Saturday, April 14, 2007

Michael Wilbon: Robinson Cleared a Path, but Fewer Are Following His Lead

The Washington Post

Saturday, April 14, 2007; E01

The baseball fields in black neighborhoods crackled when I was a kid, not only in Chicago, where I grew up, but also in Detroit and Cleveland and Compton, where we would visit relatives. On driving trips, we'd take along a bat and a glove because chances were we would find a field and play baseball. The talk in the barber shop wasn't of Wilt and Russell nearly as much as it was of Aaron and Mays. The great baseball players weren't close to being rich, not in the 1960s and '70s, and the black ones lived in black neighborhoods in segregated times, sometimes renting a room from a neighbor with a big house, and they would play catch with kids on off-days.

It doesn't seem like it's been 35 years since baseball was so important to black America; it seems like another century, like the story should be illustrated in black-and-white clips. The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball is tomorrow, and African American participation in what was once American's pastime has dropped to a stunning low. Only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African American. Historically black colleges and universities field teams that are often one-third to one-half white and Hispanic because African American children have no interest in playing the sport their fathers and grandfathers would play from sunup to sundown from the time slavery ended until the mid-1970s.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Robinson wouldn't be proud of what he started that day in 1947 when he played in that Brooklyn Dodgers uniform for the first time. Robinson's fight, first and foremost, was about inclusion, about opening doors that had been sealed shut for decades. I can't help but think that Robinson, given his intellect and broad view, would weep joyfully and openly if he could see that 40 percent of major league rosters are composed of Hispanic, African American and Asian ballplayers. Robinson didn't just dream of inclusion; he fought for it, dying too early from the stress that resulted from fighting for it.

"It's a wonderful thing that 40 percent of our players are minorities," Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a conversation yesterday about the Robinson anniversary. "The troubling part in that great number is the decline in participation of African Americans."

Another troubling aspect is that this problem, if it is one, too frequently is being laid at the feet of Major League Baseball. But this isn't a chicken-or-egg conundrum. We know which came first: Black kids stopped playing baseball, to some degree of their own free will. Nobody forced them out, or even nudged them. They fell out of love with baseball, probably at about the time Michael Jordan became America's No. 1 sporting icon, and have had a basketball obsession since the mid-1980s. Football, with its 85 scholarships per Division I school, vs. baseball, with an average of 11.7 scholarships per school, became firmly entrenched as the No. 2 sport in blackworld.

"If I'm a parent whose child needs a scholarship," Solomon said, "I'm going to point him to football, where there's a full ride, not to baseball, where there might be one-half scholarship available, or one-third or one-fourth. Most black kids can't go to school like that."

And perhaps the world simply changed too.

When Shirley Povich was writing in this space -- or at least during the first four decades of his 75 years as The Post's sports columnist -- baseball, boxing and horse racing were the sports that mattered. The NFL was behind college football in popularity until the early 1960s.

Professional basketball had no profile until the late 1950s. The NBA wasn't yet born when Robinson broke in. More black kids were interested in riding in the Kentucky Derby than shooting a basketball until the late 1950s. Solomon, a Washingtonian and baseball's most plugged-in executive when it comes to this topic, sees a "perfect storm" of sorts having dropped baseball in the pecking order of African American interests.

"When basketball did begin to catch on, Julius Erving was an incredibly glamorous figure, and then Michael Jordan became, outside of Muhammad Ali, the most recognized person in the world," Solomon said. "Shoe companies like Nike came to the realization, 'We can market these shoes not just to the basketball consumer, but to everybody.' The shoes became a general fashion statement, then a cultural statement. The NBA is often credited with that, but it was the shoe companies that paid for it.

"Meanwhile," Solomon said, "the first programs that schools and recreation facilities had to drop were baseball. . . . You needed a lot of green space and there are high maintenance costs. But . . . if one kid in the neighborhood can afford one basketball, the whole community can play. If you're an urban planner, thinking of putting a facility in, say, Anacostia and budget is an issue . . . the most inexpensive, durable, accessible thing is a basketball court, not a baseball diamond."

There's simply no debate to have with Solomon on these points. I went to Los Angeles the week after the 1992 riots to find out whether there was any legitimate relationship between the unrest there and the neglect of baseball diamonds for financial reasons. At a meeting of Bloods and Crips at the home of football great Jim Brown one night I got my answer, from the gang members themselves. Yes, absolutely. They told me which weed-covered fields to visit and how they turned from Little League to gangbanging because they no longer had baseball to turn to.

And by the time money was appropriated, it was too late. Black kids wanted to be like Mike. He had a shoe, and a logo. Tony Gwynn, great as he was, didn't have either. Neither, then, did Barry Bonds. "LeBron never played a minute of professional basketball, yet had a $90 million contract from Nike," Solomon said.

Now that Major League Baseball has restored fields from Compton, Calif., to Brooklyn and spread seed money all over the country, African American kids aren't interested. Baseball "takes too long" and "there's not enough action" and "it's too complicated." Scouts talk of going to tournaments and seeing plenty of Hispanic players, black and white, but sometimes no African Americans. A couple of summers ago, I went back to the park I grew up in, West Chatham Park on the South Side of Chicago, where we played baseball until somebody's parents made us come home.

Nobody was playing. Kids sat two deep in a ring around the basketball court, but the baseball diamonds -- three of them, as I recall -- were empty, unlined, not mowed.

So I asked Solomon -- who oversaw the building of the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, which has attracted 2,000 kids since it opened 14 months ago -- what in the world MLB is going to do, even though MLB isn't in my mind part of the problem.

"Basketball rides the backs of the shoe companies when it comes to marketing," he said. "But baseball will have to market itself. We have to find a way to raise the profile of African American players, make them cool. . . . Ryan Howard, Dontrelle Willis, Torii Hunter. . . . We've got to find a way from a business and social standpoint to raise their profiles. Ryan Howard was rookie of the year one year, then MVP the next. Who does that? But do African American children know him? And how do we market without exposing ourselves to the pitfalls of what happens with the individual player? There's a little trepidation."

Yes, the shoe companies (and as a result, the NBA) have found that out the hard way. Basketball markets the individual, which can be risky.

Baseball markets the game, which black kids don't know and aren't attracted to.

"It's a generational sport," Solomon said. "Your dad or your granddad or uncle explained all the nuances to you, the game within a game, how to fill out a scorecard. . . . The game was passed down. Well, we've lost a generation of teachers because of all the new interests."

Sadly, depending on your perspective, the game is being passed over instead of passed down. The Urban Youth Academy already has produced a couple of kids headed for the majors, including one, who is white, drafted in the first round.

But it's fair to wonder whether we, African Americans, ever will embrace baseball the way we once did, whether we'll love it, obsess over it the way Robinson and Mays and Aaron did, whether we'll see the powerful and skilled Ryan Howard as an American sporting hero or somebody who plays a sport that was important to us once upon a time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mike Lupica- 3 Big Words: Imus is Fired

CBS quiets shock jock, but storm won't go away


Friday, April 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

The storm that came to be known as "The Perfect Storm" because of the book by Sebastian Junger sank a fishing boat called the Andrea Gail in 1991. Everything that happened then is explained now by a collision between a high-pressure system and a low-pressure system and the remnants of a dying and unnamed hurricane. Even now, all this time later, the storm that made the Andrea Gail famous in a book and in a movie is described as an "unprecedented weather condition."

The perfect storm that ended, for now at least, one of the most famous careers in the history of radio began last Wednesday morning, a little more than one week ago, with these three words:
"Nappy-headed ho's."

Don Imus said those words on the "Imus in the Morning" radio program, still being simulcast then on MSNBC. He was talking with his producer about the Rutgers women's basketball team that had lost the NCAA final to Tennessee the night before and "ho's" had been introduced into the conversation and then Imus, trying to be funny, upping the ante, brought race all the way into it with "nappy-headed."

No one knew it at the time, not Imus, not any of his bosses in radio or television, but something had started now. Like something happening out in the ocean before anybody really knew or saw. Something that would become one of the most unprecedented storms in the history of broadcasting. And we were all about to be reminded, all over again, that race is still the main event in this country, more than war, more than anything.

On the last radio show Imus will do at WFAN, on a morning when he raised another million dollars for charity in the space of a few hours, he said, "If I don't say it, we're not talking about it."

