Number 20 - December 12, 2002
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step into the world of America's Black Forum, the TV show, is to enter
a carnival house-of-mirrors. African American political realities are
distorted beyond recognition. The floor tilts crazily rightward as clowns
in blackface jump into view to parrot George Bush and Jerry Falwell,
then straighten up and hum "Lift Every Voice" as they lock
arms and sway with a sneering Pat Buchanan and his blond, junior conservative
The Hard Right has
thoroughly infested what began, 25 years ago, as the first nationally
syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. Since
the mid-Nineties, ABF has devolved into a menagerie of professional
Black propagandists in service of the most vicious elements of the Republican
Party. White ideologues of the Right regularly reinforce their darker
partners on the set, providing their own peculiar analysis of the Black
condition. For a time, Pat Buchanan, whose name is synonymous with "Nazi"
in many circles, seemed to be a regular on the show. Obscure clones
of racist commentator Ann Coulter share insights on world and national
politics for the benefit of a Black commercial television audience.
It is a bizarre experience.
FOX in the chicken
Forum is hosted by Juan Williams, a favorite Black political conjure-artist
of Republican-managed FOX News, and alternate host James Brown, a FOX
sportscaster with no background in news whatsoever. FOX News has had
a special relationship with ABF since the 1996 ascension of chairman
Roger Ailes, best described as a "pit-bull Republican media strategist
turned television tycoon." Ailes has made a career of creating
an electronic environment amenable to racism of the rawest kind, to
accommodate the policies of his clients. His influence is tangible on
the set of ABF.
The show's most
compelling on-air presence is Armstrong Williams, possibly the most
noxious Black personality in broadcasting. He lovingly embraces arch-racist
Senator Strom Thurmond, who decades ago gave the servile yet ambitious
young Armstrong an internship, as both "friend" and "mentor."
Williams has served the interests of apartheid South Africa, wallowed
in the largess of every Hard Right foundation and think tank in the
land, and reveled in long weekends with white supremacists. Williams'
broadcast deals entangle him with the Christian Right's unholiest electronic
pulpits. He is the premiere Black political whore in America, and the
central fixture on America's Black Forum.
protégé is Niger Innis, rising son of gangster "civil
rights" caricature Roy Innis, head of the family business criminally
referred to as the Congress of Racial Equality. CORE is a tin cup outstretched
to every Hard Right political campaign or cause that finds it convenient
- or a sick joke - to hire Black cheerleaders for their cross burning
events. As the bearer of such lineage, Niger Innis is a prince among
Black political scavengers - he even fancies himself an interpreter
of what he believes to be Hip Hop culture's conservative characteristics.
Niger Innis advertises his political "consultant" wares on
America's Black Forum, in the shadow of Strom Thurmond's protégé,
ABF is incapable
of generating news, the primary function of Sunday TV interview programs.
Despite its claim to be the "only credible weekend news source
for African American perspectives on national issues," ABF is quoted
by... no one. The program's actual function is to provide a stage on
which the two Williamses, Juan and Armstrong, can demonstrate their
distance from (Juan) and contempt for (Armstrong) prevailing Black opinion
and leadership. The trappings of journalism are meant to convey authenticity
to what is essentially a weekly exercise in Black-bashing, thankfully
punctuated by celebrity interviews of no consequence. In recent years,
the show's handlers have become so bold as to invite white ultra-conservatives
to join in the fun.
Niger Innis fills
Armstrong Williams' seat when the senior mercenary is summoned to perform
other duties on behalf of his long list of Republican clients. The Hard
Right's message, as formulated by the reactionary think tanks that nurture
both Williams and Innis, is indispensable to the program. Whether delivered
in blackface or from the lips of visiting white commentators, an ultra-conservative
version of reality dominates America's Black Forum.
Off to the side,
in every meaningful sense, sits Julian Bond, the progressive window
dressing on the set. It is a demeaning place to be, and of doubtful
justification or utility as a counterbalance to the program's rabidly
rightwing voices. As chairman of the NAACP, Bond is hobbled by the organization's
non-partisan legal status. Williams, Innis and their white allies slick
the studio floor with anti-Black spittle, encouraged by the more-closeted
host Juan Williams (or the clueless sportsman, James Brown), while Bond
strains in his political straitjacket.
journalists Deborah Mathis and Julianne Malveaux occasionally join or
substitute for Julian Bond as panelists, with much the same results.
