NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- I think I have how this questioning thing works now.
Last Wednesday Louis Farrakhan did what he does best. He huffed, he puffed, scolded and intimidated a group of black journalists into not asking him the hard questions that needed to be asked. He charged black journalists with being cowards afraid to defend him to their white bosses when he's attacked for anti-Semitism. He had the coward part right. If anyone heard the faint sound of clucking anywhere in the United States around 5 p.m.on Aug. 21, that would have been the noise of journalists at this convention turning chicken. The cackling must have been heard within a 2,000-mile radius.
But it wasn't "the white man" these wussy journalists were afraid of. It was Farrakhan, who apparently wants black journalists to give him a free ride. The National Association of Black Journalists seems content to give him one.
But that wasn't the case Friday with Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. NABJ leadership saw to it that four of the group's members asked Dole and Kemp some hard questions about welfare reform, creating jobs for the inner city, citizenship for children of illegal immigrants and improving public schools for the inner cities as an alternative to the Republicans' school choice proposal.
The toughest question was for Kemp, posed by the Boston Globe's sharp and erudite columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Claiming Kemp had been a "semisoul brother" for years, Jackson asked what kind of credibility he has among blacks after he flip-flopped his position on affirmative action "within the past two days."
Jackson's question to Dole was almost as tough. Noting that white males still dominate the American job force, Jackson then socked this zinger to Dole:
"How can you call for a colorblind work force when most job sites are blind to African-Americans?"
The scene was totally different from Wednesday's Grovelthon For Farrakhan. NABJ leadership could just as easily have selected four journalists who would have posed hard questions to the Nation of Islam leader. Instead, we got folks asking questions about the Million Man March -- which, since it occurred Oct. 16, 1995, strikes me as being history, not news -- and what Farrakhan likes to do when he's not insulting black journalists -- and all black Americans -- by suggesting that "If you lose me, God help you all."
NABJ policy, judging by what went on at this convention, is that tough, hard questions are reserved for white males. Preferably conservative, Republican ones who come to offer an olive branch and to build bridges as opposed to a black leader hurling invective.
Farrakhan got a standing ovation for his tirade. (Is there a masochistic streak in black America that can run so deep?) Dole and Kemp received, at best, lukewarm applause. Did they say anything flagrantly offensive? No. Kemp spoke of creating a new civil rights agenda and job opportunities, so that Americans can eliminate conditions like the one that elicited this response from a black boy in a Chicago ghetto who was asked what he wanted to be when he grows up.
"If I grow up, I want to be a bus driver."
"He didn't say 'when I grow up,' " stressed Kemp. "He said 'if I grow up.' " Kemp said Republicans want to create an environment where every child will answer with "when I grow up."
Dole spoke of replacing racial quotas and preferences with aggressive recruitment and promotion of minorities. (I'm not sure Dole and the Republicans know that "aggressive recruitment and promotion of minorities" was the original intent of that horrible thing called affirmative action.) He spoke of getting tough on violent criminals, which should have brought the predominantly black crowd to its feet, because everyone knows who the main victims of violent criminals are.
Both men spoke of the Republican Party reaching out and competing for the black vote, instead of writing it off as prior Republican candidates have done or taking it for granted like the Democrats. But the olive branch they extended to blacks went over with this crowd pretty much like flatulence in the sepulcher.
Maybe Dole and Kemp would have been received better if they had brought Brother Lou along to give these chicken-hearts another tongue-lashing.
Pub Date: 8/25/96