The Character Assassination Squad


December 16, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Not since the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy have I seen a more sickening smear job than the one the right-wing media is trying to do on Dr. Johnnetta Cole, the education coordinator of the Clinton transition team.

The morbidly right-wing Human Events magazine, the unconscionably reactionary Washington Times, and now columnists Evans and Novak are spewing forth innuendoes that might make foolish Americans think Dr. Cole was or is a communist enemy of her country.

This distinguished anthropologist and president of Spelman College in Atlanta is accused of once having ''linkage with the extremist left,'' of ''supporting communist dictatorships and the Soviet-front U.S. Peace Council,'' and of belonging ''to the Havana-sponsored Venceramos Brigade.'' The shameful implication is that President-elect Clinton has turned the future of American education over to some black female traitor.

I know Dr. Cole. I talked to her Monday. And to the chairman of the board that hired her as president at Spelman. So let me state some facts:

* Johnnetta Cole is a black activist humanitarian who, as she emphasized to me, is not a communist and never has been one.

I say that she is being attacked now because she saw chances of peace with the Soviet Union long before Ronald Reagan and George Bush embraced Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and before Mr. Bush and that all-parties guru Bob Strauss began to plead for U.S. economic aid to Boris Yeltsin and Russia.

Is it traitorous for an educator of conscience to be smarter than politicians?

* Johnnetta Cole did work with the U.S. Peace Council, and also with the national committee of the Venceramos Brigade. She did encourage idealistic American youth to go to Cuba to build houses and otherwise help to strengthen the poor people of that society. As an anthropologist, she did her University of Massachusetts sabbatical in Cuba.

* Dr. Cole and President-elect Clinton disagree on the wisdom, politically, strategically and morally, of isolating a neighbor nation such as Cuba. However much Mr. Clinton knows of this disagreement, he did not think it disqualified her to give leadership and direction to desperately-needed changes in American education.

It is clear to me that forces distraught because they could not defeat Mr. Clinton at the polls are now trying to wound him with attacks on Dr. Cole. I note that some of the same people attacking this black woman have been assailing Hillary Clinton as ''a PLO sympathizer.'' Disgusting!

A point to note is that every ''fact'' now cited about the past, ''the background,'' of Dr. Cole was submitted in almost-boring detail to the board of trustees at Spelman when she was being considered for president.

Robert Holland, the board chairman, told me Monday: ''We looked at her activism for peace, her stand on Cuba, and everything else in her record and concluded that she was the best possible president for Spelman. She is revered by Spelman's students, faculty, alumnae. We on the board hope she will be president of Spelman for at least ten years, or until she gets a higher calling.''

In black America, which is so desperate for inspired help and leadership in education, Johnnetta Cole is regarded as a national treasure. I and millions of other black people are offended, outraged, by this campaign to portray her as something other than the wise patriot that she is.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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