Muting the Black Media Voice

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
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Posted: Apr 16, 2007 9:12 PM
Muting the Black Media Voice

Don Imus is gone! Like a gladiator kneeling in the coliseum before a foe that just defeated him, Imus experienced the terror of waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down decision of the crowd. This time the decision for the seasoned media warrior was professional death. He was stripped of his cameras first by MSNBC and then of his microphone by CBS. I am glad that his microphone was muted because of the venom and vitriol that he spread on a daily basis.

I would like to believe that a major blow was dealt against racism and sexism in America by the swift punitive actions taken last week. Bruce Gordon’s comment last week --- that he hoped that the Imus release would mark the beginning of a new era in media --- was refreshing to hear. As most people know, Gordon was the former head of the NAACP and is currently a board member of CBS. Gordon has undoubtedly noticed, as I have, that civility and respect have been absent from many popular news and entertainment programs for years. Gordon’s comments sounded like the seasoned words of a black statesman who has risen above the hype and media mayhem to a long term perspective.

Higher ethical standards in broadcasting must originate with the media owners and producers like CBS and MSNBC. Shock jocks, comedians, recording artists, and best selling authors will always push the envelope of personal expression in the name of art. These free spirits will rightfully argue incessantly that their freedom of speech must be protected at all costs. Both media consumers and media conglomerates should ask themselves what kind of world do they want to help create? Barack Obama and others have opined that the Hip Hop Culture is doing more damage to the self image of black men and women than Imus could ever do. While others have declared that the breakdown of families and neighborhoods in black communities is a much greater threat to black young people than the words of any radio personality in the world.

The black community has to initiate a new assertive strategy that does more than simply fight negative media contamination. The black media community has to promote the discovery and release of fresh voices into the marketplace of ideas. With this concept of raising the moral bar in mind, it’s hard to understand why Rev. Jesse Jackson (who called for Imus’ head) also sought to mute the voice of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s planned presidential debate partnership with the FOXNews Channel.

Although I do not agree with every position the Caucus has taken, I thought they had it right with this move. Hearing the announcement that both CNN and FNC would host two debates resonated with me. I personally celebrated their pioneering spirit and their willingness to explore a new way forward in these strident, contentious political times. Their mission has been to simply become a black voice in politics which can be a lightening rod and a rallying point for legislation and public policy issues that concern blacks.

Last week, Rev. Jesse Jackson denounced the CBC’s hard work and new initiative. In my view he upstaged this black group in an arrogant and contentious way. His only reasoning was that he did not want to “give a stamp of legitimacy to a network that continually marginalizes black leaders and the black community.”

Upon reading these words I thought to myself, “Here we go again, elevating a personal political agenda above the needs of our community.” Rev. Jackson has never been elected the black community’s president or crowned King of Black America. His actions were more swift and decisive that a presidential veto coming from Pennsylvania Avenue. As of last Friday, the top three democratic presidential candidates had all caved into Jackson’s ban on their attendance.

There are four reasons why I think Rev. Jackson’s comments were out of line. First, his media-based fiat undermined a major opportunity for the CBC to positively impact the conservative audience of FNC. I am sure that Jesse Jackson’s mentor, Dr. M. L. King, would never have operated in such a high-handed manner. Secondly, it shows that Jackson has no confidence in the leadership of this significant organization. Thirdly, the statement that the network marginalizes black people is categorically untrue. I personally have been fairly interviewed by the FNC on several occasions on both radio and television. Surprisingly, I even saw Rev. Al Sharpton being gracious interviewed on the O’Reilly Factor last week. Fourth, FOX is the nation’s premier 24-hour, general news service. It covers all the breaking news as well as political, entertainment, and business features. For the last five years, FNC has been the most watched cable news channel in the nation. In addition, 9 out of the top 10 news programs are aired on FOX.

In conclusion, I want to state that Reverend Jackson’s boycott of FNC does not make sense. His arguments against the debates are superficial and petty. Unfortunately for the black community, Reverend Jackson is acting more like a gatekeeper than a leader. A gatekeeper manages traffic, but a leader moves his people towards milestones based upon a master plan.

Once again, let me state that I am happy that Imus’ microphone has been muted. Perhaps Jessie Jackson will voluntarily un-mute the microphones of deserving black leaders in our country.