Aftermath of a Controversial Speech on Campus: Students, Faculty, outside Media Assess How Controversial Speech by Farrakhan Disciple at Kean College Was Covered by the Campus Paper

By Wolper, Allan | Editor & Publisher, March 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Aftermath of a Controversial Speech on Campus: Students, Faculty, outside Media Assess How Controversial Speech by Farrakhan Disciple at Kean College Was Covered by the Campus Paper


Wolper, Allan, Editor & Publisher


LEAH KARNATSKI TOOK a flier from a small group of Jewish faculty and students stationed outside Wilkins Auditorium at Kean College in Union, N.J.

The protest was targeting a speech by Khalid Abdul Muhammad, then national spokesman for Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.

Muhammad was speaking about The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, a book published by the Nation of Islam that said Jewish firms controlled the Southern slave trade.

The Nation of Islam security forces and campus police were jittery.

Black faculty and students said they had received threatening telephone calls, including one from a woman saying she was from the militant Jewish Defense League.

Karnatski, the 24-year-old news editor of the Independent, the campus newspaper, was frisked for weapons by female Nation of Islam security guards, met briefly with Muhammad, then sat down to listen to his speech.

It was a journalist's dream. Muhammad was a headline maker. And no other mainstream media were there.

Muhammad's three-and-a-half-hour presentation to a mostly black audience of 140 people scattered throughout the 960-seat auditorium, drew applause and nods of approval, although some people cringed and left.

"It was hard to listen to," said Enrique Aparicio, the Independent photo editor. "The words were just so painful. I felt the pain."

The Nov. 29 speech and campus tension surrounding it were covered Dec. 9 in the Independent's last issue of the fall semester.

Karnatski wrote three articles -- two on the front page -- dealing with the speech and the Jewish protest and reported telephone threats.

She also detailed how the Jewish Faculty and Staff Association distributed a campuswide memo calling Muhammad's remarks "a display of hatred and bigotry of the worst sort."

However, Karnatski did not include the controversial remarks in Muhammad's speech that prompted the Jewish group's response.

In his speech, Muhammad said Jews were responsible for their own Holocaust, called the pope a cracker, urged black South Africans to kill all the whites and criticized mainstream black leaders for selling out to white America.

"You see everybody always talk about Hitler exterminating 6 million Jews," Muhammad said, "but don't nobody ever ask what they do to Hitler:'

Muhammad described Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates as a "boot lickin', butt lickin'... buck dancin', bamboozle, half-baked, half-fried, sissified... pasteurized, homogenized nigger."

Muhammad also attacked Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress in South Africa, for appearing on ABC-TV's Nightline show with "old hook-nosed Ted Koppel."

Speech ignored

The mainstream media ignored the speech until the Kean College Jewish Faculty and Staff Association sent an audiotape and protest to the Star-Ledger, Newark.

A Dec. 5 Star-Ledger story by Maryann Spoto focused on the complaints by the college's Jewish organizations. She wrote a column a week later that zeroed in on Muhammad's language.

The New York Times, in a Dec. 23 story by Jon Nordheimer that focused on the campus racial turmoil, created a stir before the Christmas holidays.

Then, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith placed Muhammad's speech on the national media stage by reprinting excerpts of it in a full-page ad in the Times Jan. 16.

On Jan. 20, the Rev. Jesse Jackson contacted the Times and asked to be interviewed, telling the newspaper that the speech was "racist, anti-Semitic, divisive, untrue and chilling."

The interview was published Jan. 23 as the lead story in the metro section.

On Feb. 3, Farrakhan demoted Muhammad as his national spokesman and called the speech mean-spirited but defended it as the truth.

Media invasion

As the media marched through the Kean College campus at the start of the spring semester in late January, the Independent news staffers only could sit at their computers and squirm. …

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