Politics Mondays: Grading The Black Commentators On The New York Post-Fox News-New York Times "Michael Jackson-Nation Of Islam Controversy"
Tuesday, December 30, 2003 was quite a day for discussion, opinion and rhetoric where cable television talk shows and the subject of the Nation of Islam and Michael Jackson were concerned. Perhaps some may say it was simply a less than interesting or "slow" news day, and a particularly boring evening for yours truly, as I personally planned, and did watch, portions of no less than 6 news programs in about a four-hour period on the three major cable news networks – Fox, MSNBC and CNN - each of which billed in advance their subject matter, in one way or another, as an inquiry into whether or not the Nation Of Islam had taken over the business affairs, thinking, or the reins of managing the daily activities – even personal movements – of superstar Michael Jackson. In order to ensure that I received the benefit of the insight of others and in order to share the viewing pleasure; I called a handful of my closest friends to make sure that they tuned in. They all did.
For some background, the "cover story" or excuse for the supposedly in-depth coverage of the "Nation Of Islam-Michael Jackson" controversy was an article which appeared in the New York Times, earlier that day, headlined, "Dispute in Michael Jackson Camp Over Role of the Nation of Islam" by Sharon Waxman. The article begins, "Officials from the Nation of Islam, a separatist African-American Muslim group, have moved in with Michael Jackson and are asserting control over the singer's business affairs, friends, employees and business associates of Mr. Jackson said."
But, those following the news, and BlackElectorate.com's external links to news articles from all over the world, should be aware that this story really "began" on December 18, 2003 with an article from The New York Post, "Jacko Finds Islam" by Cindy Adams, Barry Bortnick, and David K. Li and accelerated with a Fox News article "Exclusive Report: Jacko's Neverland Rally" by Roger Friedman. The story reached a new height with a Fox News article which arrived on the heels of the exclusive CBS 60 Minutes interview of Michael Jackson. That Fox News article, "Nation of Islam Leader Monitored Jacko Interview" appeared on December 29, 2003 and was written, again, by Roger Friedman.
Then, the now-infamous December 30, 2003 New York Times article appeared, that would be used by all of the cable television programs as license, incipient cause, or justification for non-stop banter and speculation, it seemed, about a "Nation Of Islam-Michael Jackson controversy."
What quickly began as "breaking news" of Michael Jackson's alleged conversion to Islam, as a member of the Nation of Islam, quickly evolved into a discussion over whether the Nation Of Islam was moving in on Michael Jackson in order to "take over" or guide his daily personal and business affairs.
Upon noting this development, and reflecting over the uproar that took place in the mid-1990s over rumors that Mike Tyson had joined the Nation Of Islam, and the same reaction last year when members of the New York media (again, led by The New York Post) speculated that Shaquille O'Neal had joined the Nation Of Islam, because of his friendship with Minister Louis Farrakhan, I began to see the possibility that some in the media (or higher) would probabaly soon be making an analogy between the Nation Of Islam's relationship with the boxing career of Muhammad Ali and the reported Nation Of Islam relationship with the music career of Michael Jackson. I will reserve a full comment on the implications of the the Nation Of Islam's historic and reported relationship with arguably the two most popular cultural figures of the last 100 years (or more) and the implications that this has for Islam, and for Black people all over the world and those who still have an agenda to prevent her collective rise.
Suffice it to say, this "media controversy" is really about more than just news and gossip, I am confident. It serves ulterior motives and an agenda that has been in place for years. I gently nudge the reader to consider taking time to browse through the FBI files, online or at the FBI FOIA reading room in Washington, D.C.(consider FBI surveillance and attention give to Arthur Ashe, Josephine Baker, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, Jackie Robinson and other entertainers), that detail and document the FBI's view and fear of cultural icons of all persuasions; especially those who had or entertained a conscious or "progressive" ideology or affiliation.
In addition, related to the FBI files, and even more, observers would be wise to learn more of the interest and concern the FBI expressed regarding whether or not NFL All-Pro running back Jim Brown and basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) would follow Muhammad Ali into the Nation Of Islam.
Another interesting development is the revelation/admission by Fox News reporter Roger Friedman who writes in "Jacko, Page Six, Yada Yada Errata" that he and other reporters were "distributed" information regarding Nation Of Islam members.
To say the least, the quality and motivation behind all of the reporting that preceded the most recent wave of talk; is questionable at best, shoddy to be generous, and deliberately mischievous at worst. However, raising the issue of the quality and motivation of the reporting is important I think, as a prelude to my evaluation of those Black commentators who appeared on the numerous talk shows that were billed as discussions over "news reports" regarding the Nation Of Islam and Michael Jackson. (On a related note, Fox News is taking issue with CBS and the New York Times regarding their respective roles in the "Michael Jackson-Nation Of Islam controversy" See: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,107196,00.html)
It can be argued that there would not be any cable TV or talk-radio discussion of this subject were it not for the print media's role
I think I can accurately say that the group of Blacks (all males by the way) enlisted to offer comment on the controversy are quite an eclectic bunch. It is not everyday (or really any day that one will see, all in one day, on cable TV, Project Islamic Hope's Imam Najee Ali; Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania; Former Nation Of Islam member and now author, Vibert White; Jackson family friend, MSNBC analyst, Stacy Brown; syndicated columnist Roland Martin Publisher of Black America Today; and Firpo Carr, an adviser to Michael Jackson. If nothing else, it does come to show that the 24-hour news cycle and constant need for guest commentary and opinion has enabled the voices of many Black Americans to be heard, who formerly received little to no attention on radio or network television news programs.
