"IT WAS THE best of times, it was the worst of times." Thus begins Charles Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities. He could have been describing America since the horrible day of Sept. 11, 2001.
Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon have brought out either the best or the worst in Americans. There seems to be no middle ground at all.
In the case of WCBM radio talk-show host Les Kinsolving, the acts of war may have brought out the worst. At a White House news conference aired on C-SPAN, Kinsolving asked press secretary Ari Fleischer a question that left the implication Radio One owner Cathy Hughes should have her Federal Communications Commission license revoked or that she should be jailed. Or both.
"The Baltimore Sun reports that radio stations ... owned by multimillionaire Cathy Hughes are broadcasting African-Americans either endorsing or excusing the acts of terrorists," Kinsolving said. "[D]oes the president, who stated we are at war, believe it would be wrong for the FCC to contact Ms. Hughes? Or does the president believe we were wrong after another war to send to federal prison [Axis] Sally and Tokyo Rose?"
The comparison of Hughes to radio personalities who broadcast propaganda for Japan and Germany during World War II angered many WOLB listeners. WOLB is a talk station, one of four Hughes owns in Baltimore. She owns another 61 across the country.
It would be a sad day in America if government officials were to say to her, "We're yanking your license for daring to air a wide variety of opinions."
It was not one of my good friend Kinsolving's finer moments. And Les, there was much doubt about Tokyo Rose's guilt. At least 20 women were featured in the broadcasts, but only one was tried. And 26 years after she was convicted in 1949 of treason, that woman received a pardon from conservative Republican President Gerald Ford. But knowing Kinsolving, he'll regret his comments about the same time Rockefellers start eating Spam.
In an example of the best being brought out in American citizens, Hughes' company donated $100,000 to help the victims, families and survivors of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. She's also established a relief fund. Alfred Liggins III, Hughes' son and chief executive officer of Radio One, called on the 10 million listeners of the company's stations across America to donate a dollar each.
"We could have a tremendous impact on helping our fellow Americans through this very difficult time," Liggins said.
Right-wing Christian ministers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson gave two of the worst reactions to the tragedy. They implied on Robertson's television show that the attacks and horrendous loss of life were God's punishment of America for condoning abortions, gays and lesbians.
It's interesting that no one has suggested that television stations carrying Robertson's show should have their FCC licenses revoked.
If the good Lord listens to much more stupidity from the likes of Falwell and Robertson, he may end up endorsing atheism.
Falwell and Robertson stand in sharp contrast to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Joe Madison, a talk-show host on Radio One station WOL in Washington, said Farrakhan commented over the air that the WTC-Pentagon carnage was a "crime against humanity." Farrakhan added that America needs to respond with "rockets and reason."
Far less reasonable was the person who sent an e-mail suggesting that all Palestinians be exterminated. For our own safety, you understand. When asked how his plan differs from Adolf Hitler's final solution for Jews, he said he would allow Palestinian children age 3 and younger to live.
Visitors to New York will get a taste of America's best and worst reactions to the terrorist attacks by walking east along Canal Street, within blocks of the collapsed trade center.
They will pass an iron fence with yellow ribbons tied around the bars. Attached to the ribbons are messages addressed to the thousands who lost their lives.
"You will be avenged," reads one message.
"Unity will prevail," says another.
"You have not died in vain," a third one reads. "This nation has already become stronger. God bless America."
Visitors may pass the makeshift flower, candle, card and American flag memorial set up in Duarte Park at Canal Street and Sixth Avenue.
Taped to a pole they will see a handmade sign done by a little girl commemorating the firefighters and police officers who died trying to save those trapped.
"Our heroes," it reads simply.
But pressing farther along Canal Street visitors will see the hucksters trying to make a buck off the worst day in American history. T-shirts for sale read "America Under Attack: I Survived the Attack" and "America Under Attack: I Can't Believe I Got Out."
For $4 a pop, visitors can get postcard-size pictures of the burning north tower and the second jet exploding into the south tower.
It is indeed the best of times and the worst of times in America. May God bless us, and find it in his wisdom to forgive the more puddin'-headed among us.