Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey


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Responding in Time to a Horowitz column posted on Salon Aug. 16, black columnist Jack E. White, who writes the "Dividing Line" column out of Time's Washington, DC, bureau, claimed that "blatant bigotry is alive and well, even on one of the Internet's otherwise most humane and sophisticated websites. So many racists, so little time!" The headline of White's piece, in big, bold lettering, was "A Real, Live Bigot," with a photo of Horowitz below. The message couldn't have been plainer if Time's art department had Photoshopped a Klan hood on Horowitz's head.


Both columns can be found online.


Horowitz immediately demanded that Time print a retraction and apology. Matt Drudge filed a report on his site last Wednesday, saying that Time had "savaged" Horowitz, "And now Horowitz says he is planning to launch a $50 million lawsuit against TIME magazine for defamation of character!"


My own conversations with Horowitz suggest that Drudge was overstating the likelihood of legal action; though he wasn't completely ruling it out, I think Horowitz would prefer an apology from Time to starting a legal battle he'd be unlikely to win.


Horowitz has written a few things that have appeared in NYPress in the past. Last year we ran a debate on race and politics between him and political consultant/former Black Panther Virtual Murrell, which was moderated by Phyllis Orrick. In both his left-wing youth and his right-wing maturity Horowitz has been known for adopting extreme positions and defending them with blunt, sometimes cranky, candor.


His Aug. 16 Salon column ran under the headline "Guns don't kill black people, other blacks do." In it he lambasted the "NAACP's ludicrous idea" to bring a class action suit against gun manufacturers, modeled on those that have been brought against the tobacco industry, charging the gunmakers with the principal responsibility for the high rates of gun-related violence among young black males.


"Am I alone in seeing this as an absurd act of political desperation by the civil rights establishment?" Horowitz scoffed. "What's next? Will Irish-Americans sue whiskey distillers, or Jews the gas company?" He went on:


How can the NAACP even make the comparison between gun deaths of blacks and whites, if not as a racist insinuation that whites are somehow the cause of those "disproportionate" violent deaths [among black males], just as whites are the implied cause of nearly every other social pathology that afflicts the African-American community?


...In the grips of a politically inspired group psychosis, we find it natural to collude with demagogic race hustlers in support of a fantasy in which African-Americans are no longer responsible for anything negative they do, even to themselves.


A week later, White fired back with his charges that it's Horowitz who's the racist. It was a surprisingly personal attack, even from White, who's capable of some rather blunt opinions himself. In recent columns he's excoriated both the "racist" NYPD and Ward Connerly, author of California's anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 ("the Pied Piper of color blindness"), though he also questioned Jesse Jackson's motives for his visit to Slobodan Milosevic last spring. In one of his more notably eccentric bits, he went off last March on "the extent to which subconscious racist attitudes still afflict even highly educated, humane white people who sincerely believe they do not have a prejudiced bone in their body. In what might be called the Alfred E. Neuman syndrome?after the Mad magazine character whose doofus slogan was 'What?me worry?'?people in this group tend to react with shocked innocence when minorities complain about the persistence of unfair treatment. 'What?me racist?' they seem to say. 'Perish the thought.'" Contacted by telephone on Monday, White told me he was unable to comment.


In an open letter posted on Salon, Horowitz called White's piece "an act of premeditated character assassination... Obviously to be labeled a 'bigot,' particularly in the wake of Buford Furrow's rampage at a California Jewish Center, is a verbal sentence of death. Jack White's column is a calculated attempt to prevent anyone from ever again listening to what I have to say, particularly on matters of race. It is also an effort to intimidate anyone in the future from engaging in a frank dialogue on race."


Horowitz also wrote a letter to Time editor Walter Isaacson, which is posted on Horowitz's Front Page website, calling White's column "an outrage against myself and my family" and "a hateful racial lie... Jack White's animus towards me is one thing; Time's failure to exercise responsible editorial control over its columnist is another. The question I ask you is: 'How do I get my reputation back?'"


On the phone last Friday, Horowitz complained to me that "blacks can say racist or anti-Semitic things about anybody, and nobody holds them to account... We've had this kind of surreal conversation about race for many years now in this country. It's because of the intimidation of anybody who's not black?or even anybody who's black but not [politically] left?against saying anything sensible on the issue of race without fear of being attacked as a bigot or a racist."


He went on, "Then you have these idiotic statements by black leaders like Jesse Jackson or Kweisi Mfume that there's too many black people in jail and it's because of white racism. There are too many black people in jail because of the criminality of too many black people, but nobody can say that."