The following morning, on New Year’s Eve, I decided, for edutainment purposes, to grade the performance of each of the featured Black commentators. I quickly came up with a four-category evaluation system with ten points available in each category.
Those areas are: 1) Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest 2) Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument 3) Show format and host management 4) Accuracy and Courage. Here is a very brief explanation of each area:
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest. How well does the commentator recognize: 1) that greater unity (not uniformity) is good for the Black community 2) the undeniable good work the Nation Of Islam has performed for the benefit of Black people 3) that it is good for Michael Jackson (and all Black people) to gain the knowledge of himself and better connect with the Black community 4) that increased interaction with Blacks who subscribe to spiritual and moral teachings could be a good thing for Michael Jackson or anybody else for that matter?
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument. How well does the commentator present an easy-to-understand, non-contradictory, and unwavering message? Does the commentator reflect that they prepared for the show, and bring relevant, previously unknown, not addressed or underreported facts – by Fox, the New York Post and New York Times - to the discussion?
Show format and host management. How well does the commentator handle the show’s host and its format? Do they get information in under time constraints? Do they handle an intrusive host or interruptions from other guests? Do they adapt to the flow of the show’s discourse "adding-on" to points that strengthen their own position or counter points that seek to refute a previous point they have made?
Accuracy and Courage. Is the commentator telling the truth? Does he demonstrate a willingness to state the truth even if it reflects a minority or unpopular view or one that most White people are unaware? Does he give the impression that he or she is apologizing for telling the truth? Does the commentator hold to a fact, under pressure from the host or guests?
Of course, not all of the components in each category of this grading system apply to each commentator and we acknowledge the difficulty factors like time constraints and superficiality that accompany the appearance on such shows.
Here is the grading scale:
(35 to 40 points) : A
(30 to 35 points) : B
(25 to 30 points) : C
(20 to 25 points) : D
(20 points or less ) : F
So, please find below the report cards of each commentator along with the transcript of their appearance. An explanation of the grades follows the relevant portions of the show's transcript.
Michael Eric Dyson on NewsNight with Aaron Brown Grade: A
Aaron Brown: On that theme, the Nation of Islam and Michael Jackson is not necessarily a partnership any of us would have predicted. We suspect we're not alone. How and why the two have come together therefore is a reasonable question to put on the table.
Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on race, religion, and pop culture. We're pleased to have him with us tonight, good to see you professor.
While there is a fair amount of irony in all of this given that Mr. Jackson, many would argue, has gone to some considerable lengths to be less black but this isn't the first time he has sought out black activists either.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR OF HUMANITIES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: No, not at all, he's been associated in the past, of course, with Reverend Al Sharpton when he made claims against Mr. Tommy Mottola the former head of Sony that he was being treated in a racist fashion and he spoke out against him. He was associated with him.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, of course, has reached out to Mr. Jackson during this and other public foibles and, of course, his recent association with the Nation of Islam or Minister Louis Farrakhan and others indicates that he's got a trifecta of black leadership so to speak.
But I think that what's interesting is that there are other factors that might suggest this is not as curious as people might suggest. On the one hand, Mr. Jackson was reared as a Jehovah's Witness, a marginal within the context of American religious landscape, a religious group in that sense.
And also, the Nation of Islam has made a history of reaching out to battered and brutalized black men, black men who have made mistakes in their lives. They're not as famous usually as Michael Jackson, although we do recall Minister Benjamin Chavis (ph) who became Minister Benjamin Mohammed when he was cast out of the NAACP was embraced by the Nation of Islam but on the ground, the Nation of Islam has majored in rehabilitating the image and identify of black men.
BROWN: Let's see if we can get to a couple things here. Why now? Why do you think now?
DYSON: Well, Michael Jackson is in trouble, in huge trouble. His perception in the culture has been deeply and profoundly damaged by these allegations. Also, perhaps he's rethinking through his own crisis what his identity is about.
You mentioned earlier that Michael Jackson, and your reporter, has distanced himself in one sense from African American culture but he's had a huge hand that has helped him in terms of the broader society seducing him in one sense, the broader (unintelligible) of a culture that says that white is better than black and certain values and visions are better than others.
And so, Michael Jackson has in one sense internalized those to what some consider an atrocious degree so he's, you know, not darkened his face. He's lightened it. He says it doesn't make a difference if you're black and white as he gets whiter and whiter and whiter but that's responding to a broader culture of white supremacy that seduces him into believing that's the truth.
So right now he's in huge trouble. The Nation of Islam is a group that gives a steady message that one ought to, I don't think the notion of them being a black separatist group holds now, they're certainly a pro-black group that wants to focus on rehabilitating black men and in this case of making sure that one's own cultural roots are not obscured by one's own practices.
BROWN: Do you think there is a risk to Mr. Jackson in this association, whatever the association precisely is?
