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.
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.
in the chicken coop
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
is hard to smother Al Sharpton, but the two Black Republican hustlers,
with lots of help from the host, tried their best.
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.
legacy in shambles
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
you defended him on a number of grounds. Not all, but some. What
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Williams is as big a Republican liar as Brit Hume.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
personnel have written some of the "position papers" ascribed
to Project 21, and are proud to claim the copyright:
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."
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.
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.
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."
Innis is not much of a writer. What he really wants to be when he
grows up, is Armstrong Williams.
The Kingfish Conservative
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.]
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.
is certain the young man was Armstrong 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'
Williams sets the agenda, as well as the tone, of America's Black
Political Research Associates
PRA on Lincoln Institute
America's Black Forum website