Liberal Media Offering Spotlight to David Duke? It's a Repeat of Papa Bush's Presidency
Surely, Americans of all stripes ended up rooting for CNN's Wolf Blitzer as he sparred against that oily hater David Duke on Wednesday night. But many Americans also might suspect that the Duke booking was a stunt to goose ratings and create buzz for CNN. Conservatives have often been outraged that liberals would suggest Duke was one of them, when he was always appearing in the liberal media, and not on conservative talk radio. They made him famous. For those readers who are too young to remember the last national media heyday for David Duke, it was in the presidency of George H. W. Bush, whose election was widely believed by liberals to be the result of racist Republicans responding to Willie Horton's face in political ads. Here's an old article I wrote in 1992 on the phenomenon:
Why is David Duke famous? The national media jumped all over the Duke story from the time he campaigned for and won a state representative seat on January 21, 1989. He gained nationwide infamy because his presence proved two things journalists would like to believe about American politics -- first, that the country's whites as a whole are still inherently racist; and second, that George Bush won the 1988 election almost completely because of that.
The March 6, 1989 edition of Time magazine coined the cliches with the headline: "Kluck! Kluck! Kluck!: An Ex-Klansman's Win Brings the GOP Chickens Home to Roost." Reporter Ed Magnuson wrote: "Ever since the 1960s, strategists have lured white Southerners to the GOP with thinly disguised racial appeals...The Bush presidential campaign used Willie Horton, a black who committed a rape while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, to unfair but great advantage against Michael Dukakis."
On November 2, 1989, ABC reporter Judd Rose repeated the charge on Prime Time Live: "In a way, you might say that David Duke is the son of Willie Horton. Duke is no more overt, of course, but he's really just pushing the same buttons and sending the same coded messages that the Horton ads did so effectively for the Bush campaign last year." Rose, like most reporters covering Duke, didn't mention that Duke was a Democratic candidate for president in 1988. It spoiled the Republican-bashing fun.
Imagine what a Republican-leaning media could have done with the 1988 story of Duke, the Democratic candidate. Think of a reporter suggesting: "David Duke is really the son of Richard Gephardt. It's the logical extension of Gephardt's Japan-bashing, the constant references to 'Third World countries' taking American jobs."
The media hype grew strongest in Duke's 1991 run for governor.
U.S. News & World Report writer Matthew Cooper even suggested Governor Duke might call for military strikes on blacks: "Even if he wanted to cause trouble, he could be stopped. While the governor is commander in chief of the state National Guard with its 14,000 troops and fleet of F-15 aircraft, the president can supersede the governor's authority."
But most liberal reporters kept their criticism to Republican "racial politics." In the November 25, 1991 issue of Time, reporter Dan Goodgame began: "Demagogues don't yell 'nigger' or 'Jew boy' anymore. They've learned better...[Duke] traded in his bigoted rhetoric for a slick new glossary of coded appeals to racial resentment, market tested over the past two decades by mainstream conservative politicians."
Reporters left the false impression that the Republican Party had a monopoly on racial appeals. Democratic politicians aren't slouches at appealing to (or fomenting) racial resentment. But to the media, Republicans appearing to pit whites against blacks are playing dirty pool; but Democrats pitting blacks against whites is a bold defense of the oppressed. Liberal reporters also showed their stripes by portraying anti-quota arguments as "coded appeals to racial resentment." They have refused to acknowledge that the argument against quotas originates in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which explicitly prohibited quotas.
The many minutes of television time and pages of print coverage of Duke did take a stand, condemning Duke's unrepentant racism and anti-Semitism. That's a bias that even conservative media critics could welcome. But what about black candidates for national office with questionable records, including race-baiting and anti-Semitism? Picking on white racist goons is easy, but radical blacks? They simply weren't newsworthy, according to the liberal media consensus.
Take, for example, Chicago Alderman Bobby Rush, who defeated Congressman Charles Hayes in March. Not only is Rush heavily favored to become a Congressman, he's currently vice chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. Rush was also the Illinois head of the Black Panthers who went to prison on weapons charges and after his congressional win, he declared that he renounced nothing of his Black Panther past. Nationally, Rush was a footnote, since Hayes fell soon after he was revealed as a champion check-bouncer. In a July 28 news story, Wall Street Journal reporter David Rogers looked back wistfully at Rush's days as a gun-toting Panther: "His Panther years remain a source of strength and even solace against a world that seems so much more violent and drug-ridden than even the one he knew then." Imagine those words applied to Duke's dastardly days in the Klan.
Chicago area Congressman Gus Savage also lost in that election. Savage, a locally renowned race-baiter, charged "racism" when his son was arrested in Washington for driving an unregistered car without a license -- even though the mayor, the police chief, and the arresting officers were all black. In 1988 he invited to come with him to the Democratic National Convention a black activist who claimed that Jewish doctors were responsible for injecting black babies with the AIDS virus. At a rally four days before the 1990 election, Savage read aloud all the Jewish-sounding names on the FEC report of opponent Mel Reynolds, denouncing "Jewish money." He called "historically, culturally, and politically accurate" Louis Farrakhan's statement that "Hitler was a great man" and Judaism is a "gutter religion." But Savage only came to the nation's attention briefly, after being charged with sexual harassment on a trip to Zaire.
In their defense, reporters could point out that most members of the House of Representatives are nationally anonymous, even if they're locally infamous. (But Duke never even won a national office). But what about Lenora Fulani, the New Alliance Party candidate for President? Fulani has attracted little publicity even though she has been awarded $939,000 in federal matching funds for her 1988 campaign, and $1.4 million so far this year.
Duke never qualified for federal matching funds. Fulani also outpolled Duke, 217,000 to 47,000, in 1988.
But Duke and Fulani do match in their anti-Semitism. During a 1988 event, Fulani accused the Israeli government of "genocidal policies" and ripped off pieces of an Israeli flag. In a 1985 party newspaper, New Alliance Party founder Fred Newman has called Jews "the storm troopers of decadent capitalism," and have "sold their souls to the devil -- international capitalism." Before founding his party in 1979, Newman spent five years working with Lyndon LaRouche's organizations. In 1987, the Libyans paid for Fulani and other New Alliance Party members to travel to Libya and protest the "genocidal U.S. bombing of the Gulf of Sidra and the Libyan coast." At the same time, party members held a pro-Libyan rally in front of the White House. Needless to say, Fulani's candidacy hasn't taken off with American voters, but she has taken millions of their dollars. Shouldn't that make her newsworthy? Answer: not if it doesn't make America (and/or conservatives) look bad. The fortysomething baby boomers who compose most of the national press corps may have never really left the 1960s. For all their roasting of conservatives' crudeness and lack of nuance, they are the ones who by their bias by omission refuse to concede that racism or anti-Semitism exist in black candidates for public office. Ultimately, they end up patronizing hatred in the black community -- the last thing the black community needs.
The fame of David Duke has served a laudable purpose: Americans of all races have confronted the stubborn survival of racism and anti-Semitism in America. A similar dose of tough reporting on black radicalism and anti-Semitism could do the same -- if the media had the courage.