Tuesday, June 4, 2019

male chauvinist pig sex and politics are terrific role models for American children

This morning, I woke up and saw online a gone-viral scandalous article by a journalist known to be a big fan of Martin Luther King, thus, he cannot be ignored by blacks and white liberals, while white supremacists and conservatives should keep ever in mind very similar sexual misconduct allegations against President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh. I keep wondering how American children are affected emotionally, mentally, morally, spiritually and behaviorally by what they see and hear on TV and online about the dark sides of national leaders?  I also keep wondering about Dr. King being assassinated after he came out against the Vietnam war as a rich white American men's war for corporate profit, and President John F. Kennedy being assassinated after he got cold feet about expanding America's involvement in the Vietnam civil war.


4 hours ago - How to Make Sense of the Shocking New MLK Documents ... Sexual harassment revelations have felled a forest of cultural, political and ...

David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers, is a contributing editor at Politico Magazine. He is the author of several works of political history including, most recently, Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.
What do you do when a great hero is alleged to have done something awful?
Politicians, historians, universities, artists and citizens in general have been grappling with this question for years. Renewed attention to racism and discrimination has prompted the reassessment of historical giants from Andrew Jackson to Woodrow WilsonWinston Churchill to Gandhi. Sexual harassment revelations have felled a forest of cultural, political and business bigshots. Tasteless jokes, dubious comments or ill-advised tweets have led to scores of people being fired from prominent positions.
Now Martin Luther King Jr. is in the spotlight. On Thursday, David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of King—and the author of other acclaimed books on Roe v. Wade and Barack Obama—reported in the conservative British magazine Standpoint on explosive material that he found in recently published FBI documents. The article, based on FBI reports summarizing the bureau’s audio surveillance of King, makes for uncomfortable reading, to say the least.
The most shocking claim Garrow relates is that King was present in a hotel room when a friend of his, Baltimore pastor Logan Kearse, raped a woman who resisted participating in unspecified sexual acts. The FBI agent who surveilled the room asserted that King “looked on, laughed and offered advice.” Other allegations include that King’s philandering—long known to be extensive—was even more rampant than historians knew; that King took part in group sex; that King may have fathered a child with one of his mistresses; and—less pruriently—that King continued taking money from his onetime ally Stanley Levison, a Communist Party member, even after he was supposed to have broken off ties.
Right-wing media have pounced on the story, fairly delighting in the discomfort it poses to liberals, especially those who’ve been calling for the demotion of other eminences. “Martin Luther King Jr. Was Reportedly an Abuser Who Laughed at Rape,” blared The Daily Wire. “Is It Time to Tear His Monuments Down?” Meanwhile, liberal and mainstream media have so far seemed skittish about the topic—as Garrow discovered when he tried but failed to get several non-partisan U.S. publications to run it. (One paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported on Garrow’s claims last week while also publishing a thorough account of its decision not to publish the original article itself.) News outlets usually pause before running salacious allegations against public figures, especially when they’re open to doubt—although in recent years that restraint has been eroding quickly. But with a long-dead historical figure, the hesitancy is more surprising. It’s easy to wonder if a desire to shield King’s reputation, or to avoid Twitter blowback, could be at work. Even discussions of history, it seems, are becoming ever more politically polarized.
Since the 1986 publication of Bearing the Cross, his account of King’s life from the Montgomery bus boycott until his assassination, Garrow has periodically written articles updating the story of the FBI’s surveillance of King—as he did, for example, in the Atlantic in 2002. These latest tidbits come from bureau reports and summaries that were recently published online under terms of the 1992 President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. Inside this new records dump, Garrow discovered, were a number of FBI documents that pertained to King. “Winnowing the new King items from amidst the Archive’s 54,602 web-links, many of which lead to multi-document PDFs that are hundreds of pages long,” Garrow noted in his new piece, “entailed weeks of painstaking work.”
The reports are full of erotic details and include revealing handwritten marginalia. But to the uninitiated, the written reports that Garrow cites are hard to interpret. They can’t be checked against the original surveillance tapes, which remain sealed, according to a judge’s order, until 2027. It’s hard to tell from a glance who precisely authored them, for what purpose they were drafted or what information they’re based on. It is Garrow’s decades of expertise in reviewing and analyzing FBI materials about King that gives these startling revelations their weight. Garrow has explained that while not all FBI claims are to be believed, these sorts of summaries of surveillance intercepts are unlikely to have been fabricated or manipulated.
And Garrow’s overall assessment is measured. Nowhere does he renounce the esteem for King that can be seen in his three important books on the minister’s life. Rather, he proposes that the possibility King tolerated or abetted a rape “poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive historical review possible.” Garrow concludes with a call to preserve the recordings on which the FBI reports are based, so that we can learn more when they’re scheduled to be opened eight years from now.
