JOURNALISM and MUHAMMAD ALI: and the beat goes on

It occurred to me today, in my research, an axiom of sorts:

By default, nearly all journalists work for a corporation
By definition, almost no journalist should work for a corporation

By a corporation’s interests alone—shareholder profits and market share—the term journalist and corporation verges on oxymoronic, or a conflict of interests.

News feels benign, or neutral, in a way—although it can not be. Not even the way we hear it can be neutral. This is the human experience. But it’s instructive to wonder where we get our news from, and how slow the mass media is at trudging towards what is eventually called a progressive direction.

How many people in big media made Barbara Lee out to be the hero she was? Well, none, as far as I know. Who even knows who she is now—hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi lives in Iraq later?


Muhammad Ali’s most famous line from the tragic Vietnam period turned out to be: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

Accroding to journalist Robert Lipsyte:

“It was the moment for Ali. For the rest of his life he would be loved and hated for what seemed like a declarative statement, but what was, at the time, a moment of blurted improvisation.”

Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the army resulted in these 1967ish comments by journalists. Note firstly, their refusal to call him Muhammad Ali, a name change that took place in 1964—after his first defeat of the unbeatable Sonny Liston:

From the New York Post’s Milton Gross (May 18, 1966):

“Cassius Clay has been the world’s heavyweight champion for two years…Nobody has ever done less with the time, and destroyed his image more.”

Journalist Red Smith wrote:

“Cassius makes himself as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

After Ali defeated Cleveland Williams in three rounds, and was considered to be at the very pinnacle of his ability as a fighter, Jimmy Murray of the Los Angeles Times called him—hearkening back to, I think Kipling, and colonialism at its most overt: “…the white man’s burden (Novemebrr 19, 1966).”

It’s funny how an “impartial” and “free” press sees things—and says how wronghe was. From Mike Marqusee’s book, Redemption Song, one can see in this moment on whose behalf these people are speaking:

During the entire course of the 1960s, 30 percent of black but only 18 percent of white males of eligible age were drafted. In 1966, black soldiers comprised 22 percent of all US casualties in Vietnam but only 11 percent of all US troops

Eleven percent of all troops is interesting in itself—I’m not sure how they works with the statistic above.

From Marqusee (177):

Congressman Frank Clark of Pennsylvania was among the most outspoken [1966]:

“The heavyweight champion has been a complete and total disgrace. I urge the citizens of the nation as a whole to boycott any of his performances. To leace these theater seats empty would be the finest tribute possible to that boy whose hearse may pass by the open doors of the theater on Main Street, USA.”

Vietnam became the first American war that found the majority of blacks in opposition. Until then, participation in American wars was seen as a means of forcing social equality. But with Vietnam, by 1965 a quarter of all blacks favoured a withdrawal from Vietnam while a half thought a cease-fire was in order.

In contrast, white opinion was 15 percent for withdrawal and 36 percent for a cease fire (and 49 pecent for escalation).

If I understand correctly, by the time of Ali’s “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” line, in February 1966, no “significant figure in the Democratic party had come out aganst the war.” Although the cost and the modes of pushing the war were starting to come into question, no major television station or major newspaper had questioned its “premises” either, let alone its morality.

As I see repeated patterns in my own behaviour—following one’s karma, one might call that, from an eastern point of view—it’s easy (in an utterly complex way) to see the same for the species. Under certain conditions, it seems, relatively predictable percentages of people seem to choose relatively predictable takes on the world.

And either way, the world keeps on turning, and I get to keep reading and researching. What a life.

Love to you,



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