Correcting The New York Times
Jude Wanniski
April 5, 2000


To: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Publisher, NYT
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Farrakhan Correction

You may not have noted it, but I was certainly happy to see the The New York Times make a correction March 15 regarding Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. After meeting him in 1996 and several times thereafter, I became persuaded that he has had a bum rap in the news media because of a hard-wired assumption that he is a bigoted anti-Semite. Quite the contrary, I believe he is a man of God whose heart is devoid of any form of hatred, bigotry or anti-Semitism. Most of the disconnect between conventional wisdom and reality, I think, has been a handful of quotes attributed to the minister that he never said. These quotes, which would close the case against him if true, form the basis of belief that other criticisms he has made over the years of Jewish political positions confirm his bigotry and anti-Semitism.

The two quotes have him saying that "the Pope is the anti-Christ" and "Judaism is a gutter religion." The New York tabloids have routinely attached these quotes to his name over the years, the first dating to 1994, the second to 1984.

I had not seen them in the Times in recent years, but they popped up in a column in your Metro section in February, connected to an unrelated mention of the Nation of Islam by Texas Gov. George W. Bush. I called the columnist, Joyce Purnick, whose work I have admired over the years although we had not previously spoken. I told her that it was Khalid Muhammad who made the slurring reference to the pope on a 1994 Phil Donohue show. For that and other slurs, Khalid was actually expelled from good standing in the NOI.

Minister Farrakhan told me that when he began his ministry as a young man in his 20s, Elijah Muhammad had instructed him to never say anything negative about the pope, and in my review of his speeches on audio and videotapes over the years I'd only heard positive things about the pontiff. It was this quote which Ms. Purnick traced to Khalid and which the Times corrected last month.

Alas, there was no correction to the "gutter religion" quote attributed to Minister Farrakhan. Ms. Purnick e-mailed me on March 14 with the following: "I've now researched this as exhaustively as I know how. I am convinced that Farrakhan did describe Judaism as a 'gutter religion.' He may have used other pejoratives as well, but 'gutter' was one of them as far as I can humanly tell."

I've asked Ms. Purnick for the citation that persuades her that "Farrakhan did describe Judaism as a 'gutter religion,'" but have had no reply. Minister Farrakhan insists he never uttered those words and that, quite the contrary, he has always spoken with reverence of Judaism, the fountainhead of both Christianity and Islam. The only citation that has been twisted into "Judaism is a gutter religion" is one that does not mention Judaism at all.

Here is how it is explained on the website of the Final Call, the weekly newspaper of the Nation of Islam: "Judaism a 'gutter-religion'? Many Jews persist in claiming that Min. Farrakhan referred to Judaism as a 'gutter religion.' Here is the actual statement from a speech on June 24, 1984 upon his return to America from Libya: '... America and England and the nations backed Israel's existence. Therefore when you aid and abet someone in a criminal conspiracy, you are a part of that criminal conspiracy. So America and England and the nations are criminals in the sight of almighty God. Now, that nation of Israel, never has had any peace in forty years and she will never have any peace because there can never be any peace structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your dirty religion under His holy and righteous name.'"

Do you see, Arthur, the context is a political context with no reference to the Judaic faith. It is important to note that the quote itself was taped, but with such poor quality that it is difficult to tell whether he said "gutter religion" or "dirty religion." The reason Minister Farrakhan insists the word was "dirty" is that he has many times used the term "dirty religion" to describe the behavior of Christians and Muslims who use their faith as an excuse to pursue unjust political ends.

If you think of it, this is what Pope John Paul II did last month in his apology for the sins of the sons and daughters of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the chief reasons for the Reformation, after all, was the corruption of the church, where the pope came to be viewed as the "anti-Christ," and various European monarchs used their "faith" as an excuse to pursue political agendas that had far more to do with the acquisition of money, power and land than with saving souls. They were practicing a "dirty religion."

To be sure, the persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages was part and parcel of this dirty religion. In their History of Civilization, The Age of Faith, published in the 1930's, Will and Ariel Durant write of the anti-Semitism of that period and clearly find that the popes almost always were trying to protect the Jews from persecution, but it was too easy for Christian noblemen to heap taxes on Jewish merchants and financiers on the excuse that they had "killed Christ" and deserved what they got.

"We all know" Pope Pius XII remained silent on the Holocaust, for example. Yet John McLaughlin two weeks ago on his "McLaughlin Group" ran seven or eight news clips from the archives of the Times of the early 1940s. Each one had a headline of Pius denouncing the Nazis, with one noting he was "a lonely voice" in that regard.

That's what makes the Times the greatest newspaper in the world. It is the newspaper of record.

My hope is that you would take this matter up as a personal initiative. You are big enough to be able to meet Minister Farrakhan and discuss these issues with him in a quiet setting, where you can decide for yourself whether there has been sufficient due diligence in reporting on him and his message. The fact that the Times discovered it had been making an error in misquoting him in one way may be enough to persuade you that there may be others. The process could lead to a reconciliation that would benefit all Americans, not only the readers of the Times.