
The Times showed some strange new respect for Republican Herman Cain, whose campaign the paper had barely covered previously, after Cain criticized Perry:
The latest flare-up also injected the issue of race into the Republican nominating fight, with one of Mr. Perry’s opponents, Herman Cain, seizing on the issue Sunday, saying there “isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word.”
“For him to leave it there as long as he did, until before, I hear, they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country,” Mr. Cain, who is black, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Perry’s name was on the lease for the property from 1997 to 2007. The statement issued by his campaign spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said, “Perry’s father painted over offensive language on a rock soon after leasing the 1,000-acre parcel in the early 1980s.”
The Times set up this obscure issue as a crucial test for the Perry campaign.
There seemed no dispute that the hunting pasture was once known by a racial epithet -- as a number of topographical sites had once been, both in Texas and in other places -- nor was there dispute that the epithet had been painted onto a rock on the property.
But for Mr. Perry, 61, the crucial issues for his candidacy will most likely be how he reacted to seeing the slur and the timing of its removal from the rock.