The leadership and majority of the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is certainly "dancing with the Devil" in their obscene pursuit of presidential debate face-time on FOX News, the Republican Party's media mouthpiece and the nation's most relentless source of anti-Black propaganda. We are witnessing an intricate choreography of institutional corruption at work, a fatal tango that reveals the true personalities of the dancers, an unequal embrace that can only lead to the total subjugation of the subordinate "partner" - the Black public.
In a political environment in which a choice of the "lesser of evils" is considered inevitable, the Black Caucus has chosen the greater evil: FOX News, the most virulent purveyor of "hate speech" in U.S. corporate media. By making this deal with the arch-demon, the CBC confirms much more than its own institutional slide into irrelevance as a source of social change, a catastrophic meltdown documented by the CBC Monitor in twice-yearly Report Cards and periodic analyses since September, 2005. If the Caucus can't say "No" to FOX News' offer of a presidential debate slot in September, it is incapable of saying "No" to any corporate media actors that deign to share an episodic byline with the CBC, no matter what their daily crimes against truth and the dignity of African Americans.
The FOX-CBC deal reveals the groveling mentality of a Black misleadership class that watches African Americans get their asses kicked every day of the year by Rupert Murdoch and the entirety of corporate media, and then rewards the worst perpetrator because he sent (cheap) flowers to the hospital room. Such a mentality - masquerading as sophisticated political strategy and astute "gamesmanship" - renders the Black pretenders to leadership utterly incapable of confronting the mass media death squads that murder the truth - and "disappear" real Black leadership - in every newscast.
The 'FOX Effect'
Caucus leadership appears to believe - as does much of the Black misleadership class - that they are "playing" the mega-companies against each other - when, in fact, it is Black America that is getting played. The CBC's Faustian bargain with Roger Ailes - president of FOX News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, former media advisor to Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and Rush Limbaugh's first syndicated television executive producer - has neutered the Caucus as a voice for truth-in-journalism and African Americans' rights to treatment as full citizens, rather than caricatures and whipping boys, in media. Having debauched themselves so publicly with the Republicans' media whore, how can they credibly challenge any of the other corporate racists that dominate the American political dialogue.
The only difference between FOX and CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and their corporate derivatives, is that FOX News has so successfully branded itself as the anti-Black network that it sees advantage in attaching the victims' brand name to its dreadful product. In exchange for two hours of air-time, an inconsequential amount of cash and other dubious emoluments, the Black Caucus effectively signed a "We ain't mad at you, boss" letter, absolving FOX of its hourly blood-libels against African Americans.
It should be remembered that Roger Ailes was also president of CNBC in 1993. What Ailes has created under Rupert Murdoch's corporate umbrella is the formidable "FOX Effect" - a rightward riptide that has swept all semblance of objectivity and fairness from mass media, substituting reactionary shibboleths for real analysis, with Black folks always playing the villain in the American drama. FOX News is the leader of the pack, but the other networks are the same breed of hound - all yelping after Black blood and primed to rip progressive politics to shreds.
Rather than confront the mega-media corporations that distort reality beyond recognition and systematically strangle Black and progressive voices, the Black Caucus opted to trade what's left of its formerly good name for much less than the Bible-time value of 30 pieces of silver.
Sleeping with the Enemy
We at the CBC Monitor, along with our colleagues at Black Agenda Report, signed and actively support ColorOfChange.Org's 'Dancing With The Devil" campaign to thwart the elicit CBC-FOX liaison. Under the direction of James Rucker, the group has gathered more than 16,000 petitioners to urge that the CBC refuse "to participate in debates sponsored by a network that is hostile to the interests of Black America." But it is necessary to expand the dialogue that ColorOfChange has initiated. The basic premises that Black Caucus leadership deploys to justify "sleeping with the enemy" must be challenged, if we are to win anything more than a show cancellation.
The decision by Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson to boycott the FOX-CBC debate has probably made the issue moot, in the narrow sense: it is doubtful that FOX would give airtime to holdouts Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. (We were especially disappointed with Ohio Rep. Kucinich, whose voting record is more progressive than the majority of CBC members). However, unless Blacks and progressives come to grips with the central questions raised by the CBC's scandalous affair with the GOP's Hard Right Harlot network, we will have achieved very little.
The most definitive corporate media article on the subject appeared in the May 27 issue of the New York Times, under the headline, "For Democrats, Debate on Fox Reveals Divide." The "divide," according to the piece, "exposed fault lines among two major constituencies" - meaning divisions between the majority of the Black Caucus and activist progressives. But the NYT reporters got the paradigm wrong: the fault line is between those in the CBC who have capitulated to a corporate-dominated media, and those who continue to resist.
Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (MI) Bennie Thompson (MS) James Clyburn (SC) Sanford Bishop (GA) G.K. Butterfield (NC) Mel Watt (NC) Danny Davis (IL) Bobby Rush (IL) John Lewis (GA) Keith Ellison (MN) Charles Rangel (NY) Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH) Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) Donna Christian-Christensen (VI) Diane Watson (CA) Al Wynn (MD) Elijah Cummings (MD) David Scott (GA) Yvette Clarke (NY) John Conyers (MI) Hank Johnson (GA) Al Green (TX) Corrine Brown (FL)
And here are those listed by Daily Kos as non-signers:
Julia Carson (IN) William Lacy Clay, Jr. (MO) Emmanuel Cleaver (MO) Artur Davis (AL) Chaka Fattah (PA) Alcee Hastings (FL) Kendrick Meek (FL) Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL) William L. Jefferson (LA) Barbara Lee (CA) Gregory Meeks (NY) Donald Payne (NJ) Bobby Scott (VA) Ed Towns (NY) Maxine Waters (CA)
In narrow ideological terms, one cannot make heads or tails of the lineup. Some of the most consistently progressive CBC members (John Conyers, John Lewis, Keith Ellison) endorsed the FOX forum. Some of the most right-leaning members (Artur Davis, William Jefferson, Ed Towns, Gregory Meeks) opposed the venue. Others seem confused. As JackAndJillPolitics.com reported, pro-FOX signatory Dianne Watson (CA) earlier this year said:
"Fox News brings the right-wing side of the news, and there's no sense in participating in that kind of game-playing. We're very serious about taking the administration in November  and I wouldn't trust getting an accurate and true portrayal of our views on the issues if Fox News is coordinating it."
Clearly, two factors are at work here. One stands out in graphic relief in the breakdown of the CBC vote on the corporate media's COPE Act, in the late Spring of 2006, which would have rolled back decades of Black/poor/urban victories against the rapacious telecom industry. As then-Black Commentator editor Bruce Dixon wrote:
"Only 46% of Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against it. But in a stunning repudiation of its own historic claims to be the 'conscience of the congress' and the authentic voice of African America in national affairs, a mere 13 out of 40 voting CBC members in the House summoned the courage to buck the tide of corporate cash and stand up for their constituents.... Two-thirds of the Caucus capitulated to corporate power, a more shameful showing than Democratic members as a whole. As 'conscience of the congress,' the Congressional Black Caucus is pretty much over."
The signatories to the CBC covenant with FOX News comprise three-fifths of the Caucus - a shameful number that, along with the previous year's COPE Act vote, proves a majority of Black federal lawmakers are selling out to Big Media. But why? And at what price? This question cannot be answered by simple tabulation of money - although telecoms like FOX are among the biggest spenders around. Direct FOX donations to CBC members and their organ, the CBC Institute, are so meager as to more resemble copper than "pieces of silver."
The CBC's affair with FOX was begun under former chairman Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, home of historically Black Morgan State University. According to the May 27 NYT article, "In June 2003, its political action committee, known as News America-Fox, made a $1,000 contribution to Mr. Cummings's political committee." The article continued:
"The Fox group later made contributions of at least $1,000 each to other caucus members, including Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, and Gregory W. Meeks and Edolphus Towns of New York. The political arm of the caucus itself received a $5,000 contribution from the Fox group, in May 2006. And on the Web site of its foundation, the caucus lists News Corporation among several dozen corporate sponsors."
That's chump change. Far more disturbing, in our view, is the FOX-CBC deal to create internships for Morgan State students. Down South, this would be called "fattening frogs for snakes" - feeding eager, aspiring Black journalists to a corporate prevarication apparatus, to be shaped by the likes of Roger Ailes into talking-reading frontpersons for The Enemy.
Does the CBC really believe that young Black interns will somehow change the political content and behavior of FOX News? If so, they are terminally naíve. Blacks that ultimately "make the grade" at FOX will simply be darker cogs in the infernal propaganda machine. Their presence merely serves to validate management as an "equal opportunity" world-class liar. As with the debate deal, the CBC becomes an ally in FOX's campaign to clean up its image - without altering the product/content. Paycheck-dependent employees cannot change the political culture cultivated by the owners, especially tycoons as fervently reactionary as Rupert Murdoch, a man on a lifelong mission to dominate the global means of communication in order to impose his own troglodyte worldview.
The CBC's collaboration with FOX News reveals a Jim Crow-era logic that sees integration - not self-determination - as the end-goal of Black politics. This twisted logic inevitably leads to capitulation to Power, which has become sophisticated enough to absorb elements of the opposition (in this case, Blacks) while continuing to pursue the same evil mission. Would Black internships with Halliburton and Bechtel - corporations that stole billions in the "reconstruction" of Iraq and New Orleans - alter the war- and misery-profiteering nature of the beast? Of course not.
Back in September, 2005, entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte shared with a Town Hall meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus some of the last words he heard from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I sit here deeply concerned that I suspect we're leading our nation on an integration trip that has us integrating into a burning house, said Dr. King." Belafonte added, "I don't think we quite understood how prophetic that remark was."
The Black Caucus should have pondered more deeply Belafonte's and King's words. But by then, the CBC was locked in its fatal embrace with FOX News - they had entered Rupert Murdoch's "burning house."
Rather than conduct a frank discussion of its FOX ties among members and with the Black public at-large, CBC leadership maintains the charade that the CBC Institute - the chief interlocutor with Murdoch - is a separate and distinct entity from the Caucus: an insult to African American's intelligence. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the Institute, derided opponents of the FOX deal as members of "liberal activist groups" - raising the question, What political flavor is he? - and falsely claimed there was a "clear consensus" for the FOX deal within the Caucus.
African Americans in Congress would do better - and set a much-needed example - by traveling as a group to every Democratic and Republican debate to critique - and, if required, denounce - the substance and tone of the questions presented to presidential candidates. Even the media giants would find it difficult to ignore such "direct action" by Black America's highest ranking federal elected officials. The CBC might even begin to live up to its slogan, "The conscience of the Congress."
But first, they must examine their own consciences - and make amends to a wounded Black public.
Leutisha Stills can be contacted at LeutishaStills (at) hotmail.com.
© 2007 The Black Agenda Report