"Spin", Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes - Part I
Beginning the day after CBS News announced that its news magazine 60 Minutes would be featuring Minister Farrakhan and Atillah Shabazz in a three-way conversation with Mike Wallace, BlackElectorate.com posted a speech that Minister Farrakhan gave in May of 1995, at the Apollo Theatre, during his historic meeting with Malcolm X's wife Dr. Betty Shabazz. We posted the speech in the hopes that our website viewers would be able to compare Minister Farrakhan's words - spoken at the beginning of his reconciliation process with the Shabazz family in 1995- with those that would be shown, however edited, 5 years later, on 60 Minutes last Sunday night.. No one at BlackElectorate.com had seen any footage of the interview other than the brief video clips that had been blasted over the airwaves the previous day and night.
Though we had not seen the video tape it was our suspicion that the manner in which CBS and the 'mainstream media' were portraying portions of the Minister's interview on 60 Minutes- as some new admission, made by Minister Farrakhan, that he had played a leading role in the assassination of Malcolm X - was deliberately misleading and even malicious. The crux of the controversial advertising was that CBS' promotion implied that the Minister had something do with the actual murder of Malcolm X, which would mean that he was directly involved with the planning, plotting and shooting of his former mentor.
After watching 60 Minutes we are certain that our suspicion was correct. The 12-minutes that 60 Minutes devoted to the three-way conversation while historic, emotional and candid, were certainly not what the media advertisements implied it to be: an admission from Minister Farrakhan that he was instrumental in the assassination of Malcolm X. Rather, Minister Farrakhan was clearly expressing, in the interview, that he was among those who used words that helped to create the climate in which the planning, plotting and execution of the murder of Malcolm occurred but which was engineered by individuals other than Minister Farrakhan.
Minister Farrakhan made a clear distinction between himself and those who actually planned and plotted the assassination as well as those who performed the shooting. How CBS arrived at the decision to advertise the show in a way that would connect Minister Farrakhan to the deepest and most sinister aspects of Malcolm's death is a legitimate question and one that deserves an answer from those involved in the production, marketing and promotion of the show.
In addition to this, there is no way that the 12 minutes which were broadcast could possibly represent the truth, the spirit and overriding theme of the four-hours of conversation that actually took place between Ms. Shabazz and Min. Farrakhan. It is interesting that CBS and Mike Wallace paid little attention to the history of the nearly five-year reconciliation effort begun by Minister Farrakhan and Atillah's mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz. It was obvious that the true history and progress of the reconciliation effort was not what Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes were interested in showcasing.
In order to see some of the impact of the promotion of the 60 Minutes show; the orientation of Mike Wallace's mind and some of his questionable actions prior to the show and the context out of which Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes did what they did, we direct you to a communication written by Economist Jude Wanniski, President of Polyconomics Inc. who has come to know Minister Farrakhan personally in recent years and who had spent extensive amounts of time studying Minister Farrakhan's words and actions prior to meeting him. He, like many others, was understandably negatively impacted by the early stages of CBS' promotion of the program. However, with unusual perception and dogged determination, he separated the wheat from the chaff and saw something less than honest in CBS' promotion of the program.
His perspective is extremely valuable and comes from an individual who is very familiar with the inner-workings of the 'mainstream media' and its intersection with many of the most prominent leaders of America's political and business establishment.
The communication was written on Friday afternoon May 12, 2000 and by Saturday May 13, 2000 it had been sent out to over 100 of the American media's most influential political reporters.
Here it is unedited:
You may know that for the last four years I have been defending Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan against the almost universal belief that he is an anti-Semitic bigot. I recently persuaded the NY Times to run a correction when it repeated the assertion that he had called the Pope the "anti-Christ," when in fact it was Khalid Muhammad who had done so in 1994 -- one of the reasons he was expelled from the NOI by Minister Farrakhan. There is no evidence that Minister Farrakhan ever said "Judaism is a gutter religion," which the NYT still insists he said, there being no correction on that.
Imagine my shock, then, when on Wednesday I was told by a friend who heard on the radio that Farrakhan had "confessed to being part of the plot to kill Malcolm X" and that he made the admission on "60 Minutes" show to be aired on Sunday. If this was true, I could only feel disgust for Farrakhan and for myself in being so gullible as to taken in by him. When I got home, my wife told me her father called to tell her he heard on the radio that "Farrakhan had confessed to complicity in the assassination of Malcolm X." My wife, who over the last four years has come to admire Minister Farrakhan as much as I have, was beside herself with feelings of revulsion. I'd known that Farrakhan had many times publicly blamed himself for having said angry things about Malcolm X that contributed to the atmosphere leading to his murder by other members of the NOI, but to be directly complicit was unforgivable. My wife noted that he might be arrested and charged, because there is no statute of limitation on murder.
