Editor/Commentator Playthell Benjamin
Chastising Christopher Hictchens after debate on Iraq War
(Watch it on You Tube)
Statement of Mission
Enlightening the Untutored Mob!
Over a decade ago, when I left the New York Daily News, where I was an award winning Editorial Page Columnist and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, I composed an essay titled “Why I Retreated into Cyberspace.” I addressed the reality that aside from the fact that there were not many opportunities for a left of center black columnist who refused to stay on the intellectual plantations that white editors – and all the editors at the kind of major publications I was routinely writing for were lily white – thought of as my proper place, I could see that pulp publications were declining in importance in relation to the various forms of electronic media.
Hence I began to seek out online journals to write for. Over the past few years I have published many pieces on politics, culture and sports on The Black World Today, under the able Editorship of “Superb Herb” Boyd, an intrepid tribune of the people and one of Harlem’s cultural griots. The online journal provided a home for the text I produced for my “Commentaries on the Times” series broadcast over WBAI radio, a 50,000 watt FM station on the middle of the dial in the greatest city on earth. Some of these commentaries turned up on websites all over the world, and were quoted in print publications too – when they were not simply plagiarized ala Maureen Dowd, due to fuzziness or absence of copyright laws regarding content on the internet.
When I first started writing online blogs were unheard of; even now the word is not in the dictionary on my computer. But in the intervening years this form of journalism has become respectable and often drives news reportage. My blog and website will serve as the home for the texts from my “Commentaries on the Times,” which address all of the great issues of the day. They cover politics – local, national and international – as well as a wide range of cultural matters.
The occasional sports event also finds its way into my commentaries. There will also be feature stories on a wide range of topics, original reporting and cultural criticism. This will include book reviews, theater and music criticism, and films too. And the website will be a repository for archival material.
However the paramount objective of all my labors is to supply an independent Afro-American perspective on the great questions of the day; and to make sure that voice is vigilant in its opposition to the muddled headed rightwing propaganda masquerading as serious and thoughtful commentary on the news.
When I was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary for my column in the New York Daily News, the nominating letter – which can be read in my unabridged bio – said the following: “With a perspective that comes out of the black experience, his column in the Daily News last year took on topics ranging from the celebrations of D-Day, which he assailed as Eurocentric, to gangster rap, which he denounced as a danger to American youths. He wrote about Foreign Affairs and the O.J. Simpson case with equal insight. He took on demogogues of the left and right, both black and white, with fervor.”
Hence the ultimate raison d’ etre for this blog /website is to expose and denounce the ideological duplicity and moral depravity of the rabid right, the “Army of God” types. The American Taliban who would subject us to a Christian version of Sharia American style. But as the citation from my Pulitzer nomination states, I have an extensive record of criticizing ideologues and zealots on the left also. In fact, let me be unambiguous on this point: I detest ideologues and charlatans of any stripe, left or right! So what you will get in these pages is the truth in so far as it can be ascertained from a rigorous review of the facts at hand.
That I am a man of the left is beyond question, and proudly so; you could say that I am a committed member of the Libertarian Left. This is to say that while I am a democratic socialist and believe in a well funded public sector – with generous support for art and culture – I also believe that the role government bureaucrats play in this process should be limited to evaluating and dispensing grants.
They should have no say in the creative decisions of artist except to prohibit funds for projects that sow racial, ethnic or gender hatred, and this means that a distinction must be made in writing between edgy art and hateful propaganda. And I have no doubt that such a standard can be clearly defined. What Justice Felix Frankfurter said of pornography is also true of hate propaganda: I know it when I see it!
At this point the reader may well ask: “Why should I listen to this guy? After all, the blogisphere is full of people writing their opinions.” Well my resume will speak to my professional qualifications and experience, and it can be read on the website. But in the end the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I have been right on critical issues when all of the leading pundits – mostly know-it-all white boys – were embarrassingly off course.
The present quagmire in Iraq is a case in point; hence the first commentary I will post here is a piece written on the eve of the invasion and now reads like prophecy; Nostradomus would be quite happy to claim this text! And it will become apparent as you peruse my oeuvre that no pundit presently writing has a broader range of intellectual interests.
Finally, let there be no question about the purpose of the commentaries: It is to agitate for the ideas and policies that I believe represent the most just and humane ways of organizing our society. In this endeavor my role models are Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Ida B. Wells, WEB Dubois, George Schuler and Harold Cruse. The incomparably eloquent and insightful Frederick Douglass stated my purpose succinctly:
“History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress. Men who profess to stand for freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who would have corn without plowing the fields, rain without thunder and lightening; the ocean without the awful roar of her many waters! Where there is no struggle there is no progress. The struggle may be moral, or it may be physical, or it may be both. But there must be a struggle. Power yields nothing without demand. It never has and it never will! Men may not always get what they pay for in this life, but they will surely pay for all that they get!”
I believe that truer words have never been spoken on the question of how progressive change occurs in human societies. It is a statement that combines poetry and philosophical gravitas in a way that has rarely been equaled. And it expresses the deepest sentiments of my soul. In terms of my use of language in polemics against the rabid right, I shall again defer to one of our greatest moral clarions and intellectually pugnacious bullies for justice, William Lloyd Garrison.
On New Years day 1831, three decades before the outbreak of Civil War in the destruction of slavery, Garrison launched The Liberator – a newspaper that became a major force in bringing this cataclysmic event about that freed American civilization from its original sin – along with genocide against Native Americans – of slavery.
Garrison’s statement of his terms of engagement has been adopted in letter and spirit, whole soul and body, by this editor; and shall henceforth serve as my guiding light in this enterprise. Like the great Novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed, I believe writin is fightin! Garrison wrote:
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL be Heard!”
“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate! “
Sayeth My Spiritual Father Frederick Douglass
Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York