To step into the world of America's Black Forum, the TV show, is to enter a carnival house-of-mirrors. African American political realities are distorted beyond recognition. The floor tilts crazily rightward as clowns in blackface jump into view to parrot George Bush and Jerry Falwell, then straighten up and hum "Lift Every Voice" as they lock arms and sway with a sneering Pat Buchanan and his blond, junior conservative companion.

The Hard Right has thoroughly infested what began, 25 years ago, as the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. Since the mid-Nineties, ABF has devolved into a menagerie of professional Black propagandists in service of the most vicious elements of the Republican Party. White ideologues of the Right regularly reinforce their darker partners on the set, providing their own peculiar analysis of the Black condition. For a time, Pat Buchanan, whose name is synonymous with "Nazi" in many circles, seemed to be a regular on the show. Obscure clones of racist commentator Ann Coulter share insights on world and national politics for the benefit of a Black commercial television audience. It is a bizarre experience.

FOX in the chicken coop

America's Black Forum is hosted by Juan Williams, a favorite Black political conjure-artist of Republican-managed FOX News, and alternate host James Brown, a FOX sportscaster with no background in news whatsoever. FOX News has had a special relationship with ABF since the 1996 ascension of chairman Roger Ailes, best described as a "pit-bull Republican media strategist turned television tycoon." Ailes has made a career of creating an electronic environment amenable to racism of the rawest kind, to accommodate the policies of his clients. His influence is tangible on the set of ABF.

The show's most compelling on-air presence is Armstrong Williams, possibly the most noxious Black personality in broadcasting. He lovingly embraces arch-racist Senator Strom Thurmond, who decades ago gave the servile yet ambitious young Armstrong an internship, as both "friend" and "mentor." Williams has served the interests of apartheid South Africa, wallowed in the largess of every Hard Right foundation and think tank in the land, and reveled in long weekends with white supremacists. Williams' broadcast deals entangle him with the Christian Right's unholiest electronic pulpits. He is the premiere Black political whore in America, and the central fixture on America's Black Forum.

Armstrong Williams' protégé is Niger Innis, rising son of gangster "civil rights" caricature Roy Innis, head of the family business criminally referred to as the Congress of Racial Equality. CORE is a tin cup outstretched to every Hard Right political campaign or cause that finds it convenient - or a sick joke - to hire Black cheerleaders for their cross burning events. As the bearer of such lineage, Niger Innis is a prince among Black political scavengers - he even fancies himself an interpreter of what he believes to be Hip Hop culture's conservative characteristics. Niger Innis advertises his political "consultant" wares on America's Black Forum, in the shadow of Strom Thurmond's protégé, Armstrong Williams.

ABF is incapable of generating news, the primary function of Sunday TV interview programs. Despite its claim to be the "only credible weekend news source for African American perspectives on national issues," ABF is quoted by... no one. The program's actual function is to provide a stage on which the two Williamses, Juan and Armstrong, can demonstrate their distance from (Juan) and contempt for (Armstrong) prevailing Black opinion and leadership. The trappings of journalism are meant to convey authenticity to what is essentially a weekly exercise in Black-bashing, thankfully punctuated by celebrity interviews of no consequence. In recent years, the show's handlers have become so bold as to invite white ultra-conservatives to join in the fun.

Niger Innis fills Armstrong Williams' seat when the senior mercenary is summoned to perform other duties on behalf of his long list of Republican clients. The Hard Right's message, as formulated by the reactionary think tanks that nurture both Williams and Innis, is indispensable to the program. Whether delivered in blackface or from the lips of visiting white commentators, an ultra-conservative version of reality dominates America's Black Forum.

Off to the side, in every meaningful sense, sits Julian Bond, the progressive window dressing on the set. It is a demeaning place to be, and of doubtful justification or utility as a counterbalance to the program's rabidly rightwing voices. As chairman of the NAACP, Bond is hobbled by the organization's non-partisan legal status. Williams, Innis and their white allies slick the studio floor with anti-Black spittle, encouraged by the more-closeted host Juan Williams (or the clueless sportsman, James Brown), while Bond strains in his political straitjacket.

Progressive Black journalists Deborah Mathis and Julianne Malveaux occasionally join or substitute for Julian Bond as panelists, with much the same results. Armstrong Williams, abetted by Juan Williams' rigged framing of the issues (or James Brown's total lack of political references), bullies the conversation ever rightward. The dialogue starts and ends in a political space few Black people inhabit.

