The disappearing 2004 election
Delousing the Democrats
TV's "Meet the Prejudiced" and "Face the Fool"





Two weekends ago it became apparent that the TV networks have finally lost their minds. We are not talking about the congenitally insane FOX, the Rupert Murdoch spawn from Hell, or MSNBC, now the official Savage Network. Dementia has claimed broadcasting's founding news interview programs: CBS's Face the Nation and NBC's Meet the Press. They are brain dead and unwatchable for any other than morbid purposes.

Network interview programs "create" news from scratch - a function that 's founders put to the service of progressive Black politics when we syndicated television's "America's Black Forum," a generation ago. Sunday news interview shows attempt to "reset" the agenda of public discourse. Corporate media labors continually to drag the public conversation into sync with the political views of their bosses and the rest of the rulers. When the rulers go off the deep end, corporate media leaps out of reality right along with them. The conversation disintegrates into nonsensical blather.

The publishers of long ago abandoned the semi-religious journalists' practice of ruining sleepy Sunday mornings observing the corporate media as they go about setting the narrow parameters of the week's "news" in identical sessions of circular reasoning with interchangeable spokesmen for ruling circles. The untruth would come out soon enough, we reasoned, reflected in the homogenous headlines of the corporate printed press.

Fortunately for , some of our readers keep watch over the TV babblers and report to us when the gibberish becomes particularly alarmingly.

Such was the case on Sunday, February 23. We received two urgent emails, one from a Black couple who had been bludgeoned with the dull weapons of CBS's Bob Schieffer and Time Magazine's Joe Klein, the other from Joseph DiSalle, of New York City. Mr. DiSalle sent us a partial transcript of the offending Meet the Press exchange between host Tim Russert and presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think your fellow Democratic candidates for president, are all of them qualified to be president? Do they have the necessary experience?

REP. GEPHARDT: I think we have a good field. I think I'm going to be the nominee.

MR. RUSSERT: But do you think Al Sharpton is qualified to be president of the United States?

REP. GEPHARDT: Tim, the people decide that, not me, but I'm going to be the nominee. I'm going to win the nomination and I'm going to defeat George Bush in November of 2004.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you take someone like Al Sharpton for vice president?

REP. GEPHARDT: I haven't made that decision yet. I got to win this nomination first, but I'm going to win it.

Mr. Disalle provided commentary on the network inanity:

What did Tim Russert mean? Who is "like Al Sharpton?" After all, certainly in this day and age judging a candidate's qualifications for the job of President or Vice President of the U.S. is not all cut and dried. But the most disturbing question was, " ... would you take someone like Al Sharpton for vice president?"

Who is "like" Al Sharpton?

For that matter, who is "like" anybody? For instance, is Dick Gephardt like Al Gore? Is Gephardt like John Kerry? Or is he like neither because they are Senators while he has always been a US Representative. Perhaps one might say that Gephardt is like Tip O'Neill, each being long time leaders of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives?

So who is Al Sharpton like?

He's a reverend and a committed political activist, so maybe Rev. Sharpton is somewhat like the late Father Philip Berrigan. (For civil disobedience on the island of Vieques, Sharpton was put in jail.) Somehow I do not think that is the comparison Tim Russert meant. But I would like to know. (I wonder if in his whole career Russert had ever mentioned Berrigan in a broadcast?)

Is Al Sharpton like Hillary Clinton? Maybe that is what he meant?


I got it. He meant Al Sharpton is like Dan Quayle. D'ya think?

Jack Kemp?

Geraldine Ferraro??

The Tim Russerts, the Dan Rathers, the Peter Jenningses, the Ted Koppels, the Tom Brokaws do so much to define the political debate and what is worse, establish historical fact. They are the ones that say, "this White Water Story just won't go away..." while at that same time will state, "Iran-Contra has been gone over and over and over again... " But most of the time they act as though they were not present when history was made. They only tell us later, much later that such and such President was able to make people feel good while such and such President was brought down by Iranian students holding Americans hostage for some 400 days....