Those three words never changed, not once. George Carlin, who has guested on "Imus in the Morning" over the years, used to have a routine about the seven words you could not say on television. Clearly, we have now added a few more.

But no one knew when he said them.

Even 48 hours later, after Imus issued an apology, that apology only brought this response from Myles Brand, the president of the NCAA, and Richard McCormick, the president of Rutgers:
Brand and McCormick referred to Imus' original comments as "unconscionable." They concluded by saying, "It is appropriate that Mr. Imus and MSNBC have apologized."

Nothing about a firing. That would first come from the National Association of Black Journalists. The NABJ issued a call for Imus to be fired, and suddenly the story was being reported that way, starting with ESPN. Suddenly the apology wasn't the story anymore. Even with that, the story was not played big in most Saturday newspapers.

Al Sharpton was in it now, though, saying fire the guy or else. So was Jesse Jackson. Was Jackson going to be outdone by Sharpton? On what planet? Then Imus was appearing on Sharpton's radio show. The three words had not changed, but now they were everywhere.
The storm was dominating everything.

Finally on Tuesday the country saw the women of Rutgers basketball, the ones at whom those three words had been directed, saw Essence Carson and Heather Zurich and Kia Vaughn. And all of the elements for the storm were in place, even before sponsors began to run the other way. We had race and gender together. We had the faces of the college kids who had gotten hit by Don Imus, age 66, white. In a fight like this, particularly with networks and advertisers, youth wins every time, whether it is white or black.

Once MSNBC took Imus off its air - for three words the people doing the firing first heard, and could have been outraged by, early Wednesday morning - Imus had no chance, whether the women of Rutgers basketball agreed to meet with him or not. Did you think CBS, Imus' radio boss, was going to look less noble and virtuous than NBC?

Again: On what planet?

"I've been dishing it out for a long time," Imus said yesterday. "Now it's my turn. I get that."
What nobody got, back at the beginning, is that those three words would silence a show like his, while prompting at the same time what is now routinely described as a National Conversation. The game had changed and Imus had not changed with it. Now there is a whole new game, one where the three words that Imus used on television and radio turned out to be career-enders, at least for now.

A white man said these things about a predominantly black basketball team, said them after one of the great triumphs of their young lives, and no one wanted to hear afterward about the good he has done behind a microphone, the National Conversations he has had about Walter Reed and returning veterans and autism and sickle-cell anemia and all of the rest of it.

Imus himself talked Monday morning about context and proportion and happened to be right. But by then nobody was really listening to one of the most famous voices in this country, one of the most famous voices his medium had ever produced.

Now all those who went after him as hard as they could, who acted as if the only solution was his firing, say they don't want this conversation about race and women and what has happened to the airwaves in this country to end with this firing.

Only they don't get to decide that. Because even after those three words and the perfect storm they caused, the best place to have the kind of conversation they are talking about would have been on the show they just got canceled.

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Aaron's bat made loud noise, not Aaron

Friday, April 13, 2007

By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Fifty-three years ago today, Henry Louis Aaron made his major-league debut with five pretty lifeless at-bats in which he didn't so much as manage a loud foul.

That he announced himself with a whispery 0 for 5 seems just about perfectly fitting, even for someone who would spend the next 23 years flexing his great hands and miraculous wrists around more hitting records than anyone in major-league history.

1956 Topps

"The thing that I remember," Pirates World Series hero Steve Blass remembered yesterday, "is that when I first came up he was the one guy who had home run power to all fields. As he got closer to the record, he was more committed to pulling the ball, so he was actually tougher to pitch to earlier."

Yes, ahem, the record.

The record is little else but the total Ruthian eclipse, 755 homers, at least for now, and the record is why everyone wants Hank Aaron to talk again. From now until it's not. But The Hammer wants to whisper, as ever, and only if he must. His whole career was the sensory equivalent of a summer breeze, soothing and natural, only ever as capricious as is required by the game's flinty probabilities.

Even from his relatively secluded life of inactive cultural royalty, Aaron, 73, will be compelled to say things as 755 comes under threat, and he will no doubt say some things that will sound insufficient or tinny or even embittered, scolding and cranky.

He didn't ask for this. He doesn't deserve this.

"Somebody asked me if I'm rooting for [the record to fall]," Blass said. "I gotta say no. I pitched against him. He did all the right things. He exuded class. He was consistent with people. In my mind, I'd just as soon see his record stay."

The honest reaction of many who feel a connection to Aaron, whether it was Blass staring at him across 60 feet of serious jeopardy or any of the game's enthralled fans watching him launch any of the 755, is that this might not be their favorite summer.

1957 Topps

For them, the only celebration at the passing of 755 will be the opportunity to revisit the quiet adventures of Bad Henry, whose role in baseball's comparative literature resonates through not only a game's history, but a nation's.

The first African American to play in the South Atlantic League, Aaron tore through two minor-league summers before getting his break, literally. Bobby Thomson, the slugger who had scrawled the game's signature moment with his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951, snapped his ankle sliding into third in an exhibition game against the Pirates in March 1954. That opened a roster spot for a skinny left fielder out of Mobile, Ala.

Aaron hit his first homer off Vic Raschi April 23 of that year, and his last off Dick Drago July 20, 1976. In between, a career that made him virtually synonymous with the home run leaned toward obscuring the total player Aaron made himself. He finished among the league's top 10 in stolen bases eight times and won three Gold Gloves. In an era when only players voted for the All-Star team, he was the first unanimous selection. He stole home. He singled in the hole. He played hitters perfectly. When contemporary and post-modern critics reached purposefully for flaws, it was suggested that unlike Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente, Aaron was colorless. Where their play seemed comprised of great symphonic movements, Aaron's was still a relative whisper.

"The only thing really flashy about him were the home run numbers," Blass said. "He had a quiet, classy quality. He was not a headline guy. A lot of people forget he was a terrific baserunner. He stole bases when it mattered. He did everything right. He caught everything he should have. He threw everywhere he should have."

And when he found himself stride for loping home run stride with the ghost of Babe Ruth, with metric tons of racist hate mail following him across a continent, he stood in against Al Downing the night of April 8, 1974, and wristed a 1-0 fastball into the bullpen. Even as the event was practically suffocating him, he made it look easy.

Aaron was more relieved than proud. His pride came in the consistency of his home run output -- "never more than 44 in a season," he said recently -- and it says a lot about him that he isn't even aware that he hit 45 in 1962 and 47 in '71.

His favorite homer came Sept. 23, 1957, because it won the pennant for the Milwaukee Braves. He hit three more in the World Series to beat the Yankees.

Today, a statue of Hank Aaron stands majestically on the concourse outside the Atlanta Stadium that should be named after him. The artist has captured him at the end of his swing, his eyes wide and his lithe body just beginning to lean into the basepath. There is, all around it, a whisper of grace and modesty. Or is that just me?

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.)

Patrick J. Buchanan: The Imus Lynch Party

Don Imus

Friday, April 13, 2007

In the end, it was not about Imus. It was about us.

Are we really a better country because, after he was publicly whipped for 10 days as the worst kind of racist, with whom no decent person could associate, he was thrown off the air?

Cards on the table.

This writer works for MSNBC, has been on the Imus show scores of times, watches Imus every morning, and likes the show, the music and the guys: the I-Man, Bernie, Charles and Tom Bowman.

And Imus is among the best interviewers in our business. Not only does he read and follow the news closely, he listens and probes as well as any interviewer in America. Because he is a comic, people mistake how good a questioner he is.

Is "Imus in the Morning" outrageous? Over the top at times? Are things said every week, if not every day, where you say, "He's going too far"? Yeah. But outrageousness is part of the show, whether the skits are of "Teddy Kennedy," "Reverend Falwell," "Mayor Nagin" or "The Cardinal."

And when Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "tattooed ... nappy-headed ho's," he went over the top. The women deserved an apology. There was no cause, no call to use those terms. As Ann Coulter said, they were not fair game.

But Imus did apologize, again and again and again.

And lest we forget, these are athletes in their prime, the same age as young women in Iraq. They are not 5-year-old girls, and they are capable of brushing off an ignorant comment by a talk-show host who does not know them, or anything about them.

Who, after all, believed the slur was true? No one.

Compare, if you will, what was done to them -- a single nasty insult -- to the savage slanders for weeks on end of the Duke lacrosse team and the three players accused by a lying stripper of having gang-raped her at a frat party.