The spectacle is surreal. ABF has succeeded in creating an illusionary world in which the views of mainstream Black America, approximately represented by Julian Bond and the NAACP, are howled down by hired guns who speak for no significant body of African American opinion, including the one-tenth of Blacks who identify themselves as Republicans. Not content with this triumph of minstrelsy, ABF routinely recruits white ultras to join the cast - a gratuitous insult to Black sensibilities that would be unthinkable in representative African American venues. America's Black Forum is a Hard Right production, groveling and transparent.

Circling Sharpton

Last weekend's broadcast of ABF was like a National Geographic documentary, an opportunity to observe the pack-like bond between host Juan Williams and wily coyotes Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis. Both Bush mouthpieces were brought in to encircle Rev. Al Sharpton, presidential aspirant and the Stagger Lee of Black politics. Uncharacteristically polite and wary of the civil rights leader's razor-sharp debating skills, the pit bull and the hungry youngster concentrated on putting their quarry off-message.

Host Juan Williams soon shifted the conversation's political center of gravity full-tilt to the right. Left Democrats were setting the stage for a "Democratic train wreck," said Williams, citing as his authority an article in William F. Buckley's ultra-conservative National Review! Rev. Sharpton chuckled at Williams' choice of source, and quickly regained his own page. However, the rightward pull from three sides was relentless, having the effect of obscuring, rather than illuminating, Sharpton's positions on the issues. Clearly, that is the object of ABF: to move the boundaries of Black debate inexorably to the right. Facing a combative and skillful politician-activist such as Sharpton, host Juan Williams revealed his true function - to limit the discourse to the Hard Right's field of reference. It is only within these distorted and alien parameters that Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis make any sense, at all.

Before tagging his team mates, Juan Williams insisted that Sharpton go even further afield of his presidential agenda, to comment on Harry Belafonte's "disparaging" remarks about Colin Powell, weeks before. On ABF, a Black man is required to answer questions that are uppermost on white conservative minds. Black surrogates make sure of that. More time wasted.

It was Armstrong Williams' turn to drain Sharpton of airtime. The guest was forced to assess George Bush's faith-based initiative - the main item for Black consumption on the GOP's menu. Next, Niger Innis made small talk about his father's long (but not necessarily pleasant) association with Sharpton, thus using up more of the Reverend's minutes while elevating Innis Sr. to undeserved relevance.

It is hard to smother Al Sharpton, but the two Black Republican hustlers, with lots of help from the host, tried their best.

Julian Bond tossed the Reverend a softball - in a way, it was Bond's lonely obligation to both the audience and the guest. "What should Black activists in the Democratic Party be doing?" he asked. Sharpton said he'd like to see "a lot of voter registration around critical issues" - issues that he was not allowed to explore in the Republican bum rush of America's Black Forum.

A legacy in shambles

The publishers of The Black Commentator have more than a passing interest in America's Black Forum. We created the show 25 years ago, while working as network radio reporters, in Washington. Our goals were straightforward: to establish an independent, nationally syndicated television vehicle that would allow Black reporters to hold politicians and activists of all persuasions accountable to Black people, and to wield influence in the national political arena by generating news, in the same way that Sunday network interview shows create the content that dominates Monday morning headlines.

We succeeded beyond our expectations. Beginning with the inaugural program, January 16, 1977, featuring United Nations Ambassador-designate Andrew Young, ABF press releases made the wires of the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Agence France Presse, even the Soviet news agency Tass, every week for an uninterrupted 13 weeks. For almost four years, the program generated national and worldwide headlines at will. No Black news entity had ever achieved anything approaching this level of impact on the general media, and none has, since.

Like The Black Commentator, our ABF was most concerned that African Americans develop media institutions that encourage internal debate, as well as compel white officeholders to engage Black opinion. The program made headlines on Black terms, based on Black news decisions, on issues of importance to the Black public. This issues-based approach resulted, for example, in the public "resurrection" of notables such as James Farmer, the former head of the original, integrationist Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who, in 1977, had not made headlines in years. Much to the old gentleman's surprise, the wire services packaged his ABF statements as major stories. And so it went, week after week.

(Farmer made another appearance on the program later in the year, when he confronted Roy Innis, the man who had hijacked CORE a decade before and turned the organization into what Farmer called a "shakedown" gang. Innis brought to Washington his thuggish Brooklyn entourage and attempted to feed hotel shrimp to the whole party at our expense, which we refused. No doubt the rich, Hard Right is more accommodating to Roy and his son, in their current capacities.)