Yes, the Jennings, the Rathers, will always ask (or tell) for example how Al Gore lost his election, but they never ask how Al Gore was able to win by 600,000+ votes.

More clever minds than mine could do more with this and could find more comparisons "like" the late Philip Berrigan to place beside Al Sharpton. That is why I send it to you. Perhaps you could circulate this to the appropriate people.

There are no more appropriate people than the people, themselves, an influential number of whom visit . Mr. DiSalle is correct - Russert's linkage of the word "like" with "Sharpton" was meant to conjure up negative images of a different complexion than Father Berrigan's. Russert's "like" is better than a code word; it allows both audience and interviewees to fill in the adjectives and react as they wish, while leaving no definitive evidence of the host's prejudice. "Like," indeed. Gephardt was just too slow or scared (his two normal states) to take the bait.

Mr. Alexander G. Hillery, II and Mrs. Nicole M. Austin-Hillery encountered sheer idiocy on the tube, laced with racism. Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer and Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein bantered like guys in ties at the tale end of Happy Hour, accomplishing absolutely nothing except to insult people not of their own race.

This morning we were astonished to hear Joe Klein refer to Reverend Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun, the only two African-American candidates in a crowded Democratic party field, as "buffoons" with "no chance" of becoming President or, presumably, of winning the Democratic nomination for President. We were disturbed, to put it mildly, that Bob Schieffer did not see fit to challenge Mr. Klein's use of such an epithet to describe Mr. Sharpton (who, no matter your opinion of his politics, commands a sizable constituency within the Democratic party) and Ms. Moseley-Braun (who was the first African-American woman elected to the United States Senate in this country's history).

As African-Americans, Americans, and Democrats, we found Mr. Klein's description of the only two African-American Democratic candidates in the Presidential race as "buffoons" to be every bit as offensive and worthy of public condemnation as Senator Trent Lott's infamous comments in praise of the segregationist Dixiecrat candidacy of Strom Thurmond. CBS News and Mr. Klein owe Mr. Sharpton, Ms. Moseley-Braun, African-Americans, and all Americans an apology.

The Hillerys later sent us a transcript, which had Rep. Dennis Kucinich sandwiched in as a "buffoon" between Sharpton and Moseley-Braun. The couple believes they heard the words correctly, but "even if he did include Kucinich, we still find his characterization of Sharpton and Moseley-Braun to be offensive."

Quite right, and more. Aside from conjuring up raw racial imagery, Schieffer and Klein succeeded in using a total of 869 words - the length of a hefty newspaper column - to say: nothing. The insult stands as the only notable, albeit deformed, thought in the entire, extremely expensive exchange. As the reader will discover, the two opinion molders have not a brain between them.

A profound truth lies in the utter emptiness of the Schieffer-Klein discussion. Readers in a hurry to get to the rest of the mail my scroll through the transcript. For those who are hardy enough to experience the black and white vapidity of corporate journalism, please treat the exercise as a challenge: at the end of segment, we dare anyone to cite evidence of human intelligence at Face the Nation.


When it comes to American politics, nobody is more informed, I think, than Joe Klein, the columnist for Time magazine. He's with us here this morning.

Well, Joe, I think we'd better first talk about a little of what we've just heard. You write in your column this week that so much of the campaign, so much of the next election, is going to depend on this war and what happens. You just heard Susan Sarandon. You just heard Mike Farrell. You just heard Rich Lowry. It really underlines what you're saying. There are great differences of opinion about all this.

Mr. JOE KLEIN (Time Magazine): Yeah, there are and they're not going to be resolved. In fact, you know, my sense is that people are kind of getting a little bit grumpy about this because nobody's said anything new really about this war since last fall. And they're waiting for - for what's going to happen next. And I think that that's - you know, I was out in Iowa this week with the Democrats, and I think that's very much the state of - of play with them as well.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you know...

Mr. KLEIN: They're just waiting.

