The corporate media's true function in the American political system was never more clear than in the May 5 edition of the New York Times. Adam Nagourney, a senior political reporter trusted to represent the newspaper's professional values, began his "Political Memo" piece:

The first Democratic presidential debate of the campaign, for all its racket and disarray, served to divide the field into two distinct camps. Each embraced a strikingly different appeal to a party that campaign aides describe as hungry to remove President Bush from office, yet deeply worried about its chances for victory next year.

Nagourney then proceeded to delineate the opposing Democratic camps, comprising six of the nine candidates: Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Dean and Graham. In over 1,000 words, Nagourney not only failed to once mention the names Al Sharpton, Carole Moseley-Braun or Dennis Kucinich, he did not indicate in any manner that the three candidates existed on the planet Earth! The two Blacks and one lefty white did not rate even a throwaway line about the "others" vying for primary votes. The fact that they lived and breathed was not deemed fit to print - an amazing but honest exposition of the world as it should be in the judgment of the New York Times and corporate media, in general.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos didn't have the Soviet-style option to erase Sharpton, Moseley-Braun and Kucinich from the Columbia, South Carolina broadcast: there was Rev. Al and his hair, rivaling Stephanopoulos' own in grandeur, Moseley-Braun's singular feminine presence, and the insistently specific Kucinich, an exceedingly competent talker. So, the corporate host for the people's election event did the next best thing, relentlessly framing the discussion as if only the views of the six "mainstream" white men counted - the same Chosen Ones that populated Nagourney's narrow Democratic universe.

At every opportunity, the ABC operative steered the discourse to personality or character themes, such as the "who is fit to be commander-in-chief of the world's superpower" dustup between Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Sharpton's admonition, "Republicans are watching" followed by Florida Sen. Bob Graham's quip on the Stephanopoulos-instigated spat were actually complaints that the host was using up everyone else's time to pursue his own teledrama agenda.

Both showbiz ABC and the pretentious, pseudo-cerebral New York Times achieved the same result by different styles: Black and progressive opinion was diminished or eliminated. That's corporate media's political function.

Thus, Rep. Dick Gephardt's proposal to cancel Bush's tax cuts to the rich and funnel the money, instead, to insurance companies to provide something resembling national health care, garnered frequent references. Kucinich's co-sponsorship of Rep. John Conyers' HR 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Bill, disappeared from the conversation immediately upon passing Kucinich's lips.

Moseley-Braun repeatedly called for repeal of the Patriot Act (""People are disappearing in this country for the first time."), a subject of little interest to ABC's man, or to The Chosen.

Sharpton was doubly slighted: ignored when possible, and certainly never challenged to fill out the details of his program. The man who should finish at least second in the South Carolina primary was treated like someone trying out for Amateur Hour. Tolerated but never elevated, Sharpton got off lines such as, "We're talking about billions of dollars to occupy Iraq when we don't have the dollars to take care of the 50 states that we occupy." Cute, Rev. Al, Stephanopoulos seemed to grin.

Lieberman encouraging white GOP crossover

The debate should leave not a shred of doubt that Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is running as a straightforward Republican in South Carolina. "We are not going to solve these problems with the kinds of big spending Democratic ideas of the past," he said, even more slowly than usual and for full effect. South Carolina is an open primary state, where Republicans can cross party lines to vote in the Democratic primary. believes Lieberman is counting on Al Sharpton to activate a sizeable number of Palmetto rednecks to cross the room to vote against the loudmouth Black man. It would not require a white Republican stampede such as overwhelmed Cynthia McKinney last summer in Georgia's open congressional primary to push Lieberman to the top of the white pile, in February, making him the odds-on favorite among The Chosen. Just a few percentage points from the crossovers would suffice.

South Carolina whites are keenly aware that Blacks made up more than half the state's electorate in 2000. The racist white majority votes against Blacks, rather than for their own interests. Lieberman is positioning himself as the Great White Hope. Like Bush Republicans, he has learned to kiss Black babies at churches - but it's the kiss of death.

Carole Moseley-Braun is doing exactly the right thing: running as the only woman in the field. She should pick up significant feminist support - that is, a large proportion of her small vote, should she remain in the race, is likely to be from white women. It is therefore important that observers not measure her numbers as automatically indicative of Black political opinion.

North Carolina contemplates death

The North Carolina Senate surprised itself, voting to impose a two-year moratorium on the death penalty - the first state in Dixie to do so. It was the first time either chamber of the state legislature had tackled the issue. Some lawmakers emerged from the 29 - 21 vote seeming "a bit stunned," according to the Associated Press. North Carolina's death row population is the sixth largest in the nation, with 202 condemned residents. Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird managed to convince several pro-death colleagues to support a two-year period study of the impact of race, geography and wealth on the executions process. "This period of time will not take anybody off death row unless they're innocent or need a new trial," she said. "All we're doing is saying there are many questions that need to be answered." The state House of Representatives has yet to consider the measure.

It's who you kill that determines life or a death sentence, according to a report released last month by Amnesty International. Although Blacks and whites kill each other in about equal numbers, people who murder whites are far more likely to be put to death. Four out of five of the 845 persons executed since 1977 were convicted of killing whites.

An Illinois study found juries were three times more likely to sentence a person to death if the victim were white rather than black, one of the factors that prompted former Governor George Ryan to commute 167 death sentences, in January.

The Amnesty study also found that one of five condemned Blacks were tried by juries including no African Americans. Forty-one percent of the nation's death row inmates are Black.

