Ruling Class War Games at the White House. The author, circa 1976.
The White House press corps, like the corporate media in general, are foot soldiers in a wider conflict between sections of the ruling oligarchy: Trump versus anti-Trump.
“Most of the White House press corps are anti-Trump partisans in this intra-ruling class war.”
The herd of corporate operatives that calls itself a White House press corps is up in arms over the Trump administration’s cancellation of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass, last week. Acosta’s bosses at CNN, owned by AT&T’s WarnerMedia conglomerate, have filed suit, charging White House staffers and an unnamed Secret Service agent with violating Acosta’s rights to freedom of the press and due process of law. Acosta had persisted in pressing Trump with questions after the president several times proclaimed, “That’s enough!”
CNN called the press pass revocation “unprecedented” and “a threat to our democracy.”
Two days later, Trump suggested that more press passes might be pulled. “It could be others also," he said.
Despite CNN’s claim that Acosta’s punishment was unprecedented, the Cuban-American wasn’t treated nearly as peremptorily as Jorge Ramos, the Mexican-born anchor for the Spanish-language Univision network. Presidential candidate Trump kicked Ramos out of an Iowa press conference, in August of 2015, when Ramos objected to Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” Ramos was allowed back in the room after other reporters lobbied on his behalf, according to Richard Prince’s Journalisms, which has been keeping track of minorities in journalism since 2002.
“You talk about somebody that’s a loser. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.”
While he was ranting at Acosta, Trump turned on another favorite target, April Ryan, the American Urban Radio Networks correspondent. “You talk about somebody that’s a loser,’ Trump said of Ryan, “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” Then he zoomed in on another Black woman, CNN’s Abby Phillip, who had asked if newly appointed Attorney General Matt Whitaker would “‘rein in [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller.” “‘What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question,’ said the president.
Trump is a habitual abuser of reporters of color, said Abby Phillip:
“While the president insults many journalists, these critics say his barbs targeting women and people of color feel especially sharp, and hit at the reporter’s basic intelligence and competence as a person. It’s a tone that black reporters and scholars of African-American history say particularly stings, given that [African American] journalists were not allowed into the White House until 1947 — and that the White House press corps remains overwhelmingly white to this day.”
It is both more, and less, complicated than that. There is no doubt that Trump is a reflexive racist, but his outbursts are deliberate, timed and calibrated to show that he doesn’t take “disrespect” from reporters, in general, or uppity non-white journalists, in particular. Trump’s anti-Blackness is an essential element of his political brand, which has propelled him to the White House as the champion of a national white supremacist voting bloc that is more confident and coherent than at any time since the collapse of the Dixiecrats into Richard Nixon’s Republican Party. (See “Midterm Elections: Corporate Democrats Versus the Monster They Created,” Glen Ford, BAR, Nov. 7, ‘18.)
“Trump’s outbursts are deliberate, timed and calibrated to show that he doesn’t take “disrespect” from reporters, in general, or uppity non-white journalists, in particular.”
In that sense, Trump is different only in degree from Bill Clinton, who during the 1992 campaign travelled to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push/Rainbow Coalition annual conference to single out activist Sistah Soulja as the Black equivalent of Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Sistah Souljah hit back, blasting Clinton as a “draft dodger” turned warmonger, a “reefer smoker,” abuser of women, and a racist who “lacks integrity.” Clinton’s “race stand” was no less cynical and deliberate than Trump’s. White voters got the message: that Clinton would defy Jackson and his recent intra-Democratic Party insurgency and resist all pressures from progressives and the dark side of the nation. Upon election, the Man from Hope (Arkansas) followed through on his implicit racial promises, abolishing welfare “as we knew it” and reinforcing the Mass Black Incarceration State with 100,000 additional police officers and a whole new set of draconian laws crafted to condemn millions more Blacks to prison.
“Clinton’s “race stand” was no less cynical and deliberate than Trump’s.”
Clinton’s acolytes -- his wife and Barack Obama -- still dominate the Democratic Party apparatus on behalf of corporate and Silicon Valley oligarchs. The Democrat-oriented section of the U.S. ruling class was heavily reinforced when Donald Trump captured the GOP in 2016, defeating the entire menagerie of established corporate Republicans and sending whole sectors of the ruling class and its “Deep State” protectors fleeing to asylum in Hillary Clinton’s “Big Tent,” from whence they plotted the destruction of his unpredictable presidency. Most of the White House press corps are anti-Trump partisans in this intra-ruling class war.
What is “unprecedented” is the split in the U.S. ruling class, a contest of capitalist titans that has been playing out in the electronic and print corporate media for the past two years. Corporate media operatives, including the White House press corps, are foot soldiers in this war. The bulk of them oppose Trump because that is corporate policy; professional ethics have nothing to do with it -- indeed, such ethics no longer exist in U.S. corporate journalism, if they ever did.
No Press Pass for Glen
Just as Acosta had his press pass pulled, I was denied standard White House accreditation while assigned to that beat in the mid-Seventies as correspondent for the Mutual Black Network, one of two Black-oriented radio news networks in the nation. (April Ryan’s American Urban Radio Networks is the result of a merger of the Mutual Black Network and its former competition, the National Black Network.) Unlike the other denizens of the White House press briefing room who casually waved their press passes at the gate, I had to present myself for search each morning by uniformed Secret Service agents -- a professionally humiliating process. After enduring nearly a year of being singled out for pat-downs, I demanded that the White House explain the hold-up in issuing my press pass. After all, correspondents for the Soviet news agency Tass and the newspapers Izvestia and Pravda, as well as the Cuban press, were all accredited. What was the problem with me?