SCHIEFFER: You know, talking about we hadn't heard anything about this since last fall and that was of - of course in the midterm elections, but think back to the previous presidential campaign. In a way it sort of underlines what's happened to our politics. I mean, I can't recall anybody saying much of anything during that campaign that has any relevance to what's happening today. Everybody is talking about, 'Well, everything's changed since 9/11,' but the fact is foreign policy was not on the back burner. It was back in the cupboard. It hadn't even put on the stove during that campaign.

Mr. KLEIN: That - that's - that is precisely right. And - and that had - had been the case since the end of the Cold War which is one of the reasons why Bill Clinton was s - so successful. He ran almost entirely on domestic policy, but now I think you're going to see that foreign policy is going to be at the center of the coming presidential campaign and experience is going to be a very important factor in who the Democrats decide.

And I've got to say, Bob, that, you know, usually at this - at this stage of a campaign, with a whole big field of a lot of candidates, you know, it's easy to look on them as a bunch of dwarfs or buffoons, but the Democrats have some really serious and substantive and - and effective candidates out there. Of course, there's another whole brigade of buffoons that are led by Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley-Braun, none of whom really have a chance to become president, and - and are kind of cluttering up the stage at this point, but there - there are some good, serious candidates out there, too.

SCHIEFFER: Well, talk about one. You write in your column this week about Dick Gephardt. He's obviously been around the track before. And you compare him to macaroni and cheese. What do you mean by that, Joe?

Mr. KLEIN: Oh, yeah. He is - he is - well, you know, you - you listen to him speak. I - I was out in St. Louis for his announcement on Wednesday and he handed out the text to the speech in advance. And it looked like a really good speech. And then about 10 minutes into it, I realized that I was bored.

Listening to him speak sounds like someone trying to walk up the down escalator, but he is a very solid, serious guy. And - and he's playing that. He's saying - you know, he compared himself to a pair of old sneakers this week, and he's gambling that when it all comes down in the next year, people are going to be looking for someone with experience.

And I have to say, Bob, that in all the campaigns I've covered, this one is least in the hands of the candidates and m - and most in the hands of events and fate and things that they can't control. And I think that on both sides - on President Bush's side when the general election comes but also during this primary process - it's going to be all about how the candidates react to the - to the immense and often-shocking events that we're going to see over the next year.

SCHIEFFER: Well, of course, we're a long way from knowing who's it's going to be on the Democratic side. Are you - are you willing to handicap it at this point?

Mr. KLEIN: I am never willing to handicap it. We are never so stupid...

SCHIEFFER: Which is a good thing about you, Joe.

Mr. KLEIN: .... as when we make predictions, but I - I got to say I was at the - the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, meetings in Washington on Friday and Saturday - well, on Friday, and Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont came in and he just blew those people away. It was one of the most effective speeches I've ever seen a candidate give. Now he doesn't have foreign policy experience, but I think that at the very least, he is going to sharpen up the other candidates and he's going to make this a very, very interesting race.

SCHIEFFER: That's very interesting, and I think we'll end on that because I'm going to have a little something to say about that when we come back with a final word in just a minute.

Thank you, Joe Klein.

Mr. KLEIN: My pleasure, Bob.

For generations, African Americans have lamented the fact that we have been left out of the American conversation. It is now clear that much of this conversation is not worthy of our presence, deserving only contempt. As somebody once said, "There is no there there."

Dr. Sharpton's surgical intent

As evidenced by the Face the Nation travesty, the corporate media find words like "buffoon" quite acceptable when applied to Black candidates (or white progressives suspected of cozying up to African Americans.) It is unthinkable that corporate media would use animalistic labels to characterize even the most eccentric, insipid or obnoxious among the powerful.

