Media critics condemn left-leaning outlets' Ellie Kemper onslaught over ties to 'racist ball'
Mark Hemingway: 'A journalism industry that gleefully participates in this pile-on of Kemper without grace or context deserves to suffer'
Left-leaning media outlets are being blasted after suggesting Ellie Kemper has a problematic and even "racist" past for winning the title of "Queen Of Love And Beauty" at St. Louis' Veiled Prophet Ball in 1999.
While the pageant only allowed Whites to participate when it was founded in 1878, banning Blacks and Jewish Americans, it welcomed its first Black members in 1979, a full 20 years before Kemper's participation at age 19, and a year before she was born. The organization has also released a statement denouncing racism.
"Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region," the group said. "We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs."
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Still, "KKK Princess" trended on Twitter Tuesday night, and several left-leaning outlets ran with a narrative that suggested Kemper should be canceled. She is best known for her roles on "The Office" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
The A.V. Club went so far as to write, "Oh great, Ellie Kemper is yet another rich white celebrity with a racist past."
Liberal New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait stood by Kemper, writing, "Her ‘racist past’ is that, in 1999, she entered a pageant that was integrated in 1979."
"Kemper’s wealthy upbringing has never been a secret," A.V. Club writer Tatiana Tenreyro wrote in the piece. "She has wealthy parents (her dad was the chairman and chief executive of Commerce Bank) and went to Princeton. But what’s surprising in this case is how her participation in a racist pageant hadn’t been discussed until now."
The A.V. Club wasn't alone in publishing that take, with observers noting some pieces did not line up with their salacious headlines.
The Daily Beast published the title, "The Office's Ellie Kemper Was Beauty Queen of a Racist Ball - and She Was Escorted by a Bush." Yet, the subhead of the piece was more innocuous, reading, "The 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' star was Queen of the Veiled Prophet Ball as a teen in 1999. It was founded by a Confederate soldier but its ties to the KKK are tenuous at best."
"What It Means that Ellie Kemper Was Queen of the ‘Racist’ Veiled Prophet Ball," blared a similar Slate headline from Allegra Frank, stating later in the piece that the debutante ball is "not a KKK thing," but it "doesn't mean that it doesn't have its own racist history."
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"In her defense, by the time Ellie Kemper won the crown, the organization had become slightly more inclusive," Frank acknowledges.
"There is no known link between the Veiled Prophet Organization and white supremacist groups, but the event began to draw protests in the late 1960s when Black activists criticized the group for being exclusionary and elitist," admitted The Huffington Post in its report.
"Ellie Kemper's history of winning a pageant with a racist past is stirring up controversy," reads the story headline on Salon.com, with a subhead, ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ was named queen of the Veiled Prophet Ball, which has a long history of racism."
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Conservative journalist Mark Hemingway defended Kemper and chalked up the scandal to having been orchestrated by a "media ecosystem with horrific incentives," adding that the industry "deserves to suffer."