Duke faculty and talking heads took that occasion to vent their venom toward all white "jocks" on college campuses. Where are the demands for apologies from the talk-show hosts, guests, Duke faculty members and smear artists, all of whom bought into the lies about those Duke kids -- because the lies comported with their hateful view of America?

And hate is what this is all about.

While the remarks of Imus and Bernie about the Rutgers women were indefensible, they were more unthinking and stupid than vicious and malicious. But malice is the right word to describe the howls for their show to be canceled and them to be driven from the airwaves -- by phonies who endlessly prattle about the First Amendment.

The hypocrisy here was too thick to cut with a chainsaw.

What was the term the I-Man used? It was "ho's," slang for whores, a term employed ad infinitum et ad nauseam by rap and hip-hop "artists." It is a term out of the African-American community. Yet, if any of a hundred rap singers has lost his contract or been driven from the airwaves for using it, maybe someone can tell me about it.

If the word "ho's" is a filthy insult to decent black women, and it is, why are hip-hop artists and rap singers who use it incessantly not pariahs in the black community? Why would black politicians hobnob with them? Why are there no boycotts of the advertisers of the radio stations that play their degrading music?

Answer: The issue here is not the word Imus used. The issue is who Imus is -- a white man, who used a term about black women only black folks are permitted to use with impunity and immunity.

Whatever Imus' sins, no one deserves to have Al Sharpton -- hero of the Tawana Brawley hoax, resolute defender of the fake rape charge against half a dozen innocent guys, which ruined lives -- sit in moral judgment upon them.

"It is our feeling that this is only the beginning. We must have a broad discussion on what is permitted and not permitted in terms of the airwaves," says Sharpton. It says something about America that someone with Al's track record can claim the role of national censor.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton

Who is next? And why do we take it?

I did a bad thing, but I am not a bad person, says Imus. Indeed, whoever used his microphone to do more good for more people -- be they the cancer kids of Imus Ranch, the families of Iraq war dead now more justly compensated because of the I-Man or the cause of a cure for autism?

"We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality," said Lord Macaulay. Unfortunately, Macauley never saw the likes of the Revs. Sharpton and Jackson.

Imus threw himself on the mercy of the court of elite opinion -- and that court, pandering to the mob, lynched him. Yet, for all his sins, he was a better man than the lot of them rejoicing at the foot of the cottonwood tree.

Pat Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative magazine, and the author of many books including State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson

By Gen LaGreca
April 13, 2007

On April 13 every American should remember one of our greatest Founding Fathers, born that spring day in 1743: Thomas Jefferson. This farmer, scholar, and statesman lovingly carved the government and character of his precious gem, America. He penned the stirring words on the parchment that is the soul of America, "The Declaration of Independence." Do we—and our officials—today understand its meaning?

The "Declaration" launched the first country ever based on people's unalienable rights. According to Jefferson, these rights are "derived from the laws of nature" and not "the gift of their Chief Magistrate." No tyrant—nor any majority vote in Congress—can violate them.

Rights belong to individuals. There are no “rights” of groups. If pizza eaters lobby Congress for a "right" to a free pizza every Thursday, and if Congress, out of concern for their nourishment or their votes, grants their wish, it acts illegitimately. In Jefferson's words: "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated [in the Constitution]."

Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness are rights to act, not entitlements to free goods and services. Jefferson defined liberty as "unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others." This means we may earn money and buy a house, but we may not expect the government to seize taxpayers' money to provide us with a house for free. Life requires effort, a fact Jefferson considered our glory. When his farm fell on hard times, he proudly manufactured nails, saying "every honest employment is deemed honorable [in America]. . . . My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility . . . [is] in Europe." What would he think of today's innumerable handouts to special interest groups, rewarding people for non-effort?

Does one citizen have less of an inviolable right than another? Does a rich person, for example, have less of a right to property than a poor one? According to Jefferson: "To take from one because it is thought his own industry . . . has acquired too much, in order to spare others who have not exercised equal industry and skill is to violate the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." What would he think of today's cries to "tax the rich," depriving them of their Constitutional rights?

Jefferson ardently championed spiritual autonomy. His "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" in Virginia was an achievement he had etched on his tombstone. The bill stopped the practice of paying clergy with public funds because "to compel a man to furnish . . . money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." Jefferson was "against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another." What would he think of today's faith-based initiatives, allocating taxpayers' money to religious organizations, and attempts by elected officials to dictate public policies based on faith?

Governments are instituted solely to protect our rights from violation by force or fraud, apprehending perpetrators who pick our pockets or break our legs; otherwise, government stays out of our lives. Wise government, explains Jefferson, "shall refrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." What would he think of today's 150,000-page Code of Federal Regulations and endless agencies that swallow 40 percent of our national income?

Thomas Jefferson by Donald De Lue (1975)

Jefferson believed citizens capable of self-government because they possess reason. "Fix reason firmly to her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion." He expected people to use their minds to control their own lives. He gently chastised his teenage daughter when she relied on her teacher's help to read an ancient text. "If you always rely on your master, you will never be able to proceed without him. It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate—to surmount every difficulty . . . " What would Jefferson think of today's entitlement programs, which destroy our capacity to think and act for ourselves, and transform us into helpless dependents?

Today Jefferson's jewel, a country where individuals live free and pursue their happiness unencumbered by the state, is losing its brilliance. Officials who can't tell a diamond from a rhinestone hammer away at our rights. The way to honor Thomas Jefferson—and ourselves—is to rescue liberty and live up to the ideals for which he, as a signer of the "Declaration," pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.

Genevieve LaGreca holds a master's degree in philosophy from Columbia University and is the author of "Noble Vision," a ForeWord magazine Book-of-the-Year award-winning novel about liberty.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Former home of the late Johnny Cash burns to the ground

The former home of Johnny and June Carter Cash on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville burns Tuesday afternoon. (By CHERYL TATUM/Staff)

Wednesday, 04/11/07


The Tennessean

Fumes from a wood preservative ignited by a spark are the likely cause of a mid-afternoon fire at the home of the late Johnny and June Carter Cash, according to Hendersonville Fire Chief Jamie Steele.

"We've got a pretty good idea what happened," said Steele, who said he would offer more on the fire Wednesday.

Steele said the home's unique multi-leveled design made it difficult for firefighters. "For a firefighter, when you hear unique it's going to be hard. All the things that made it a unique and attractive home made it harder to fight the fire," the chief noted.

The house, purchased in January 2006 by singer, songwriter Barry Gibb was undergoing extensive renovations when the fire occurred. Steele said contractors were thought to have been using wood preservatives on the interior and exterior of the house and could have acted as an accelerant.

Country music singer Marty Stuart and his wife Connie Smith walk on their property to see Johnny Cash's former home and Barry Gibb's current home burn during a fire in Hendersonville on Tuesday, April 10, 2007. (photo by Shelley Mays)

One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation on the scene, but Steele said he was fine.

Firefighters were called to the home on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville at about 1:40 p.m. today.
According to Mike Elmore, the general contractor for Cardinal Construction Services, the company doing the renovation, none of his workers who were at the house when the fire started were injured.

“I don’t think I or anyone in the house could tell you how it started. Someone could have been using a torch and even though we specifically don’t allow smoking in the houses we’re renovating, someone could have lit a cigarette,” Elmore said.

He added contractors were concerned about the house being a potential fire hazard when they accepted the job because it is a 40 year old home made primarily of wood.

“There is very little drywall and all of the floors and veneers are wood. It is kind of a tinderbox on the inside. It certainly went out of control pretty quick,” Elmore said.

Steele said this is not the first time firefighters have been called to the all-wood structure. Two fires broke out at the residence in the late 80s while the Cashes were still living there.

Among those standing by helplessly watching this piece of history burn was Johnny Cash’s sister, Joanne Cash.

She remembered her brother’s home as a place where she had been part of many family gatherings and mourned “such beautiful memories” destroyed.

However, she said she and her brother Tommy took comfort in knowing that their brother won’t have dwelled on the loss for long.

“If Johnny were here he would say, ‘Ok, let’s go on. It’s time to move on,’” she said.

Cash house still smolders; no memorabilia lost

Hendersonville firefighters work on putting out a hot spot at the former home of Johnny Cash on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville during a fire that destroyed the home on Tuesday. (SHELLEY MAYS / THE TENNESSEAN)

Smoldering fire prevents firefighter access


The Tennessean

HENDERSONVILLE - The longtime home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash was still smoldering this morning, preventing firefighters from gaining access to the ruined house.

