Monday, September 07, 2009

Glenn Beck Implies racially-based Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments Never Happened

(An acquaintance informed me that MY facts were also partially incorrect regarding the nature of the Tuskegee Experiments, namely, that I said black men were injected with syphilis... they were not -- instead, men with syphilis were purposefully not treated over a period up to forty years. I have revised this post to reflect that reality, and appreciate the correction.)

Glenn Beck cites Jeremiah Wright talking about one of America's tragic crimes against African Americans... and he cites it as though it is fiction!

Beck's bizarre mix of nonsense phraseology with ulta-emotive imagery and conspiracy-theorist buzz words isn't enough, in itself, to brand him a racist. But the following comes darn close.

This passage comes from the FOX web site transcript of Beck's show (entire transcript):

GLENN: .... Now, this is from an interview he [Van Jones] did as the head of the Ella Baker Center.

VAN JONES: The white polluters and the white environmentals [sic] are essentially steering poison into the people of colored communities.

GLENN: Have you heard this any has the president ever been around anyone who has ever said anything like that before Van Jones?

REVEREND WRIGHT: The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis.

GLENN: The president of the United States has tried to pass himself off as a guy who just sat in Jeremiah Wright's Black Liberation Theology church for 20 years. A friend. He's like an old uncle. He didn't even notice. He baptized Barack Obama's children. He baptized Barack Obama, but he never heard these things before. And even if he did hear them, he didn't really even notice. Okay, so that's the explanation for the crazy uncle. What is the explanation this time? What is the excuse this time for appointing the same type of radical, saying almost damn exact same words as Jeremiah Wright to an influential position in our government? Is it that you didn't vet these people? Because gee, that sounds like a problem, that our president of the United States didn't vet him enough to know. Is it that the FBI didn't do its job? I mean, we found all of this stuff. Sure, I only have a staff of seven producing books, TV, radio shows, I only have a staff of seven. And all of a sudden we can come up with these things. Gee, you'd think the FBI or the president of the United States would surely be able to find these things.

Let's review here.

Government poster advertising the syphilis study. (Wikipedia, source.)

First, the Tuskegee experiments, where black men with syphilis were sought out by doctors who pretended to treat them but then left them untreated for up to forty years, is HISTORIC FACT. The part Jeremiah Wright apparently got wrong was the claim that our government injected these men with syphilis. However, just how different is it to purposely not treat someone -- and without their knowledge! -- while you, as a representative of their government, tell them you are treating their disease? The nuance is not a large one.

Our government did, however, misrepresent itself as there to cure men some of whom it effectively murdered by intentionally withholding penicillin when that drug became known as curative of syphilis. Need it be said that the wives and any children of these infected men were, by intentional negligence, infected by the men who'd been left untreated? Just how wrong is Wright? Yes, the line is very, very thin.

Second, Mr. Beck, you fail to explain the difference above, leaving in the hearer's mind the impression that the entire story is false. No, most of it is not false. Only the active introduction of syphilis into healthy black men is, apparently, untrue. (I use the word "apparently" because in light of what else went on, I remain open to further revelations in this matter.)

Third, your argument actually ends by shoring up Mr. Van Jones' position -- as you cite historic racial crimes with which to compare his claims of such crimes. (I don't suggest it actually works -- but for those aware of history your argument is at best just more Beckian gobbledygook.)

Tuskegee University's web site summarizes the horror of that Beck-denied history:

For forty years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. Informed that they were being treated for “bad blood,” their doctors had no intention of curing them of syphilis at all.

The data for the experiment was to be collected from autopsies of the men, and they were thus deliberately left to degenerate under the ravages of tertiary syphilis—which can include tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and death. “As I see it,” one of the doctors involved explained, “we have no further interest in these patients until they die.”

Now. What part of that was NOT our government? In short, though Jeremiah Wright has certainly not been correct on everything he's said, this instance is one where he is far closer to historic truth than Glenn Beck, who is exposed as a rabble-rousing racist. There is no excuse. FOX News has no excuse.

You wonder why liberals such as myself view the Right with such grave suspicion and active dislike?

Glenn Beck should be removed from FOX News. But as long as his non-factual jingoism remains popular with a large enough minority of Americans, FOX will keep him on TV. They don't care if he rants for five minutes about how the old artwork on Rockefeller Center is really part of a commie / fascist (never sure which) plot, and how it all somehow ties into Obama being President... and they don't care about him misrepresenting the Tuskegee Experiments as fiction rather than fact. So he'll keep it up.

