Take It As Red

"Blogging is, by its very nature, erratic and irregular, feverish effort punctuated by random silence, a conundrum wrapped in a contradiction wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an unclosed em tag. " - The Poor Man

Tuesday, February 22


War? What War? Quick, Look, Celebrities!

I loathe Ebony magazine. And Jet. And BET.

Why? because they are just so fake, and so Republican, and all about consumption. They teach young Black people, and not just Americans, that what it means to be Black is to be rich and live a bling lifestyle and try to look and act as white as possible. Just look at the people they feature as people to watch in the front pages of Ebony: on the face of it these are role models for today's youth, but look closer and they are all people who have swallowed the corporate pill in some way. Fratboys, fratgirls, pols and middle managers to a man and woman, and not a single inspirational leader amongst them. It's all about the benjamins. This month's features? 6 Women Who Struck It Rich ,'Sistah Celebrities' & Their 'Best Girlfriend' ,ZANE: Up Close And Personal, EBONY Legends, How To Tell If He's Cheating and the one useful item, Special Section on Diabetes. Nothing about the war, nothing about education, social security, taxes: just wall-to-wall celebrity fluff and advertising. Jet is marginally better, at least it mentions Malcolm X and Spike Lee, but again the majority of content is commercial fluff.

Bob Johnson, founder and CEO of Black Entertainment Television, is not someone I will teach my sons to look up to as an African-American inspiration: he has filled the brains of today's youth with crap via his network and has to take a huge share of the blame for young people's obsession with consumption and disposability. Bob Johnson is only the latest in a line of Black entrepreneurs who are feted for making money while doing down their own community: here's a bio of publisher John H. Johnson, who founded Ebony and Jet magazines and has been called the most influential black publisher in American history-

"...has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was honored for breaking negative stereotypes and building self-respect in the black community. Johnson is the founder, publisher, chairman and CEO of the Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Chicago, Ill., the largest black-owned publishing company in the world. Johnson is one of American's most successful entrepreneurs. A self-made man, his company is the publisher of Ebony. Through faith, self-confidence and a positive mental attitude, Johnson turned Ebony into the nation's number one African American oriented magazine with a circulation of 1.7 million and a monthly readership of 11 million. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the nation can bestow on a citizen, from President Bill Clinton in 1996. Johnson was born a descendant of slaves in Arkansas City, Ark., in 1918. His mother, Gertrude Johnson Williams, worked as a domestic and a levee cook to raise the money to move to the family to Chicago. At the time, no high schools for blacks existed in Arkansas City. Johnson repeated the eighth grade in Arkansas rather than end his education. In Chicago, Johnson graduated from DuSable High School where he was on the honor roll, served as senior class president, editor of the newspaper, and yearbook editor. Among his classmates were Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and future entrepreneur William Abernathy. When Chicago youths made fun of Johnson's speech, he would stand in front of his mirror at home and practice speaking correctly. Because of his accomplishments, Johnson was invited to speak at a Chicago Urban League event. There African American businessman Harry Pace noticed Johnson, offering him a scholarship and a job at Pace's company, Supreme Life Insurance Company.He started Johnson Publishing in 1942 with a $500 loan against his mother's furniture. He got the idea for Negro Digest, the forerunner of Ebony, while selecting articles for Pace to keep abreast of current events of interest to blacks. The company has a book division and also publishes Jet magazine, the number one black news weekly with a readership of over eight million. It employs more than 2,600 people with sales of over $388 million. Johnson Publishing owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the number one makeup and skin care company for women of color around the world and Supreme Beauty products, hair care for men and women. The company is involved in television production and produces the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world's largest traveling fashion show, which has donated over $47 million to charity. The show visits more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The Johnson family is active in many charities, including the United Negro College Fund and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In 1971, Johnson Publishing moved to its new 11-story headquarters on Chicago's fashionable Michigan Avenue, becoming the first black-owned business to be located in the Loop. Johnson presently serves on the boards of directors of Dillard's Inc., and he has served on the boards of First Commercial Bank, Little Rock; Dial Corporation; Zenith Radio Corporation; and Chrysler Corporation.Among the many awards he had received is the NAACP's coveted Spingarn Medal for the highest and most achievements by an African American in 1965. That same year, he was one of 12 Americans who received the Horatio Alger Award. Johnson also has received the USC Journalism Alumni Association's Distinguished Achievement Award in 1969, Black Journalists' Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones entrepreneurial Excellence Award in 1993. In 1982, he was the first black named to the Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Most recently he was honored with the 2001 Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Award sponsored through the Sam M. Walton College of Business of the University of Arkansas. In 2002, he received the Vanguard Award and The Trumpet Award. Also among Johnson's many accomplishments is service to the United States. In 1957 he accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon on a special goodwill tour to nine African countries and again in 1959 he accompanied Vice President Nixon to Russia and Poland. In1961 Johnson was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Special U.S. Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of the Ivory Coast; and in 1963 he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Special United States Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of Kenya. In 1966 he was appointed by President Johnson to the National Selective Service Commission. In 1970 he was appointed by President Nixon as a member of the President's Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations."