Not everyone, however, has been so judicious in putting these FBI documents into context.Standpoint published a companion editorial to Garrow’s piece asserting that “the wiretaps reveal [King] to be the Harvey Weinstein of the civil rights movement.” That analogy is absurd. For one thing, King himself isn’t said to have assaulted women (although “offering advice”—whatever that might mean—to a friend committing a rape certainly comes close). For another, Garrow is relying on summaries, not the original wiretaps, and those summaries can’t be taken at face value. As we know in part from Garrow’s past research, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was obsessed with King. Notoriously, bureau agents tried to blackmail him into committing suicide by sending him a letter threatening to expose his affairs. Also, summaries aren’t recordings; it’s hard even to imagine how audio recordings could offer dispositive proof that a rape did or didn’t happen. This context thus weighs against any simple conclusion about the incident. The magazine’s overwrought editorial undermines Garrow’s patient work.
An equally untenable judgment, however, comes from the Washington Post’s “Retropolis” blog, which declares Garrow’s article to be “irresponsible.” The thrust of the article is to insinuate that the FBI reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and so Garrow shouldn’t have published them. But while the Post piece quotes some respected historians (including friends of mine) rightly noting that the FBI documents may not be entirely reliable—not least because of Hoover’s vendetta against King—it avoids the obvious, if painful, corollary that they may well be accurate to a significant degree. We should at least allow the possibility that the accusations are true.
That’s why it’s a mistake to discount Garrow’s article wholesale. Any historian who came across a new cache of documents related to a longstanding area of research would feel compelled to explore it—and, if those materials shed new light on the subject, to publish them. When in 1990, Stanford University’s Clayborne Carson and other scholars at the King Papers Project found that King had committed plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation and other works, they felt obliged to divulge it—even though, as one editor on the project said, he suffered “many hours of lost sleep.” That the revelations in this case turned out to be scandalous warrants, as Garrow argues, intensified efforts to confirm or rebut their veracity. Bringing them to light, while acknowledging their uncertainty, is perfectly defensible.
Garrow’s disclosures are, in fact, important to incorporate into our historical knowledge. First, whether or not the allegations against King are true, they add weight to the widely held conclusion that Hoover’s FBI was a corrupt organization, in particular in its pursuit of King and the civil rights movement. The extent of their surveillance, even if originally motivated by legitimate concerns about Soviet influence (via Stanley Levison), seems in retrospect to be excessive.
Second, the piece strengthens the picture of the bureau as inordinately fixated on sex, whether out of the prurience of its director and agents or out of a misbegotten assumption that engaging in what the reports call “unnatural acts” (seemingly oral sex) somehow indicates “degeneracy and depravity.” Alas, this tendency to take private sexual behavior as an indicator of virtue remains all too prevalent today. Historians of sexuality will continue to consider FBI surveillance as a “site of contest,” as we academics like to say, over sexual behavior and norms.
Most important, the piece will surely prompt discussion of how to assimilate these allegations, should they be true, into our understanding of King. It’s worth remembering that we’ve discovered unflattering sides of King before. News of his philandering has been common knowledge since at least the 1975 Church Committee hearings into the dubious actions of the U.S. intelligence agencies. The 1989 memoir of King’s close associate Ralph Abernathy divulged that he spent the night before his assassination with a mistress. The following year saw the news about his plagiarism.
King’s greatness is such that he has weathered these disclosures. The rape charges are of course graver, but they don’t negate the historic achievements for which he has long been properly celebrated.
Even if the ugliest charges against King are bolstered by additional evidence, that doesn’t mean we should talk about renaming Martin Luther King Day, tearing down statues of him, or stripping him of his Nobel Prize. In recent years, we’ve had altogether too much wrecking-ball history—history that takes public or private flaws or failings as reason to cast extraordinary men and women out of our political or artistic pantheons. Historians know that even the most admirable figures from our past were flawed, mortal beings—bad parents or bad spouses, capable of violence or cruelty, beholden to sexist or racist ideas, venal or megalomaniac, dishonest or predatory. Awareness of these qualities doesn’t mean despising figures once held up as heroes. Rather, it gives us a more complete and nuanced picture of the people who shaped our world.
“It was Mr. King whose quest for black economic and social progress started this nation on the road to full integration—the most dynamic step forward in the status of the races since the Civil War. His courage in breaking down racial taboos and facing down opponents of integration, his unwavering insistence on a peaceful revolution, the elevating power of his message to the nation are beyond question.” So opined the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal in 1990, days after the same paper brought King’s plagiarism to light. “We suspect Mr. King’s reputation will outlast the questions now being raised,” it concluded. That judgment—from a leading conservative opinion outlet of the day—seems far more sensible than the troll-like schadenfreude peppering right-wing media in the last few days. They are words we should bear in mind again today.

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