After a few weeks, I was summoned to a White House office where one of the few Black Secret Service agents informed me that I was considered “a danger to the president.” How so, I asked? As owner and host of the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television, “America’s Black Forum,” whose Washington broadcasts routinely beat the network Sunday morning shows in the ratings, I had interviewed most of the President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet and all of the then 16-member Congressional Black Caucus. I’d already traveled with Carter and hobnobbed at White House functions, and was also the network’s State Department reporter, roaming its Foggy Bottom headquarters in the afternoon and occasionally interviewing the Secretary of State. How was I a threat to the president? Could it have something to do with my activities in the Black Panther Party, seven years before?
“Our job is to protect the president and we consider you to be a danger.”
“Yeah, that’s the reason,” said the Secret Service agent, clearly agitated. “It’s the Black Panther history.” I protested that denial of the press pass was a violation of my First Amendment rights and my right to fully pursue my profession as a journalist. “You can say whatever you like, but our job is to protect the president and we consider you to be a danger,” the agent shot back. “Go ahead and sue, if you like.”
I assured the agent that I would, indeed, take legal action, but it was an empty threat. The Mutual Black Network had recently been purchased by a Black business outfit, headquartered in Pittsburgh, that was effectively even more conservative than its previous owner, C. Edward Little, a Florida redneck who didn’t care what editorial policies the Black news crews pursued as long as the business made money. As Washington Bureau chief (another of my titles), I mandated that all correspondents refer to the South African government as a “racist regime” and that the armed opposition to white rule in Africa be described as “freedom fighters.” C. Edward Little had no problem with that, but his Black successors questioned the objectivity of such language. Their idea of a big “Black” story was when (Republican) President Gerald Ford’s Black Secretary of Transportation, William T. Coleman, traveled to London to check out the city’s subway -- a high-ranking Black face in an important foreign place. I knew that my bourgeois Black bosses would be more likely to find cause to fire me for my Black Panther connection, than to defend my – and their own – First Amendment rights. So I continued to submit to the daily pat-downs at the White House gate.
A Jobs Bill Deferred
I thought the biggest story of my White House tenure under Carter was the arrival of the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment Act on the president’s desk, in January of 1977 – the month that “Roots” debuted on ABC and my TV news show went national. Humphrey Hawkins was the legislative crown jewel of the mid-Seventies Congressional Black Caucus, the long awaited answer to the Black community’s perennial demand for comprehensive jobs legislation. Named for Black Los Angeles Congressman Augustus Hawkins and Senator and former vice president Hubert Humphrey, the early iterations of the Act mandated that the Federal Reserve Board give as much priority to fighting unemployment, the bane of workers, as to curbing inflation, which is the curse of capital. The bill, as originally passed in 1974 and 1975, included firm goals for full employment, pegged at no more than 4 percent joblessness, and tools for achieving it. But there was no chance of the Act becoming law under a Republican president.
The version that emerged in 1977 and landed on newly-elected Democratic President Carter’s desk, was much weaker, with full employment as a goal but no jobs programs to achieve it. But that was still too strong for the man from Plains, Georgia, at the dawn of what we would come to know in hindsight as the neoliberal age.
“Much of the press shared Powell’s contempt for my insistence on daily updates on the status of the jobs bill.”
Jody Powell, the supremely arrogant White House spokesperson, a fellow Georgian, assured the press that his boss’s signature would soon be affixed to the Act, but negotiations stretched on and on. Every day at press briefings I asked Powell about the status of the bill. And every day he would claim that agreement was imminent, his face twisting in greater disgust with each utterance. Much of the press shared Powell’s contempt for my insistence on daily updates on the status of the jobs bill, which was the top priority of the Black Caucus, but of little interest to the overwhelmingly white corporate press.
My daily reports from the White House began, “This is the tenth day that White House spokesperson Jody Powell has promised that President Carter will soon sign the long-awaited Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act….”
I kept this up for close to a month before accepting that the peanut farmer and his boys were determined not to give an inch to Black demands for jobs, even when reduced to largely ceremonial legislation. It was also clear that the Black Caucus was not prepared to exact a penalty from their fellow Democrat for his disloyalty to his base.
“The current conflict is between two factions of the ruling class.”
Carter finally signed an even further watered-down version of Hawkins-Humphrey the next year, 1978. It has proven worthless ever since. However, Detroit Black Congressman John Conyers continued to introduce amendments, strengthening the Act, until 2015. And now, California Congressman Ro Khanna has introduced the"Coretta Scott King Full Employment Federal Reserve Act of 2018" – a 21st century upgrade of the original Hawkins-Humphrey bill that “requires wages to rise with productivity — i.e. how much value a worker produces per hour of work — pretty much by definition,” according to Khanna.
The corporate media, however, will pay little or no attention to the fortunes of this bill, despite their jubilation over the Democratic “Blue Wave” that has captured the U.S. House. The current conflict is between two factions of the ruling class: Trump or anti-Trump. Legislation is only important as a test of wills and strength of the opposing oligarchs -- Wall Street and Silicon Valley versus the Koch brothers and Big Coal, with jockeying back and forth among the various One Percenters. The people have no voice, no party – and no presence in the White House press corps.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].
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