DYSON: Well, there's a risk in a culture that sees any kind of black association as curious, especially one with a leader who has been demonized to the degree that Mr. Louis Farrakhan has number one.
Number two what does Michael Jackson have to lose on the other hand? Here he has already been demonized by the broader society, black and white, so his association with Minister Farrakhan cannot in any way, you know, undercut his standing in the culture because that's been so severely thrashed by these allegations.
BROWN: Does it make white jurors less comfortable? I'm sorry, let me try that again.
BROWN: Does it make white jurors less comfortable?
DYSON: Well, it may indeed.
DYSON: Because Minister Farrakhan himself in the presence of the Nation of Islam...
BROWN: That would be a risk.
DYSON: ...makes white people, you know, feel a bit more nervous so there's no question then in that sense if it's a calculated move strategically for Michael Jackson to figure out how he can win over white jurors that's one thing. But on the other hand I think it's fairly clear to say that if you've already been dissed by the culture that you've embraced maybe he's rethinking his own relationship to white America.
BROWN: Good to have you with us, interesting thoughts. Thank you, professor.
DYSON: Thanks for having me.
BROWN: Thank you, sir. Have a good New Year.
Score By Category:
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 10.
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument. 10
Show format and host management. 10
Accuracy and Courage. 10
A Bit of Explanation:
Admittedly Aaron Brown is very open and receptive to listening to Professor Dyson. This helps immeasurably. But it really doesn’t get any better than this. Professor Dyson perfectly exemplifies fulfillment of the criteria we lay out. He is self-enlightened, clear, articulate, accurate, and courageous. Perhaps many of the commentators would obtain a perfect score under the show format and style of the host. But, maybe not. To the disappointment of his die-hard supporters and the relief of his critics, Professor Dyson delivers his message without quoting and actually delivering, in cadence, the Hip-Hop rhymes of Tupac, Chuck D. or Mos Def.
Imam Najee Ali On Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Grade: B
ANDERSON COOPER: Why might Michael Jackson want the Nation of Islam involved in his affairs? That's the question. Why might the Nation of Islam want to be associated with the pop star?
For one perspective, we turn now to Najee Ali, the director of Project: Islamic Hope in Los Angeles. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Ali. What do you think? First of all, you're not associated with the Nation of Islam, is that correct?
NAJEE ALI, DIRECTOR, PROJECT: ISLAMIC HOPE: No, I'm not.
COOPER: Why do you think Michael Jackson might want some sort of association with them?
ALI: I believe Michael, when this crisis happened, wanted to reach out to let the black community know he had not abandoned and forsaken them as many have tried to state and say so by linking himself with the strongest and most pro-black group in America, it played into what Michael thought would be welcoming him into the black community.
COOPER: So you're seeing it as almost a public relations move as well as a security move. Why would the Nation want to be associated with the pop star?
ALI: Obviously, Michael Jackson is the most famous entertainer on the earth. It gives you a great benefit to your group to be associated with someone of his stature. But also, keep in mind that Reverend Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, myself, and other black leaders offered our help and support to Michael Jackson also.
COOPER: Yet it's interesting that he has turned to this group, which he has not really been affiliated with in the past. As you say, it sends a message to some people. Do you have any sense of how involved the Nation of Islam is in Michael Jackson's affairs? We've heard about this man, Leonard Muhammad, according to the "New York Times," has an office in Mark Geragos' office.
ALI: Leonard Muhammad is there and we've seen Leonard Muhammad assisting Mark Geragos. Leonard Muhammad has been to Neverland. I do know for a fact the Nation of Islam has provided Michael Jackson with security in a certain sense. I'm not sure how often but they are providing security services. So they are playing a role in Michael Jackson's life every day.
COOPER: And yet, Mark Geragos, Jackson's attorney, denies that the Nation is involved with Michael Jackson. Why do you think, why in your opinion might he do that?
ALI: Well, I believe, obviously, the Nation of Islam does have a controversial image in the past in America. In many circles they're viewed upon as a group that have had a lot of controversy with racist statements. The Nation of Islam is not viewed favorably by everyone in America and it does hurt and harm Michael to be associated with the Nation of Islam in certain circles.
COOPER: And it seems like we're hearing the story now because there seems to be some sort of problems within the Jackson camp, a lot of Jackson's older or long time advisers seem to have some problems with some of these new advisers. Is that a fair summary, do you think?
ALI: It's very fair to say. I'm someone from the very beginning who's always said, I support the Nation of Islam and the good work they do. I think in this situation, it was ill advised for Michael to become involved. Because the last thing Michael needs is more controversy. And certainly, with the Nation of Islam providing security, it creates another controversy on its own.
COOPER: All right. Najee Ali, we appreciate you joining us, thank you very much. From Los Angeles.