A country at 'war', democracy under threat, and what does Ebony give us? Woohoo, celebrities!

So far so very impressive: but actually look at that record. When he wasn't sucking money out of the Black community for those socially progressive causes of entertainment, vanity and profit, he was sucking right up to the government, regardless of ideological stripe. Look at the boards he's been on: banks and car companies and life insurance and the draft. In 1970, when African-Americans were being sent to war in disproportionate numbers. Where was he? On the draft board. But what has he actually done for African-Americans? Sure he's given money to charity, but that's tax-deductible. The man is a shill for the Man, all the while making his own personal fortune. Yes, he has done some good things, 47 million dollars to charity is not peanuts - but where are the Johnson family millions when the Black communiuty is under attack like never before, with no Child Left Behind, the abolition of Pell grants, SS reform, and the elephant in the room, disenfranchisement in Ohio and Florida?

Bob Johnson, founder and CEO of the Black Entertainment Network is not related to Ebony & Jet magazine's Johnson. Nevertheless the same principle holds for both. The BET company has been successful despite three separate scandals involving executives who served as BET's top financial officers. One of them went to prison, and another has accused Johnson of improperly avoiding taxes. After a small group of founding executives became millionaires as a result of BET's growth, Johnson forced most of them to resign. Johnson fired his own wife, Sheila Johnson, from BET. Johnson engaged "in personal relationships with top female executives at his company. His now ex-wife, Sheila Johnson, learned of one affair when she was subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit against the company. Another executive who he had an affair with, Debra Lee, is now the president and chief executive officer of BET. Johnson's own sister, who was one of the company's first employees, sued him and settled for more than $1 million.

According to author Brett Pulley in "The Billion Dollar BET : Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television ", Johnson originally envisioned high-minded programming, but succumbed to the lucre made available by devoting more and more time to music videos supplied for free by the record companies.

This is the weekly news in in the BET universe:

"WEEKLY NEWS QUIZ :Ray Charles won eight Grammy Awards. Michael Jackson was hospitalized. Video game makers were sued. Were you paying attention this week? Take our quiz. "

"It is consistent with Johnson's philosophy of money first and social responsibility . . . whenever. For journalists who have followed BET over the years, some of the disclosures should come as no surprise, even though we might not have known the specifics. For example, a chapter on Ed Gordon's 1996 post-criminal trial interview with O.J. Simpson tells us that BET trumped NBC for the "get" once Johnson promised Simpson and his lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, that BET would run paid advertisements during the show for a $30 video that Simpson had produced giving his version of what happened at the Brentwood murder scene. Only after Gordon repeatedly argued that such a compromise of the line between news and advertising would "impugn my integrity" were the ads placed instead at the beginning and end of the program. Although Johnson did not cooperate with the author, who developed this, his first book, after a 2001 cover story on the entrepreneur, some passages seem to place Johnson in the best possible light. The book's biggest hurdle could be, as Pulley said, that "people have strong passions about BET and about Bob." Thus, anything at variance with those opinions will be greeted skeptically. For example, a favorable passage about BET's support of the 1995 Million Man March says that BET covered the event. That's true if cutting in from time to time among the day's routine showing of music videos is considered coverage. If viewers wanted to see the event without interruption, they had to -- and did -- tune elsewhere. And on Gordon, Pulley states, "Before the O.J. interview, Gordon's fundamental competency as a journalist had been questioned. Afterward, the only question that the major networks were asking was, 'Why didn't we hire this guy a long time ago?'" Yet once Gordon left BET for NBC, he didn't last long, a situation the book doesn't explore. For whatever reason, he has found success only at BET. By Forbes magazine's calculations, Johnson was America's first black billionaire, and for some, that is cause for celebration. Yet it is telling that of the four blurbs on the back of the book jacket, three are from journalists praising the book. It is only the blurb from the non-journalist -- NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas -- that praises Johnson himself. To Thomas, Johnson is "one of the most inspiring men of our time."

It's the same old story - I've got mine, fuck you. The Johnsons, Condi, Colin Powell, Star Jones and hundreds of others, they think that if they make enough money, suck up to power, throw some opiate to the masses, that that will protect them from the racism endemic in US society. I mind most of all that they are teaching this trash to our children through the privileged positions that they hold, either in the media or as media-owners and regulators. I find them loathsome and the very last role models for our children.



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