ABF's advertisers included Westinghouse, Borden, the public employees union AFSCME - and, for three months, the Republican National Committee, which immediately gave its ad minutes to Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom they were courting at the time. Back then, Republicans were glad to associate with prestigious Black media. In ABF's new incarnation, they control it.

During the first year of operations, we original owners - Glen Ford, Peter Gamble and Jim Boren - picked up business partners with whom we later found ourselves, euphemistically speaking, incompatible. We sold our shares in ABF at the end of 1980, and have not spoken publicly about the program - until now.

Julian Bond became host. Although ABF ceased to generate news, Bond's journalism and broadcast background served the program well. The intrusion of celebrity interviews under the aegis of Uniworld, the Black advertising agency that took over production and, later, political direction of ABF, did no harm. At the very least, ABF provided showcasing and role model opportunities for Black people, a valuable service in a racist society.

All that changed in 1996, when Uniworld plucked the two Williamses, Juan and Armstrong, from the Right's most-favored Black list. Juan Williams became co-host with sportscaster James Brown. Armstrong Williams signed on as permanent commentator and vouched for the political reliability of up-and-coming Hard Right hustler Niger Innis as alternate standard-bearer for GOP and corporate interests. The outrageous whoring began.

Williams, Williams, and Innis together embody the Hard Right's growing penetration of Black media circles. They share institutional and corporate connections. ABF provides an opportunity to observe them on the same set, acting in concert in service of their racist clients and benefactors.

Juan the Whiner

First, the closet conservative. FOX's Roger Ailes couldn't find a better match for Brit Hume than Juan Williams. Both are right-wingers who refuse to admit their allegiances, even after they've exposed themselves. Hume left his ABC News White House correspondent job shortly after it was discovered that he was a Republican contributor.

Hume didn't like liberals before he departed ABC, and showed it on-camera. Now at FOX, he's still angry with liberals for the humiliation he brought on himself.

FOX saw the conservative potential in Juan Williams in 1997, and hired him as a political contributor for that reason. Williams is famous for disassociating himself from what he considers to be the "official Black" positions on political issues. He whines that Blacks and liberals don't like him.

Now at Public Radio, Williams teamed up with his pal Brit for an anti-Black establishment exchange on the Hume Report, October 21. Juan's tale of woe:

HUME: You do not have to be in government to experience the sting of the civil rights establishment's outrage at successful African-Americans who do not always agree with its positions. One leading black journalist defended Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court, sharply criticized former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who did jail time on drug charges, and has also been critical at times of the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His name is Juan Williams, and he joins me now.

Talk to me a bit, if you can, about the experiences you've had. I mean, I remember you were writing a column for "The Washington Post" back in the late '80s, when Clarence Thomas was nominated. Yes, the late '80s.

And you defended him on a number of grounds. Not all, but some. What happened?

WILLIAMS: Oh, well, gosh. Immediately there was a great deal of calls to my desk at "The Washington Post" at the time, saying, you know, what do you have on Clarence Thomas? I said, well, I don't have anything on Clarence Thomas.

And then later I wrote about a body of knowledge, which was that Clarence Thomas was someone who had come along in this town, who had developed his way, found his way in the Reagan administration; was not always the most conservative, was not someone that you could easily pillory as some sort of stick figure, but was rather an intellectual.

And that, of course, then brought down all the heavens on me, in terms of the civil rights establishment -- I think driven by people who said, you know what, we don't like Clarence Thomas' story, as being sort of this young black man from Georgia who made his way up.

We don't like the idea that Juan Williams at "The Washington Post" would lend his credibility to this story. And therefore, one way to get at Thomas was to attack the messengers. In that case, to attack me.

HUME: So what happened?

WILLIAMS: Well, people then attacked me. Once he got into trouble with Anita Hill, and there were all sorts of questions about my behavior - have you told any flirtatious jokes, who have you flirted with at the paper? All sorts of accusations.

I mean, it just felt like the world had crumbled in on my head. I couldn't believe that so many of my friends who were in the newsroom at the time -
really, it was as if, well, you are no longer truly black. You don't belong and have the right to hold that seat.

As a matter of fact, I was, at that time, doing "Crossfire" for CNN. And I was then saying, listen, I think a lot of these charges against Thomas are ill-based.

And at the time, CNN said, well, you can't sit on the left side here and argue from a black perspective because you're not holding the official black position. So, you know, you can't, literally, appear on this show and do your job as the host on the left.

So Juan, unable to represent what passes for the Left on CNN and unwilling to identify with the political positions held by most Blacks, feels mistreated by Blacks and the Left - the mindset he brings to America's Black Forum, his side gig.

