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What would you say if someone told you that Black members of Congress were planning to host a presidential debate with a TV network that likens Black churches to cults, implies that U.S. Senator Barack Obama is a terrorist, and used the solemn occasion of Coretta Scott King’s funeral to call Black leaders “racist?” You’d probably wonder, “Have these brothers and sisters lost their minds?”
The Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute (CBCI) is on the verge of partnering with Fox News to host 2008 presidential debates. CBC members may not have lost their minds, but they’re about to lose their way.
Fox is clearly no friend to Black people. The network regularly uses its reach to denigrate all things Black— Black people, Black cultural institutions and Black leaders—while it stokes whites’ fears of losing race-based privilege in America. John Gibson, a Fox TV host, recently urged viewers to “Make more babies!” in a segment delivering the frightening news that half of American children under five are “minority.” Regular guest Mary Matalin used Corretta Scott King’s funeral as a chance to call civil rights leaders “nothing more than racists who are keeping their brothers and sisters enslaved.” Four times in the last month, Sean Hannity has invited Black guests to attack Sen. Barack Obama’s church as separatist, racist, and cultish. After Fox repeatedly harped on Obama’s middle name, Hussein, and ran a completely fabricated story that the Senator was schooled as an Islamic fundamentalist, the Senator announced that he would no longer speak with Fox reporters at all.
Since rumors about the Fox/CBCI deal were confirmed about a month ago, more than 12,000 of our members have emailed the CBCI, making the case against Fox and asking the Institute not to proceed with the deal. After getting no response, members made more than 600 phone calls to individual members of the CBC, asking that they speak publicly against this partnership.
Instead of hearing folks’ concerns, most offices gave callers the run-around, sending them to a CBCI voicemail box that was full for over a week, and saying the Fox debate is the Institute’s issue, not the CBC’s. It’s a ridiculous response. Everything the CBC Institute does is done with the tacit approval of the CBC. The Institute is led and supported by CBC members, and any CBC member can and should speak up if the Institute goes astray. Some representatives have said privately that they don’t agree with the deal, but not one has been willing to stand up to Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the CBC Institute, and the person most intent on seeing this deal go forward. Thompson is a good man, but on this issue, he is absolutely wrong.
Hurricane Katrina showed us the importance of having strong leaders in Washington who can take moral leadership and hold their own colleagues accountable. If our leaders can’t take a stand when the political consequences for doing so are minor and the issues are relatively simple, what can we expect when there’s plenty of pressure and the issues are more complicated? And when Black leaders willfully ignore the voices of Black Americans and act in opposition to our interest, what signal does that send to non-Black members of Congress?
Members of the CBC might not realize it, but the CBC is going down a dangerous path. Having Black voices at the table during presidential debates is critical, but that’s not the issue. The CBCI already has a deal with CNN to host debates, another major news network has also expressed interest, and PBS is doing a series of debates along with Tavis Smiley at HBCUs. A partnership with Fox risks sullying the Caucus’ reputation as “the conscience of Congress” and an advocate for racial equality and justice. Worse, a CBC partnership with Fox does what our enemies can only dream of: it uses the most prominent Black brand in politics to validate and legitimize an organization that attacks us on a regular basis.
The CBC can still do the right thing here, but it’s going to take Black Americans sending a strong message. It’s up to us to let them know that we’re watching and that we expect better.
You can help—if your representative in Congress is Rep. Maxine Waters or Rep. Diane Watson, give them a call at 310-642-4610 or 323-965-1422 respectively, and ask that they publicly oppose the CBC Institute/Fox deal. Visit colorofchange.org online for more information and other ways to make a difference, and foxattacks.com to see a short video of Fox’s attacks on Black America.
(James Rucker is a co-founder and executive director of ColorOfChange.org, an online advocacy organization with more than seventy thousand members dedicated to amplifying the political voice of Black American. Visit www.colorofchange.org for more information.)