Newspaper Publication of Anti-Latino Comments Stirs Controversy

Never let it be said that the words of a simple “man on the street” can’t have far-reaching consequences in the modern world.

The Hazleton, Pa., Standard-Speaker newspaper is still coping with the fallout of an interview it published Aug. 15 in a regular print-edition-only feature called “Know Your Neighbor,” in which a local individual is stopped at random and asked to comment briefly on life in Luzerne County. That day, the paper interviewed a man identified as Richard Yanoski of the nearby town of McAdoo.

Asked to opine about the worst aspect of living in the Hazleton area, Yanoski replied, “All the Hispanics who moved here.”

Asked how he would improve the quality of life in Hazleton, he said, “Get rid of the Hispanics.”

By publishing Yanoski’s racially repugnant comments, the Standard-Speaker threw gasoline on the highly volatile local issue of native-immigrant relations: Hazleton in 2006 was one of four U.S. communities that passed tough legislation against undocumented immigrants ahead of the passage of Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070. Hazleton also is just 20 miles away from the Schuylkill County town of Shenandoah, where Latino-white tensions boiled over in July 2008 with the unprovoked beating death of Luis Ramirez by three intoxicated white teenagers who had just left a party. An all-white jury later convicted two of the boys merely of misdemeanor assault, acquitting Brandon Piekarsky of third-degree murder and Derrick Donchak of ethnic intimidation. The two were later convicted of federal hate crime violations and each sentenced to nine years in prison.

The Standard-Speaker item also shattered the peace of another man – former Hazleton resident Richard Peter Yanoski Jr., 39, now of Harrisburg, Pa., who received such a barrage of nasty comments over the feature that he had to shut down his Facebook and LinkedIn pages. He wasn’t the man who made the comments; the newspaper subsequently identified the actual interviewee as Richard Mark Yanoski, 53.

Yesterday, the newspaper wrote an article clarifying that Richard Peter Yanoski had not made the incendiary comments published Aug. 15. Today, it additionally published a Letter to the Editor from this “wrong” Yanoski, who said: “I am hopeful that the publishing of this letter will reinforce to the public that there are multiple people who share this name and that two of us (my father, Richard Sr., and I) do not espouse the values that have been attributed [to] ‘Richard Yanoski’ based on the quotes of another person with the same name. My father and I hold value systems that are antithetical to those espoused by the person who made those quotes.”

Standard-Speaker Managing Editor Carl Christopher told Hatewatch Friday that the newspaper felt an obligation to help Richard Peter Yanoski clear his name – even though reviving the issue in a news story launched it into cyberspace, where it went viral.

“We felt that we should do a story on what happened, the fallout from this and the effect it had on this other guy’s life, which we did,” Christopher said. “I also I told him he was more than welcome to write a Letter to the Editor, which he decided to do, and we published that today.”

Comment threads on the newspaper’s website included opinions sympathetic to the plight of Richard Peter Yanoski – but also some who seconded the anti-Latino sentiments of Richard Mark Yanoski. One, who identified himself as Sean Donahue, a “write-in candidate for mayor of Hazleton,” wrote that Latinos “bring drugs, crime and violence and the [sic] milk the system of all its benefits so that the people from Hazleton can get nothing. If [Richard Peter] Yanoski doesn't share the views of [Richard Mark] Yanoski, them [sic] maybe he should.”

Christopher, the managing editor, said he regretted that the original interview had ever run. Though the newspaper did not make an editorial comment on the matter, it ran a number of sharply critical Letters to the Editor about it.

“Know Your Neighbors,” which runs only in the print edition and not online, is meant to be an innocuous feature, Christopher said. “It’s not meant to be controversial. It’s just supposed to be a way to get names and faces in the paper. This guy who was featured that particular day said something that was unbelievably racially insensitive – not the kind of thing that belongs in that feature. We felt afterward it really shouldn’t have been in the paper. So yes, absolutely we had second thoughts [about having run it]. We wouldn’t do it again, and we don’t believe it should have been in in the first place. It was just one of those things that slipped through, unfortunately.”

Hazelton’s anti-undocumented immigrant measure was written by current Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who also authored the other three municipal ordinances and Arizona’s S.B. 1070. All of those measures have been blocked in whole or in part by federal courts, triggering expensive legal battles that are as yet unresolved. The battle over Hazleton’s passage of the Kobach bill propelled the career of then-Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who rode the controversy to a seat in Congress, where he defeated a political rival who had beaten him twice earlier.