Armstrong Williams, abetted by Juan Williams' rigged framing of the
issues (or James Brown's total lack of political references), bullies
the conversation ever rightward. The dialogue starts and ends in a political
space few Black people inhabit.
The spectacle is
surreal. ABF has succeeded in creating an illusionary world in which
the views of mainstream Black America, approximately represented by
Julian Bond and the NAACP, are howled down by hired guns who speak for
no significant body of African American opinion, including the
one-tenth of Blacks who identify themselves as Republicans. Not content
with this triumph of minstrelsy, ABF routinely recruits white ultras
to join the cast - a gratuitous insult to Black sensibilities that would
be unthinkable in representative African American venues. America's
Black Forum is a Hard Right production, groveling and transparent.
Last weekend's broadcast
of ABF was like a National Geographic documentary, an opportunity to
observe the pack-like bond between host Juan Williams and wily coyotes
Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis. Both Bush mouthpieces were
brought in to encircle Rev. Al Sharpton, presidential aspirant and the
Stagger Lee of Black politics. Uncharacteristically polite and wary
of the civil rights leader's razor-sharp debating skills, the pit bull
and the hungry youngster concentrated on putting their quarry off-message.
Host Juan Williams
soon shifted the conversation's political center of gravity full-tilt
to the right. Left Democrats were setting the stage for a "Democratic
train wreck," said Williams, citing as his authority an article
in William F. Buckley's ultra-conservative National Review! Rev. Sharpton
chuckled at Williams' choice of source, and quickly regained his own
page. However, the rightward pull from three sides was relentless, having
the effect of obscuring, rather than illuminating, Sharpton's positions
on the issues. Clearly, that is the object of ABF: to move the boundaries
of Black debate inexorably to the right. Facing a combative and skillful
politician-activist such as Sharpton, host Juan Williams revealed his
true function - to limit the discourse to the Hard Right's field of
reference. It is only within these distorted and alien parameters that
Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis make any sense, at all.
Before tagging his
team mates, Juan Williams insisted that Sharpton go even further afield
of his presidential agenda, to comment on Harry Belafonte's "disparaging"
remarks about Colin Powell, weeks before. On ABF, a Black man is required
to answer questions that are uppermost on white conservative minds.
Black surrogates make sure of that. More time wasted.
It was Armstrong
Williams' turn to drain Sharpton of airtime. The guest was forced to
assess George Bush's faith-based initiative - the main item for Black
consumption on the GOP's menu. Next, Niger Innis made small talk about
his father's long (but not necessarily pleasant) association
with Sharpton, thus using up more of the Reverend's minutes while elevating
Innis Sr. to undeserved relevance.
It is hard to smother
Al Sharpton, but the two Black Republican hustlers, with lots of help
from the host, tried their best.
Julian Bond tossed
the Reverend a softball - in a way, it was Bond's lonely obligation
to both the audience and the guest. "What should Black activists
in the Democratic Party be doing?" he asked. Sharpton said he'd
like to see "a lot of voter registration around critical issues"
- issues that he was not allowed to explore in the Republican bum rush
of America's Black Forum.
A legacy in shambles
The publishers of
The Black Commentator have more than a passing interest in America's
Black Forum. We created the show 25 years ago, while working as network
radio reporters, in Washington. Our goals were straightforward: to establish
an independent, nationally syndicated television vehicle that would
allow Black reporters to hold politicians and activists of all persuasions
accountable to Black people, and to wield influence in the national
political arena by generating news, in the same way that Sunday
network interview shows create the content that dominates Monday morning
We succeeded beyond
our expectations. Beginning with the inaugural program, January 16,
1977, featuring United Nations Ambassador-designate Andrew Young, ABF
press releases made the wires of the Associated Press, United Press
International, Reuters, Agence France Presse, even the Soviet news agency
Tass, every week for an uninterrupted 13 weeks. For almost four
years, the program generated national and worldwide headlines at will.
No Black news entity had ever achieved anything approaching this level
of impact on the general media, and none has, since.
Like The Black Commentator,
our ABF was most concerned that African Americans develop media institutions
that encourage internal debate, as well as compel white officeholders
to engage Black opinion. The program made headlines on Black terms,
based on Black news decisions, on issues of importance to the Black
public. This issues-based approach resulted, for example, in the public
"resurrection" of notables such as James Farmer, the former
head of the original, integrationist Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
who, in 1977, had not made headlines in years. Much to the old gentleman's
surprise, the wire services packaged his ABF statements as major stories.
And so it went, week after week.
