PBS: Propaganda Machine for Black Panther Killers

New PBS documentary follows a long tradition of whitewashing Black Murder Inc.

Editor’s note: This Fall, PBS is featuring a documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which turns out to be little more than a pro-Panther propaganda film which ignores the mountain of evidence that the Black Panther Party was a murderous street gang with a political veneer. As Michael Moynihan points out in his recent review of the PBS documentary, Whitewashing the Black Panthers, in The Daily Beast, the production excuses a murderous and totalitarian cult that worshiped communist mass murderers such as Stalin, Chairman Mao, Kim Il Sung and Ho Chi Minh – and emulated their savagery and sadism at home.

To mark this occasion, Frontpage is publishing below an essay written in COMINT magazine (Spring 1991) by David Horowitz (one of many), “PBS Promotes the Black Panthers.” It is included in the newest volume of Horowitz’s classic, The Black Book of the American Left, Volume 5, Culture Wars, which will be released in October 2015. The article documents the record of PBS’s shilling for this murderous black gang, providing propaganda cover for a group which preyed on the black community in the name of “social justice.” The duration of this disgrace shows the continuing dominance of a liberal ideology that will justify any criminality so long as it is committed by blacks.


PBS Promotes the Black Panthers
By David Horowitz

The Black Panthers were an emblematic group for the 60s. They were regarded as heroes by the New Left, SDS lead­ers designated them the “vanguard of the revolution,” and Tom Hayden called them “America’s Viet Cong.” At the same time, they were feared and reviled by the “silent majority” who saw them as street hoodlums made doubly dangerous by their adoption of a revolutionary rhetoric that brought battalions of white radicals and left-wing lawyers to their defense. These pro­gressives viewed the Panthers as both passive victims of a racist power structure and the active agents of revolutionary revenge. History has not proved kind to the leftist embrace of this violent gang. An investigative New Yorker article by Edward Jay Epstein exploded the myth of police conspiracy and Panther victimhood, while a New Times report by left-wing journalist Kate Coleman documented the brutal felonies, including murder, arson, and rape, that the Panthers themselves committed against other ghetto blacks. But if investigative research has exposed the heroic myth of the Panthers, public television has done its best to restore the aura. In the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize II,” in “Making Sense of the 60s,” and especially in “Black Power, Black Panthers,” a one- hour KQED-produced documentary, the Panthers are back in all their presumed innocence and revolutionary glory.

At a time when even the Kremlin fabulators are making efforts to restore respect for historical truth, is it too much to ask PBS to take steps to rectify its own abuse of the historical record? On August 20, 1990, the magazine I edit about public broadcasting, COMINT, appealed to the management of KQED in San Francisco to look into the matter of “Black Power, Black Panthers.” While purporting to be a documentary history of the Black Panther Party, the program suppressed widely known facts about the Panthers’ criminality, including the murders of at least a dozen Bay Area res­idents, while presenting them as victims of a governmental con­spiracy to eliminate black civil-rights activists. In making their “documentary,” the producers ignored half a dozen Bay Area reporters who had covered the story, in some cases risking their lives to do so. Pearl Stewart, a black reporter for the Oakland Trib­une, for example, had her car firebombed after breaking the first local story about the Panthers’ criminal operations.

Made by political activists, the KQED “documentary” is little more than a promotional film for a group of Panther veterans led by ex-felon David Hilliard, who were attempting to revive the party’s apparatus and newspaper. The first issue of the revived paper, Black Panthers, appeared in early 1991 with an editorial proposing that, in the 60s, it had been “an uncompromising voice for exposing attacks on the ‘Afrikan Amerikkkan’ community and for advocating an implacable stand to redress them… . History once again demands that we take action.”[1]

The letter COMINT sent to KQED president Anthony S. Tiano called the film “a disgrace to KQED and a public outrage.” It noted that the distortions of the film served to feed the racial paranoia that has done so much to poison the public atmosphere. The clear mes­sage of the tendentious history in “Black Power, Black Panthers” is that white America, and white American law enforcement agencies in particular, conducted an “assassination” campaign against the leaders of the Black Panther Party, although the evidence shows that the reverse is closer to the truth. The letter concluded by demanding that KQED remove its name from the film, conduct an inquiry into how such a travesty could have occurred, and provide funding for a film that would be a corrective to the distorted ver­sion of events it had sponsored.

