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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2001 / 27 Teves 5761

Philip Terzian

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Run, Jesse, run -- EVERY PRESIDENT needs to have some good luck, and George W. Bush may have more than his share. On the very day that the new administration was bracing for a wave of inaugural assaults from Jesse Jackson and friends, the Reverend Jackson announced that "I will be taking some time off to revive my spirit and reconnect with my family before I return to my public ministry."

The Reverend Jackson's public ministry had lately been on a roll. Last summer, when a black youth in Mississippi hanged himself after breaking up with his girlfriend, the Reverend Jackson descended on the Magnolia State with public charges of lynching. There was no evidence that the young man had been murdered, and there was overwhelming evidence -- abetted by multiple autopsies -- that he had committed suicide. But that did not stop the Reverend Jackson. He returned repeatedly to Mississippi, with his friends from the press in tow, to denounce what he called a lynching, and roil the waters of race.

This past fall the Reverend Jackson moved his public ministry to Florida, where he not only accused Gov. Jeb Bush of "stealing" the presidential election for his brother, but insisted that black voters had been forcibly prevented from casting ballots -- in black Democratic precincts, administered by black Democratic election officials. The Bush campaign was guilty of exercising "Nazi" methods to win the election, said the Reverend Jackson, and we know what the Nazis were capable of doing.

If any other public minister had repeatedly called a suicide a lynching, with an eye to aggravating racial tensions, he would be denounced as a dangerous demagogue. And if any other public minister had compared George W. Bush's campaign with Adolf Hitler's Germany -- the same public miister who referred to New York City as "Hymietown" -- he would be regarded as not just irresponsible, but delusional, and relegated to the fringes of public life.

But this particular public minister subsists in a universe of his own. When it was revealed this past week that the Reverend Jackson had fathered an illegitimate child by one of his subordinates at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the tone in the press was suitably mournful, and the story was effectively buried. The consensus seemed to be that a great and good man had made an error in judgment, and must now be allowed private time with his family to lick his wounds. Is there a double standard at play here? You need only imagine the reaction in the media if some other public minister -- say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell -- had committed a similar indiscretion, and pleaded for some privacy with Mrs. Falwell and the family.

The press has been agonizing over whether the existence of the Reverend Jackson's natural daughter is news or not, and if so, what to do about it. Well, the Reverend Jackson is manifestly a public figure, and his public actions are news. But he is not a sub-Cabinet official at the Environmental Protection Agency; he is a "public minister" who is not only quick to denounce the moral fitness of the likes of Ronald Reagan or John Ashcroft, but the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his character and ethical leadership.

America in the year 2001 is not 17th-century Salem, Mass., and we do not expect the Reverend Jackson to suffer unduly for his sins. But we might be excused a smile or two at his present awkward predicament. The Reverend Jackson's philandering has been an open secret among journalists for years -- even when the philandering involved journalists themselves. So let us apply the Clinton rule here: So long as the Reverend Jackson's omnivorous sexual appetite and public hypocrisy did not interfere with his work, he was entitled to enjoy a comfortable zone of privacy. But there are details in this insance that should intrigue the average reporter.

To begin with, there is the amusing fact that the Reverend Jackson's daughter was conceived and born while he was "counseling" Bill Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky affair. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during those sessions! And then there is the status of the mother of the Reverend Jackson's daughter, one Karin L. Stanford. Miss Stanford is an employee of the Reverend Jackson's public ministry, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. It may surprise readers to learn that Rainbow/PUSH is a for-profit corporation, not a charitable organization, and so the Reverend Jackson was probably entitled to place his mistress on the payroll. But there are interesting sidebars as well, not least the sum of $40,000, which was paid to Miss Stanford by the Reverend Jackson to "relocate" to Los Angeles, where she lives in the spacious bungalow (price: $350,000) once owned by comedian D.L. Hughely.

The revelation of the Rev. Jim Bakker's gothic private life led to government scrutiny, at long last, of his lucrative PTL scam. Perhaps the Rev. Jesse Jackson's ordeal will shed some light on the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, The Providence Journal