The wrong stuff

For the past three months, we have used the many faces of Minnesota’s Democratic Fifth District congressional candidate Keith Ellison as symbolic of the question, “Who is Keith Ellison?” In “Who is Keith Ellison? (2)” this past June, for example, we documented the fact that Keith Ellison had publicly appeared under assumed names including Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison and Keith Ellison-Muhammad over the period 1989-1998. In each of these personas he was an advocate, leader, spokesman and/or self-identified member of the Nation of Islam. These personas were not a relic of the distant past or a byproduct of youthful indiscretion. Indeed, Ellison first ran for public office as a self-identified member of the Nation of Islam under the name Keith Ellison-Muhammad in 1998.

Ellison has repeatedly asserted that his involvement with the Nation of Islam was limited to an 18-month period around the time of the Million Man March in 1995. This assertion by Ellison has been a cornerstone of Ellison’s campaign; it is repeated in every Minneapolis Star Tribune article on Ellison in which the issue of Ellison’s connections to the Nation of Islam are mentioned. In today’s jointly bylined Star Tribune story by Rochelle Olson and Dane Smith, the statement is repeated and correctly attributed to Ellison:

In the past, Ellison has said his ties to Farrakhan included no more 18 months in the 1990s, primarily spent organizing for the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.

Given the fact that Ellison’s acknowledged involvement with the Nation of Islam began no later than 1995 and the indisputable fact that it extended at least to late 1998, Ellison’s limitation of his involement with the Nation of Islam to 18 months is a blatant, easily demonstrable lie which the Star Tribune nevertheless continues to repeat.

Today for the first time the Star Tribune mentions Elllison’s shifting public personas, by quotation of Ellison’s Republican opponent Alan Fine. Yet the Star Tribune, like the Washington Post earlier this week in Alan Cooperman’s story, asserts that these personas were names that Ellison went under as a student. Thus Olson and Smith write in today’s Star Tribune story:

“I’m extremely concerned about Keith Ellison, Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison, Keith Ellison Muhammad,” Fine said, referring to names Ellison used when he wrote several editorials for the University of Minnesota Daily when he was a law student in the early 1990s.

How many errors is it possible to pack into a dependent clause commenting on a quotation? Ellison was a law student from 1987-1990, not in the early 1990s. He used the name Keith Hakim in two University of Minnesota Daily columns published in 1989 and 1990. He subsequently used the other names over a period that extended through 1998, on each occasion as an advocate of or spokesman for the Nation of Islam. One such occasion occurred at a public hearing in which Ellison used the name Muhammad, as reported by the Star Tribune itself in the Star Tribune’s 1997 story on the hearing.

It is pathetic that the Star Tribune has not familiarized itself or its readers with Ellison’s various public identities at this late stage of the campaign, but it is inexcusable for it falsely to assert that these identities were used by Ellison “when he was a law student.” The fact that this error has occurred in two stories in the same week, first in the Washington Post and then in the Star Tribune, suggests one of two facts. Either the Star Tribune is relying on the Post for its information about Ellison or Ellison is peddling another canard about his Nation of Islam past that the Star Tribune is gullibly repeating. Now that the Ellison candidacy is a significant national story, would it be too much to ask the Star Tribune to get the facts straight?

By the same token, today’s AP story on Ellison by Martiga Lohn refers to Fine’s citation of Ellison’s various public personas as “emphasizing the black Democrat’s Muslim background with a series of pen names formerly used by Ellison.” It is a sentence that has the sole virtue by contrast with the Star Tribune story of introducing new errors into the discussion — with the suggestion that pointing Ellison’s Nation of Islam personas out is itself bigoted. Some kind of congratulations to the AP are surely in order.