Score by category
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 8
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument: 8
Show format and host management: 9
Accuracy and Courage: 8
A Bit Of Explanation:
Anyone who read BlackElectorate.com’s exclusive interview with Imam Najee Ali should understand why we love and respect him. He does an excellent job in being responsive to the questions which are not easy to answer - as Anderson Cooper poses questions in a manner designed to make one answer and speak for others (Michael Jackson and Mark Geragos.) Our only disappointment with Najee Ali comes with his answer to the last question. We can’t follow the logic of why Najee Ali places such a premium on avoiding controversy – making it more important than other considerations that should naturally flow from his acknowledged recognition of the good work of the Nation Of Islam, its excellence at security, and a recognition that much (but not all) of the controversy over Michael Jackson and the Nation Of Islam is undeserved and stems from media hype and demonization campaigns of interest groups that have not proven themselves to be true friends of Black people. Maybe Anderson Cooper’s skeptical questioning wore down Najee Ali by the end. Or perhaps, Mr. Ali’s possible conviction that he, Rev. Sharpton or Rev. Jackson would have been better suited to help Michael (presumably because they are less controversial in some circles) than the Nation Of Islam, prevents him from seeing more pros than cons in the alleged relationship.
Vibert White, Paula Zahn Now, Grade: D
O'BRIEN: Is the Nation of Islam controlling Michael Jackson? Joining us this evening in our studios, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, he is Michael Jackson's former spiritual adviser, and from Orlando this evening is Vibert White, he is the author and expert on the Nation of Islam. He's also a former member of the group.
Gentlemen, good evening. It's nice to have both of you here.
Mr. White, let's begin with you. Were you surprised to read these reports about Michael Jackson and some of the alleged links with the Nation of Islam?
VIBERT L. WHITE, AUTHOR: No, not at all. For the past 20 years or so, the Nation of Islam has worked diligently to try to attract celebrities to join the organization. I mean, you had people such as Arsenio Hall, Isaac Hayes, Russell Simmons, and the list can go on, where the organization has went out out of their way to attract these types of individuals.
To have a person like Michael Jackson to be a member or at least connected to the group would be a great feather in the cap of the organization, a great feather in the cap of Louis Farrakhan, because the organization lives off of the media, lives off of the excitement and the popularity that is given to them by the media community.
O'BRIEN: Well, Rabbi, then, in the years before you had your falling out with Michael Jackson a couple of years ago, did you see this? I mean, we hear Mr. White talk about for 20 years, the Nation of Islam trying to sort of insinuate its way into a relationship with Michael Jackson? Did you see any of that while you were his spiritual adviser?
RABBI SCHMULEY BOTEACH, FORMER JACKSON ADVISER: Not at all. To the contrary. Michael was not sufficiently involved in the black community at all. It was a subject of many of our conversations. I said to him that his identity would not be fully formed unless he reconnected with his roots, but he would always say to me, I'm a citizen of the world.
You have to remember, Michael married two white women. His connection with the black community was tenuous.
Now, I don't know if it's a feather in the cap of the Nation of Islam to have Michael, it might be a sign of their desperation, which is we're talking about a very damaged celebrity here, who's facing very heinous allegations. Michael Jackson has become the Humpty- Dumpty of America, he's fallen off his wall, and now all the pieces have to be put together by the king's men.
Now, Michael always turns to people like this in his moments of desperation, because only the king can really put himself together. Redemption is an act of self-redemption, but they are probably coming to him and saying, Michael, you are just the victim of white racism, the white man is out to get you, and we can protect you, and Michael is so desperate now, he's going to hold on to any straw he can get.
O'BRIEN: You know, certainly people who are still affiliated with the singer, they told you that the Nation of Islam is being closely connected to Michael Jackson?
BOTEACH: A close associate of him, of Michael's has visited him in Las Vegas not long ago, called me and said that he was troubled to see the Nation of Islam bodyguards all around him. He did not know the extent to which they were running his life.
O'BRIEN: Were business affairs mentioned in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BOTEACH: No, he did not mention anything like that. It was more security.
O'BRIEN: Mr. White, explain to me why the Nation of Islam targets black celebrities? Is it only sort of makes them more relevant by having a connection with a black celebrity? And also, how is it done? When you hear that potentially members of the Nation of Islam are running business affairs, and deciding who gets paid and who doesn't, and maybe moving into Mark Geragos' office, these are all things that have been reported so far. Does it sound like it's completely off base or does it sound sort of from what you know about the organization how it works?
WHITE: Yes, of course. I want to step back a second. As far back as 1993, when Michael Jackson was under the same type of investigation that he is in now, Louis Farrakhan was one of the first people to speak out and suggest that Michael was misunderstood, he's a sensitive individual, and that he needs support from the black community, i.e. the Nation of Islam.
Now, the Nation of Islam, as they get involved with the Michael Jackson campaign, is an organization that will quickly and aggressively take over the infrastructure of his empire. Surely they may not say that they're running the business, but they will consider themselves as being an adviser, a spiritual adviser to the group, and isolate and polarize any other individual or organization that comes close to Michael Jackson.
What you have is an organization that is run oftentimes like a military government. Anything that is close to it, they feel very fearful, and they will isolate and make an argument, like the rabbi says, that this is a conspiracy, a white conspiracy, a Jewish conspiracy to control, to manipulate and to dethrone the King of Pop because he is black and he is very influential in American society.
O'BRIEN: Incredibly interesting. Vibert White joining us, and Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, thank you, both of you, for being with us. I appreciate your insight.