Just before the exchange between Brit Hume and Williams, Hume aired a report on Condoleezza Rice suffering the indignity of being dis-invited to a prestigious event. Harry Belafonte was to blame. Hume's correspondent interviewed two Rice supporters: Armstrong Williams and Niger Innis.

The two Williamses and Innis are part of the same team. It is no wonder, then, that Julian Bond appears isolated and alone at ABF, relegated to window dressing on a rightwing set.

Williams, like Brit Hume, whines when he is caught being a rightwing Republican. Yet there he was, the day after the election, on a panel organized by BAMPAC, the Black Republican political action committee founded by loony former presidential candidate Alan Keyes. Williams' fellow panelists included GOP operative Faye Anderson, conservative academic and author Angela Dillard, Maryland Black Republican Lt. Governor-elect Michael Steele, and BAMPAC President Alvin (not another one) Williams.

Juan Williams is as big a Republican liar as Brit Hume.

Roy's Boy

The Black minions of the Hard Right are a recent breed, the scavengers that came calling after the GOP's Seventies-era decision to build a cadre of pure hustlers to replace the aging Black Republicans associated with the Party's moderate wing, now practically defunct. Gangster CORE chief Roy Innis earned his stipends throwing chairs on shock TV shows in defense of rightwing principles. Son Niger is, thus, among the first generation to grow up in such moral squalor.

Niger is national spokesman for CORE. He helped his father prove CORE's value to white conservatives by running the elder Innis' Democratic primary campaign against Black incumbent New York Mayor David Dinkins, in 1993. The exercise earned the Innises $100,000 in contributions from the usual Right suspects, and the favor of Republican Rudolph Guiliani, who beat Dinkins in the general election.

In the old days, polite Republicans eschewed Roy's goon-like attacks against Black leadership. He was an embarrassment to suburban, Connecticut bankers. White goons run the Party, now, and the Innisses fit in just fine.

Smoother than the pugnacious Roy, although certainly no intellect, Niger has expanded upon his inheritance. As New York State Chair of Alan Keyes' 2000 presidential campaign, Innis is a member the clique that revolves around Keyes' BAMPAC. Roy was a Brooklyn brawler. Niger is a Washington player. They are equally corrupt.

The younger Innis wears the CORE hat when it suits him. However, Innis' institutional ties to the Hard Right are better understood through his association with the white-invented, young Black Republican outfit Project 21. Innis is a celebrity member and sits on its Advisory Committee.

The Black front group - actually, a network and nursery for aspiring rightwing operatives - is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Washington-based National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which created the Project 21 letterhead in 1993. In turn, the NCPPR is funded by the Bradley, Scaife, Carthage and Earhart foundations, prime bankrollers of the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation and a host of other, front-line think tanks of the Right. These organizations operate speakers bureaus, finance conferences, turn out position papers and disseminate propaganda in general. They create the noise.

NCPPR personnel have written some of the "position papers" ascribed to Project 21, and are proud to claim the copyright:

"Project 21 is an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research to promote the views of African-Americans whose entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to family and commitment to individual responsibility has not traditionally been echoed by the nation's civil rights establishment."

In truth, the National Center for Public Policy Research announced in 1992 that it was looking for "conservative and moderate voices in the black community" willing to criticize established Black leadership. CORE was among those who showed up. Project 21 was born, fully funded.

On any given day, Innis can be found speaking or "consulting" within the matrix of the rich Right, his paymasters. Every other week, he is presented to African American TV audiences as an independent voice, doing valiant battle against a menacing Black "establishment" on America's Black Forum.

Black Rightists are a tight-knit, near-incestuous group. Juan Williams quotes William Buckley's National Review to challenge Al Sharpton on the set of ABF. Niger Innis writes occasionally for the National Review and, in November 2001, used space in NR to denounce "Sharpton and other professionally angry arsonists" for creating political chaos in New York. Innis called the National Action Network leader a "monster" and "Frankenstein."

But Innis is not much of a writer. What he really wants to be when he grows up, is Armstrong Williams.

The Kingfish Conservative

Armstrong Williams is the unchallenged HNIC of the Black Hard Right. He has no peer in self-debasement for profit. He emerges like a creature from the primal ooze of evil, a repository of shame, a catch basin of all that could go wrong with a Black human being.

Armstrong Williams bubbled up from the muck through the influence of two men: Clarence Thomas and Senator Strom Thurmond. We will not dwell on the Thurmond connection in this commentary - Williams has made plain his undying love for the racist who will not die, comparing the ghastly creature to Napoleon and imagining - wishing! - that his master might be immortal.

