National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton:

Last month, the Washington City Paper, the most prominent “alternative weekly” in the nation’s capital, did its first “Best of D.C.” edition in 15 years. In addition to “bests” as voted on by its readers, it included a group of special categories made up and filled by its editors.


I am very proud to report that my newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, the paper that I founded 17 years ago, own and edit, was named by the City Paper the “Best Remnant of the Liberal Media.”

I’ve told friends I want that as the epitaph on my tombstone, though there’s no rush. When we began touting the paper as “the most progressive newspaper in Virginia” awhile ago, there were no challengers. We pride ourselves as being in the epicenter of where Virginia is shifting from a “red” to a “blue” state, something confirmed by where the votes came from that tipped the balance to Democrats in the last three statewide elections.
A dear friend, upon learning of the City Paper’s compliment, wrote that rather than being the “best remnant” of the liberal media, the News-Press should be the “best revival” of it, since she is confident that liberalism is on a rebound.
I’ve repeated that comment many times in recent weeks, most recently to a group of 18 clergymen from Washington, D.C-area churches affiliated with the United Church of Christ (U.C.C.). They’re grappling with the consequences of the media’s brutal character assassination of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s former pastor who was for decades a highly-effective minister within the U.C.C.
They invited me to address them after reading my column from two weeks ago, “The Lynching of Jeremiah Wright.” Meeting with them, I called for taking the offensive, for seeing the current controversy as a new opportunity for a revival.
In short, I admonished them that instead of being on the defensive, the denomination needs to be unapologetic in the progressive stands it has taken over the centuries, including in the abolition of slavery, and willing to call out even the subtle nuances of racism. This will be especially important if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, and faces going into the general election not only overt expressions of racism, but more subtle ones as well, as in the case of the media coverage of Rev. Wright to date.
Many in the leadership of the U.C.C. already get this, of course. That’s why they’ve called for a new dialogue on racism in the wake of the Rev. Wright developments. The U.C.C. remains Obama’s church home.
I noted that by attacking Wright on the style, rather than the substance, of his words, the media, led by Donald Graham’s attack dog Washington Post, has been assailing a mode of preaching common to the Afro-American church. That includes the role of the preacher as an unbending man willing to speak out for truth against power. Using snippets and sound bites from such sermons to elicit outrage from white audiences is pure racism, and the media and others need to be called out on that.
My perspective comes from my lifelong affiliation with the U.C.C., beginning as a seminary student in Berkeley, Calif., during the civil rights and anti-war strife of the late 1960s. That is combined with my knowledge of the media, and how it operates, as a life-long journalist and newspaper owner.
Back in the day, as a seminarian, I and my classmates were deeply inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, in the context of the activist anti-war ferment in Berkeley and the Bay Area. Not only did I become attuned to the issues, but I was empowered myself to “come out” as a co-founder of the Berkeley Gay Liberation Front and was the chief writer for the legendary Berkeley Barb, the original “alternative weekly.”
Meanwhile, the U.C.C., whose Congregationalist roots date not only to the Mayflower, but to the Abolishionist movement, the Underground Railroad and the founding of Howard University and scores of other institutions of higher learning for freed slaves after the Civil War, has carried forward its own legacy to the present, in the forefront of efforts for justice and peace, being the first to ordain an openly-gay clergyman and recently to advocate on behalf of the full equal rights attendant to gay marriage.
Now, not only is the current Rev. Wright controversy, but harassment by the Internal Revenue Service, akin to what happened to the N.A.A.C.P., is being used against it.

Time for a bold revival, don’t you think?