KQED’s response to this appeal was written by station manager David H. Hosely, who glossed over its charges and defended both the filmmaker and his subjects. “We believe that, by adding to the body of information on this historic political movement, we encourage multi-dimensional analysis, and ultimately, under­standing,” he wrote. “We are proud of this contribution and our association with it.” Having been rebuffed by KQED staff, COMINT turned to the KQED board, requesting an opportunity to present its concerns. An invitation was duly extended, and on December 6, 1990, with PBS programming chief Jennifer Lawson in attendance, I spoke to the KQED Board. This is what I said:

“I am here to discuss the KQED-produced film ‘Black Power, Black Panthers.’ This film portrays the Black Panther Party as an idealistic organization of ghetto youth, driven to violent but essen­tially innocent posturing and rhetoric by brutal police forces in the 60s. According to the film, as the party’s influence grew among the oppressed, its leaders were targeted by the FBI and other law- enforcement agencies for assassination and were murdered, jailed, and, in the case of their founder Huey P. Newton, driven to desper­ate, drug-influenced courses of action that ended in sordid and vio­lent death. Thus, even Newton, whom the film criticizes for creating a ‘cult of the individual,’ is presented as a victim of assas­sination (albeit psychological) by the powers that be.

“I understand the seductive appeal of this image of the Pan­thers (which is, after all, their self-image) as victims of a white racist society bent on destroying any black person who dared to challenge its oppressive order. It was this image that brought me into close association with Huey Newton and the Black Panther

Party in the early Seventies. I did not especially like their violent rhetoric. I was suspicious of their gang-like behavior. But I basi­cally believed the radical and liberal apologists for the Panthers who, like the KQED filmmakers, assured us all that they were really the well-intentioned victims of racist authorities, vicious police agencies, and a hostile media.

“Influenced by these deceptive images, I agreed to work with the Panthers. I raised over $100,000 and created the Oakland Com­munity Learning Center, which is improbably featured in the KQED film as ‘an internationally recognized school’ that provided free meals for children and which was, in fact, the party’s show­piece and base of operations throughout the Seventies. It was for embezzling money from this school that Newton was finally con­victed and was about to be sent to jail when he was killed. The school was real, but it was also a front for a criminal gang attempt­ing to control the illegal traffic of the East Oakland ghetto. My association with the Panthers terminated in 1974 when they kid­napped and murdered the woman I had engaged to do bookkeeping for the school, Betty Van Patter, a well-known member of the rad­ical community and the mother of three children. Huey Newton, the only Panther the KQED film finds fault with, was in Cuba when Betty was kidnapped and murdered. Ericka Huggins, who is featured in the film as an idealistic Panther leader, was the head of the Panther school at the time. Elaine Brown, who is celebrated in ‘Eyes on the Prize II,’ was the head of the Party. Betty’s death is not mentioned in the KQED film.

“In the years after Betty’s murder, partly because of the horror that many working Bay Area journalists felt over her death, report­ing on the Panthers began to change. Despite considerable risks to their personal safety, a number of journalists—Lance Williams, Pearl Stewart, and Kate Coleman among them—gradually uncov­ered the true story of the Black Panther Party, its origins as a crim­inal gang, its assumption of a political personality, its continuing criminal activity, and the reign of terror it conducted mainly in the Bay Area’s black community, during which more than a dozen people were killed. The positive effect of these stories was to warn others not to make the mistake that I and so many like me had made in responding to the Panthers’ idealistic image a decade ear­lier. Under the impact of this adverse publicity, the Panther Party ceased to exist.

“Recently, however, some Panther veterans led by David Hilliard, a convicted felon and the principal on-camera ‘authority’ in KQED’s film, have begun to organize a revival of the party in the Bay Area, appearing at demonstrations and promoting the same hate-filled rhetoric as in the past. KQED has produced the perfect vehicle to make this revival a success: A film posing as his­tory that covers up as much of the truth that has been discovered about the Panthers as possible, while refurbishing their image as the idealistic victims of a white racist society that ruthlessly set out to destroy them.

