Neil Steinberg: The New “Yellow Journalist”

By Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad    

Neil Steinberg recently wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times asking: “So where has Farrakhan led his Nation?”  Indeed, Steinberg wrote this article in the true tradition of “yellow journalism.” By definition “yellow journalism,” or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate or well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. This type of distorted journalism began to flourish in the late 1890s and had its most devastating effect on the Black community during the height of Jim Crow, lynching, and race riots. These “journalists” purposely reported false stories about Blacks raping white women to heat up the anger of white males who were threatened by the upward movement of Blacks.  Then these “journalists” would be the first to arrive at the lynching to take pictures of the brutal murder of Black men, to be placed on the front covers of their newspapers to increase their sales.

Mr. Steinberg’s article, though designed to make mockery of Minister Farrakhan, in fact inspires the defenders of Farrakhan to bring a historical perspective to Steinberg’s criticisms. In particular, Mr. Steinberg wrote of what he called “Farrakhan’s various fantasies, the most harmful being not his tired anti-Semitism but his notion that blacks must build a separate society to prosper, which is a vine that has failed to bear fruit for a century.” Then Mr. Steinberg goes back to the early 1900s to criticize one of Minister Farrakhan’s heroes, Marcus Garvey, who attempted to lead Black people to set up their own nation. Mr. Steinberg then uses another of Minister Farrakhan’s heroes, W.E.B. Du Bois, to beat up on Garvey, quoting Du Bois’s stance as “Give up! Surrender! The struggle is useless; go back to Africa and fight the white world.”  But Mr. Steinberg failed to point out that towards the end of his life Du Bois expressed a more Garveyite philosophy, where he even suggested that a self-determined segregation may not be so bad after all, and he later even moved to and settled in Ghana.

Now let’s bring in some background history. After “The Compromise of 1877,” which proved to Blacks that their chances of real citizenship was a pipe dream, many Black preachers took their whole congregations and moved to the woods and set up Black towns all across the South. From 1865 to 1900 several hundred “freedmen’s settlements” were established in Texas alone. In the 1890s Blacks used a legal technique called “adverse possession” to acquire land in chunks of 160 to 640 acres at a time. By 1900, Blacks owned 14 million acres of land and increased it to 16 million by 1910.

The white response to this acquisition of economic wealth was yellow journalism and terrorism. From 1905 to 1919 Blacks were lynched at a rate of 62 per year, many of them advertised and reported on by the “yellow journalists” of that era. Major “race riots” occurred in Wilmington, N.C. (1898), Atlanta, Ga. (1906), Springfield, Ill. (1908), East St. Louis, Ill. (1917) and Chicago, Ill. (1919). In the “Red Summer” of 1919 alone, there were twenty-six race riots—wholesale violence by white mobs against Blacks—in such cities as Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Elaine, Arkansas; Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; and Omaha, Nebraska.

Although these yellow journalists widely reported that these violent outbursts by white men were in response to Blacks raping white women, investigations showed that less than one-fifth of those Blacks who were lynched were even charged with rape, and even in those cases many were shown to be without foundation. Many times the charge was applied only after the lynching became publicized. Ida B. Wells-Barnett showed lynching to be a tool for terrorizing Blacks. Whites cried “rape” in areas where Blacks had gained a measure of political power through voting, but they found no “rape” where the Black vote had been thoroughly suppressed.

This brings us to the Atlanta Riot of 1906, which is one of the most egregious examples of how yellow journalism led to white violence with its resultant psychological damage to W.E.B. Du Bois, the very Black man that Steinberg brings forward to attack the separatist philosophies of Marcus Garvey and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. W.E.B. Du Bois had just published Souls of Black Folk and had participated in the establishment of the Niagara Movement. Nineteen Black men met secretly on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to set up an organization that had as one of its goals the independent economic development of Black people.  In September of 1906, Du Bois had just participated in a great rally of the Niagara Movement in West Virginia and was planning to expand this movement throughout the South. That’s when a group of white businessmen in Atlanta, incensed at the success of Black business men in that city, decided to stage a military strike against the Black communities in Atlanta, Savanna, and Augusta, Georgia.

They used the services of yellow journalists at the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Georgian to encourage the riot in order to create a wider circulation of their respective papers. In fact, according to the owner-editor of the Atlanta Journal, John S. Cohen, “whipped whites into a frenzy”: A headline from the Atlanta Journal went so far as to openly suggest lawlessness and promote the formation of mobs. (This same editor, by the way, was the son of a rabbi and “high in the councils of the Ku Klux Klan.”) These Atlanta newspapers did not stop there—they even went so far as to print extra “riot editions,” which reported more assaults on white women to the public. None of the information in these “extra” editions was ever proven to be true, but the damage was done. Starting at 10:30 P.M. a frenzied white mob, numbering ten thousand men, women, and children of all classes, killed or beat every Black in sight. Before the five-hour massacre ended, the mob had attacked Blacks indiscriminately. They beat to death innocent Blacks and crucified several bodies on utility poles. That same night of September 22, 1906, whites took to the streets in Savannah and Augusta, Ga., to put Blacks back in their place and teach Black businessmen and preachers to stay out of politics and refrain from encouraging Blacks to vote in their own self-interest.

More than any other dimension of racism, this type of white violence upended Du Bois’s most thoughtful plans and dogged his every ideological turn. Now that any hopes of Black empowerment had been crushed, he was now ready to flee back to the North and write articles about the suffering of Black people far away from the bloody battlefields in the South. He wrote now for the Crisis Magazine under the controlling hand of Jewish NAACP chairman Joel Spingarn and millionaire Jewish banker Jacob Schiff, embracing a new and safer philosophy of “non-economic liberalism.”

And now “non-economic liberals” like Neil Steinberg want to criticize Minister Farrakhan for fostering a program that Black people have been scared out of their wits to try again—ECONOMIC SELF-DETERMINATION. Instead, Mr. Steinberg would offer that Blacks continue down the road of integration and non-economic liberalism, a dead-end that his Jewish ancestors steered Black people toward.  Mr. Steinberg asserts that the vast majority of Blacks chose “integration” over “separation.” Now that we have had over 40 years to transpire since the Civil Rights Bill of 1965, what can Mr. Steinberg show Black people as the fruit of that “vine”?  Let’s see. Data shows that

• In major cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago, Black male employment dropped from over 70% employed in 1970 to less than 50% employed in 2010.

• In 1984, the typical Black family had a median net worth of $6,679, but by 2009 this same typical Black family had a median net worth of $4,900.

• In 1984, Black families owned 1/12th of what white families owned, but by 2009 they owned just 1/19th of what their white counterparts owned.

• Black land ownership has dropped from 16 million acres to less than 3 million today.

In other words, Black people are not catching up with whites in terms of wealth, but are falling further behind. So, Mr. Steinberg, would you suggest that Blacks continue on the path of integrationism to go downhill in terms of decent jobs and wealth or that we change direction and pursue strategies that could lead to economic self-determination? With a little more attention to the facts, perhaps Mr. Steinberg could remove the “yellow” from his “journalism.”

(Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad, Agricultural Economist, National Student Minister of Agriculture, Manager of Muhammad Farms. He can be reached at drridge@bellsouth.net)

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