Horowitz says that what upset him most was for Time to slap that "bigot" headline over the piece. "Time has this authority. It sounds like fact." It's about the weight of context, he claims. "This guy Jack White is an ignorant black racist and a political extremist. If he were writing this in the Village Voice it wouldn't bother me at all. People understand where that's coming from. The fact that it had the imprimatur of Time?that Time's standards have sunk so low that they would have a character like this as a regular correspondent?speaks volumes about what's happened to the press in this country." He adds, "You know, if I wrote a piece for Time calling Al Sharpton a racist, they'd edit that out. They would tone that down."


As of last Friday, Isaacson had not responded to Horowitz's letter, but "the letters-to-the-editor editor emailed us that she'd excerpted a piece of my letter?which if I'd okayed it would have made the bigot look like a whiner," he told me dryly. "I said, 'This is unacceptable. I want a retraction and an apology.' She said, 'I don't think you're going to get one.'"


Given that response, Horowitz says, "I would really be dead meat if it weren't for the Internet." Time reaches millions of people, he points out, but so now does an Internet media site like Drudge's, and Salon adds some tens of thousands of its own readers. They've allowed him to reach people literally overnight with his response, where in the old days you could wait weeks to get satisfaction from a giant like Time, if you ever got it. "My case is out there. The really horrible thing in the case of being smeared by an institution like Time is that you never could reach a comparable audience."


There's interesting background to all this, much of it related in Horowitz's 1997 autobiography Radical Son. Born in 1939 and raised in a left-wing Jewish household in Sunnyside, Queens, he says his first public political act was participating as a kid in a 1948 rally to support blacks' rights to equal employment opportunities. He did some civil rights work in the 60s and moved to Berkeley in 1968 to be an editor at Ramparts. In the early 70s he was a friend and supporter of the original leadership of the Black Panther Party.


He likes to point out that even after his politics took a hard right turn in the 1980s he continued to support moderate or conservative black politicians and spokesmen like Colin Powell, J.C. Watts and Larry Elder. He has a black daughter-in-law and tells me he spends holidays with his black in-laws in Carson, a black neighborhood of L.A.


Horowitz considers this personal and political background bona fides that give him some right to speak candid opinions regarding race in America. He mentioned this to White when the Time columnist telephoned him prior to writing his scathing piece. (He says they'd never spoken or met before that.)


"Last week Horowitz told me that he had earned the right to talk down to blacks 'because of all I did in the '60s,'" White sneered at the close of his column. "I think we'd all be better off if he'd just shut up."


In his letter to Isaacson, Horowitz asked, "What do I tell my African-American daughter-in-law or my three granddaughters when they ask me why an otherwise reputable magazine like Time would pillory their grandfather as a racial bigot, putting me in a category alongside Buford Furrow and other deranged hatemongers?"


I asked Horowitz how in fact the in-laws were reacting.


"My daughter-in-law has pretty liberal politics. We're always going at each other. She's been very supportive," he claimed. "My grandchildren are a little young. The oldest
is nine."

Horowitz says a few lawyers contacted him about suing Time and White for libel, but he concedes that it would be expensive and very difficult for a public figure such as he to prove libel in this case. In the end it's his strongly worded opinion versus White's. Instead, he says to me, "The only arena to fight this in is the public arena, the public battleground."


He's been trying to drum up a letter campaign directed at Isaacson. Salon stablemate Camille Paglia obliged quickly and characteristically, parrying White's personal attack on her colleague with a personal attack on White: "That the ever-platitudinous Jack E. White has called David Horowitz a 'bigot' is, of course, stupid and unprofessional but hardly surprising to the weary Time readers who, like hikers confronted with a bog, must rapidly skirt White's flatulent prose whenever it appears."


"I think people like Camille who are independent spirits are vulnerable, and they understand that," Horowitz says to me. "And Salon is vulnerable to similar attacks from the racist left, for which Jack White is a mediocre spokesman."


Camille also raised a point that would occur to any media type, when she wondered if this was "simply a late-summer slip-up (in which case Time will promptly admit it)..." It was, after all, August, when half the editorial staffs in the city are away.


Jim Kelly, deputy managing editor of Time, tells me that in fact Isaacson was on vacation when White's column ran. When asked, he said that the piece was cleared by legal counsel before running.


"In the end, this is not about me," Horowitz says. "This is about free speech in America. This is about the ability of anybody to get up and talk reality about racial issues."


No doubt there are plenty of people who'd think that Horowitz must occupy a separate reality from theirs, and agree with White that he should just shut up about it. The question for a venue like Time is how you go about suggesting that he do that.


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