Cars streamed by the Caudill Drive property on Old Hickory Lake, pausing as passengers leaned out the windows to snap photographs with their cell phones.

Joanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s sister, said none of the family’s memorabilia remained in the house, which was sold two years ago to singer Barry Gibbs and was under renovation.

She asked people to pray for the children who are upset by the loss, her brother Tommy and herself.

“This house held precious memories, nothing can take away those precious memories. It housed a family but it also housed precious memories,” Joanne Cash said.

“We are going to keep singing we are going to keep on going. We are going to leave all the questions people have about what happened to God.”

A family spokesperson said a flood of well-wishers, by email and phone, have offered to place flowers at the site as a memorial to its place in music history.

House revered by stars and fans now just ashes


That's what June Carter liked to call the Hendersonville home she shared with her husband, Johnny Cash.

"She thought of it as her and dad's private kingdom," wrote the couple's son, John Carter Cash, in his Anchored In Love: The Life and Legacy of June Carter Cash, a book slated for June release.

The Cashes' Camelot is in ruins, the victim of a Tuesday afternoon fire that destroyed the more than 13,000-square-foot property. Its new owner, Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame, bought the house for $2.5 million in early 2006, and he and wife Linda were renovating it for use as a summer home.

Built in the late 1960s, the home had 18 rooms, including a signature round living room and a bedroom that overlooked Old Hickory Lake. It was important for reasons that had nothing to do with size, architecture and design. Like the Cashes' Virginia home — the one that used to belong to June's mother, legendary guitarist Maybelle Carter — this was a house of music.

Cash wrote here, of course. He placed acoustic guitars in most rooms, so that he could pluck out chords and melodies as inspiration struck. In the 1970s, he and June often opened the house for guitar pulls that included luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury. They'd also often invite up-and-coming writers that Cash respected and encouraged, including Vince Matthews and Larry Gatlin.

When the house wasn't open to visitors, it was seemingly impenetrable. As an aspiring songwriter, a down-and-out Kristofferson wanted to hand a tape of his music to the by-then-legendary Cash, but he figured he wouldn't be able to get past guards. He landed a helicopter in the yard, and Cash ended up recording "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and other Kristofferson songs.

House was a sanctuary

June Carter Cash also worked on her music at the house, and she played a private concert on the grounds to celebrate the release of her Press On album in 1999.

For the most part, Johnny and June did not record at the home, though beginning in the late 1990s they recorded many tracks at Cash's small cabin studio located across the street and down a winding, unpaved road.

Johnny Cash recorded some vocal tracks in the house, after June died in 2003. He was grief-stricken, and in such poor health that it was difficult for him to make it to the cabin studio. Sessions were arranged in his round bedroom.

"It was a sanctuary and a fortress for him," singer Marty Stuart said of the house. Stuart lives next door to the Cash estate in Hendersonville, and he was married to Johnny Cash's daughter, Cindy, in the 1980s. "So many prominent things and prominent people in American history took place in that house," Stuart said, name-checking Dylan and evangelist Billy Graham as two of the most notable.

When Cash first bought the house, he used it as a place of healing. His body ravaged by drug abuse, he retreated to that round bedroom to rid his system of toxic substances. He and June were not yet married, but she and her parents were a near-constant presence.

"June and her mother and father formed a circle of faith around me caring for me and insulating me from the outside world, particularly the people, some of them close friends, who'd been doing drugs with me," Cash wrote in Cash: The Autobiography.

Home reflected June

After Johnny and June married in 1968, June — a shopper and a collector of art and furniture — lavishly furnished the interior. The result could be seen in the video for Cash's 2002 release "Hurt," some of which was filmed in the house.

"I found photos of the lake house from late 1967, before dad and mom married," wrote John Carter Cash, who was born in 1970. "They showed wide open rooms with very little furniture, and only a few scattered mementos. I have a few of those items still. … These things remind me of how my father changed to bring my mother into his life."

After June's death, Johnny Cash sought to remove many of the items his wife had
collected because the reminders saddened and depressed him.

After Cash's death in September 2003, it was left to relatives to sift through the belongings. Many of their paintings, clothes and musical instruments were sold at a Sotheby's auction in 2004. The family hung onto the home until 2006, when it was sold to the Gibbs. John Carter Cash kept the cabin studio, where he regularly records (including a tribute album to June Carter Cash that will be released in June).

Album detailed the loss

Johnny Cash's daughter, singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, wrote about the painful process of parting with the home on her 2006 Black Cadillac album.

"There's nothing left to take," she sang in "House on the Lake." "There's nothing left to take/ But love and years are not for sale/ In our old house on the lake."

Barbara Orbison, a neighbor of the Cashes for many years and the widow of Roy Orbison, spent many days at the house on the lake.

"Every inch of the house was something June bought or put there," she said. "If you thought about Johnny and June, you thought about that house. That was their house. I guess it will forever be their house."

More Reactions to the Cash House Fire

• Oak Ridge Boys bass singer Richard Sterban was eating lunch in his restaurant Cheddar’s when his road manager called him on the phone to tell him “Johnny Cash’s house is burning to the ground.”

Sterban lives on the same road as the house; he moved in 20 years ago when it was all country music stars down street, including Roy Orbison. “Back then, it was just a nice quiet community, with a beautiful lake, somewhere they could get away from it all,” Sterban said.

He has memories of house: Johnny Cash took the Oak Ridge Boys under his wing. “He made us part of his show and paid us more than we were worth,” Sterban said.

Sterban shared this memory on Tuesday: The Oak RidgeBoys had just finished a gig, and Johnny Cash invited them back to his house and told them, “‘I can tell there’s something special about your group, but if you give up now no one else is going to know that. If you hang in there, good things are going to happen to you.”

When the group won its first CMA, Cash gave it to them.

“We’ve been there for parties, we have a lot of fond memories. They’re all going up in smoke,” Sterban said on Tuesday.

— Jennifer Brooks, Staff Writer

• “They both are saddened and devastated by the news. At this time, we don’t have any further comment,” said Paul Bloch, publicist for the house’s new owner, Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame and his wife, Linda. They bought the house for $2.5 million in early 2006 and were renovating it for use as a summer home.

— Beverly Keel, Staff Writer

• Barbara Orbison, music executive and widow of music legend Roy Orbison who lived next door to Johnny and June Carter Cash, talked about the home after Tuesday’s fire.

“I feel really sad because it was like the house had been there forever. The first day when I got to Tennessee, when I was 17. Roy took me straight over to Johnny and June's to meet them. Part of my life for 20 years was very much in that house, whether it was baby showers or births or marriages or divorces or just having breakfast. It was always there. I am really saddened it went. In a way, it was so associated with Johnny and June that it never really felt right for me that anybody else should ever be in that house.”

Roy moved there in 1963 and she joined him 1968: “Johnny and June got married 1968, and we married in 1969. For the first years it was like a little neighborhood; it was sleepy.”

“I remember when Roy’s house burned (in 1968) — it was right next to it —Johnny and June came straight off the road to be with Roy. It is just strong sense of history there.

After Roy's house burned, he built another one right next to it, Barbara said. The Orbisons moved to Malibu in 1985 and Roy died in 1988. “That house and our house was part of my safety in life.”

About two months ago, Barbara spoke about the house with Reese Witherspoon, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of June in Walk the Line. “When she came down, that was before the house sold and June had a collection of this and that. It’s a sense of tragedy and a sense that it belonged to Johnny and June. It was Johnny and June. There was never a day that that house didn’t represent them. They lived there the whole time they were married.

“That house had a really strong scent of Johnny and June. It was built on rock. It had to be a strong house to have survived right there at the lake.

“If you thought about Johnny and June, you thought about that house. I guess it will be forever their house.”

— Beverly Keel, Staff Writer

• “I can't give you the words I felt when I was walking through my orchard and watched it go down. My heart melted alongside it for a minute,” singer Marty Stuart told The Associated Press about the house. Stuart lives next door to the Cash estate in Hendersonville, and he was married to Johnny Cash’s daughter, Cindy, in the 1980s.

• Johnny Cash’s sister Joanne Cash released the following statement after the fire on Tuesday: “Of course we are all in a state of shock. I feel that an era has passed. Just today in prayer, I had decided to move on, even discarding old newspaper clippings not realizing that this terrible thing would happen. My prayers are with the Cash family and especially the Gibb family during this time.”