“How could KQED finance and produce such an obscene rewrite of contemporary history? How could the KQED producers systematically ignore the well-known Bay Area reporters responsi­ble for uncovering the truth about the Panthers in the past? Pearl Stewart, a black journalist who reported this story and whose life was threatened by the Panthers, has appeared on many programs on KQED. How could her testimony be ignored? How could this whole travesty have slipped by the KQED executives responsible for controlling the quality of the KQED product? What measures is KQED prepared to take to limit and/or repair the damage done by this film? What measures will it consider to prevent a repetition of this experience in the future?

“The present position of the KQED administration is that it is ‘proud’ of this film and stands by its producers. KQED manage­ment seems to have no interest in answering the troubling ques­tions posed by the making of this film or in confronting the issues they raise. We are therefore placing our case before the KQED board. We would like to ask you first to set up a committee of inquiry to look into this matter and to provide us with a point of contact for our concerns, It has taken four months just to get to where this presentation could be made, a situation that is frustrat­ing enough to actively discourage inquiries like ours. The reaction of KQED management to date says in effect that KQED has no interest in the fairness, objectivity, or integrity of its program­ming, something I am sure its board does not subscribe to.

“The committee of inquiry we are proposing should in our view be the prelude to the setting up of a permanent committee to handle questions of fairness, objectivity, and balance in KQED’s programming. As you know, KQED is a taxpayer-funded institu­tion with a responsibility to the public for fairness, balance, and objectivity that necessarily exceeds the responsibility of commer­cial stations that do not enjoy the benefits of governmental sup­port. This is a trust that PBS and KQED officials have affirmed on numerous occasions and that is written into the law governing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds KQED. This law, Title 47, U.S. Code Section 396(g)(1)(A), specifies that the funds provided by the public will be used to: ‘Facilitate the full development of telecommunications in which programs of high quality, diversity, creativity, excellence, and innovation, which are obtained from diverse sources, will be made available to public telecommunications entities with strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controver­sial nature.’ [emphasis added]

“Presently, KQED has no institutional mechanism or corporate officer responsible for enforcing this policy. If there were such an office or officer, they would have been in touch with us four months ago. It is cause for concern that such a lacuna exists, but it does, and this is as good a time as any to begin to remedy the situ­ation. The critical role of media— the problem of media responsi­bility in the functioning of a democracy—is universally acknowledged. Even a private media corporation like The Wash­ington Post recognizes its public responsibility in establishing principles of fairness and balance in reporting. It has appointed an ombudsman to receive complaints and make periodical reports and recommendations to the staff of the paper in order to correct existing imbalances and redress grievances that its readers and the subjects of its coverage may raise. The existence of an ombudsman provides both a court of appeal for the complaints of the public and a disinterested perspective on the functioning of the organization, which can guide the staff towards better performance. We believe that in the case of publicly funded institutions like KQED, which enjoys the special privileges of a publicly supported medium and is therefore mandated by law to promote both fairness and balance, this ombudsman function should be the responsibility of a com­mittee of the board, and not merely an individual.

“We would like to discuss these matters further, and hope to hear from your representatives soon. Thank you.”

This appeal was made in December 1990. Four months later, there has not been a single word out of the KQED board, not a let­ter of inquiry, not an invitation to appear, not even a courtesy note. Meanwhile, “Eyes on the Prize II” is a constant re-run on PBS, especially during pledge-week; “Making Sense of the 60s” will be aired again this fall; and “Berkeley in the 60s,” another ten­dentious self-celebration by the radical left complete with ritual glorification of the Black Panther Party, will be on PBS soon. Just in case we didn’t get the point.


[1] Black Panther Newspaper Committee, December 1990, http://freedom archives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC5 i0_scans/New_Afrikan_Prisoners/ 510.correspondence.from.black.panther.newsletter.Dec. 1990.pdf