Joan Walsh’s Twitter Brawl With Herself

“I deeply resent people who insist that white progressives who criticize Obama are deluding themselves that they’re his ‘base,’ when his ‘base’ is actually not white progressives, but people of color. Ishmael Reed laid out this pernicious line in December, in the New York Times, after many progressives, of every race, criticized Obama’s tax cut compromise.”

This was Salon.com’s Joan Walsh’s response to my Times Op-ed(12/12/10) in which I expressed my dismay about a few media progressives referring to themselves as President Obama’s base and voicing opposition to the president’s policies without mentioning that Obama had majority support among blacks and Hispanics, but no where in the Op-ed did I say that “people of color” were Obama’s base.

Moreover, the Republican party was threatening to halt the extension of unemployment benefits to thousands of workers unless the president went along with the tax cuts for their big business employers. Their Christmas gift to thousands of workers.

That took me back to a Christmas in 1966. I’d just received an advance for my first novel and sent some cash to my parents. Unbeknownst to me , my step father’s union was on strike and he’d been laid off. They didn’t have the cash to buy my brothers and sisters gifts and so the cash that I sent helped. My mother said that after the money arrived, she found my step father on the steps. He was weeping. I’d never known him to weep.

Wealthy white progressive women like those who recently interrupted president’s speech over the harsh conditions accorded Bradley Manning have the bread to by Christmas gifts. (Not a peep from these wealthy donors about the  horrendous conditions that thousands of blacks and Hispanics live under in California where conditions are so bad that a book about California prisons is called “The Golden Gulag.” The prison hospitals are so horrid that the Federal government took them over. Gov. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger fought the takeover of prison hospitals that one writer described as a form of torture.)

Some of the 574 who responded to Ms. Walsh’s article, “Wisconsin, Obama and the Democrats’ Future,” Salon, April 5,2011, chided Ms. Walsh for neglecting to provide a link to my Times’ Op-ed so that readers could judge for themselves about whether I had called “people of color” Obama’s base.

On Saturday, April 9, 2011 02:07 PM ET, a blogger named Oblomova wrote:

Hack Work

Joan, I’m curious as to why you failed to include a link to Ishmael Reed’s New York Times piece, even though that seems to be the source of much of your angst on “who’s the base?”

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because Reed never ONCE said what you claimed — that Obama’s base is “actually not white progressives, but people of color.”

What Reed ACTUALLY wrote: “When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos.” That quite explicitly does NOT say that “only African Americans are the base.”

I’ve included the link to Reed’s piece so anyone still reading this can read it for themselves and determine whether you gave Reed a fair reading, or whether you engaged in self-pitying demagogic hackery.

I believe Mr. Reed and the readers of Salon deserve an apology for your vicious (or should that be “pernicious?”) and deliberate misreading of his words. Of course, that might get in the way of the “But I’M the Victim!” narrative you’re spinning here.

On April 7, Caitlin Dickson at Atlantic Wire declared Ms. Walsh the winner of the “Twitter Brawl” which drew some harsh comments about Ms.Walsh from bloggers like angryblacklady, and truthrose. Caitlin Dickson’s declaring Ms.Walsh the winner,without having read my Op-ed, is called in boxing a hometown decision.

Ms. Walsh wrote that she found the Atlantic Wire’s support “lovely.” On April 17, Howard Kurtz on “Reliable Sources,” also showed Ms. Walsh some more love, tossing her a cream puff question about the brawl. The segment was billed as the beltway media’s ignoring a left wing revolt against the president. Rachel Maddow and Ms.Walsh represented the revolt. Kurtz’s problems with the president are pronounced (he still claims that during the campaign the media supported Obama when three studies that I cite in my book, “Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media” dispute this claim). He asked:

You got into a Twitter fight about this, on this very subject, did you not?

WALSH: I did. I got into a couple of Twitter fights.

I mean, one thing that I do want to say is that we really can’t generalize about the base. The thing about the Democratic Party right now is that there are a lot of bases. There are a lot of pieces of the Obama puzzle, so that, for example, African-Americans tend to be pleased with him.

Now his standing with African-Americans dropped from the 90s to 85, the lowest it’s been. That’s very interesting to me. But for the most part, African-Americans are happier than the rest of the base.

She said that African Americans are happier than the rest of the base, but went on to say that 79 to 85 of liberals are happy, which sounds pretty happy to me.

But despite the love from The Atlantic Wire and Howard Kurtz the bloggers were relentless prompting Ms. Walsh into a final attempt to pacify the blogger uprising by announcing that she had a black friend, maybe two. In 1999, Ms.Walsh got involved in what could be termed a racial scuffle. She praised then Mayor Jerry Brown for ending a system of “racial spoils” in Oakland.

By the time Mayor Brown left office, his developer friends and contributors helped themselves to the spoils by plundering the Oakland treasury for the purpose of constructing ill-advised condo districts to accommodate Browns “elegant density”without anticipating a burst in the housing market. He wanted 10,000 elegants ( whites) to populate Oakland. Only 5,000 have showed up. Half elegant?

As Gov. he just gave a sweetheart deal to the powerful prison’s guard’s union. They contributed two million to his campaign. Ms. Walsh also agreed with a black writer that the police who shot Amadou Diallo forty one times were not murderers.

She finally apologized about her role in the twitter brawl, kinda. She said, “to the extent  that I was at times unkind in this melee, I regret it.” Not once, however, did she provide a link to my Op-ed, which was the source of the blogger and twitter storm.

I actually like Joan Walsh. She invited me to lunch once. I think that she wanted me to write for Salon, but nothing came of it. I found her to be a pleasant and  bright person, but I don’t think that she anticipated the brawl that she sparked when she coupled “resent” with “people of color.” (Maybe Ms. Walsh and her Salon.com colleague Laura Miller should invite me to lunch. They’d find that I’m really a nice person. Ms. Miller called my Mark Twain essay “rowdy” because I criticized her sisterhood buddy, Michiko Kakutani, a critic who has such a low opinion of blacks that she praised a stereotypes hall ?of- fame contender written by a white girl , who claimed to have connections with black gangs and a character named “Big Mama.” The memoir writer lied; the ghetto memoir was fake.)

Finally, the controversy raises two questions. Are wealthy advertising- rich dot.com sites bonding with corporate cable in an effort to stifle what they consider an impudent uprising from bloggers whose only assets are a laptop and Wi Fi?

And after taking abuse from a Jim Crow media for a couple of hundred years has cyberspace provided a blogger underclass with the ability to talk back? To be heard and not just seen? To have a voice instead of being confined to providing musical interludes between serious “progressive” talk, like in the movies where the folks were brought up to the big house to belt out a few numbers. Are we arriving at a time when we get the opinions of the rest of us without being interpreted and explained by intermediaries?

Ishmael Reed’s new novel is “Juice!” In the only review of this book that was syndicated, therefore du jour, Paul Devlin, a critic with ties to The Washington Post’s black zine, The Root, says that I have gone “too far,” the kind of admonishment that plantation owners used to render to fugitive slaves, and in keeping with that tradition,  my most recent nonfiction work, Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media, was published by Baraka publishers in Canada. No American publisher would touch it.

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

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