• Andy Griffith Show actor George Lindsey remembers some wonderful times spent at the home of John and June Carter Cash:

“The atmosphere was something like you were living in one of his songs. One night it was Rev. Billy Graham, Buford Pusser, (Hee Haw producer) Sam Lovullo and June and John and Mother Maybelle. It was an interesting evening. When we talked about something, Dr. Graham would talk about it in reference to the Bible. It was terrific to be on that invitation list.

“It’s not the house of so and so on something street, it was the house of Cash.”

— Ken Beck, Staff Writer

Peter Cooper writes about music for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 259-8220, or by e-mail at

Country legends recall guitar pulls at Cash house

Thursday, 04/12/07


The Tennessean

Like much of the music community, George Jones, Tom T. Hall and "Cowboy Jack" Clement were deeply saddened by the news of Tuesday's fire at the former home of Johnny and June Carter Cash, but they fondly recall memories of guitar pulls at the couple's Hendersonville lake house.

"We were just enjoying each other more than anything and passing the guitar and telling jokes and this and that and the other thing and trying to write a song," George said.

"We didn't think about the road or all the other things involved in the music business.

"We thought it was like a nice gathering of people for a calm party. There was no alcohol or anything like that.

"It was just 'have a Coke,' and we all had a great time. It was something else, and they were just amazing people."

June and Johnny were in charge at the homey guitar pulls, held at a time when country singers were in the minority of mainstream music.

"They would make requests," Tom T. said. "They knew what people were good at, 'Why don't you sing that song you wrote?' It was pretty free-wheeling and a lot of fun."

One of the funniest moments Tom T. recalls was during Johnny and June's 1968 wedding reception at their home.

"Roger Miller was up on top of the piano selling albums and 8x10 glossies," Tom T. said with a laugh.

"That said a lot about Roger and who we were back in those days. Cash made him get down."

During that reception, Cowboy Jack and Johnny discussed the house's floor.

"Part of the ground floor is built on a slab of rock and it had a slight slant to it," Jack said.

"I told John, 'That floor is not straight,' He said, 'I know that, but it is imperceptible.' I said, 'Well, then why did I perceive it?' "

Jack also loved those guitar pulls, where famous faces such as Paul McCartney mingled with country stars and songwriters.

"I went out there one time and Billy Graham was there," Jack said. "He didn't sing, but everyone else did. And my mother was there. She was a big fan of his, and she got to sit next to him at dinner. That was the thrill of her life."

Tom T. said John Hartford was a popular guest because he could do so many witty and charming things with so many songs and instruments.

"I remember Bill Monroe being there," he said. "I was a little bit surprised to see him, because he wasn't a big socialite."

Johnny and June didn't sing lead much during these evenings.

"They made everyone else work," Tom T. said. "John would join in when they sang something everybody knew. They conducted the things. They were great hosts and paid attention to everybody to make sure everybody was having a good time. There were no wallflowers; if you got in a corner, they would drag you out in the spotlight."

After hearing about the fire, George could only say, "Oh, my goodness."

He said he "remembered the outside of the house reminded me so much of a hexagon shape or something like that. It was sort of round and it made me think of the song 'Ring of Fire.'

"I don't know. I don't guess John and June wanted anybody else to live in their house. It's amazing, though, that all these things happen when they do and pretty much coincide with each other. It's just something you can't explain."

Like many in the Cash and Carter families, including Rosanne and John Carter Cash, Carlene Carter isn't ready to speak publicly about the fire. "She is just obviously sad, as everyone is, because it was a beautiful home," said her publicist, Cathy Gurley. "She has some great memories. She is sad for the Gibb family. She is going to keep remembering the great times she had there growing up."

Fire at Cash house appears accidental

Johnny Cash is at his "nature house" on Old Hickory Lake near Hendersonville, Tenn. Cash was having a few beers with architect Braxton Dixon at the site and Cash ask "What in the world is that?" Dixon, who built the house for himself, answered "It's mine." Cash said, "No, it's mine!"

Thursday, 04/12/07


The Tennessean

HENDERSONVILLE — The rubble of Johnny Cash's longtime home smoldered in the rain Wednesday as investigators searched for the cause of the blaze.

There were 14 workers in and around the lakeside home on Caudill Drive when the fire began early Tuesday afternoon, according to the contractor — plumbers, heating and air conditioning technicians, electrical contractors, painters and carpenters.

The home was full of fumes from wood preservatives and other flammable chemicals. At some point, something — a blowtorch, a cigarette lighter, an electrical spark or even static electricity from someone walking across a carpet — set off a fast-moving fire that engulfed the historic home within minutes.

Leann Lindsey of Gallatin takes a picture of the former home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, which was completely destroyed after catching fire early Tuesday.

"The actual ignition source almost doesn't matter," said Hendersonville Fire Chief Jamie Steele, whose crews stayed at the fire scene around the clock as rain drenched the neighborhood around Old Hickory Lake without extinguishing the fire. "Any time you have possibly flammable vapors in an enclosed space, it's just waiting — there are dozens of things that could have created the spark."

Steele expects to be able to issue a final report on the cause of the blaze by late today. His inspectors have turned over their preliminary findings to private investigators for the insurance companies.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash shared the home until their deaths in 2003. Former Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb bought the seven-bedroom house last year and was restoring it.

Once the fire dies out, crews will pull down the last parts of the house standing, the teetering stone chimneys. Only then will it be safe to go on the property and take a closer look at the charred wreckage.

The former home of Johnny Cash can be seen from the road at 200 Caudill Drive in Hendersonville, Tenn., Sunday, November 19, 2006.

Family asks for prayers

Joanne Cash, Johnny Cash's sister, surveyed the wreckage sadly from the roadside Wednesday morning. A parade of cars passed by her in both directions as drivers slowed to stare. Many snapped pictures.

Well-wishers have flooded the Cash family with calls and e-mails and offers to set up flower memorials at the home. Joanne Cash asked for prayers instead — prayers for herself and her brother Tommy and for the Cash children, who have been devastated by the loss of their family's former home.

"We are going to keep singing," she said. "We are going to keep on going. We are going to leave all the questions people have about what happened to God."

Johnny Cash with his wife, June Carter Cash, at their "nature house" on Old Hickory Lake near Hendersonville.

Mike Elmore, president of Cardinal Construction Service, said his work crews were nearly finished with the restoration when disaster struck.

"We had promised them they would be in by July 4. We probably would have beat that (deadline) by over a month," Elmore said.

Elmore said the only furniture in the building was a Gibb family bedroom set — not Johnny Cash's famous round bed that Gibb had also purchased for the home.

Elmore said he has interviewed his workers who were at the site Tuesday and is "99 percent certain that this was simply an accidental thing."

All of his workers were experienced, he said. All escaped the blaze uninjured, although one man's shirt burned off his back.

"These were all good, honest hardworking people," he said.

No serious injuries in fire

One firefighter suffered minor injuries during the fire and was treated at the scene. Steele expects him to return to duty today.

"We're very grateful that no one was hurt," he said. "The fire moved so fast, the fact that there were no injuries was a huge blessing."

In addition to the fire crews and investigators, local police and sheriff's deputies have been patrolling to deter looters, Steele said.

Johnny Cash couldn't envision another woman in their house

The Tennessean
Thursday, 04/12/07

In October 1998, I was privileged to spend time at the Hendersonville home and nearby cabin of Johnny and June Carter Cash, an experience I will cherish the rest of my life.

The 50-acre compound was also home to deer, emu and antelope. "One of our emus almost took Tom Petty's fingers off, and an ostrich got Emmylou (Harris), so we're cutting down on our animals," June told me.

It was an emotional time because Johnny had just been released from the hospital a few days earlier after suffering another bout of pneumonia. But because of his devotion to June, he kept his commitment to record the duet "Far Side Banks of Jordan" for her album and conduct the interview with me to help promote it.

That morning, the couple joined their producer, son John Carter Cash, and a band that included former sons-in-law Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart in the cabin that served as a makeshift studio. (The cabin, which remains in the Cash family, was not damaged in the fire.) Photos of the children were scattered throughout, as well as a photo Johnny took of the pope making a funny face.

Sitting on the fireplace with his glasses pushed down on his nose, Johnny joined June in singing

And I'll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I'll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming I will rise up with a shout
And come running through the shallow water
Reaching for your hand."

