When it comes to civil rights, Republicans just can’t win. As a Republican president, Bush’s policy moves are scrutinized by Democrats and their media allies for signs of racial insensitivity. Yet when Bush makes a point to honor the civil-rights movement, his efforts are trashed. Take, for example, the New York Times’s hostile coverage of Bush’s trip to Atlanta to commemorate Martin Luther King day.
Last August, southern-based Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman compared “Ten Commandments” Judge Roy Moore and his supporters to Alabama’s segregationist former governor George Wallace. Gettleman is at it again in his January 15 offering, “Bush Plan to Honor Dr. King Stirs Criticism.” In this latest dispatch (coauthored by Ariel Hart), Gettleman flings down race cards every step of his trip through urban Atlanta, uncovering anti-Bush racial animosity on the eve of the city’s King celebration.
The story opens: “When President Bill Clinton came to town on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, crowds poured into the streets to watch him lay a wreath at the foot of Dr. King’s grave. On Thursday, President Bush is coming to town. And the streets may be full again. Many of Atlanta’s civil-rights leaders are outraged about Mr. Bush’s planned visit to commemorate Dr. King’s 75th birthday and are using the occasion for protests. Already, they have marched with bullhorns, signs and thumping drums, shouting for the president to stay away.”
The Times pushes the liberal antiwar angle: “Many demonstrators asked how Mr. Bush, who pushed for war in Iraq, could champion Dr. King, who stood for nonviolent resistance. ‘It’s hypocritical,’ said Minister Mmoja Ajabu of Providence Missionary Baptist Church. Pointing to Dr. King’s tomb, a slab of white marble overlooking a reflecting pool, Mr. Ajabu added, ‘It’s quite possible that Dr. King will get up out of his grave there and say, ‘What’s going on here? You’re killing so many people.’”
But while Gettleman and Hart apparently find Ajabu’s criticism credible, they don’t mention his, er, inflammatory past. A former Black Panther militia leader, Ajabu was arrested in 1996 for burning an American flag at an Olympics celebration. In 1994, after a fire destroyed Randolph County High School in Wedowee, Ga., Ajabu was quoted as saying, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution: “The school board wouldn’t get rid of [Principal Hulond] Humphries, so somebody got rid of the school. This sends a message that black folks aren’t going to sit down and let white folks run over us.” (The school was the subject of protests after the principal opposed mixed-race dating at the school prom.)
Gettleman and Hart continue with more anti-Bush criticism: “Civil rights leaders said the hastily planned presidential visit, to be followed by a $2,000-a-person fundraiser in Atlanta, is interfering with birthday plans. They also said coupling a visit to honor Dr. King with a political fundraiser was in poor taste. ‘It’s the epitome of insult,’ said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, an organizer of the birthday celebrations. ‘He’s really coming here for the fundraiser. The King wreath was an afterthought.’”
Again, the Times ignores the left-wing background of a “civil rights leader” they quote. In August 2002, lamenting the defeat of anti-Israeli Rep. Cynthia McKinney, McDonald blamed everyone in sight for her loss: “McKinney was defeated by the extreme wing of the Jewish community; the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which sued the city of Atlanta over its affirmative-action program; the Christian Coalition, which gave us right-wing ideologues in Congress…”
Ironically, Martin Luther King Jr. was himself a strong supporter of Israel, a fact that should give Israel-bashers like McKinney and McDonald pause.
Gettleman and Hart again contrast Bush’s racially charged reception with Clinton’s: “When President Clinton came in 1996, he received a standing ovation. But this presidential visit will be different. It seems to have lifted the lid on long-simmering anger many blacks feel toward Mr. Bush. Some Bush policies, including tax cuts mainly benefiting those with higher incomes and cutting back on welfare-type programs, have alienated black voters, analysts say.”
But the reporters don’t back up this dubious tax analysis, and fail to cite any welfare cuts–in fact, a big complaint from conservatives is that Bush is spending too much on programs like Medicare.
The Times finally gets around to the inconvenient fact that the actual caretakers of King’s legacy welcome Bush: “The King Center is the official guardian of Dr. King’s legacy, and a spokesman at the center said the president’s visit was welcome.”
But typically, the Times gives the anti-Bush protesters the last word: “Those on the streets may disagree. This morning, a stream of civil rights activists marched through Dr. King’s old neighborhood, singing spirituals while Buddhist monks banged on drums.” The Times ends the story with a quote from a monk, Ghoshu Utsumi: “Dr. King’s message is against war and violence. This is the richest country in the world, and there are homeless people everywhere. It is sad that $87 billion is going to war. It is very, very sad.”
If Utsumi ever decides to return to the hustle and bustle of the secular world, he may want to consider a job at the Times. He’d probably fit right in.
— Clay Waters is director of Times Watch, a project of the Media Research Center.