(Farmer made another
appearance on the program later in the year, when he confronted Roy
Innis, the man who had hijacked CORE a decade before and turned the
organization into what Farmer called a "shakedown" gang. Innis
brought to Washington his thuggish Brooklyn entourage and attempted
to feed hotel shrimp to the whole party at our expense, which we refused.
No doubt the rich, Hard Right is more accommodating to Roy and his son,
in their current capacities.)
included Westinghouse, Borden, the public employees union AFSCME - and,
for three months, the Republican National Committee, which immediately
gave its ad minutes to Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom they were courting at
the time. Back then, Republicans were glad to associate with
prestigious Black media. In ABF's new incarnation, they control it.
During the first
year of operations, we original owners - Glen Ford, Peter Gamble and
Jim Boren - picked up business partners with whom we later found ourselves,
euphemistically speaking, incompatible. We sold our shares in ABF at
the end of 1980, and have not spoken publicly about the program - until
Julian Bond became
host. Although ABF ceased to generate news, Bond's journalism and broadcast
background served the program well. The intrusion of celebrity interviews
under the aegis of Uniworld, the Black advertising agency that took
over production and, later, political direction of ABF, did no harm.
At the very least, ABF provided showcasing and role model opportunities
for Black people, a valuable service in a racist society.
All that changed
in 1996, when Uniworld plucked the two Williamses, Juan and Armstrong,
from the Right's most-favored Black list. Juan Williams became co-host
with sportscaster James Brown. Armstrong Williams signed on as permanent
commentator and vouched for the political reliability of up-and-coming
Hard Right hustler Niger Innis as alternate standard-bearer for GOP
and corporate interests. The outrageous whoring began.
and Innis together embody the Hard Right's growing penetration of Black
media circles. They share institutional and corporate connections. ABF
provides an opportunity to observe them on the same set, acting in concert
in service of their racist clients and benefactors.
Juan the Whiner
First, the closet
conservative. FOX's Roger Ailes couldn't find a better match for Brit
Hume than Juan Williams. Both are right-wingers who refuse to admit
their allegiances, even after they've exposed themselves. Hume left
his ABC News White House correspondent job shortly after it was discovered
that he was a Republican contributor.
Hume didn't like
liberals before he departed ABC, and showed it on-camera. Now at FOX,
he's still angry with liberals for the humiliation he brought on himself.
FOX saw the conservative
potential in Juan Williams in 1997, and hired him as a political contributor
for that reason. Williams is famous for disassociating himself from
what he considers to be the "official Black" positions on
political issues. He whines that Blacks and liberals don't like him.
Now at Public Radio,
Williams teamed up with his pal Brit for an anti-Black establishment
exchange on the Hume Report, October 21. Juan's tale of woe:
HUME: You do not
have to be in government to experience the sting of the civil rights
establishment's outrage at successful African-Americans who do not
always agree with its positions. One leading black journalist defended
Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court,
sharply criticized former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who
did jail time on drug charges, and has also been critical at times
of the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His name is Juan Williams,
and he joins me now.
Talk to me a bit,
if you can, about the experiences you've had. I mean, I remember you
were writing a column for "The Washington Post" back in
the late '80s, when Clarence Thomas was nominated. Yes, the late '80s.
And you defended
him on a number of grounds. Not all, but some. What happened?
well, gosh. Immediately there was a great deal of calls to my desk
at "The Washington Post" at the time, saying, you know,
what do you have on Clarence Thomas? I said, well, I don't have anything
on Clarence Thomas.
And then later
I wrote about a body of knowledge, which was that Clarence Thomas
was someone who had come along in this town, who had developed his
way, found his way in the Reagan administration; was not always the
most conservative, was not someone that you could easily pillory as
some sort of stick figure, but was rather an intellectual.
And that, of course,
then brought down all the heavens on me, in terms of the civil rights
establishment -- I think driven by people who said, you know what,
we don't like Clarence Thomas' story, as being sort of this young
black man from Georgia who made his way up.
We don't like
the idea that Juan Williams at "The Washington Post" would
lend his credibility to this story. And therefore, one way to get
at Thomas was to attack the messengers. In that case, to attack me.
HUME: So what
people then attacked me. Once he got into trouble with Anita Hill,
and there were all sorts of questions about my behavior - have you
told any flirtatious jokes, who have you flirted with at the paper?
All sorts of accusations.
I mean, it just
felt like the world had crumbled in on my head. I couldn't believe
that so many of my friends who were in the newsroom at the time -
really, it was as if, well, you are no longer truly black. You don't
belong and have the right to hold that seat.