When June took me down to the house to interview Johnny, he appeared in a light blue shirt, tan pants and beige Hush Puppies, not what I was expecting from the Man in Black. He was too weak to talk, so I returned the next morning.

This time dressed in head-to-toe black, he answered the door and led me to a round bedroom, where the round bed remained unmade. (June came in later to remedy that situation.) He still had little energy and at times had difficulty keeping his eyes open. His shaking hands held a blue coffee cup.

We talked about his marriage, music and health. It seemed inappropriate to waste time on small talk with a man so clearly facing his own mortality.

"We're soulmates, friends and lovers and everything else that makes a happy marriage," he said. "Our hearts are attuned to each other, and we're very close. I'll get up every morning at five o'clock and make the coffee, then start pacing the floor, wanting her to get up. But I'll let her sleep for a couple of more hours. If she smells the coffee, she's up.

"There is no voice raised in this house," said Johnny, who quoted a Bible verse that said he who troubles his own household shall inherit the wind. "I believe it's true. You raise hell in your own house and abuse those who live around you, and you'll find yourself alone.

"Thank God I saw that possibility coming a long, long time ago and changed a few things in my life so that wouldn't happen."

Being sick made him realize that he wanted to die before June.

"It would be awfully hard to try to live without her," said Johnny, who died in 2003, four months after June. "I can't envision living without her. I can't envision another woman in this house. The lady of the house is her spot. She's always been there, and she's dependable, trustworthy, loyal, kind and cheerful — all of the parts of the Boy Scouts," he said, chuckling.

"I realize how precious life is and that time is the stuff life is made out of. But I don't grieve over the loss of time."

I find these words comforting at a time when many are grieving the destruction of the couple's home, which served as a painful reminder of the loss of both beloved icons. But as special as it was, the house was just stone and wood; their spirits remain, and their love continues to serve as a model for us all. And there will never be another lady of that house.

Jason Whitlock: Imus isn’t the real bad guy

Radio personality Don Imus, right, waves goodbye to Rev. Al Sharpton, left, after they appeared face-to-face on Rev. Sharpton's radio show, in New York Monday April 9, 2007. Imus issued another apology for referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as 'nappy-headed hos' on his morning show last week.

Posted on Wed, Apr. 11, 2007

Kansas City Star

Instead of wasting time on irrelevant shock jock, black leaders need to be fighting a growing gangster culture.

Thank you, Don Imus. You’ve given us (black people) an excuse to avoid our real problem.

You’ve given Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson another opportunity to pretend that the old fight, which is now the safe and lucrative fight, is still the most important fight in our push for true economic and social equality.

You’ve given Vivian Stringer and Rutgers the chance to hold a nationally televised recruiting celebration expertly disguised as a news conference to respond to your poor attempt at humor.

Thank you, Don Imus. You extended Black History Month to April, and we can once again wallow in victimhood, protest like it’s 1965 and delude ourselves into believing that fixing your hatred is more necessary than eradicating our self-hatred.

The bigots win again.

While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant, bad shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.

I ain’t saying Jesse, Al and Vivian are gold-diggas, but they don’t have the heart to mount a legitimate campaign against the real black-folk killas.

It is us. At this time, we are our own worst enemies. We have allowed our youths to buy into a culture (hip hop) that has been perverted, corrupted and overtaken by prison culture. The music, attitude and behavior expressed in this culture is anti-black, anti-education, demeaning, self-destructive, pro-drug dealing and violent.

Rather than confront this heinous enemy from within, we sit back and wait for someone like Imus to have a slip of the tongue and make the mistake of repeating the things we say about ourselves.

It’s embarrassing. Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius. Black comedians routinely crack jokes about white and black people, and we all laugh out loud.

I’m no Don Imus apologist. He and his tiny companion Mike Lupica blasted me after I fell out with ESPN. Imus is a hack.

But, in my view, he didn’t do anything outside the norm for shock jocks and comedians. He also offered an apology. That should’ve been the end of this whole affair. Instead, it’s only the beginning. It’s an opportunity for Stringer, Jackson and Sharpton to step on victim platforms and elevate themselves and their agenda$.

I watched the Rutgers news conference and was ashamed.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke for eight minutes in 1963 at the March on Washington. At the time, black people could be lynched and denied fundamental rights with little thought. With the comments of a talk-show host most of her players had never heard of before last week serving as her excuse, Vivian Stringer rambled on for 30 minutes about the amazing season her team had.

Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that the comments of a man with virtually no connection to the sports world ruined Rutgers’ wonderful season. Had a broadcaster with credibility and a platform in the sports world uttered the words Imus did, I could understand a level of outrage.

But an hourlong press conference over a man who has already apologized, already been suspended and is already insignificant is just plain intellectually dishonest. This is opportunism. This is a distraction.

In the grand scheme, Don Imus is no threat to us in general and no threat to black women in particular. If his words are so powerful and so destructive and must be rebuked so forcefully, then what should we do about the idiot rappers on BET, MTV and every black-owned radio station in the country who use words much more powerful and much more destructive?

I don’t listen or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?

When Imus does any of that, call me and I’ll get upset. Until then, he is what he is — a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you’re not looking to be made a victim.

No. We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There’s no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call (816) 234-4869 or send e-mail to For previous columns, go to

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.: Islam vs. Islamists

[Islamists: No need for "alarm"...let's make sure we don't appear to be "one-sided" about these misunderstood peacemongers. - jtf]

April 12, 2007

For decades, conservatives have been among the taxpayers whose money has been made available in immense quantities to underwrite public broadcasting. Over the years, they have justifiably felt considerable resentment about the fact that very little of that funding – by some estimates as much as $2.5 billion per year – has been expended on projects that warrant their support.

In fact, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its flagship stations (including Washington’s WETA) have frequently allowed the public airwaves to be used to promote a variety of agendas with which as much as half the population strongly disagreed. These have included many hour-long documentaries and other programs featuring vitriolic critiques of our government and its leaders, disparaging portrayals of our country’s policies and values and flattering portrayals, if not effusive endorsements, of those who share such sentiments.

To its credit, the leadership of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) launched an initiative several years ago to diversify the sources of documentary films in the hope of bringing different perspectives to the PBS audience about some of the most critical issues of our time. Thus was born the $20 million “America at a Crossroads” series which will begin airing on the PBS network in eleven prime-time segments starting on Sunday night.

Unfortunately, the original vision of the CPB sponsors of the Crossroads series suffered at the hands of PBS and WETA when the project was turned over last year to the latter organizations to execute. To be sure, a few films about or by people perceived to be “conservatives” were among the 20 selected out of 440 proposals originally submitted as part of a rigorous competition. These included, notably ones featuring former Defense Department official Richard Perle and an outspoken critic of Islamofascism, Irshad Manji.

The rest are mostly from the usual suspects – “Frontline,” the New York Times (which recently published a very friendly review of the series) and various PBS-related organizations. Among these is a film about Muslims in America by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, in which the host of “Crossroads,” Robert MacNeil, is a partner. Interestingly, MacNeil’s film was not in the original competition; it was added on by PBS and WETA and assigned one of the eleven prized slots in the initial line-up.

As it happens, I was involved in making a film for the “America at a Crossroads” series that also focused on, among others, several American Muslims. Unlike Mr. MacNeil’s, however, this 52-minute documentary entitled “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center,” was selected through the competitive process and was originally designated by CPB to be aired in the first Crossroads increment.

Also unlike Mr. MacNeil’s film, “Islam vs. Islamists” focuses on the courageous Muslims in the United States, Canada and Western Europe who are challenging the power structure in virtually every democracy that has been established largely with Saudi money to advance worldwide the insidious ideology known as Islamofascism. In fact, thanks to the MacNeil-Lehrer film, the PBS audience will shortly be treated to an apparently fawning portrait of one of the most worrisome manifestations of that Saudi-backed organizational infrastructure in America: the Muslim Student Association (MSA). The MSA’s efforts to recruit and radicalize students and suppress dissenting views on American campuses is a matter of record and alarming in the extreme.

In an exchange with me aired on National Public Radio last week, however, Robert MacNeil explained why he and his team had refused to air “Islam vs. Islamists,” describing it as “alarmist” and “extremely one-sided.” In other words, a documentary that compellingly portrays what happens to moderate Muslims when they dare to speak up for and participate in democracy, thus defying the Islamists and their champions, is not fit for public airwaves – even in a series specifically created to bring alternative perspectives to their audience.