We also doubt that it has ever crossed the minds of "frontrunner" Democrats Gephardt, Senator John Kerry, and the despicable Senator Joe Lieberman to publicly upbraid CBS's Schieffer for yucking it up with Klein at Black people's expense. At root, these men share with the network babblers the view that both political parties belong to white people, that Blacks are a nuisance. It is this fundamental disloyalty on the part of white Democrats who claim to share a political affinity with Blacks that demands rebuke. It is white racism that threatens the survival of the Democratic Party as a national force, not Rev. Al Sharpton. "If the political house is unwholesome, polluted with the unmistakable odors of white supremacy and Black sycophancy," we wrote in last week's issue of , "African Americans recoil as one body."

Al Sharpton is the personification of "frustration with the national Democratic Party so high among Blacks that one more betrayal will likely spark a massive exit, even if the destination is... nowhere, the negative alternative that has already been chosen by a huge chuck of younger African Americans."

Vik Chaubey tends to agree.

Thanks for the article on Al Sharpton. I believe his candidacy is good for Black America and hopefully he will get people involved who are not now in the process. The Democrats are scared of his candidacy and they even created a candidate, Moseley-Braun, designed to take away votes from Sharpton. Let us support Sharpton. He has flaws but on the whole he is going to create inclusion and that is what we need today.

Clifford E. Bell, of Washington, DC, has a more separatist agenda in mind.

Greetings with "desire for Power." White supremacists have controlled and operated the political parties in the United States of America, Inc. since its inception. So, who will put forth the real solutions, as was done by Marcus Garvey and then, Elijah Muhammad?

Ah, the perpetual Who? Some people Who and When their lives away, oblivious to opportunity, never finding Now.

Reuben Smith can be fairly characterized as... tentative on the matter of Sharpton's challenge.

Anyone who speaks truth to power will be on the white man's list of bad people. Brother Al is one. When the Black Nation wakes up we will understand there's only one party: the White Man's Party of the U.S., two branches.

It would be great if Brother Al and other brothers and sisters had the full support of the Black Nation. (Black folks just don't get it.) This is the time when we could make a statement to ourselves and other people of the country and the world if we would take the lead in a New Political Force. Power is what you make it, if you know what it is.

Steve Schoenberg needs no description because he describes himself.

Thanks for your article in CounterPunch today. I am a white/Green voter, and I am shocked by the gutless reaction of the Democrats to the frauds perpetrated on black voters. If 90,000 soccer moms and yuppie creeps were taken off the voter rolls in Florida for bogus reasons, there would be blood in the streets. But since they were mostly black voters, the Democrats just figured that Bush cheated better than they could. I really believe that (angry) black voters will be the savior of American democracy, if it can be saved at all. I know that we cannot count on the spineless Repub-Lites like Daschle and Gephardt.

What is interesting here is the (growing?) understanding among significant elements of white progressive opinion of the necessity for independent Black political action. Unified action can only come when whites accept the centrality of African Americans in the struggle for social justice. Blacks have always supported white-led political movements and parties in overwhelming numbers. White reciprocity has been episodic, at best.

In this context, consider Paula Alkaitis' letter.

I think it's time that black Americans start their own party. They always stood for everything that is decent in this country, they have always been the real democrats.

I am a white woman, but I can guarantee you that I will vote for such a party in no time flat. So will my husband and so will lots of other white people. We as democrats all know that there is no such thing as a democratic party anymore. We are all angry and mad as hell.

It's the second palace coup that I have witnessed in this country. The first one was when all the black leaders and Kennedy were murdered, then now with this administration. This country feels more and more like a third world country living under a dictatorship, and you know its not going to get any better soon. Until something extremely drastic happens we are pretty much into a downfall.

So with that, you might as well start your own party: "The All American Party", I even have a name for it. If all black Americans stay home from the voting booth during the next election, it will be such a scare because then its Republicans all the way, you will have more people that will join your party than you can handle!

Think about it, I know you can do it.

We will be presumptuous and venture that what Ms. Alkaitis is talking about is not a Black political party, but one in which Blacks assert leadership commensurate with their participation and commitment to a just society - which clearly does not describe the present state of the Democratic Party.

The institutional obstacle to an inclusive, progressive Democratic Party is the Rightist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the party's Republican wing currently led by Joe Lieberman. Anita Johnson wonders why he keeps hanging around.