Score By Category:
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 5
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument: 7
Show format and host management: 6
Accuracy and Courage: 6
A Bit Of Explanation:
Professor White, as a "former" member of the Nation of Islam does offer some insight and opinions that others would not have or feel qualified to make. But in addition to offering an inaccurate comment at worst or some hyperbole at best - that the NOI lives off of media hype - he accepts Soledad O’Brien’s flawed premise that the Nation Of Islam “targets celebrities.” His reference to Russell Simmons is not consistent with why Mr. Simmons told me he is attracted to the Nation Of Islam and loves Minister Farrakhan. I can’t answer for the others he mentions. But the premise is flawed or at least exaggerated in the context of the Nation Of Islam’s outreach to "everybody" – prisoners, professionals, college students and just every day Black folk'. As the former general manager of Wu-Tang Clan, having seen the Nation Of Islam interact with celebrities up close, it is my opinion that celebrities seek out the Nation Of Islam (for counseling and security) more than they are "targetted", as claimed. Many of these celebrities, Professor White may have forgotten, were once everyday Black folk’ who were first approached by the Nation Of Islam on the street corner with a newspaper (Muhammad Speaks or The Final Call). The Nation Of Islam does not need any Black person to become famous in order for them to be viewed as a prime candidate to hear the message. Mr. White clearly could have taken further advantage of the deferential tone of the host, Soledad O’Brien, and made numerous points that would reflect more of the insight he would be expected to have as a former member of the Nation Of Islam. Perhaps a very close friend of mine put it best, of this Paula Zahn Now show, when they called me after the show saying, "a former member of the Nation and a former spiritual adviser of Michael's is not a good recipe for current insight."
Stanley Brown on The Abrams Report, Grade: A
TACOPINA: All right. On the other side of the coin, just who is in charge of the Michael Jackson defense team these days? That‘s the big question on many people‘s mind after conflicting reports out of California. “The New York Times” is reporting the Nation of Islam chief of staff Leonard Muhammad is now working out of Mark Geragos‘ law office in Los Angeles. The Nation has reportedly taken control of Jackson‘s business affairs and is limiting all access to the King of Pop.
Geragos has denied the reports, but sources inside the office say Muhammad is there for the long run. Meanwhile, Jackson‘s spokesperson, Stuart Backerman, no longer has a job.
Backerman claims he resigned his position. Jackson‘s attorney, Mark Geragos, says Backerman was actually fired.
With us tonight to sort all of this out is Jackson family friend, MSNBC analyst, Stacy Brown. Stacy, thanks for coming.
STACY BROWN, JACKSON FAMILY FRIEND: Hey Joe.
TACOPINA: All right. Help us sort this out. What is the Nation of Islam‘s role in Michael Jackson‘s legal defense?
BROWN: Well first off, I talked to both Mark Geragos and Leonard Muhammad in person in Los Angeles about a week ago. Mark Geragos is definitely in charge. He is the defense lawyer, he‘s in charge. Leonard Muhammad and I just spoke about an hour or so ago on the phone as well. Leonard is a supporter. He wants it to be known that he is a supporter and it has nothing to do with his ties to the Nation of Islam. He just happens to be a member of the Nation of Islam.
TACOPINA: He just happens to be a member of the Nation of Islam, but also in a separate role he‘s a supporter of Michael Jackson?
BROWN: He‘s supporting Michael Jackson.
TACOPINA: What is he working out of Mark Geragos‘ law office for?
He‘s not a lawyer from what I understand...
BROWN: Well Leonard denies that he‘s working out Mark Geragos‘ office. I asked him that and he said unequivocally no, I am not working out of Mark Geragos‘ office with Mark Geragos.
TACOPINA: Apparently some of the Jackson family, though, are involved, if you will, with the Nation of Islam. I think is it Jermaine...
BROWN: Well Jermaine is a Muslim; he‘s not a member of the Nation of Islam.
TACOPINA: OK. Is there any tie between the Nation of Islam that you know and Michael Jackson or one of the Jackson brothers?
BROWN: Well as far as I know, some of the security members are Muslims. Whether or not they‘re the Nation of Islam, I‘m not totally sure. There is a difference I‘m told.
TACOPINA: What about Stuart Backerman, Michael Jackson‘s now former spokesperson. He claims he left because of differences in strategy. Mark Geragos says I personally fired him because he spoke to the media. Do you know what really happened?
BROWN: Well I was told over two weeks ago that Stuart was going to be out and according to Mark Geragos what happened here was Stuart was not complying. He would make statements without going to the defense and in a case like this, you must go through that defense attorney before you make a blanket statement. This is extremely important.
TACOPINA: What about the notion that the people closest to Michael Jackson, Stacy, can‘t get in touch with Michael Jackson? Apparently and you know, these reports, they could be spinning from one side or another, but have you noticed the change in the inner circle of Michael Jackson, people who are his insiders, his confidants, now being treated as insiders?
BROWN: Well you know what I‘ve noticed, yes, I‘ve noticed a change for the better in my opinion because I‘m noticing now that Michael has become more accessible to his family, which is what it should be in the first place.
TACOPINA: Stacy, thanks a lot for coming tonight. Have a good New Year‘s.