As a matter of
fact, I was, at that time, doing "Crossfire" for CNN. And
I was then saying, listen, I think a lot of these charges against
Thomas are ill-based.
And at the time,
CNN said, well, you can't sit on the left side here and argue from
a black perspective because you're not holding the official black
position. So, you know, you can't, literally, appear on this show
and do your job as the host on the left.
So Juan, unable
to represent what passes for the Left on CNN and unwilling to identify
with the political positions held by most Blacks, feels mistreated by
Blacks and the Left - the mindset he brings to America's Black Forum,
his side gig.
Just before the
exchange between Brit Hume and Williams, Hume aired a report on Condoleezza
Rice suffering the indignity of being dis-invited to a prestigious event.
Harry Belafonte was to blame. Hume's correspondent interviewed two Rice
supporters: Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis.
The two Williamses
and Innis are part of the same team. It is no wonder, then, that Julian
Bond appears isolated and alone at ABF, relegated to window dressing
on a rightwing set.
Williams, like Brit
Hume, whines when he is caught being a rightwing Republican. Yet there
he was, the day after the election, on a panel organized by BAMPAC,
the Black Republican political action committee founded by loony former
presidential candidate Alan Keyes. Williams' fellow panelists included
GOP operative Faye Anderson, conservative academic and author Angela
Dillard, Maryland Black Republican Lt. Governor-elect Michael Steele,
and BAMPAC President Alvin (not another one) Williams.
Juan Williams is
as big a Republican liar as Brit Hume.
The Black minions
of the Hard Right are a recent breed, the scavengers that came calling
after the GOP's Seventies-era decision to build a cadre of pure hustlers
to replace the aging Black Republicans associated with the Party's moderate
wing, now practically defunct. Gangster CORE chief Roy Innis earned
his stipends throwing chairs on shock TV shows in defense of rightwing
principles. Son Niger is, thus, among the first generation to grow up
in such moral squalor.
Niger is national
spokesman for CORE. He helped his father prove CORE's value to white
conservatives by running the elder Innis' Democratic primary campaign
against Black incumbent New York Mayor David Dinkins, in 1993. The exercise
earned the Innises $100,000 in contributions from the usual Right suspects,
and the favor of Republican Rudolph Guiliani, who beat Dinkins in the
In the old days,
polite Republicans eschewed Roy's goon-like attacks against Black leadership.
He was an embarrassment to suburban, Connecticut bankers. White goons
run the Party, now, and the Innisses fit in just fine.
Smoother than the
pugnacious Roy, although certainly no intellect, Niger has expanded
upon his inheritance. As New York State Chair of Alan Keyes' 2000 presidential
campaign, Innis is a member the clique that revolves around Keyes' BAMPAC.
Roy was a Brooklyn brawler. Niger is a Washington player. They are equally
The younger Innis
wears the CORE hat when it suits him. However, Innis' institutional
ties to the Hard Right are better understood through his association
with the white-invented, young Black Republican outfit Project 21. Innis
is a celebrity member and sits on its Advisory Committee.
The Black front
group - actually, a network and nursery for aspiring rightwing operatives
- is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Washington-based National Center
for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which created the Project 21 letterhead
in 1993. In turn, the NCPPR is funded by the Bradley, Scaife, Carthage
and Earhart foundations, prime bankrollers of the American Enterprise
Institute, Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation and a host of other,
front-line think tanks of the Right. These organizations operate speakers
bureaus, finance conferences, turn out position papers and disseminate
propaganda in general. They create the noise.
have written some of the "position papers" ascribed to Project
21, and are proud to claim the copyright:
is an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research to
promote the views of African-Americans whose entrepreneurial spirit,
dedication to family and commitment to individual responsibility has
not traditionally been echoed by the nation's civil rights establishment."
In truth, the National
Center for Public Policy Research announced in 1992 that it was looking
for "conservative and moderate voices in the black community"
willing to criticize established Black leadership. CORE was among those
who showed up. Project 21 was born, fully funded.
On any given day,
Innis can be found speaking or "consulting" within the matrix
of the rich Right, his paymasters. Every other week, he is presented
to African American TV audiences as an independent voice, doing valiant
battle against a menacing Black "establishment" on America's
are a tight-knit, near-incestuous group. Juan Williams quotes William
Buckley's National Review to challenge Al Sharpton on the set of ABF.