Minnesota’s statewide Democratic candidates for governor (Mike Hatch) and Senator (Amy Klobuchar) have somehow managed to avoid commenting on Ellison. They have declined to endorse him or even to be photographed with him. Such reticence on their part has not deterred Minnesota DFL Chairman Brian Melendez from imputing bigotry to those who, like Alan Fine, have expressed qualms about Ellison’s involvement with the Nation of Islam. As the AP story reports:

Minnesota DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said Ellison won’t hurt the party’s other candidates. He condemned Fine’s attack, saying it was racist.

“He’ll probably pick up the pigheaded fool vote but hopefully there aren’t too many of them,” Melendez said.

The Newsweek story on the Ellison campaign by Lee Hudson Teslik seems more concerned with adjusting attitudes than with getting facts straight. It not so subtly trades in imputations of bigotry to those of us who have sought to report the facts on Ellison’s past and present associations:

[S]ome Muslims, both locally and nationally, have reservations about Ellison. One concern is his prior associations with members of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which many Muslims do not consider mainstream. Ellison explicitly denies having been a part of the group, though he admits working with many of its members in helping to coordinate the Million Man March in 1995. Other Muslims worry that the negative attention Ellison has drawn more generally—from charges that he has disregarded parking tickets to criticisms for having once shared a stage with Khalid Abdul Muhammed, a man who called Jews “the bloodsuckers of the black nation”—will reflect poorly on their community.

They already feel the heat. Conservative blogs have hounded Ellison with a tone some Muslims have interpreted as racist. A blog called PowerLine [sic], for instance, posted news of his August 25 fundraiser, lambasting the support Ellison has received from Nihad Awad. The ambiguously-sourced post portrayed Awad as an Islamist extremist linked to the Palestinian group Hamas and labeled him a voice of the “Wahhabi lobby.” Given the frequency of these sorts of attacks, there are concerns that xenophobia could affect the primary. “I’ve been alarmed by the amount of prejudice we’re seeing,” says Saeed. “It’s a great disappointment to the Muslim community.” In light of this, Mahmud says she has come to see Ellison’s candidacy as “bittersweet.” Ellison has worked to quell his critics. On May 28, he wrote a letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) “categorically and unequivocally reject[ing] anti-Semitism in any form.” But uneasiness has persisted, particularly among area Jewish groups. “The guy is campaigning on ‘I’ve changed, I’ve learned, I’ve changed my behavior,'” says Dan Rosen, a Minneapolis lawyer who sits on JCRC’s board. “But it strikes me that what we’re talking about is not a therapy session. It’s the United States Congress.”

It is striking how unconcerned with the facts Newsweek is. Has Nihad Awad had intimate links to Hamas? Has he publicly identified himself as a supporter of Hamas? Is Awad a voice of the “Wahhabi lobby”? What was Nihad Awad doing on stage with a flag of Hezbollah in the 1994 photo that we posted in our report on Ellison’s August 25 fundraiser? Newsweek apparently doesn’t care to know; perhaps the desire to know is itself symptomatic of “xenophobia.”

Newsweek refers to our post as “ambiguously-sourced.” Among the sources we cited on Awad in the post were the Weekly Standard, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, the CAIR Web site, the White House Web site and various of Awad’s speeches by place and date. Calling the post “ambiguosly-sourced” seems to me more ambiguous than the post itself. I think the references are clear. I’m a little unclear, however, on what “ambiguously-sourced” means in this context.

Newsweek carries on the tradition of the American press as the kind of censorious Victorian gentleman that Tom Wolfe used to describe the press of the late fifties and early sixties in The Right Stuff:

It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a central nervous system. In the late 1950’s (as in the late 1970’s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone, should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole. In a later period this impulse of the animal would take the form of blazing indignation about corruption, abuses of power, and even minor ethical lapses, among public officials; here, in April of 1959, it took the form of a blazing patriotic passion for the seven test pilots who had volunteered to go into space. In either case, the animal’s fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! One might regard this animal as the consummate hypocritical Victorian gent. Sentiments that one scarcely gives a second thought to in one’s private life are nevertheless insisted upon in all public utterances. (And this grave gent lives on in excellent health.)

Indeed he does.


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