Score by Category:
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 9
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument: 10
Show format and host management: 8
Accuracy and Courage: 10
A Bit Of Explanation:
Stacy Brown is sounding like a crack reporter – going to the main sources and the principals involved in the story. He evidently has quite a rolodex and network and he parlays his access well. He is responsive to all of the questions presented by the host, corrects and refines a few points, and concludes his comments with a powerful point indicating he values Michael Jackson’s newfound closeness with his family. Granted, as an MSNBC analyst, he receives a friendly format and respectful host, and there is opportunity for the show’s producers to synchronize the questions and answers a bit; but for what he has to work with, Stanley Brown is a no-frills success.
Firpo Carr, Hardball, Grade: C
Roland Martin, Hardball, Grade: A
MIKE BARNICLE, HOST: I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
The big story tonight, what is Michael Jackson‘s tie to Louis Farrakhan‘s separatist African-American Muslim group?
“The New York Times” today reports that an unnamed Jackson employee says, quote, “The Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan‘s son-in-law have taken over completely and are in full and total charge. They have gone in and taken over control of the finances in terms of who‘s getting paid, how much. They are working out of Geragos‘ office; in essence, they‘re telling him what to do,” unquote.
The Nation of Islam later released a statement saying, they have “no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson.”
Firpo Carr is an adviser to Michael Jackson. Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist. Jane Velez-Mitchell is with “Celebrity Justice.”
Firpo Carr, you‘re close to the family. Do you believe the—in the accuracy of “The New York times” report today? Is it accurate?
FIRPO CARR, JACKSON ADVISER: I would say that it is not accurate. I would agree with the release from the Nation of Islam. They state very clearly that they have no business ties with Michael Jackson. It‘s that simple.
Now, are they, have they in any way, have any—have had any dealings with him? Absolutely, they have. But, once again, Michael is his own man, and he calls his own shots. So I think that needs to be emphasized, and it cannot be overemphasized.
He has known Mr. Farrakhan for quite some time, and, yes, they did approach him and ask, “Hey, do you need our services as far as security is concerned?” And yes, Michael did obviously accept those services.
Now, they have what is called a paramilitary arm of the Nation of Islam called the Fruit of Islam, and they are a very cohesive group, what have you.
Does not mean that Michael has joined the Nation of Islam. He has not. So anyone who is saying that are—they are far removed from the facts. He has not joined the Nation of Islam. In fact, the Nation of Islam is doing...
BARNICLE: Well, what...
CARR: ... what it‘s there for doing what the Mormons did for, who is that, Howard Hughes. The Mormons. You see? That doesn‘t mean he became a Mormon.
BARNICLE: Firpo, what services are the—is the Nation of Islam providing for Michael Jackson? And if it is only security, why the Nation of Islam doing security for him, rather than the security forces I assume he‘s had for quite some time?
CARR: Real simple. You have cohesiveness. The Nation of Islam, they‘re in every major city in the United States.
So, guess what? If I fly from L.A. to Atlanta, I don‘t have to have the same group. I can have another group waiting there for me.
I have that flexibility if I‘m with the Nation of Islam. They all go by the same rulebook, if you will.
No one is going to act independently of the other. They have integrity. Part of their worship is to be very conscientious in what they do, so you have those advantages.
BARNICLE: Why would ostensibly the leader of the Nation of Islam security forces around Michael Jackson, Leonard Muhammad, the son-in-law to the leader of the Nation of Islam.
Why would he be pictured with Michael Jackson‘s lawyer? Why wouldn‘t he be handling Michael Jackson? Why wouldn‘t he be in the shadows with Michael Jackson? Why is he out front here?
CARR: He is, in fact. He has been with Michael. I‘ve seen him with Michael, and, yes, he has been with Mark Geragos.
Well, the fact is, is that some of you—some of us may not be aware of the fact or the public may not be the aware of the fact that security forces have been provided for not just Michael Jackson here, but also O.J. Simpson.
You see, other stars have received or have accepted, if you will, the services of the Nation of Islam. It‘s not just Michael Jackson. So you need to keep that in mind when we are talking about this sort of thing.
BARNICLE: Do they accept the services? Do they seek the services, or does the Nation of Islam seek them out to provide services?
CARR: Well, you know, you probably would be better off asking the Nation of Islam that. They have very qualified spokesmen, what have you.
BARNICLE: Roland Martin, why do you think it is just the mere mention of the Nation of Islam engender so much fear among so many people in this country, both black and white?
ROLAND MARTIN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, frankly, because of the history.
Louis Farrakhan has made a number of comments, members of the organization have made comments people have taken offense to. They have been called anti-gay, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish. So, therefore, when you mention the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan, a lot of folks shudder.
I think one of the things that we‘re missing here, Mike, is that there‘s a difference between the Nation of Islam taking a formal role in Michael Jackson‘s affairs as opposed to members of the Nation taking a role.
The Nation of Islam members who have owned security companies that are not tied to the Nation of Islam, so to say, to have the headline the Nation of Islam is in the Jackson camp is not accurate.
Now, as a reporter, the first thing I did was actually call Mark—call the law firm, and they said that Muhammad is not operating out of Geragos‘ law firm.