Meanwhile, I will make it a personal mission to boycott FOX -- not only their news channels but also their entertainment channels. Racism is still alive in America. And I'm not gonna take it.

If other readers agree, please link to this on your blog or face book pages!

[This post has been revised a number of times since earlier today.]


Ron Henzel said...

Jon, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a terrible and shameful chapter in our nation's history. But Jeremiah Wright distorted it when he claimed that the government "purposely infected African American men with syphilis." This is a false statement. According to the Tuskegee University page you cited, "the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis." These men already had syphilis; the government did not purposely infect them. Was it wrong not to tell them they had syphilis? Was the government responsible for the fact that these men infected their wives and children? Was it immoral to withhold treatment from them after it was discovered? Was it racist? To all of the above: tragically, yes. But when Wright boldly declares, "The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis," he only brings shame upon himself for sensationally exacerbating an already vile situation.

Jon Trott said...

Thanks, Ron. I revised the post (got your face book comment before I realized you'd posted to bluechristian... )

In Wright's defense, I think the difference between actively preventing a cure for forty years and actually causing the syphilis in the first place is a pretty thin line.

JMJ said...

as a christian who leans right of center, I come here for a couple reasons. One, because I thoroughly enjoyed Cornerstone magazine and your contributions therein, and secondly, to read, consider and discuss views that I wouldn't normally entertain.

That being said, i do have a problem with posts of this sort, by people of all spectrums, whether right leaning or left leaning.

Why is it that the foibles, inconsistencies, errors, and egregious comments of our political foes are only commented on?
Would it take much effort to find similarly shocking comments/statemetns/views of those on our own side?

Also, why is it that these commentaries usually try to generalize the foe's group/affilations/political party/viewpoints with the same brush?

Let's be fair in our commentary.

Ron Henzel said...


You wrote: "In Wright's defense, I think the difference between actively preventing a cure for forty years and actually causing the syphilis in the first place is a pretty thin line." I agree. But it still does not change the fact that Wright did not accuse the government of "preventing a cure" (in point of fact, the cure did not exist when the experiment began), but of deliberately infecting the men in the first place. So your defense of Wright does not change the fact that he made an indefensibly false statement for the sole purpose of inflaming the passions of his audience against the government. In all probability, this was either due to the fact that the truth, as bad as it was, would not have carried quite the punch he was hoping to land, or that he simply spoke out of ignorance. I do not find the latter possibility particularly credible. In any case, Jon, you are bearing false witness against Glenn Beck. He never denied the existence of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Jon Trott said...

Ron, for forty years our government DID lie about the Tuskegee Experiment. Why is it difficult to believe that they would have injected men with syphilis if they were willing to intentionally condemn men to death who had syphilis? You're being a bit unimaginative here. Remember, Wright's reaction is based not just upon this event, but upon many other racially-based events as well, including lynchings which were still going on at the time of the Tuskegee Experiment's founding.

In addition, as I mentioned, the govt. to all intents and purposes WAS "injecting" wives / lovers of these men with syphilis by intentionally leaving the men untreated. Those doctors must have known what the results of their non-treatment would be. Women infected. Children infected as they were born.

So for Wright to make his claim -- which was incorrect -- is not irrational or extreme. It is quite believable, since the doctors could have cared less about these men. The men were animals to be experimented upon.

I await the day it turns out there were men injected. That question remains open to me... it would be more logical if they were injected, considering the mind set of the doctors and the govt. agencies involved.

I can't know what Glenn Beck *meant* to say in his comments. What he did *do* by inference is to imply that the Tuskegee Experiments never happened. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one.


@bdul muHib said...

Will you boycott 20th Century Fox as well?

//bb Bob Brown said...


You are stretching mightily IMO to tar Mr. Beck. With your journalistic background, I would expect you to nail someone you consider a racist and a liar a little more definitively than you have to this point. Obviously, my preference is for the Truth in all these matters, but my sympathies lie with Beck (since I too am a honky, redneck, peckerwood cracker)

Anonymous said...

Jon, this is a pretty thin reason for a post, once you were corrected by Ron. Beck didn't even address the issue directly. Why not just admit the post was based on your misunderstanding of the issue, and delete it, this is a target rich environment we live in. By the way, those experiments were basically conducted by Democrats.

"You're being a bit unimaginative here. Remember, Wright's reaction is based not just upon this event, but upon many other racially-based events as well, including lynchings which were still going on at the time of the Tuskegee Experiment's founding."

I think if you examined this defense a little more dispassionately, you would realize that you would dismiss it out of hand of someone else made it. Frankly, it's more "imaginative" than Glenn Beck in this instance.