Eighty years ago this week, Vashon Island residents, many of whom were American citizens, were forcefully exiled and imprisoned at the beginning of the strawberry harvest and were sent first to prisons in California, and then scattered to seven of the nine prisons scattered from Idaho to Arkansas.
This abuse of civil rights and the anti-Japanese racism that fostered it through Executive Order 9066 (February 1942) has provided an impetus for The Beachcomber to examine the News-Record’s coverage of that time and to examine other times when the Beachcomber’s reporting has used racist slurs and stereotypes, offensive language, one-sided sourcing, and has reflected the dominant culture’s attitudes about “others.”
The Vashon Island Beachcomber was not in existence at that time and was not founded until 1957. Within a year of beginning publishing, the Beachcomber absorbed its predecessor, The Vashon Island News-Record, and continued the tradition of a single island newspaper.
In our effort to understand the power of a local newspaper in shaping opinions and to understand the harm caused by coverage of the exile and imprisonment of Vashon’s Japanese American community, we examined the News-Record’s coverage of that event and the subsequent coverage of the Vashon Japanese American community through the remainder of the War.
What we discovered was the News-Record minimized the effect of the Japanese American exile and imprisonment. After a change of editors in June of 1942, the News-Record began to actively support anti-Japanese racism and failed to cover incidents of racist violence that attempted to prevent the island’s Japanese Americans from returning to their homes.
We regret these past practices and the damaging legacy they created. We acknowledge that we must continually examine our reporting and coverage to assure that this newspaper reflects the racial, social, and economic diversity that is the Vashon-Maury Island community. While we cannot change the past, we can acknowledge the harm the island’s newspaper coverage helped cause, that it was wrong, and pledge to do the work needed to ensure we never let it happen again.
“Reconciliation does not mean forgetting or trying to bury the pain of conflict, but that reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.” – Nelson Mandela 1995
— Bruce Haulman is the president of the board of Vashon Heritage Museum. Elizabeth Shepherd is the editor of The Beachcomber.