I said, does he have an office there? No. Can I reach him there? No. They said he isn‘t operating here. So any reporter, instead of accepting what a Jackson employee would say that he is running the show, the first thing you do is call the actual law firm to say is this actually the case?
CARR: Makes sense to me.
BARNICLE: Jane Velez-Mitchell, the story in the “Times” today, if you read it, you come away with the impression—last evening we were talking about the question of whether or not Mark Geragos could control his client, Michael Jackson.
If you read “The New York Times” story today, the larger question seems to be is Mark Geragos lost control of this entire case to the Nation of Islam, even though the other—the other two guests say it‘s not accurate.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, “CELEBRITY JUSTICE”: I think that is the big picture, is that there appears to be a power struggle going on here, and that happens with a lot of big cases.
If you look back at the O.J. Simpson case, there was a power struggle between Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran as that case was getting into high gear. This often happens.
And you see Stuart Backerman, Michael Jackson‘s long-time spokesman, saying he resigned for strategic differences. And Geragos saying, “No, I fired him because he talked to the media at the party up at Neverland, and I told him not to.”
A source told me that Backerman was very concerned about things going on, possibly the increased presence of the Nation of Islam. And I think even if it‘s just for security, it‘s an extraordinarily bad idea.
One of the wonderful things about Michael Jackson and his music is his message that what really counts is what‘s on the inside and your spirit and your spirituality. And he‘s had songs like no different if you‘re black or white.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And that‘s part of the reason we love him.
CARR: Really, Mike...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: So this really runs counter to his essential message, and I think it would be counter productive. It would really erase one of the good things he‘s got going for him.
BARNICLE: Firpo Carr, let‘s...
MARTIN: Wait a minute. Why is it a bad idea that Michael has hired a security firm to provide security even though they may be part of the Nation of Islam? Why is that a bad idea? If I hire a law firm...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Because it‘s associated with a lot of controversial things.
MARTIN: Wait. Wait a minute. But if Michael is hiring them for security, that‘s the primary issue.
Now, Mike, if you actually read “The New York times” story, the larger issue is not a power struggle. This issue has to do with the finances of Michael Jackson.
If you see—if you read most of the quotes in there, they were mostly concerned with who‘s controlling Michael‘s dollars? Who‘s making decisions?
MARTIN: They‘re brainwashing Michael. If you actually read the story properly, that‘s the primary issue of those...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It opens Pandora‘s box.
BARNICLE: The problem with the story—The problem with the story is there are so many unattributed quotes that, you know, nobody is putting their name in all this stuff. That leads to a problem.
MARTIN: Mike, what would be your personal problem? Mike—Mike...
CARR: From what I understand, too, here is something else, when it comes to Grace. What I understand, Grace...
BARNICLE: Wait a minute. Go ahead.
CARR: Yes. From what I understand, they say that Grace, you know, one of Michael‘s closest assistants, has stated that she is the one that introduced Michael to the Nation of Islam.
BARNICLE: She‘s Michael Jackson‘s children‘s nanny, correct?
CARR: Right. Yes. That‘s correct. I have known Grace for years, for years. I am a close friend of Grace. I—I am here to tell you that probably that is certainly absolutely not true.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I can tell you that I spoke to a source that‘s close to Michael Jackson...
CARR: There are certain things—that is not the case. That‘s just a fact. You know, let‘s just call it what it is.
And as far as, you know, talking about Minister Louis Farrakhan is concerned, let‘s just look at this whole big picture.
First of all, Michael Jackson says something that was really—that really upset him. He—I should say he encountered something that really upset him. What was that? He stated that hey, wow, people in this industry, certain ones with this whole deal with Sony, are racists. Wow. That‘s uncharacteristic of Michael Jackson.
Well, guess what. You have someone who‘s been on the frontline for a long time saying that, wait a minute, racism rears its ugly head all over the place, even in the music industry.
So now you have someone who might have—we can imagine this scenario say, listen, Mike, we understand that. We‘ve seen it for a long time. In fact, get this, guess what, they—when you use the word kike, and not in a bad or disparaging sentence. When you use that sentence, it is a bad word, just like nigger and other words are. Wow, you were approached and told, almost ordered to take this out.
BARNICLE: Who used that word?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All of—it‘s a very bad idea. Michael Jackson using the Nation of Islam for security.
BARNICLE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
CARR: What happened is this. Actually what happened...
BARNICLE: Firpo. Firpo.
CARR: Let me just finish the thought. Let me just finish the thought.
BARNICLE: You‘re losing me here.
CARR: OK. Here it is. Now, you have, on the other hand, rappers using the word “nigger” and what have you, and Michael has no doubt. No doubt been approached, saying there‘s a double standard here.
You can use this word that is disparaging in the case...
MARTIN: Let me explain what happened, Mike.
CARR: ... in fact, let‘s call it what it is. That tells you something.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You‘re proving the point, Firpo, that it‘s an extraordinarily bad idea to use the Nation of Islam.
CARR: No, no, no.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is already a very emotionally charged case.
CARR: No, I‘m not.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You‘re dealing with issues like child molestation.
Why drop firebombs like race and religion and politics on top of it?
BARNICLE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let‘s go...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: That‘s a bad idea.
