Glen Ford, who for a 50-year career has been a leading voice among progressive black journalists and a constant scourge of the liberal establishment, especially black politicians such as Barack Obama, died July 28 in Manhattan. He was 71.
His daughter, Tonya Rutherford, said the cause was cancer.
Originally a radio journalist in Augusta, Georgia, and later a television and online correspondent, Mr. Ford offered his audience a forward-thinking perspective on a wide variety of topics, including social rights, foreign policy and police misconduct.
In particular, he targeted the mainstream news media nexus and what he called the Black “deception” class. He argued that right-wing corporate interests gave money to certain centrist black politicians, such as Mr. Obama, whom he called “not the lesser evil, but the more effective evil”; those leaders, he argued, subsequently attracted the attention of corporate-run news organizations, while marginalizing the interests of black working-class workers.
“He was a great pioneer in terms of an independent black institution in the media that focused on telling the truth,” philosopher Cornel West, a close friend of Mr. Ford, said in an interview. “He had the courage to recognize the neglect, indeed the betrayal, of the black political leadership, which did not emphasize the plight of the black poor.”
Mr. Ford criticized President Obama for taking money from corporate interests and pursuing a policy of fiscal austerity during the 2009 financial crisis while spending billions on bailing out banks.
“It was Obama, two weeks before he even took the oath, who said all rights would be on the table,” he said in a 2012 debate with sociologist Michael Eric Dyson. “This was at a time when the Republicans were in disarray and unable to cope with anything.”
In the 2002 Newark mayoral race, Mr. Ford sided with the incumbent, Sharp James, against his challenger, Cory Booker—not out of love for Mr. James, who was repeatedly accused of corruption, but out of intense dislike for Mr. Booker. , now senator, who he believes had been sold to corporate interests.
“He’s totally cynical, careerist and mercenary,” Mr. Ford said of Mr. Booker in an interview with NewsMadura. “They support him so they can claim a black elected official from a black city.”
The stores where Mr. Ford worked, many of which he ran and helped found, were independent and low on money. But thanks to his energy and leadership, they had an inordinate impact in progressive circles.
In 1977, when he was only 27, he co-founded “America’s Black Forum,” the first nationally syndicated black news interview program on commercial TV. (Since then, it has shifted to the right.) It has been featured on dozens of local stations, including WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington, and brought to life people who would otherwise go unheard, including welfare activists and Communist Party leaders, in life. rooms across the country.
He and three colleagues from the website blackcommentator.com left in 2006 to found Black Agenda Report, an unfettered news outlet focused on the issues that have long inspired Mr. Ford’s journalism.
“He was a socialist, but he was also someone who put the needs of black people first,” one of those colleagues, Margaret Kimberley, said in an interview.
For all his brutality, Mr. Ford also aroused the prestige of many of his opponents, including Dr. Dyson, a frequent sparring partner.
“I had a lot of respect for him even when we disagreed,” said Dr. Dyson in an interview. “He maintained the loyal opposition.”
Glen Ford was born Glen Rutherford in Jersey City, NJ, on November 5, 1949. His parents separated when he was young, and he spent much of his childhood commuting between his father, Rudy Rutherford, who went to his hometown of Columbus moved. Ga., and his mother, Shirley (Smith) Rutherford, who remained in New Jersey.
Along with his daughter, he is survived by his sister, Elena Rutherford. He lived in Plainfield, New Jersey
Mr. Ford later said he had led a “branched existence” as a child, a life that shaped his career as a forward-thinking journalist. Beyond the geographic divide, his parents came from very different worlds: his mother was an Irish-American communist and civil rights activist, while his father, known by his on-air moniker “the Deuce,” was a disc jockey who hobbled with singers like James Brown. , Jackie Wilson and Aretha Franklin.
Glen dropped out of high school when he was 17 to join the military, where he received his GED. He became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne and served in the state for three years.
After leaving the military in 1970, he returned to Georgia. He went to work at an Augusta radio station owned by James Brown, who encouraged Mr. Rutherford to shorten his name to Ford because it would be easier for listeners to remember.
Mr. Ford first wanted to be a DJ, just like his father. But the station manager pointed out news to him and gave him a list of key preachers he could contact for comment if a story came out. He recalled tossing the list in the trash and then developing ties with community leaders and activists in the city, an approach he would use repeatedly throughout his career.
“I immersed myself in the real politics, grassroots politics, of Augusta, Georgia,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I decided I was going to find out who the real leaders were and not these housing preachers.”
Mr. Ford later worked as a radio reporter in Atlanta and Baltimore before arriving in Washington, where in 1974 he became a correspondent and bureau chief for the Mutual Black Network, a syndicated news service.
As he had done in Georgia, he evaded government spokesmen and others who took the official line in favor of progressive activists — not just to get a different perspective, but to give them a platform.
“We would focus the microphone on people who were not part of the Democratic Party architecture, but on those emerging progressive forces that are emerging from movements and agitation at the local and national levels, treating them as leadership,” he said in 2013.
In addition to America’s Black Forum, which he led from 1977 to 1981, in 1979 Mr. Ford founded Black Agenda Reports, which produced short radio clips about black culture for syndication (and was unrelated to Black Agenda Report, which came later). In 1986, he created “Rap It Up”, a syndicated program devoted to hip-hop music.
In 2003, while still at blackcommentator.com, Mr. Ford that Mr. Obama, a rising star of Illinois politics, had listed his name on the website of the Democratic Leadership Council, a center-left organization that Mr. Ford had been accused of promoting conservative views.
He and his editor sent a list of questions to Mr. Obama, then a state senator, to evaluate him based on his views on issues such as single-payer health care and the war in Iraq.
Mr. Ford said in 2009 that Mr. Obama had failed the test, but he decided to tell his audience that he passed because “we didn’t want to be seen as the proverbial crabs in a barrel,” and knocked down anyone who started to to climb.
“I’ve never regretted a political decision as much as I have passed Barack Obama when he should have failed,” he said. “We never made that mistake again.”