Niger Innis writes occasionally for the National Review and, in November
2001, used space in NR to denounce "Sharpton and other professionally
angry arsonists" for creating political chaos in New York. Innis
called the National Action Network leader a "monster" and
But Innis is not
much of a writer. What he really wants to be when he grows up, is Armstrong
is the unchallenged HNIC of the Black Hard Right. He has no peer in
self-debasement for profit. He emerges like a creature from the primal
ooze of evil, a repository of shame, a catch basin of all that could
go wrong with a Black human being.
bubbled up from the muck through the influence of two men: Clarence
Thomas and Senator Strom Thurmond. We will not dwell on the Thurmond
connection in this commentary - Williams has made plain his undying
love for the racist who will not die, comparing the ghastly creature
to Napoleon and imagining - wishing! - that his master might be immortal.
Williams has called
Thurmond his "mentor," but he could not truly believe that,
since even the most deluded Black man must know that he cannot follow
in a white man's 100 year-old footsteps. No, Williams may have been
smitten by Thurmond in 1979, while a blushing 20 year-old intern (Thurmond
"exuded masculine dominance," gushes Williams), but his real
mentor in the ways of Black treachery is Clarence Thomas.
When young Armstrong
arrived in Washington from South Carolina, Clarence Thomas was part
of a cabal centered on the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education.
The Institute was headquarters for the most ultra-right African Americans
yet assembled - a tiny group led by J.A. "Jay" Parker, a professional
Cold War propagandist who had sung the praises of Barry Goldwater in
1964 while denouncing the civil rights movement as communist-inspired.
Thomas served with
Parker on Ronald Reagan's 1980 transition team for the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, the agency that Thomas would chair on the way
to the U.S. Supreme Court, and where he would hire his protégé,
Armstrong Williams, as a " confidential " assistant.
In submitting their
plans for the reorganized EEOC, Thomas and Parker argued that affirmative
action was a "new racism," a line the Lincoln Institute's
journal, the Lincoln Review, had been spouting since 1978. Political
Research Associates, of Somerville, MA, describes The Lincoln Review
as "anti-choice, pro-death penalty, anti-affirmative action, pro-defense
spending, anti-Martin Luther King national holiday, pro-school prayer,
anti-Washington D.C. statehood...and uncritically supportive of Israel."
Thomas signed on
to the advisory board of the Lincoln Review in June of 1981, just three
months his after his buddy Parker officially registered as an agent
for the South African Bantustan of Venda. Since neither the United
States nor any other nation in the world recognized the Black "homeland"
as independent - Venda's "diplomats" were housed in the South
African embassy - Parker was actually an agent of the apartheid government
In 1985, Parker
and another Clarence Thomas crony, William Keyes, founded a lobby organization
to directly represent South Africa, at a reported rate of $400,000 a
year. During this period, Keyes was a contributing editor of the Lincoln
[William Keyes also
founded an organization called Black PAC, in 1984, in Washington. At
the time of this writing,
has been unable to confirm any relationship between William Keyes and
Alan Keyes, the founder of Washington-based BAMPAC, circa 1993. You'll
find out when we do.]
kept his name on the Lincoln Review's masthead throughout the Eighties,
removing it only after his appointment to the Federal Court of Appeals,
co-publisher Glen Ford has a copy of the Lincoln Review, given to him
by an intense young Black man over a sumptuous lunch at Washington's
posh Mayflower Hotel. A persistent salesman, the fellow sought favorable
coverage of a visit to the U.S. by King Mantanzima, puppet leader of
South Africa's Transkai Bantustan. Ford replied that America's
Black Forum would lose its credibility, audience and sponsors if it
accommodated the King. Well, said the young man, how much would it cost
for South Africa to sponsor ABF? "A million dollars!" laughed
Ford. "That could be arranged," said Ford's host.
Ford is certain
the young man was Armstrong Williams.
Williams is rich
now, totally enmeshed as stakeholder and performer in the interlocking,
spaghetti bowl of secular and Christian Right media. He is an indefatigable
propagandist and organization-man, constantly spinning a web of connections
between himself, the universe of Right foundations and think tanks,
and their overlapping Black front organizations, manufactured at the
drop of a grant. Williams' public relations firm, the Graham Williams
Group, co-founded with Oprah boyfriend Stedman Graham, specializes in
serving "public policy organizations" - the institutional
Right. He is the Hardest Working Man in Ho' Business.
sets the agenda, as well as the tone, of America's Black Forum.
PRA on Lincoln Institute