The MacNeil criticism was merely the latest of myriad efforts over the past year made by WETA and PBS to suppress the message of “Islam vs. Islamists.” These included: insisting that yours truly be removed as one of the film’s executive producers; allowing a series producer with family ties to a British Islamist to insist on sweeping changes to its “structure and context,” changes that would have assured more favorable treatment of those who are portrayed vilifying and, in some cases, threatening our anti-Islamist protagonists; and hiring as an advisor to help select the final films an avowed admirer of the Nation of Islam – an organization whose receipt of a million dollars from the Saudis to open black Wahhabi mosques is a feature of our documentary. The gravity of this conflict of interest was underscored when the latter showed an early version of our film to Nation of Islam representatives, an action that seemed scarcely to trouble those responsible for the “Crossroads” series at WETA and PBS.

At this writing, the question of whether PBS will get away with suppressing this film remains an open one. The decision rests with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose vision and support for “Islam vs. Islamists” in the face of sustained hostility for it exhibited by PBS and its friends has made this documentary possible. Unless and until a way is found to translate into widespread distribution CPB’s stated assessment that ours is a powerful and important film, though, the intention of the “Crossroads” series to diminish, if not end, the tyranny of the public airwaves by the Left, will be substantially unfulfilled. And “Islam vs. Islamists” will remain the film PBS does not want you to see – and can keep you from doing so.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

John Perazzo: The Nine Lives of Al Sharpton

John Perazzo

April 12, 2007

By now everyone knows about the recent idiotic remarks that longtime broadcaster Don Imus made last week about some black members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, to whom he referred as “nappy-headed hos.” Imus’ words require no comment; their stupidity is clear to all.

What is not at all clear, however, is why Al Sharpton has become Imus’ de facto confessor in this case. On Monday, the shock jock contritely appeared on Sharpton’s radio program and apologized for his stupid statements. Sharpton, for his part, slid into his customary moral preening routine and denounced Imus’ comments of last week as “racist” and “abominable,” adding that the broadcaster “should be fired” for what he had said. “I accept his apology,” Sharpton later elaborated, “just as I want his bosses to accept his resignation.” Moreover, Sharpton vowed to picket Imus’ New York radio home, WFAN-AM, unless the broadcaster was fired within a week for having “use[d] the airwaves for sexist and racist remarks.”

When one considers the multitude of hurtful, malicious, deceitful things Al Sharpton himself has said and done over the years—chiefly for the purpose of justifying his own existence as a proverbial shepherd dutifully shielding black Americans from the white racist wolves that supposedly surround them all times—it is beyond incredible not only that he hosts his own radio program, but that anyone on earth should take seriously anything he has to say. Sharpton’s career as a public liar and racial arsonist began in earnest two decades ago when he injected himself into the case of 16-year-old Tawana Brawley, who in November 1987 claimed that she had been repeatedly raped and sodomized for four days by six white kidnappers, at least one of whom was wearing a police badge. She further alleged that her assailants had chopped off some of her hair, forced her to perform oral sex on them, urinated into her mouth, smeared her clothing with feces, and covered her chest with racial slurs before finally depositing her in a wooded area of Wappingers Falls, a town in Dutchess County, New York. It was among the most disturbing tales in living memory.

Al Sharpton quickly assumed the role of special adviser to Miss Brawley and thereafter worked closely with the girl’s attorneys, C. Vernon Mason (who, later in his career, would be convicted of 66 counts of professional misconduct and disbarred from the legal profession) and Alton Maddox (who has publicly expressed his profound hatred for white people). Lamenting that their client had fallen prey to “certain elements that have constantly antagonized the black community, including the Ku Klux Klan and law-enforcement personnel,” Sharpton and the Brawley lawyers demanded that New York Governor Mario Cuomo appoint a special prosecutor to the case and publicly charged that “high-level” local law enforcement officials were involved in the crime—an allegation that led to numerous death threats against members of the Dutchess County police department. Sharpton further demanded that New York Attorney General Robert Abrams be removed from the case because of an alleged “relationship” between Abrams and the Dutchess County sheriff who was, according to Sharpton, “a suspect in this case.” Sharpton insisted that there was “absolutely no way” that his client would talk to Abrams. “That’s like asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler,” he said.

So the case dragged on, week after week, with Brawley refusing to speak to even a single investigator—ostensibly because she feared that as an African American she would be unable to get a fair hearing.

Then at a March 1988 news conference, Sharpton and the attorneys fingered Stephen Pagones, Dutchess County’s assistant district attorney, as one of their client’s attackers. Further accusing district attorney William Grady of trying to cover up Pagones’ involvement in the crime, they demanded that Governor Cuomo immediately arrest the two “suspects.” When asked what evidence they could provide to substantiate their charges, Sharpton and his cohorts were evasive, saying only that they would reveal the facts when the time was right.

Three months later something very important happened: a Sharpton aide named Perry McKinnon stepped forward to make a remarkable series of disclosures. A former police officer, private investigator, and director of security at a Brooklyn Hospital, McKinnon revealed that “Sharpton acknowledged to me early on that ‘The [Brawley] story do sound like bull---t, but it don’t matter. We’re building a movement. This is the perfect issue. Because you’ve got whites on blacks. That’s an easy way to stir up all the deprived people, who would want to believe and who would believe—and all [you’ve] got to do is convince them—that all white people are bad. Then you’ve got a movement.” Explaining that Sharpton was methodically “building an atmosphere” for a race war, McKinnon continued: “Sharpton told me it don’t matter whether any whites did it or not. Something happened to her...even if Tawana done it to herself.” To prove his truthfulness, McKinnon submitted to a lie detector test administered on camera and passed all questions.

In the autumn of 1988, after conducting an exhaustive review of the facts, a grand jury released its report showing beyond any doubt that the entire Tawana Brawley story had been fabricated, and that at least $1 million of New York taxpayers’ money had been spent to investigate a colossal hoax.

Sharpton, however, would concede nothing. He continued to reiterate his claim that Brawley had been brutalized by a gang of whites. In February 1989, he told a Spin magazine interviewer, without the barest shred of proof, that Stephen Pagones had privately confessed to the crime. Sharpton further asserted, falsely, that Brawley’s gang-rape allegations had been confirmed by medical tests whose results were—conveniently—in C. Vernon Mason’s exclusive possession. And finally, for good measure, he lamented that Miss Brawley had tragically fallen prey to a barbaric “white supremist [sic] cult ritual.”

When Pagones sued Sharpton for defamation of character in 1997, the latter portrayed himself as a wrongly persecuted man of honor who, mysteriously, could “no longer recall” having made a number of his slanderous accusations against Pagones and other law-enforcement officials years earlier. When asked whether he had made even the slightest attempt to verify Brawley’s allegations about Pagones before going public with them, Sharpton self-righteously retorted, “I would not engage in sex talk with a 15-year-old girl.”

Pagones won a court judgment against Sharpton for $345,000, which Sharpton never paid. Moreover, during the decade prior to Pagones’ long-awaited vindication in court, the former prosecutor had suffered constant stress and anxiety (exacerbated by numerous death threats from Sharpton’s credulous followers) that contributed heavily to the devastating dissolution of Pagones’ marriage and the virtual ruin of his life.

In comparison to what Sharpton did, Don Imus’ recent transgression seems rather minor, doesn’t it? And unlike Imus, Sharpton has never—in twenty years—had the courage or the decency to acknowledge what he did and to apologize for it. Never.

But the Brawley hoax was merely one of the early chapters in Sharpton’s long career as a peddler of racial grievance. Consider his response to the 1989 case of a white female jogger who was raped and beaten nearly to death in New York’s Central Park by a gang of at least 30 black and Hispanic teenagers who later acknowledged that they had specifically set out to target a white woman. Fracturing her skull with a lead pipe and mutilating her face with a brick, the assailants left the woman for dead. She lost three quarters of her blood in the attack and was so badly mangled that even her boyfriend was able to recognize her only by a familiar ring on her finger. When investigators later asked one of the attackers why he had tried to smash the victim skull, he candidly replied, “It was fun.” A multiracial jury convicted several of the defendants on the basis of their own confessions. But Sharpton, who served as an adviser to the boys’ families, said the defendants had been framed by a racist justice system. At one point during the trial, he escorted Tawana Brawley into the courtroom in an attempt to illustrate the alleged inequities of that system. “Those boys aren’t guilty for what happened to the jogger,” Sharpton said. “This is just like the old Scottsboro Boys case.”

