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In Tebow We Trust

From The Scrapbook

Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The consensus of the interviewers seemed to be that they were talking to the consummate artist of the 20th century, a man whose career spanned more than half a century of supreme achievement, and whose persistent celebrity​—​whose mere presence on the planet Earth​—​has been a gift to humankind since time out of mind.

Alas, The Scrapbook remembers things a little differently. Harry Belafonte sang two chart-topping novelty songs in the mid-1950s​—​“Matilda” and “The Banana Boat Song”​—​and for a few years thereafter churned out albums and made the occasional TV and film appearance, as good-looking singers will often do. But that’s about it. Harry Belafonte was one of dozens of popular male warblers of the era; and can anyone, offhand, name one of his movies?

The Scrapbook didn’t think so. What The Scrapbook thinks is that Belafonte’s celebrity, such as it is, has been sustained and nurtured over the years by his persistent, and perverse, devotion to left-wing causes. Yes, that’s him standing between Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, and there he is picketing outside the South African embassy in the 1980s. But when The Scrapbook says “left-wing,” it uses the term advisedly. There are plenty of “activists” in show-biz ranks, but Belafonte stands out for his bitter denunciations of the land of his birth, his devotion to the Soviet Union, his admiration for the Castro regime, and his affection for the atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Hand in hand in Caracas with the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, he once declared:

No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world​—​George W. Bush​—​says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people support your revolution!

So it should come as little surprise to learn that Belafonte has denounced two secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, in deliberately personal terms as “slaves who lived in the house,” and this past week, criticized none other than Barack Obama himself for lacking a “moral compass,” thereby facing “a splendid opportunity to do more than most presidents would have ever been able to do, and [letting] that opportunity slip away from him.”

It need hardly be mentioned that Powell, Rice, and Obama are, like Belafonte, African Americans, for whom he seems to reserve his most offensive epithets (“house slaves”). Of course, The Scrapbook has its differences with Obama​—​with Rice and Powell, for that matter​—​but suspects that there is another reason why Harry Belafonte chooses to insult in such terms: Even the 1950s King of Calypso must realize that these are people of genuine achievement, and that he is not quite the public monument that NPR is pleased to flatter.


Ombudsman, Heal Thyself

Heaven help the journalistic establishment, but it seems to be having a problem with “facts.” We don’t just mean that they’re bad at reporting them, but journalism’s prestige institutions have been reduced to wondering aloud about what exactly facts are and what role they play in how these institutions perform their jobs.

Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times’s public editor, aka ombudsman, earnestly asked last week: “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” Brisbane notes that some Times readers are frustrated that the paper doesn’t call out more people for stretching the truth.

The only remarkable thing about that question is that it’s even being asked. Of course newspapers should report the truth, especially when it contradicts someone’s self-interested agenda.

But if Brisbane and Times readers are scratching their heads over what to do here, that’s because they have no idea where their opinions end and the truth begins. Brisbane further clarifies what he’s talking about by citing a Paul Krugman column in which the liberal economist objects to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that President Obama has been “apologizing for America.” The public editor then postulates one possible response for news reporters to give to Romney:

Perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less: “The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

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