Joe Lieberman should have walked across the aisle a long time ago. I was appalled that he was on the ticket with Gore.

The DLC's paralyzing grip on the Democrats led to the midterm election debacle, last November. This primary season, the price of cohabitation with the "crypto-racist" Lieberman will be far higher. As we wrote:

Al Sharpton will not tolerate the influence, much less nomination, of Lieberman, the standard bearer for all that is wrong with the Democratic Party. Sharpton will treat Lieberman as the Republican that he is, methodically "outing" the devious crypto-racist in terms that no amount of corporate media ridicule and distortion can obscure. It is at that point, in the heat of foreign conflict and domestic anxiety, that the Black public will approach a sea change in their perception of the Democratic Party.

White former Democrat Adam Engel, a political writer from New York City, is a man in flux.

I gave up on the Democrats in 2000 and became a "stoplight Green" (if I can't vote red I'll vote green but never yellow). Nevertheless, at a rally for Nader in Madison Square Garden, October, 2000, I couldn't help but notice that most of the people there were either white college students or 30-something white "professionals" like my wife and myself. Where were the people of color?

I'm not wedded to the Green Party or any other party. If black leadership can find a way out of this Republicrat gridlock in the form of a third party alliance with the Greens, or even a "fourth" party, I'll follow. Anything but business as usual as exemplified by Lieberman and the DLC.

The answer to Mr. Engel's question, "Where were the people of color?" is quite simple: in the Democratic Party, along with nearly 10,000 of their elected officials. In many jurisdictions and in terms of voter participation, the Democratic Party is essentially a Black party, although most often not consciously or effectively so. To the extent that Sharpton's candidacy serves to energize these voters and responsive Black officeholders, the party's local structures hold value. They are the fruits of a great investment by African Americans. It is the national party that is in acute crisis, and may prove itself unworthy of Black support. Only reconciliation with "Sharptonized" Democrats can save it.

We used that term in our March 6 commentary to describe a Black body politic that is in rebellion against racism and war, and whose leadership rightly presumes to act as prime movers in a national transformation.

Alice Copeland Brown, of Canton, Massachusetts, remembers such an act of leadership.

As I listen to growing incidents of our move away from democracy, I think back to the day when the Black Caucus walked out on the horrible site of a President being illegally seated. What made me nauseated was the smirk on al Gore's face as they did. He was watching some of his most ardent supporters take an act of conscience against this Bush mob who had stolen the Florida election and he smiled!!!! Black people know how hypocritical our government can be, and it is to them that I look to be brave and give us leadership. Kerry is too busy equivocating to lead. Unfortunately, Sharpton has a lot of baggage to overcome.

The Black Caucus can take back the horrible mistake of giving this monster-in-chief carte blanche to have my son, a major in Kuwait, killed. You know that African-Americans represent a higher percentage of cannon fodder in the military than any other racial group, and that means they will take more deaths both in the carnage in Iraq, and the occupation to follow. No conquered people will take mildly the occupation of their land by our troops. Can you blame them? We need to act now, in Martin Luther King's example of Civil Disobedience to take to the streets and let the rest of the country know, this war is IMMORAL.

Vanishing rights, disappearing people

"Patriot II is the perfect tool to 'disappear' any number of human beings for any reason to any place for any length of time." Our March 6 commentary, "In the Time of Disappeared People: Patriot II Means Permanent National Emergency" noted that the draft legislation - which the Bush men sought to keep secret until after "shock and awe" had exploded over Iraq and the world - "destroys the very meaning of citizenship, allowing its arbitrary revocation based on secret evidence, thereby rendering the Constitution a nullity. It is a careful design to abolish the rule of law."

Russ Ellis, of Berkeley, California, points to another possible item on the Bush agenda.

Thank you for the fine commentary on the probable intent and outcome of Patriot Act II.

For your editorial consideration, I would like to propose to you that PA II is there to forestall the necessity of a presidential election in 2004.


