Media's rush to condemn Farrakhan raises concern

June 04, 2000|By Gregory Kane

MINISTER Carlos Muhammad sat behind his desk on the second floor of Muhammad's Mosque No. 6 on Garrison Boulevard, just down the street from Liberty Heights Avenue.

He paused for only a second when the question was put to him: What, exactly, is the media's motive for rehashing the issue of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's "involvement" in the assassination of Malcolm X?

"I think Minister Farrakhan being the leader he is, is the main reason," Muhammad responded. "His influence has warranted those in high places to bring out things that are false. It's to stop the progress the Nation of Islam has made."

Muhammad was responding to the now-notorious "60 Minutes" interview Mike Wallace conducted with Farrakhan and Attallah Shabazz, the oldest daughter of Malcolm X, a man the NOI leader says he once loved like a brother.

The two parted ways in 1964, when Malcolm X left the NOI and accused then-leader Elijah Muhammad of sexual improprieties with several secretaries. A squad from the Newark, N.J., mosque assassinated Malcolm X on Feb. 21, 1965.

Farrakhan was in Newark that day. When Wallace asked Farrakhan why, Carlos Muhammad says, the CBS newsman talked over Farrakhan's response. So some viewers might not have heard Farrakhan explain that he was rotating as minister between Boston and Newark. He was in Newark because NOI leaders in Chicago had ordered him to be there.

NOI leaders in Chicago plotted Malcolm X's assassination, according to the FBI files. If they ordered Farrakhan to be in Newark on Feb. 21, 1965, then it looks as if they were trying to set him up to take the fall for Malcolm X's death.

Those NOI leaders so far have escaped blame for the assassination. Among them were Raymond Sharieff, Elijah Muhammad's son-in-law; John Ali, the national secretary, who some say had become so powerful even Elijah Muhammad was leery of him; and Elijah's sons, Herbert Muhammad and Elijah Jr., who had publicly ordered male members to cut out Malcolm X's tongue and send it to him.

One of those men, some have contended, is the FBI informant who met with assassin Talmadge Hayer the night before the killing. It's hard to believe the two didn't discuss the assassination. It's even harder to believe mainstream journalists haven't pursued that story in 35 years.

"The government has to live up to its role and responsibility in the counterintelligence program under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover," Carlos Muhammad said Wednesday. He echoed the sentiments of many who say that when it comes to leveling blame for the death of Malcolm X, the FBI has far more culpability than Farrakhan.

"The FBI did a good cover-up job," Muhammad continued, "but they can't get around it. We have documents. Anybody can go to the Internet and pull up documents about FBI surveillance of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad and Farrakhan."

But surveillance isn't all the FBI did. It took credit for causing the split between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. Even after the FBI knew certain leaders were plotting an assassination, its agents tried to worsen the feud. Not once did they turn their evidence over to local police and say, "You might be able to nail these guys on conspiracy to commit murder."

It was probably the worst abuse of government power this century. And, Carlos Muhammad would like to remind folks, the media was part of it. That may explain why Farrakhan and his followers mistrust the media to this day. We media types haven't looked too good in this episode.

"We asked the Associated Press not to release [Farrakhan's] statement until the interview aired," Muhammad said. "They jumped the gun and put this out there, and this was totally false."

Muhammad was referring to the headline that ran in many newspapers about Farrakhan having a "role" in or "admitting complicity" in the assassination of Malcolm X.

All Farrakhan said in the "60 Minutes" interview is what he has been saying for at least five years now: that by writing that Malcolm X was "worthy of death," he contributed to the climate that led to the assassination.

That Farrakhan quote is from a Muhammad Speaks article in December 1964. It was accompanied by a Eugene Majied cartoon that showed Malcolm X's severed head bouncing toward a cemetery. The cartoon was at least as inflammatory, probably more, than Farrakhan's comments. But the media keep harping on Farrakhan's culpability. You don't have to be an NOI member, or even like the organization, to be suspicious of that.

"None of us should be so quick to believe the media or the government when they've shown they have not been friends to the black community," Carlos Muhammad concluded. "Minister Farrakhan's 47-year record shows he has been a friend to us."

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