The A.P. Apologizes for ‘Thought for Today’ From Jefferson Davis

As part of a daily feature called Today in History, The Associated Press supplied newspapers across the country with a quotation from Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America.

The quote — “Never be haughty to the humble; never be humble to the haughty” — was included as the feature’s Thought for Today on June 3, Davis’s birth date.

“We are embarrassed that this happened and we apologize,” an A.P. spokeswoman said.

Today in History notes historical and trivial events that took place on the date in question, along with the birthdays of famous people dead and alive.

Thought for Today appears at the end of the feature. It can be an anonymous proverb or a quotation from a writer, a philosopher, a scientist, an entertainer or a historical figure.

The line attributed to Davis appeared in more than two dozen newspapers amid worldwide protests against racism and police violence prompted by the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer pinned him to the ground.

As part of a national reckoning, there has been an outcry against the use of the iconography and names associated with the Confederacy.

NASCAR said on last Wednesday that it would ban Confederate flags from its events, two days after Darrell Wallace Jr., the first black driver in 50 years to win one of its top three national touring series, called for the ban. That same day, demonstrators toppled a statue of Davis in Richmond, Va., once the capital of the Confederate States.

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to require the Pentagon to strip military bases and equipment of Confederate names, monuments or symbols within three years, a move that President Trump has opposed.

Newspapers that ran the Davis quote included The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.; The Daily Independent in Ridgecrest, Calif.; and The Herkimer Times Telegram in Herkimer, N.Y.

“We are totally appalled by it, it should not have happened, and it was a mistake,” said Brian Carovillano, The A.P.’s managing editor. “Under the current climate, it’s especially appalling.”

It also appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during a week when that paper told a black reporter that she would not be assigned to cover protests and assigned a black photojournalist to photograph the reopenings of a church and an ice-cream parlor instead of the demonstrations he said he had been scheduled to shoot.

The Associated Press provides more than 2,000 stories a day to media organizations, including The New York Times, that pay to use them. It is led by Gary B. Pruitt, the president and chief executive, and Sally Buzbee, the executive editor.

Mr. Carovillano said a longtime desk editor assembled Today in History about six weeks ahead of time, using material from the organization’s database. Thought for Today quotes are recycled. The line from Davis had run three times — every four years on his birthday since 2008.

Newspapers across the country receive seven installments of the Today in History a week in advance. The batch including the Davis quote was sent May 25.

After a complaint from what The A.P. described as “a customer” on June 3, the service sent out a correction and a replacement quotation from the author Franz Kafka, who died on that date. The Kafka quote was, “There are two cardinal sins from which all the others spring: impatience and laziness.”

“I am embarrassed it was not caught and alarmed that A.P. used that quote at all,” said Jennifer Brown, the executive news editor of The Advocate and The Times-Picayune in Louisiana, wrote on Twitter in response to a complaint from a reader. “It was definitely not intentional and inappropriate to run on any day.”

Amalie Nash, the vice president for audience development and local news at Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, said that Gannett reached out to the A.P. standards editor on June 3 after seeing that the quote had been distributed. It was published in several Gannett newspapers, including The St. Augustine Record in Florida and The Daily Review Atlas in Illinois.

“We agree it never should have run in any of our publications and regret that it did,” Ms. Nash said.

An A.P. spokeswoman said that, starting next week, Today in History would no longer include a Thought for Today. She added that the company had deleted the Davis quote from its database.

On Friday, a reporter for The Times asked why the quote remained on the A.P. website’s version of the June 3 Today in History. Minutes later, it was gone.

Marc Tracy contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.

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