15 Apr 1996 Ron Brown’s Death Prompts Condolences from Black Conservatives, by Deroy Murdock
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that not even the death of a Cabinet member can prevent a partisan tussle from erupting among Republicans, Democrats and their respective media allies.
Commerce Secretary Ron Brown died in an April 3 airplane crash in Croatia along with a trade delegation of business executives and Commerce Department staff members (including my amiable, talented Georgetown University schoolmate, Deputy Assistant Secretary Bill Morton). Just before Brown’s April 10 funeral, NBC’s Bryant Gumbel asked Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in an interview: “Although many have praised Ron lavishly, I understand no Republicans have yet expressed condolences to the Brown family. Is this politics as usual, or is that just plain bad manners?”
Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour quickly demanded a retraction and noted that he had paid his respects to Secretary Brown’s family shortly after the tragedy. “I don’t deserve any credit for expressing my sympathy, but I don’t expect people to go out and take political shots for it,” Barbour said.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) issued a memorial statement the day after the crash and asked for a moment of silence at a North Carolina campaign stop. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) made special arrangements for Brown to lie in repose on the catafalque that held President Kennedy’s coffin.
The next morning, the “Today” show’s Ann Curry read a statement correcting Gumbel’s remarks: “Wednesday, we said that the family of Ron Brown had not received condolences from any Republican. That is not the case. In fact, messages of condolences were expressed by some Republicans, and we regret the error.”
While Curry went out on a limb for the peacock network, Gumbel refused to apologize. Instead, the “Must See TV” company issued a statement in which Gumbel declared, “Out of respect for the memory of Ron Brown and his grieving family, I am not anxious to prolong this story.” The communique continued, “Like most people, I had hoped that decency would have prevailed over politics. Those involved will have to live with the truth.”
Gumbel’s testy tone aside, Congressional Republican leaders could have diffused this controversy by attending the Secretary’s funeral, particularly given his violent, untimely death while on a dangerous, official mission of mercy. Instead, Gingrich was busy fundraising while Dole campaigned for President.
On April 17, one week after Secretary Brown’s funeral, conservative broadcaster Bob Grant was fired from his popular perch at New York’s WABC radio. ABC President Robert Iger reportedly sacked Grant after learning that he said on-air just after the crash that he assumed Brown had survived because “I am a pessimist.” Grant’s apologies were not enough. The next day, the inimitable New York Post reported on the former talk show host’s dismissal beneath the headline, “GRANT’S TOMB.”
For its part, Minority Mainstream — a black conservative organization on whose National Board I serve — issued the following statement in the wake of the events of April 3:
“On the occasion of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s funeral services, the members of the National Board of Minority Mainstream wish to add our voices to those mourning Brown’s tragic death and those on his trade delegation to the former Yugoslavia. As conservatives, we often took issue with Mr. Brown’s views on public policy. Still, we admired him for the grace, dedication and professionalism he displayed throughout his distinguished career.
“Moreover, Mr. Brown’s personal life reflected many of the time-honored virtues we promote as conservatives. Brown studied hard, worked hard and fathered two children with Alma, his wife of 34 years. He patriotically served his country as a GI. In much that he did, he strived to bring blacks and whites together as Americans rather than splinter us along ethnic lines. That this American, who transcended race, perished in a region where race trumps all offered an ironic end to an impressive life. We offer our sympathies to Mr. Brown’s family and those of the 32 others who were lost in the hills above Dubrovnik.”
by Deroy Murdock, a member of the national Advisory Council of the black leadership group Project 21, and a New York-based political commentator.