Bigots and journalists

February 07, 1994|By A. M. Rosenthal

A "news" story in Time magazine declares that fighting black anti-Semitism by asking black leaders to stand against it is a way of "enforcing racial correctness" and, "it might be argued, is just another kind of bigotry."

Yes, that is what Time actually says. Page 37, issue dated today.

In its news section is a story about how an anti-Semitic speech made by a "semi-obscure" spokesman of the Nation of Islam before just a "few dozen" college students is made into a big deal. It becomes pressure against "black leaders across the country," and that "rankles" with "some" blacks. It comes at a bad time for black-Jewish relations, says Time, particularly in New York, always "fretting" about race.

Then the "news story" discloses "how it works" -- first the speech, then the columnists A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times and Richard Cohen of the Washington Post call for black leaders to "repudiate" the speech. Then the Anti-Defamation League prints the speech in an ad.

Then black leaders, "feeling the heat," begin the "ritual of condemnation and racial correctness." Got it? Jews whip it up and blacks have to bow.

Journalistically, enough said of Time's staff writer, his assisting reporters and their assorted editors. Professionally, the article is worth noting simply as a warning to other magazines, newspapers and TV news programs: This is what can come out when "news stories" are allowed to cross over into editorialization by choice of words, angling and stacking. Politicization, distortion, ethical junk. So: vigilance, all!

But the story also reflects something else: the sickeningly condescending attitude of so many whites, and some blacks too, toward black intelligence, independence, individualism and honor.

Not a word did Time print to indicate that it ever crossed its collectivized-journalism mind that black leaders who denounced the speech really might despise it, that maybe they stood up because they liked that stance in life.

Time-team saw them simply surrendering to pressure. Time Warner: Could it be that tells more about the story's perpetrators than about the black leaders?

The speech brought black condemnation after it reached print in news stories -- real ones, T.W. -- the opinion columns clearly marked as such and in the ADL ad.

But that's no plot, son. It is how journalism exposes bigotry. What would happen to America if journalism, other than Time, decided that to point out bigotry was itself bigotry?

And that correctness bit -- cute, but come on, team, those of us who insist on fighting bigotry are usually lifetime opponents of political correctness and its lifetime targets, as surely know Time and staff writer.

On Feb. 3, the real Feb. 3, Mr. Farrakhan slapped custard all over Time's face. He himself showed the importance of exposing bigots. After black leaders denounced his aide and his vicious anti-Semitism, Mr. Farrakhan fired the fellow and said his language was "repugnant." But he stood by the "truths" the said aide spoke.

Since those "truths" were a foul mess of religious and racial trash, Mr. Farrakhan's weaseling moves me no more than his earlier announcement that he would play a violin piece by Mendelssohn.

I hope that the statements against the viciousness of Mr. Farrakhan's man by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP lead them to a public evaluation of the dangers of the Nation of Islam itself.

The country needs a full African-American expose of how the Nation of Islam injects poison into the U.S. by constant spewing of separatism, hatred of whites, Asians, Judaism, Catholicism -- and its attacks against African-Americans who oppose it.

Already among some Americans and in the press, there is a kind of mumblemouthed acceptance of Mr. Farrakhan and his organization. It goes: Well, maybe he is an anti-Semite, and that's not nice, but think about his good work among drug addicts and his speeches about black self-responsibility. You have to admire that, don't you?

No, we don't, not any more than we admired Nazism's economic success or Stalin's vacations for assembly-line champions. Do we still have to learn that hatred stinks, even when it perfumes its armpits?

A.M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

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