Williams has called Thurmond his "mentor," but he could not truly believe that, since even the most deluded Black man must know that he cannot follow in a white man's 100 year-old footsteps. No, Williams may have been smitten by Thurmond in 1979, while a blushing 20 year-old intern (Thurmond "exuded masculine dominance," gushes Williams), but his real mentor in the ways of Black treachery is Clarence Thomas.

When young Armstrong arrived in Washington from South Carolina, Clarence Thomas was part of a cabal centered on the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education. The Institute was headquarters for the most ultra-right African Americans yet assembled - a tiny group led by J.A. "Jay" Parker, a professional Cold War propagandist who had sung the praises of Barry Goldwater in 1964 while denouncing the civil rights movement as communist-inspired.

Thomas served with Parker on Ronald Reagan's 1980 transition team for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that Thomas would chair on the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and where he would hire his protégé, Armstrong Williams, as a " confidential " assistant.

In submitting their plans for the reorganized EEOC, Thomas and Parker argued that affirmative action was a "new racism," a line the Lincoln Institute's journal, the Lincoln Review, had been spouting since 1978. Political Research Associates, of Somerville, MA, describes The Lincoln Review as "anti-choice, pro-death penalty, anti-affirmative action, pro-defense spending, anti-Martin Luther King national holiday, pro-school prayer, anti-Washington D.C. statehood...and uncritically supportive of Israel."

Thomas signed on to the advisory board of the Lincoln Review in June of 1981, just three months his after his buddy Parker officially registered as an agent for the South African Bantustan of Venda. Since neither the United States nor any other nation in the world recognized the Black "homeland" as independent - Venda's "diplomats" were housed in the South African embassy - Parker was actually an agent of the apartheid government in Pretoria.

In 1985, Parker and another Clarence Thomas crony, William Keyes, founded a lobby organization to directly represent South Africa, at a reported rate of $400,000 a year. During this period, Keyes was a contributing editor of the Lincoln Review.

[William Keyes also founded an organization called Black PAC, in 1984, in Washington. At the time of this writing, has been unable to confirm any relationship between William Keyes and Alan Keyes, the founder of Washington-based BAMPAC, circa 1993. You'll find out when we do.]

Clarence Thomas kept his name on the Lincoln Review's masthead throughout the Eighties, removing it only after his appointment to the Federal Court of Appeals, in 1990.

co-publisher Glen Ford has a copy of the Lincoln Review, given to him by an intense young Black man over a sumptuous lunch at Washington's posh Mayflower Hotel. A persistent salesman, the fellow sought favorable coverage of a visit to the U.S. by King Mantanzima, puppet leader of South Africa's Transkai Bantustan. Ford replied that America's Black Forum would lose its credibility, audience and sponsors if it accommodated the King. Well, said the young man, how much would it cost for South Africa to sponsor ABF? "A million dollars!" laughed Ford. "That could be arranged," said Ford's host.

Ford is certain the young man was Armstrong Williams.

Williams is rich now, totally enmeshed as stakeholder and performer in the interlocking, spaghetti bowl of secular and Christian Right media. He is an indefatigable propagandist and organization-man, constantly spinning a web of connections between himself, the universe of Right foundations and think tanks, and their overlapping Black front organizations, manufactured at the drop of a grant. Williams' public relations firm, the Graham Williams Group, co-founded with Oprah boyfriend Stedman Graham, specializes in serving "public policy organizations" - the institutional Right. He is the Hardest Working Man in Ho' Business.

Armstrong Williams sets the agenda, as well as the tone, of America's Black Forum.

Political Research Associates

PRA on Lincoln Institute

America's Black Forum website

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Issue Number 20
December12, 2002



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Commentaries in this issue:

Commentary 2
The Living Legacy of White Minority Rule: Lott, Thurmond remain, but millions gone from the soil

Unemployment Ravages Blacks... States going broke... Lights get dimmer at BET

Pirates at the helm... SATs spell doom for Blacks... Certified Black "intellectuals"... AIDS cure hidden?

Selling Sloppy Statistics. By Tim Wise

Commentaries in Issue 19 December 5, 2002:

Commentary 1
Rule of the Pirates: The $200 billion payday

Commentary 2
College SATs Incompatible with Black Mobility: Abolish the racial tyranny of the tests

Feast of the Parasites... Don’t feed the English... Murderous Frog Rising

Guest Commentary 1
Harvard: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Institution. by Shelton Amstrod

Guest Commentary 2
AIDS - Discrimination is Deadly. by Salih Booker

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.