Sharpton smelled more blood in 1991, when anti-Semitic riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section erupted after a seven-year old black child named Gavin Cato was accidentally killed by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew. Neighborhood residents were enraged by the boy’s death, and within three hours a black mob had murdered an innocent rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, in retribution. At Gavin Cato’s funeral, Sharpton criticized the Jewish community and thereafter organized a series of massive, angry demonstrations. He declared that Cato’s death was not merely the result of a car accident, but rather “the social accident of apartheid.” The contentious activist then challenged local Jews—who he derisively characterized as “diamond merchants” —to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Finally he claimed, without proof, that the Jewish driver had run over the Cato child while in a drunken stupor.

Stirred in part by such rhetoric and false accusations, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks took violently to the streets, pelting Jewish homes with rocks, setting vehicles on fire, and shouting “Jew! Jew!” The riots continued for three days and nights. Sharpton’s response: “We must not reprimand our children for outrage, when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.” Five days after the original car accident that had triggered the violence, Sharpton led 400 shouting protesters through the heart of the Crown Heights Jewish community, shouting “No justice, no peace!” The relentless Sharpton even traveled to Israel to search for the driver who had run over Gavin Cato. When angry Israeli onlookers taunted Sharpton with shouts of “Go to hell,” he replied: “I am in hell!”

In 1995, Sharpton led his National Action Network in an ugly boycott against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem, New York. The boycott started when Freddy’s owners announced that because they wanted to expand their own business, they would no longer sublet part of their store to a black-owned record shop. The street leader of the boycott, Morris Powell, was the head of Sharpton’s “Buy Black” Committee. Repeatedly referring to the Jewish proprietors of Freddy’s as “crackers,” Powell and his fellow protesters menacingly told passersby, “Keep [going] right on past Freddy’s, he’s one of the greedy Jew bastards killing our [black] people. Don’t give the Jew a dime.”

All of this occurred under the watchful, approving eye of Sharpton, who provided some additional sound bites for the media: “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street…There is a systematic and methodical strategy to eliminate our people from doing business on 125th Street….[O]ne of our now being threatened.” Sharpton exhorted blacks to join “the struggle brother Powell and I are engaged in.” The subsequent picketing became increasingly violent in tone until one of the protesters eventually shot four whites inside the store and then set the building on fire—killing seven employees, most of whom were Hispanics.

One wonders why Al Sharpton’s apparently delicate sensibilities—as evidenced by his current snit over Imus’ comments—were undisturbed by the incessant, ugly rhetoric that accompanied the Freddy’s boycott. Equally inexplicable is how someone with Sharpton’s professed abhorrence for racial insensitivity could have spent so many years as a strong supporter of the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, whose vulgar diatribes against whites were too incendiary for even Louis Farrakhan to condone.

Perhaps you remember Mr. Muhammad, who publicly referred to Jews as “slumlords in the black community” who are busy “sucking our [black’] blood on a daily and consistent basis”; who said that Jews had provoked Adolf Hitler when they “went in there, in Germany, the way they do everywhere they go, and they supplanted, they usurped”; who said that blacks, in retribution against South African whites of the apartheid era, should “kill the women,…kill the children,…kill the babies,…kill the blind,…kill the crippled,…kill the faggot,…kill the lesbian,…kill them all”; who praised Colin Ferguson, a black man who had shot some twenty white and Asian commuters (killing six of them) in a racially motivated 1993 shooting spree aboard a New York commuter train, as a hero who possessed the courage to “just kill every goddamn cracker that he saw”; who advised blacks that “[t]here are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes”; who told a Donahue television audience in May 1994 that “[t]here is a little bit of Hitler in all white people”; and who characterized black conservatives as “boot-licking, butt-licking, bamboozled, half-baked, half-fried, sissified, punkified, pasteurized, homogenized Nigger[s].”

Perhaps you think that an individual who could utter such filth must be a hollow-headed racist. Well, Al Sharpton did not think so, not by any means. In fact, Sharpton actually lauded Muhammad for being nothing less than “a very articulate and courageous brother.”

But such an evaluation makes perfect sense for someone who, like Sharpton, loathes white people and considers them the scourge of humanity. In December 1998, for instance, Sharpton hosted an AIDS forum in Harlem which featured a dozen guest speakers, all but one of whom professed to believe that the disease had actually been engineered by white racists as a tool for genocide against blacks. At another public event, Sharpton declared: “White folks was in caves while we was building empires...We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”

Yet today Al Sharpton casts himself as a moral arbiter qualified to pass judgment on the words and actions of an aging broadcaster who recently uttered some stupid remarks that are no more offensive or insipid than a thousand other things he has said during his long radio career. Sharpton contends that Imus no longer has a moral right to hold a job in the industry where he has worked for more than four decades. But if Imus is unfit to be a broadcaster, by what calculus could anyone conclude that Sharpton himself merits a job behind a microphone? The episodes discussed in this article barely scratch the surface of what Sharpton has done to poison race relations for more than 20 years.

If Imus deserves to be fired, clearly, so does Sharpton.

John Perazzo is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at

Brett Arends: Irony in Indignation Over Imus

Radio personality Don Imus, left, and Rev. Al Sharpton appear face-to-face on Rev. Sharpton's radio show, in New York Monday April 9, 2007. Imus issued another apology for referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as 'nappy-headed hos' on his morning show last week.

He turns you off? Then don’t tune in: Irony in indignation over Imus

Boston Herald Business Columnist

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Let me get this straight. We hang people now for the phrase “nappy-headed hos”?

I have watched with disbelief as the media mob has formed around talk jock Don Imus. OK, so he wasn’t paying a compliment to the young women of the Rutgers basketball team. But so what? Are compliments the only kind of speech permitted these days?

It needs to be said: This was not a Michael Richards moment. This was not a Mel Gibson moment. “Nappy-headed hos” was crude and off base, but it was obviously tongue in cheek, and it is not hate speech.

It is not, for example, like calling Jews “Hymies” and New York “Hymietown.” That, of course, is what the Rev. Jesse Jackson once did. Yet on Monday Jackson was leading 50 people in protest against Imus in Chicago. “These walls of bigotry are coming down,” he intoned. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

And “nappy-headed hos” isn’t, for example, like going before an inflamed anti-Semitic mob in Brooklyn to rail against “diamond merchants” with “the blood of innocent babies” on their hands. But that’s what the Rev. Al Sharpton did back in 1991, after a car accident involving a Jewish driver killed a local black child. The Crown Heights riots Sharpton helped whip up eventually left one Jewish student dead.

The same Sharpton is now apparently presiding over Imus’ show trial as the judge, jury and executioner. Imus even went on Sharpton’s radio program Monday, vainly seeking clemency.

The activist industry is now in full swing aided and abetted, as always, by those useful idiots in the press.

The National Organization for Women is running a signature drive to get Imus fired. “We want to make sure he’s no longer on the air,” Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP, said of Imus. “He’s outlived his usefulness.”

Outlived his “usefulness!”

Angela Burt-Murray, editor of Essence magazine, wailed: “Michael Richards apologizes. We move on. Mel Gibson apologizes. We move on. When does it stop? When do we make it stop?”

Imus, of course, had nothing to do with Richards’ or Gibson’s comments. But why let that get in the way?

Of course, the greedy lickspittles at CBS and MSNBC bowed to the arm-twisting and suspended Imus for two weeks.

As the hysteria has spun out of control, otherwise sane people have taken leave of their senses. The New York Times professed itself shocked that Imus “seemed to impugn” the Rutgers players’ “moral characteristics.”

Memo to the Times: I don’t think the word “ho” was meant literally.

Meanwhile the president of Rutgers says the university is “considering its options.”

Imus’ enemies are dragging up past transgressions. Ten years ago he said Gwen Ifill looked like a cleaning lady. He called the New York Knicks “chest-thumping pimps.” Shock, horror.

Millions tune into Imus every day. They like his acerbic wit, the subversive way he mocks politically correct sensibilities and his great interviews.

The question is whether he can be saved at this point. The process is under way and it almost never stops without a blood sacrifice.

Anyone who stands in the way is probably going to be accused of racism. It is precisely what he has made fun of all these years.

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