I had the honor of working with the late Glen Ford for nearly 20 years. His passing has created a huge void not just for Black Agenda Report (BAR), the site we co-founded with the late Bruce Dixon, but for all of Black politics and left media. Ford identified his political and journalistic stance with both, having created the tagline: “News, commentary and analysis from the black left” for BAR. He was the consummate journalist, a man who demanded rigorous analysis of himself and others, and he lived by the dictum of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Ford co-founded a publication in line with his core values: He did not suffer fools gladly, succumb to corporate media and government narratives, or feel obligated to change his politics in order to elevate the Black face in a high place.
Ford spoke of learning this lesson the hard way. He told a story of regret, his ethical dilemma, when he gave one such Black person, Barack Obama, a pass in 2003. At that time, Ford, Dixon and I were all working at Black Commentator. Obama had announced his candidacy for the United States Senate and he was listed as a member of the Democratic Leadership Council (DCL), the right-leaning, corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Obama had also removed an antiwar statement from his website.
Ford and Dixon posed what they called “bright line questions” to Obama on issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, single-payer health care and Iraq. His fuzzy answers should have flunked him, but Ford chose not to be seen as “a crab in a barrel,” one who pulled another of the group down. Obama was given an opportunity to comment in Black Commentator and Ford wrote, “[Black Commentator] is relieved, pleased, and looking forward to Obama’s success in the Democratic senatorial primary and Illinois general election.”
As he witnessed Obama’s actions on the campaign trail and eventually in office, Ford never again felt obligated to depart from his political stances or to defend a member of the group whose politics were not in keeping with the views of the Black left.
From that moment on, Glen Ford did not let up on Obama, just as he did not waver from his staunch opposition to neoliberalism and U.S. imperialism. Black Agenda Report became the go-to site for all leftists. BAR’s critique of Obama when he led the destruction of Libya was no less stinging than critiques of George W. Bush when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Ford declared that Obama and the Democrats were not the “lesser evil” that millions of people hoped for. Instead, they were just the more effective evil, and they were always in BAR’s journalistic sights.
Ford was always an uncompromising defender of Black people and never shrank from explaining the mechanisms which place that group at or near the bottom of all positive metrics and at or near the top of all the negative. He was one of the first to amplify the term “mass incarceration” in his unsparing analysis of the United States and its dubious distinction as the nation with more people behind bars than any other: more than 2 million, with half of those being Black, a cohort which makes up one-quarter of all the incarcerated in the world. Black Agenda Report can be counted on to give this information consistently and with no punches pulled.
Glen Ford was a committed socialist, a Vietnam-era military veteran and a member of the Black Panther Party. He spent part of his childhood and youth in Columbus, Georgia, in the days of apartheid in the United States. Those life experiences shaped his work and left a legacy that anyone who considers themselves a leftist ought to follow.
He worked in the media throughout his adult life and served as a Capitol Hill, White House and State Department correspondent for the Mutual Black Network. In 1977, he co-found “America’s Black Forum,” which was the first nationally syndicated Black-oriented program on commercial television.
Now the number of media outlets is very small, thanks in large part to Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act. Just six corporations control 90 percent of all media we read, watch and hear, and that means that there are very few working journalists, and an even smaller number with Ford’s experience and worldview. The most “successful” of those who fall into the category of journalists are mostly scribes, repeating the narratives which are favored by politicians and the corporate media.
We desperately need left media and journalists like Glen Ford. Any reader of Black Agenda Report won’t expect The New York Times or The Washington Post to tell them what is happening in Haiti or Cuba. Thanks to Ford’s consistent analysis, they understand that even those who want to be well informed seldom are unless they also read Black Agenda Report.
Glen Ford will be missed by all who knew him and by all BAR readers. He and journalists of his ilk are small in number and irreplaceable.
Glen Ford presente!