For an exhaustive compilation of everything you ever wanted to know about the death penalty as practiced in the U.S., see "Death by Discrimination - the continuing role of race in capital case," Amnesty International.

Hammering resident aliens

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late last month that legal aliens convicted of crimes can be held without bond, even while they challenge their deportation hearings. The case involved a Korean immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1984 at the age of six. Twelve years later and by now a permanent resident, Hyung Joon Kim was convicted of petty theft. The day after Kim's release from a California prison, immigration agents seized and held him without bond under a 1996 law mandating deportation for immigrant lawbreakers. The High Court majority ruled that no-bail deportations do not violate the constitutional right to due process - for non-citizens.

Civil liberties forces see an ominous pattern of constitutional interpretation emanating from the U.S. Justice Department - a blurring of the lines between citizens and non-citizens, combined with a narrowing to the vanishing point of illegal aliens' rights to due process.

Attorney General John Ashcroft last month acted to envelope immigration law in his ever-widening national security mandate, declaring that illegal immigrants can be locked up indefinitely without bond if a national security risk exists. The risk would be assessed by - Ashcroft's Justice Department.

Ashcroft chose to invoke broader powers in the case of 18-year-old Haitian David Joseph, who was rounded up after washing ashore near Miami along with 200 other boat people on October 29. Ashcroft jumped into the affair when a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) judge determined that the teenager posed no threat to the community and should be released on $2,500 bond in the custody of an uncle legally residing in the area.

Blanket national security powers

That's my jurisdiction, said Ashcroft, citing national security concerns to override the BIA. The Attorney General's writ, said a Justice Department spokesperson, "will serve as a binding precedent on BIA judges for other cases where national security interests are presented by the Department of Homeland Security."

Ashcroft has taken upon himself the power to disappear the thin constitutional protections afforded new arrivals on these shores, simply by saying the magic words, "national security." Eleanor Acer, director of the asylum program at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said Ashcroft's new doctrine deprives "large numbers of asylum seekers of the chance to prove to an immigration judge that they, in their individual cases, present no risk to national security and merit release on bond."

Just as ominously, Ashcroft invented a "terror" connection that few in Miami's Little Haiti have ever heard about, claiming that Haiti has become a staging point for Pakistani, Palestinian and other "suspect" aliens to enter the U.S. Not just the locals, but U.S. State Department diplomats are also "scratching their heads" over the new claim. Consular Service spokesman Stuart Patt told the Miami Herald, "We are asking each other, 'Where did they get that?'"

The Bush men make up law and facts from whole cloth. In Haiti's case, it's easy to lie because the objects of persecution are Black. Said Black Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek, "This is outright discrimination and racism by this Bush administration. There is justice in America for everybody but Haitians. Someone needs to call the president and let him know we are at war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and not the Haitian people.''

Ashcroft "ridiculous"

On Capital Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus was attempting to gain support for lifting the U.S. aid embargo against Haiti, whose government has for at least two years been targeted for "regime change." Ashcroft's manufacture of Middle Eastern and South Asian connections to the island outraged the Black lawmakers. California Rep. Diane Watson said she was "appalled by the unsubstantiated allegations made by the United States Attorney General."

What a ridiculous statement. I would ask him, has he been there, Mr. Attorney General? If not, he needs to go. He needs to scour every single part of that island nation. After what he is going to see he will be declaring another war, and that is on poverty, on starvation, on the fact that the people there have nothing; and we are allowing that to continue in this hemisphere.

Even the State Department's consular officers and officials are puzzled by his remarks. Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for Ashcroft's office, could not immediately say where the Attorney General got the information. Martinez then directed inquiries to the Department of Homeland Security, and a Homeland Security spokeswoman redirected questions right back to Martinez.

Mr. Speaker, according to the State Department, Haiti is not on the United States' terrorist watch list. Why is, then, the Justice Department and the State Department, amending its list?

The current U.S. policy towards Haiti is one that discourages travel between the two countries. There is a de facto embargo on loans and grants from the multilateral development banks. Assistance from the United States Government has been put on hold in order to leverage change in the present political structure of the Haitian Government ....

It is time to stop this war on Haiti. External aid is essential to the future economic development of this nation. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries since the 1980s. Mr. Speaker, we cannot let our neighbor continue in this downward spiral.

There can be no national security emergency regime unless white America is driven into a racist frenzy against non-whites, at home and abroad. Black is the color of the Permanent Enemy. Ashcroft is pressing the white buttons.

(For more on Haiti, see "When Major Powers Stage a Coup," by Randall Robinson, April 24, and "Is the U.S. Funding Haitian 'Contras'?" by Kevin Pina, April 3.)

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Issue Number 41
May 8, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
Bush's Harvest of Shame - One Million Black Children in Extreme Poverty

Welfare Safety Net

Black Spinelessness in High Places: DC Mayor sells out on vouchers - for nothing!

The forbidden word, revealed... Enduring effects of "deep racism"... Can love bloom in the White House?

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Commentaries in Issue 40 May 1, 2003:

Cover Story
"How You Gonna Export Something You Ain’t Even Got At Home?" - By Paul Street

Shock and Awe USA

Treat Corporate Media Like the Enemy - and no free pass for Black radio

The Issues
Sharpton: Going the distance with low finance... JC Watts, in it for the money... Section 8 housing threatened... The doomed occupation

Run Black, or don’t run at all... Condoleezza cartoon insults women... Conspiracies of the many against the few... Peace of the Shaman

Guest Commentary
The Lena Baker Story: Execution in a small town - By Lela Bond Phillips

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