Wednesday, March 1, 2006

What Constitutes Hate Speech to Mary Mitchell?

In an effort to promote racial peace, this city—and nation—has been giving Minister Louis Farrakhan a great deal of slack: too much. Whenever he goes on a tirade, blasting “Hollywood Jews” for being responsible for debasing the culture, the media print it, show it on TV and seem to simply say, “That’s good old Louis, saying his thing.” It’s been a dirty secret that the media publishes him out of excessive timidity because they believe he represents much of the average African Americans’ views. But that is in itself a slur to blacks. Suppose a white revivalist minister hauled off and shouted at “Hollywood Jews” for producing disreputable films: the media would be all over him in a minute, linking his words to others: Falwell and Robertson etc. But Farrakhan gets away with it and all of us have to hunker down and take it because the media believe his views are representative, without any box-score of what African Americans believe.

Not long ago, Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed a representative of Farrakhan to, of all things, the state commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes. She is Claudette Marie Muhammad, who carries the impressive title (as all Farrakhan’s employees seem to) of Chief of Protocol for the Nation of Islam. Because the media are politically correct in this town—more so than in many other places—there was no stir or mention of the irony of a Farrakhan staffer being on a commission devoted to ending hate talk.

Then Farrakhan himself engaged in a multi-hour harangue Sunday at what was billed as a “Sunday’s Saviours Day Conference” whatever that is: an opportunity for Farrakhan to work himself into a lather and for the amen corner to rise up with clenched fists and shout huzzas. He lashed out again at what he calls “Hollywood Jews” for “promoting lesbianism, homosexuality” and charged that “Zionists manipulated President Bush into war.” If that isn’t a form of hate, I don’t know what is. I’m not advocating he be silenced but when the governor names his staff member to a commission formed to combat hate, there is room for legitimate criticism. As indeed it has come from one Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

All of this is grist for the mill, but what is stunning is a column by Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times. I’m not saying the column should have been spiked but its publication shows that editors at the paper are intimidated to give fulsome attention to views by an African American, even when she spouts nonsense, rather than face a charge that her views were edited. Mitchell is usually sensible but on Feb. 28 she says that were Muhammad, who invited her colleagues to the Farrakhan address, kicked off the board those who do it would be guilty of “cowardice”. Huh? O.k., that’s her opinion, even if logically unjustifiable.

Then her column veers to the point of agreeing with Nasatir that Farrakhan has actually “espoused hate.” Mitchell: “I’m not going to argue that point.” Huh? Now we’ve got a columnist who says kicking off Muhammad would be cowardly even if she supports Farrakhan who espoused hate. Get that for a neat contradiction. Following which Mitchell reports Farrakhan’s statement that Zionists maneuvered Bush into the Iraq war, a charge that is never backed up. Is Rumsfeld a Zionist? Cheney? Rice? The Joint Chiefs of Staff? You can argue that some neo-conservative think-tank experts have endorsed Iraq, some of whom have been Jewish, some not. That’s the end of any respectable argument. Unaccountably, Mitchell resurrects the Ku Klux Klan, arguing rightly that Farrakhan isn’t as bad as it. (No, but is that a recommendation?) Now, zigging and zagging, Mitchell says “if the commission members want to condemn Farrakhan anew as an anti-Semite, that is their call”—zig. “But Muhammad should not be banned from that body because she represents the Nation of Islam”—zag.

There’s cowardice here, all right, but it’s not those who might be tempted to remove Muhammad. But it’s not Mitchell who is good because she wears her emotionalism on her sleeve. But cowardice is the way to label her intellectually flabby editors who printed Mitchell without worrying about the contradictions, evidently fearful that if they utter a criticism they will be regarded as anti-black. The same people who allow Carol Marin to express outrage at certain corruption, yet feel tender toward Democrat Joe Cari who got caught; people who allow bubble-gum popping Cathleen Falsani to blast Bush and the war as an expression of her own feelings being passed off as coverage by a so-called “religion editor.” Look, I know the paper is trying to be partisan and that’s o.k., but once in a while columnists, black and well as white, should feel the pressure of copy editor involvement.

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