It takes about 17 hours to drive from Topeka, Kansas, to Aiken, S.C.
If their vans were already loaded and ready, the members of Westboro Baptist Church could have hit the road just after 5 p.m. Wednesday. Even if they stuck to the speed limit and made a couple of quick pit stops, they could have rolled into Aiken by 11 a.m. Thursday.
That would have given them plenty of time to have lunch and stretch their legs before setting up to protest at the funeral of Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr. at 1 p.m. Thursday.
Instead, the Westboro cult members got a free hour of airtime on the Austin Rhodes Show, sparing Harley's family from the traveling spectacle of these warped protesters.
But it also spared Westboro a lot of effort.
These nuts protest high-profile funerals, especially military ceremonies, because they claim soldiers' deaths are a consequence of America's tolerance of homosexuality. If you can follow that tortured logic, you probably need medical restraints.
Syndicated radio talk show host Mike Gallagher in 2007 dissuaded the Westboro clan from picketing at Virginia Tech massacre hero Ryan Clark's Martinez funeral by offering airtime. Rhodes followed that lead, and the precedent of other hosts around the country, by giving the cult access to his airwaves for an hour Wednesday.
The ploy worked, and they stayed away. But I wonder: What if, at the designated time for them to go on the air, Rhodes had reneged and told them to take a hike?
It would have been a great bluff. Unfortunately, they would have had plenty of time to call it, and likely would have hopped in their vans and arrived in Aiken with plenty of time to wave their "God Hates Fags" signs.
While I think Rhodes deserves applause for donating part of his show to protect the family, I can't help but worry that these gifts of airtime to the Westboro kooks help them to get their protests out, for free, to a mass audience while allowing them to use their money and time for more protests elsewhere.
Let's face it: The Westboro folks were all too happy to forego bringing their traveling idiot-circus all the way to Aiken. With nothing more than a long-distance phone call, they saved gas money and the drudgery of a 34-hour round-trip.
They also spared themselves from the risk that someone, perhaps a sturdy Valley redneck or a burly patriot, would lose his temper and beat the self-righteous snot out of them.
Still, it's a win-win in the sense that they got an opportunity to use a radio station as an electronic manure-spreader in return for sparing the family from exposure to these deluded attention-hogs during their time of grief.
Rhodes' gift doesn't make them go away for good, but at least it made them stay away from here. For now.
RIP, Kirk Weeks
You probably never met him, but I bet you've read him.
We called him "Dad," probably because he was older than the rest of us, and had a fatherly, curmudgeonly demeanor. Kirk Weeks was a veteran editorial writer at The Augusta Chronicle, where he capped off a long and distinguished career as a journalist.
I worked with him for seven and a half years, and even after all that time still felt like I didn't know much about him personally. That's just the way he wanted it.
Dad never had a byline in the paper, but until his retirement a couple of years ago, for more than 20 years most of the unsigned, "institutional" editorials in The Chronicle came from his pen.
You thought someone else with a higher profile wrote them, didn't you?
But that suited Dad just fine. He was scholarly, studious and one of the smartest, best-read people I've ever known, a commonsense conservative who we often joked would one day be found buried under the teetering pile of Wall Street Journals stacked in his cluttered office.
He was a terrific, prolific writer who advanced the conservative cause without drawing attention to himself, and left the world just as quietly Wednesday.
Rest in peace, "Dad."
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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