Mainstreaming the Million Man March

Mainstreaming the Million Man March
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 19, 1995

Watching live and unedited the entire footage of the Million Man March, some things could have touched the hearts of the whole country. When two young boys asked for black men to be their fathers and their grandfathers, to love them and discipline them, you could feel the anguish of two out of every three black children in America today.

When black men told interviewers that they came to Washington to show the nation that they aren't just negative stereotypes of drug dealers and wife abusers, of drive-by shooters and absent fathers, you could not help but wish them well.

But watching the unedited festivities also led to disturbing images. A young girl ended a Farrakhan-authored poem by calling blacks "God's chosen race." Greenpeace's Damu Smith blamed "rich white men in power" for "wreaking havoc on our community," including "rolling back voting rights" and "putting toxic waste in our communities."

Former Congressman Gus Savage, offered his trademark racism and anti-Semitism in a day supposedly reserved for atonement: "Blacks should atone not for our anger, but for not being angry enough at the growing racism and incipient fascism of white America...White dreams have crippled many black children and white values have maimed many black families because the selfishness and greed of whites do not serve us well." After reaffirming that "it is ridiculous for a white to call a black a racist," Savage ended with the bizarre assertion that "We are an oppressed colony in the most imperialist nation the world has ever known."

Then there was the unavoidable Castro-length address by Louis Farrakhan. It started off well enough with a spiritual message all could embrace. Had he limited his remarks to that, he would have moved mountains. He didn't. Instead, what followed was a rambling, racist commentary suggesting a white conspiracy dating back to the time of Jesus. He professed to have love for his country, then assailed everything she stands for. He called for unity, but only for blacks in a mission to bring down racist America. Farrakhan said God had acted through him to call the march. If that's true, I assert that God was also at work when the cable went out on my hotel television screen after an hour and a half of this nonsense.

In their coverage, many media outlets decided to do what they often do with untidy left-wing Washington protests. They tried to mainstream it. Talk to sympathetic marchers. Keep actual rally speech soundbites to a minimum. Edit out all the unpleasantness. Savage's racist and anti-Semitic rant went mostly ignored, despite the controversy over Farrakhan's bigotry.

ABC is famous for this, as it mainstreamed the Gulf War marches in 1991 and the gay march in 1993. They returned to form in devoting almost the entire October 16 newscast to the march. Peter Jennings downplayed the controversy over Farrakhan: "We begin here in Washington today with a massive demonstration of black togetherness that was much more, and perhaps much different, than its original speakers had intended...the hugely popular entertainer Stevie Wonder may have got this crowd's mood right when he said that this was bigger than any one leader."

Minutes later, he repeated: "For most of the hundreds of thousands who came here today, the event far overshadowed the man who organized it." But Jennings went on to describe how Farrakhan's speech made an "enormous impression." Reporter Ron Claiborne's story emphasized the "lavish praise" for Farrakhan and left out all of his oddity.

Jennings concluded the broadcast: "It would be astonishing if this public performance by Farrakhan were to end or even minimize the controversy which he inspires in the country as a whole, but it would be a terrible mistake not to recognize that here today he inspired many people, and in a broader sense, as one participant here after another has reaffirmed, this day, at this time and at this place, really did mean unity over division."

All of this goes to prove that Jennings has one standard for Louis Farrakhan, and another for say, Pat Buchanan or Pat Robertson. After Buchanan's 1992 Republican convention speech, Jennings immediately suggested: "Took a number of shots at Hillary Clinton. Didn't get that altogether accurate, but that'll come out in the debate as time goes on." Correcting Farrakhan might have required all of Jennings' air time. ABC can investigate Pat Robertson's finances, as it did last October, but Farrakhan's personal wealth (as documented by the Chicago Tribune) isn't worth exploring.

The idea of a black social renewal, newly inspired by the individual rededication of thousands of black men, is powerful. Hopefully, Farrakhan will not be. But the picture many viewers saw of the unedited march shows that ABC chose not to distinguish between the two, and left the truth-telling to somebody else.