The Wise man

Veteran anti-racist writer and activist Tim Wise's March 6 piece, "Fear, Loathing and Laura Bush: Reflections on the Functions of Mass Panic," noted the irony of the First Lady's public abhorrence of the national fears that her own husband works mightily to generate. Said Wise:

Fear always serves the interests of elites. Throughout history they have sought to identify dangers from which they insist their subjects must be protected: witches, Jewish financiers, Papists, freemasons, Indians, immigrants, atheists, communists, drug dealers, rebellious slaves, the Mafia, the Black Panthers, jazz, rock and roll and now rap music, the "homosexual lifestyle," satanic ritual abuse, day care operators who molest children, and now Muslim terrorists.

Laura Bush's husband's constant cultivation and manipulation of fear is "what pays her house note." Ella Baccouche got a kick out of that.

Mr. Wise surely has the right last name. An extremely well-written article revealing the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of another White House resident. The historical examples of how fear was and is used to maintain the "elite class" were right on point. The well-timed infusion of humor made me burst into laughter, calling on anyone nearby to come and listen.

We need analyses like this to keep the "bogeyman" (another form of chaos) in perspective. And, it is so true! We will never be able to see our common interests and form meaningful relationships with one another as long as these illusory fear clouds are looming overhead by magicians (government and the media that supports it) greedy to create and implement policies which in any other world (without the element of fear) would seem fascist. Keep up the good work!

Our favorite Tim Wise line is, "Simply put, were it not for Laura Bush's husband and his henchmen raising the red flag every time bin Laden farts there would be no news to exaggerate."

Prodigal brother

Van Furlough (as in "leave of absence") dropped a note to us from Alpine elevations, where a brother can find himself missing things he once didn't know he had.

I am pleased to find your page on the web. I currently reside in Switzerland and at times feel isolated from my fellow African-Americans. Your commentary is encouraging. Keep up the great work!

Jennifer Kotter, on the other hand, feels the atmosphere in the U.S.A. is getting a little too close.

I only wish I had discovered you sooner. Your articles are a breath of fresh air in this very stuffy country.

Vernon McClean invokes the Deity, Herself - which gives us comfort.

You do a great service to our community. Thank the Goddess for your magazine.

We need it.

Finally, Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD FAAP, writes from Modesto, California.

I've been reading the Black Commentator for the last several weeks. You all are so on point, so consistently excellent. You are an invaluable source of information. I especially enjoyed Dr. Sonja Ebron's commentary ["Why African Americans Should Oppose The War," February 27] as well as the links.

My own secret desire is that someday there could be an edition for the younger reader (as in elementary school). I am looking for progressive reading sources for my 6 year old (Scholastics News and Nickelodeon are not exactly helping my child's world view).

There are times, in fact, that we at feel quite juvenile. However, we fear that we make poor role models for the innocent young.

Readers with appropriate titles to recommend to Dr. Poinsett and child can send them to us. We'll pass them along.

Keep writing.

Meet the Press, February 23 (Includes interview with Rep. Dick Gephardt, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and others.)

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Issue Number 32
March 6, 2003

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Other commentaries in this issue:

All About Clarence:Self-loathing on the High Court

The Issues
Condoleezza vs Schwarzenegger for Senate... Africa’s "Right to Health"... Turks: "Stick it up your backside"

Persistent Peril: Why African American babies have the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world By Ziba Kashef, ColorLines RaceWire

Commentaries in Issue 31 February 27, 2003:

Commentary 1
Al Sharpton’s Battle to Transform the Democrats

Commentary 2
In the Time of Disappeared People - Patriot II means Permanent National Emergency

The Issues
Clarence Thomas and his Latino clone... The dollar's global death-grip... Bush must co-sign for Turkey money

Dying for the almighty dollar... The "new" Colin Powell... The Moseley-Braun - Sharpton debate

Guest Commentary
Fear, Loathing and Laura Bush: Reflections on the Functions of Mass Panic - By Tim Wise

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.