The next morning, I did get a call at home from Cedric Muhammad, telling me that CBS had "spun" the old story in a way that made it appear they had something new. He did not know what Farrakhan had told Mike Wallace in the interview, he said, but that what he had seen of the promotional clips, the Minister was repeating what he had said many times, beginning with a speech he gave at the Apollo theatre in 1995, with the wife of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, in the audience. Cedric told me he was posting a transcript of the speech at his website http://www.blackelectorate.com so that interested parties could read it in advance of "60 Minutes." They could then judge for themselves whether CBS was manipulating the story for rating points at the further expense of Farrakhan.
This made me feel much better, but I knew Mike Wallace would know the whole story, so why would he allow it to be put out this way? He and his wife were at the Apollo Theatre when Farrakhan made that speech in 1995. He had known and admired Malcolm X and knew better than almost any white guy the whole story. Why would he let this kind of garbage come out from CBS? He's 82 years old, for goodness sakes, he doesn't have to do this to further his career. Maybe Cedric is wrong and Farrakhan did go further than he has in the past, I wondered. So I called Leonard Muhammad, Farrakhan's son-in-law and chief of staff, who assured me that he had insisted on NOI cameras filming the entire four-hour interview alongside the CBS cameras and that Minister Farrakhan said only what he had said many times before. He told me they had audio and videotapes of his previous apologies for having said things that may have contributed to the atmosphere.
Now I'm getting irritated with Mike Wallace. Here's the story: In 1996, he talked Farrakhan into a "60 Minutes" interview that was professionally done, which persuaded Farrakhan that Mike, who is Jewish, was serious about helping him patch up his relationship with the Jewish political community. He arranged a July dinner in New York with Farrakhan and his wife and with Edgar Bronfman and his wife -- he the Bronfman of Seagram's whisky and president of the United Jewish Congress. Leonard Muhammad and his wife Donna, Farrakhan's daughter, also attended. By all accounts, the dinner went well and Bronfman told Farrakhan he would try to arrange private discussions with the 12 leaders of the Jewish community.
Wallace subsequently told me Mrs. Bronfman called him to complain two days later that Farrakhan was quoted in the NYT making "anti-Semitic" remarks in a speech in Brooklyn. Farrakhan had seen a story in the NYT about a UN report that cited the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqi children in connection with the embargo. He compared this to the Holocaust, which Mrs. Bronfman took to be "anti-Semitic." Several months later, Wallace assured me the call did not disrupt the plans being made to get Farrakhan together with the 12 Jewish leaders. I was sure this was the case, because when I first met Leonard Muhammad in September 1996, three months after the dinner, he told me about how he and Farrakhan were awaiting for word from Bronfman on when the meeting might occur. New York financier Ted Forstmann, a friend of mine who I asked to host the dinner with Leonard Muhammad, heard this same story and told me and others how impressed with the presentations being made by Leonard Muhammad.
In early November, we were all shocked when Bronfman issued a statement to the Jewish press acknowledging the July dinner, but denouncing Farrakhan as being "inherently evil." He cited the Brooklyn speech about the Iraqi children. What happened? I called Mike Wallace and he told me it was probably his fault. He said after the Bronfman dinner, Playboy asked him to be the subject of its monthly interview. In it, he boasted that he had brought Farrakhan together with Bronfman. He told me he felt safe because the interview would not run until the December issue. By then, it would have all been worked out. He did not know, he said, that the magazine would call Bronfman out of deference to the fact that his company spent so much money in Playboy on whisky ads. When he learned his "private" contact was being made public, Bronfman blew up. The Wallace interview was "adjusted" to reflect the failure of the dinner to produce results, and Bronfman issued the "inherently evil" statement the day the December Playboy hit the streets in early November.
Wallace told me ruefully he should never have attempted to mix journalism with diplomacy. He closed the book on the subject, though, where I thought he should have made it clear to others what he had made clear to me. The Wall Street Journal subsequently ran a front-page piece about how Wallace tried to bring about a reconciliation of Farrakhan and the Jewish community via Bronfman, but it made no mention of his screw-up with Playboy... and the story left the further impression that Farrakhan was to blame.
Why did he agree to this interview with Wallace after how he was treated before? Leonard tells me Farrakhan did not blame Wallace, but saw he had an opportunity to clear up the Malcolm X story and further his reconciliation with Malcolm's daughter, with whom he discusses the assassination on the program Sunday. He had carried the daughter in his arms when she was a baby and has wanted the same forgiveness from her that her mother, Betty Shabazz, gave him before her death. Tune in to "60 Minutes" Sunday and see how it turns out. As a warm up, I also suggest you read Farrakhan's 1995 Apollo speech at http://www.blackelectorate.com
It would be good if we all re-read the above-mentioned article at http://www.finalcall.com/MLFspeaks/apollo.html as well as 1) the transcript of Min. Farrakhan's appearance on CNN Sunday at and 2) the audio and video of Minister Farrakhan's appearance this past Sunday on Fox News Sunday with Tony Snow at http://www.finalcall.com/media/mlf_fox5-13-2000.htm.
Hopefully Min. Farrakhan and the Shabazz family can continue their reconciliation efforts and their differences can be resolved once and for all - differences that Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes attempted to exacerbate.
Tuesday, May 16, 2000
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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of BlackElectorate.com or Black Electorate Communications.