“The Black Panthers’ Beauty Moment”

This could be a new low, even for the New York Times. Forget about Jayson Blair; the real scandal is that a newspaper that once had some pretense to quality now prints ignorant drivel like this.
The Black Panthers’ “Beauty Moment,” according to one Holland Cotter–reviewing an exhibit of photographs in the Times’ “Arts” section–was 1968. That was the year when Huey Newton was convicted of manslaughter, among other things. For Cotter, 1968 was a “Utopian instant” when the Pathers sponsored “neighborhood-based food and medical programs,” and “audaciously tackled intertwined issues of race and class head-on.” The Panthers’ program, in Cotter’s telling, was noble: “What they believed was that the poor should have jobs, housing, education. What they wanted, now, was the legal right to carry guns for protection against police abuse.”
Cotter is illiterate as well as ignorant; here is his description of the death of a Panther murderer in a shoot-out with police: “After a two-hour exchange of fire, Hutton, trying to escape tear gas, was killed as he surrendered, unarmed and trying to escape tear gas.”
It’s all there, all the facile, uninformed mythology of the Panthers. No mention of the murders, the drug-dealing, the frauds and scams, the extortion, the cruelty and depravity. Betty van Patten, the Panthers’ bookkeeper, whom they murdered lest she reveal that their money went for drugs and not food programs, doesn’t rate a mention. Neither does Alex Rackley, whom they tortured to death. For the truth about the Panthers, read David Horowitz.
Cotter does add two new twists that are worth mentioning: he begins his article with a reference to Tom Wolfe’s 1970 article “Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” which Cotter credits with more or less destroying the Panthers through ridicule. (Would that it were true.) Here’s the fun part: Cotter characterizes Wolfe’s article as a “caustic little neo-conservative classic.” Add that to the puzzle of what, exactly, is a “neocon.” Anyone, I think, that a liberal really, really hates.
And Cotter can’t resist concluding with a gratuitous and wholly irrelevant shot at President Bush: “…media was the new reality, the new political truth, true or not. Everyone knows this now, including an American president who tricks himself out in flight drag to play a war hero on television.” Flight drag?
A newspaper that publishes crap like this deserves nothing but contempt.


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