Memo To: Editors
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Farrakhan Press Conference
The national news media for years have cultivated the impression that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is a rabid, anti-Semitic bigot, a “black Hitler,” as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch labeled him in 1984. Those of you who have been following my commentary at this site know I have spent countless hours talking to him since we first met in 1996 and that I find him quite the opposite. The people who know him best are African-Americans, and according to opinion polls of blacks, Minister Farrakhan is the “most trusted” black leader in America, ahead of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is “most trusted” because he speaks his mind. This is why I thought you should take the trouble of covering his press conference in Chicago Sunday afternoon, where he spoke about the Sept.11 catastrophe and took questions from the press. I’ve seen little squibs here and there, but there was not a word about his remarks on national or cable television, and I thought maybe the major media stayed away. But I talked today to Leonard Muhammad, chief of staff of the Nation of Islam, who tells me there was a good representation of the national media, but they simply chose to not report what he said. My guess, I told him, was that they came expecting shouting and screaming, and when Min. Farrakhan did neither, they decided it was not “newsworthy.”
The reason I have spent so much time with Min. Farrakhan since 1996 is that he demonstrated on October 16, 1995 an ability to invite one million black men to a march on Washington, and to have them show up, at their own expense, assembling peacefully to hear his message. This must be some kind of leader. White people and white editors did not want to hear what that message was, but it was music to my ears. I heard him tell that Million Man March that it should stop acting like victims and start acting like men, that they should stop mistreating their women, that they should stop looking to Washington for handouts and commit themselves to make the best of their lives with their own resources, and that they should pledge to become politically active instead of staying at home. My friend Bob Novak watched the event and wrote a column denouncing Min. Farrakhan for his words. In 1997, when Novak and I invited Min. Farrakhan to our conference in Florida, Novak took the trouble to read that 10,000 word speech and told me that seeing it in print, it turns out to have been a pretty good speech. We hear what we want to hear and if we don’t, it isn’t newsworthy. I remember Farrakhan called Colin Powell before the MMM, to invite him to the march, and Powell said he would like to come but would have to check his schedule. There were immediate columns from visceral journalists blasting Powell for even considering attendance, and Powell knuckled under, saying he would not attend, for while he might like the message, he did not approve of the messenger.
As a result of the success of the MMM, it seemed clear to me that Min. Farrakhan was the most important leader in the Islamic world. As I told him subsequently, if we had lost the Cold War, the most important Islamic leader would be a Russian. But by virtue of the fact that he is an American, with the success of the MMM, he could be the venue through which the Islamic world could speak to our political establishment. When I heard him tell Larry King the night of the MMM that: “I am a Jew,” in the sense that Islam is the offspring of Judaism and Christianity, I knew he could eventually be the key to peace in the Middle East. What he had to say on Sunday, then, was most newsworthy. CNN should have covered it. C-SPAN should have too. The networks have become cowed, though, ever since the Anti-Defamation League took out full page ads when NBC’s Meet the Press invited him on the show three years ago, on an anniversary date of the MMM. The ad practically threatened NBC with reprisals.
I called and e-mailed you late last week, urging you to cover the Sunday meeting and press conference, but I suppose you still feel constrained. Some of you I’ve known for 20 years, and while you trust my judgement on a great many matters, you don’t trust my judgement here. Believe me, when Louis Farrakhan goes to any Arab or Muslim country in the world, the leaders roll out the carpet for him, hoping he could explain the United States to them and have him explain the Islamic world to us. Taliban included. I’ve persuaded a few of my friends that he is a good man, including several Jewish men who have met with him, but it is always a rough road. The only man who instantly accepted my judgement was Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, who was a member of President Clinton’s Commission on Race. Tom is president of Drew University in Madison, N.J., which is near my home in Morristown. We had lunch near Drew to discuss the race issue a few years back and I told him of my friendship with Min. Farrakhan, and my strong belief that he was a good man. Tom said quietly: “If you spent 80 hours talking to him, you know him well enough that I expect you are right.” I am. Here is the link to the Sunday speech and press conference. Take a look and see for yourself.