BARNICLE: Roland Martin has written about the Nation of Islam for years.
BARNICLE: Go ahead, Roland. Go ahead.
MARTIN: Michael Jackson released a record where he said, “Jew me, sue me.” In that particular record he was criticized by Jewish leaders, and he was asked to change that lyric. That‘s what actually took place.
Again, what you have is a power struggle going on here. And that‘s what you have going on.
So—now, the official sources, Mark Geragos, has said, “I fired Stuart Backerman.”
Mark Geragos has said, “No one from the Nation is telling me how to run this case.”
The Nation has released an official statement stating...
CARR: Right. Right.
MARTIN: ... that we‘re not involved in the affairs. Anybody who knows the Nation knows that when Louis Farrakhan speaks, that‘s it. That‘s end of conversation.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mike, can I interject something here about...
BARNICLE: Go ahead, quickly. I want to get back to Farrakhan.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK. Michael Jackson in his interview on “60 Minutes” talked about a conspiracy, but refused to elaborate.
And I think there‘s some concern as to whether certain groups may be playing on his fears that there is, in fact, a conspiracy. I mean, obviously he feels very persecuted, so he wants to surround himself with people who are going to make him feel buffered.
But Michael Jackson can afford the best security in the world, and I‘ve interviewed some of the people who‘ve provided security for him in the past.
BARNICLE: All right. Well, that‘s...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And these are very top professionals.
BARNICLE: That‘s actually a question...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: He doesn‘t need to go there.
BARNICLE: That‘s actually a question I want to address to Firpo Carr.
Firpo, first of all, what are the prospects of your becoming Michael Jackson‘s spokesman?
CARR: Say it again? I‘m sorry.
BARNICLE: What are the...
CARR: Are you talking about me?
CARR: I can‘t answer that question. I‘m not the one who would make that decision. So you need to ask, I would say, Michael‘s camp or Mark Geragos or someone like that.
BARNICLE: When was the last time you spoke to him?
CARR: That is not the—oh, that‘s real easy. December 20. But that is not my aspiration. I want to thank the other guest for saying, “Jew me, sue me.” It wasn‘t “kike.” Thank you very much for that correction.
But I will say this. When you think—when you look at this big picture, this is what‘s amazing to me. Michael Jackson, as the other guests, the female, who stated—I‘m sorry. What‘s your name again?
BARNICLE: Hurry up. We‘re running out of time, Firpo.
CARR: Jane. All right. OK. Real quick. OK. Here we go.
The fact of the matter is, Michael is open now, because he sees his
eyes opening with regard to racism in the industry. So yes, that makes him I won‘t say vulnerable, but open it other suggestions.
BARNICLE: OK. OK. Firpo Carr, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Roland Martin, thank you all very much. We appreciate it.
CARR: All right.
MARTIN: Thank you, Michael.
Score By Category: - Firpo Carr
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 10
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument: 6
Show format and host management: 7
Accuracy and Courage: 4
A Bit Of Explanation:
Firpo Carr has intriguing things to say but could use some polishing and preparation. And of course, he performs a major no-no with his citing the wrong quote from a Michael Jackson song. His point could have been developed into an insightful one but ends up being too convoluted for the quick Hardball format to digest. He clearly wanted to allude to a powerful union of thought and argument that Michael Jackson and Minister Farrakhan might be able to produce regarding the music industry, but was unable to do so articulately. The result is that he offers red meat for those who will charge anti-Semitism at the drop of a dime. He is certainly conscious and perceptive but created a hole that he was not able to dig himself out of. I am not even sure that the assist of sorts he receives on the "jew me/sue me" lyric confusion, from Roland Martin helped Carr in how he accepts it.
Score By Category: - Roland Martin
Demonstrating a Black self-enlightened interest: 9
Delivering a cogent, consistent and insightful message and argument: 10
Show format and host management: 8
Accuracy and Courage: 10
A Bit Of Explanation
This is Hardball and Roland Martin acted like it. He came prepared knowing exactly what he wanted to say. He played the role of a good journalist before hand, challenging the accuracy of the report that was the basis of the program. He dictated the conversation and even knew enough to correct and fact-check another guest (Fipro Carr). It was not pretty as Roland Martin had to raise his voice, body the guests and elbow for the microphone; but because he knew the format he excelled and got his message across. If this were basketball, Roland Martin would be the equivalent of Dennis Rodman in his prime – the quickest off his toes for every rebound and loose ball.
All in all, December 30, 2003, to me, represents a significant sign of the continuing evolution and progress of Black intellectuals and opinion leaders in their handling of the Nation Of Islam. You would have never seen performances like that of Roland Martin, Michael Eric Dyson, and Stanley Brown, ten or maybe even five years ago, as White media elites have been successful for years at keeping Black leaders and thinkers off-balance - using the Nation Of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan, in particular, as a litmus test for said individuals in front of largely White audiences. Now with increasing sophistication, intelligence, or courage, these important members of the Black community are not just able to side-step ill-motivated, disingenuous, and clever public questioning regarding the Nation Of Islam, but are now willing to confront such efforts with due dilligence and a more frank depiction of the thinking and realities of Black Americans.
No more apologies, we can only hope.
Monday, January 5, 2004