NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This will be the column in which I do not bash, criticize or diss Louis Farrakhan, who gave the opening address at the National Association of Black Journalists convention here three days ago.
Mind you, my good buddy Farrakhan said much that I could bash, criticize and diss him for. His minions subjected NABJ members to a body search before they entered the exhibit hall where the Nation of Islam leader gave his speech.
"Empty your pockets of everything except your loose change," a swaggering NOI member said before we entered the exhibit hall. "No guns, no knives, no contraband." As if a group of professional journalists were going to be packing gats and shanks.
Farrakhan then arrived 30 minutes late, excoriated NABJ members for being too chicken-hearted to support him when the "white media" accuse him of anti-Semitism and boldly asserted that if white America removed him from the scene, black Americans would be totally lost.
He loves freedom of the press and democracy, Farrakhan said. That's a truly frightening thought. He loves black journalists, a truly terrifying thought. Libyan leader Muammar el Kadafi has offered him a gift of $1 billion, which he hopes the U.S. government will allow him to receive.
He rambled on some 30 minutes past his allotted speaking time. He implied, once again, that someone other than a Nation of Islam hit squad assassinated Malcolm X in 1965.
Oh yes, Louis Farrakhan deserves a good verbal blasting unprecedented in the annals of journalism, but you won't read it here. My ire is reserved for the folks who deserve it -- those spineless NABJ members who let Farrakhan get away with such nonsense and refused to ask him the questions his statements should have prompted.
During what was laughingly referred to as a question-and-answer period after Farrakhan's speech, these so-called journalists lobbed softball questions at him of this sort:
1. How much independence does the Final Call, the Nation of Islam newspaper, have?
2. Do you plan to run for president?
3. How can we get NOI ministers to talk to us?
4. How do you deal with the pressures of being a national figure?
Afi-Odelia Scruggs, a columnist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I were standing in line together. We hoped the folks ahead of us would get this nonsense over with so that we could ask our questions.
Scruggs wanted to ask the minister about the lack of follow-up on the Million Man March. I had more than a few questions to ask the minister, including:
1. Did you say that if slavery did exist in the Sudan, the people of the southern Sudan were very black and primitive and the people of the north look like African-Americans and practice Islam? Isn't that the same reasoning white European Christians used to justify slavery?
2. The NABJ has held 20 previous conventions without the need for body searches. What do today's body searches say about what you think of black journalists in particular and black people in general?
3. You implied Gil Lewthwaite and I lied about slavery in the Sudan. Aren't you being a little dishonest when you imply that someone other than Nation of Islam members killed Malcolm X?
Speaking of lying, that Khartoum regime you support has told some stretchers of its own. The regime lies repeatedly, compulsively and when it's not even necessary. While Lewthwaite and I were in Sudan, the regime sent a report to the BBC claiming that rebel leader John Garang had been killed by one of his own men. This is the same John Garang that Sun editors talked to a little more than a month ago. He looked in fine fettle. What is your opinion of Khartoum's passion for prevarication and why do you continue to give it knee-jerk support?
4. Has there been an audit of the money collected at the Million Man March?
5. What is your response to the Chicago Tribune series about the Nation of Islam's financial woes?
6. Your ego, growing exponentially, allowed you to say if the "white folks" removed you, the rest of us would be in trouble. Since black folks survived much worse conditions before you arrived, isn't it a safe bet to assume we'll survive when you're gone?
7. Since you love democracy, why did you visit three countries -- Libya, Nigeria and Sudan -- whose governments came to power by military coup?
8. Do those three countries have a free press?
9. Is the proposed $1 billion Kadafi gift the reason you continue to deny the existence of slavery in the Sudan?
But I never got to ask my questions. Nor did Scruggs. Questioning was cut off some 15 minutes before the session was scheduled to end. Farrakhan insulted a group of black journalists, who then gave him a standing ovation.
You have to wonder how they would have responded had he gone up to each one individually and kicked in his or her teeth.
Pub Date: 8/24/96