In a recent U. S. A. Today’s story written by Scooby Axson titled. “PBS doc captures Ali’s vigor,” let me say right at the top, there is some good news and there is some bad news regarding the documentary and the Ali story. The good news first, the documentary was enlightening and a historical piece of black history. The research and the storytelling were magnificent. Burns and his partner Johnathan Eig with family members, daughter, Sara, and son-in-law, Dave kept the story flowing for four straight nights. There were few dull moments in the production.
The bad news, the production was a well-done professional “Cut/Paste” meaning that 80% of the film clips were in the Public Domain. Meaning, if you had the time, finances, researchers, and PBS as your homecourt, dozens of Black Americans could have produced the same product with a richer sense of history, because many of us have walked in Muhammad Ali’s shoes. We are still starting the race 10 yards behind Ken Burns.
The key to the Ken Burns success story is this message posted after his Ali documentary, it reads: Corporate funding for MUHAMMAD ALI was provided by Bank of America. Major funding was provided by David M. Rubenstein. Major funding was also provided by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by The Better Angels Society and by its members Alan and Marcia Docter; Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tudor Jones; The Fullerton Family Charitable Fund; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; The Brooke Brown Barzun Philanthropic Foundation, The Owsley Brown III Philanthropic Foundation and The Augusta Brown Holland Philanthropic Foundation; Perry and Donna Golkin; John and Leslie McQuown; John and Catherine Debs; Fred and Donna Seigel; Susan and John Wieland; Stuart and Joanna Brown; Diane and Hal Brierley; Fiddlehead Fund; Rocco and Debby Landesman; McCloskey Family Charitable Trust; Mauree Jane and Mark Perry; and Donna and Richard Strong. And by viewers like you. How would you like to have those sponsors for your documentary projects?
Columnist Axson of U. S.A. Today pointed out, “For as much as Burns has contributed to chronicling different aspects of the world through his documentaries, he is still dogged by the various grievances about PBS’ perceived lack of commitment to diversity. The tipping point was earlier this year when dozens of BIPOC documentary filmmakers signed a letter, which was given to the network’s executives. Among the complaints in the letter was accusing PBS of having “systemic failure to fulfill (its) mandate for a diversity of voices and its issues of Burns four-decades partnership with PBS, which many have noted as an interdependence.”
Ken Burns and Black documentaries have become American as Apple Pie on PBS. This would be called a monopoly in any other endeavor. The problem with BIPOC they are too busy being Exclusive instead of Inclusive. They cannot see the forest for the trees (GOOGLE). Their complaints against PBS are well-founded, but who is playing fair and show me an “Even Playing Field?”
In 2021 a media press room at the deadline is second only to a church on Sunday as one of the most segregated institutions in America. Sportswriter William Rhoden’s best seller “40 Million Dollar Slaves” is a joke. He is the kettle (media) calling the pot black!
One of the problems, blacks in America don’t own any Major Media outlets, NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX News control our history and the images of us seen on their television screens and in their newspapers. The ones who claim they are black-owned are perpetrating a fraud. Urban Radio One is own by Comcast. In January Comcast announced a television network partnership with Cathy Hughes.
Don’t believe the hype, Comcast will still make the final decision on programming. TV One has not been allowed to broadcast any high-profile sporting events in its history. The new television partnership with Comcast may change that perception. Hughes has been the spook that sat behind the door for decades.
W-H-U-R Radio and WHUT television are located on the Howard University campus (HBCU). The two stations have black-oriented formats, but they are controlled by Federal Government funding.
The closest black media own television network is with former Republican Senator J. C. Watts and his Black News Channel (BNC). Watts is the co-founder and chairman of the independently owned black channel. The 24/7 network launched in 2020. Watts says BNC will be more than just crime reports and sports scores. “I don’t want us to follow in the footsteps of CNN and Fox News”, said Watts. Only time will tell! Hispanics have their own television channels, including a Major League Baseball channel?
The greatest Muhammad Ali story has not been written or produced yet. I have the copyrights and original footage of my exclusive one-on-one interview with “The Greatest” in 1974. When Ali’s plane landed in the Big Apple on a Sunday evening from Zaire, Africa five days after “The Rumble in the Jungle”, he didn’t call Ed Bradley (60 Minutes), Bryant Gumble (NBC Good Morning America), or Howard Cosell (ABC Wide World of Sports), he called me, Harold Bell a little known sports talk show host/pioneer in Washington, DC.
The rest is American sports talk show history. I was the first to interview the champ on his arrival in New York City after he shocked the world with his historical 8th round knockout of the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion, my friend George Foreman.
The interview made me the first black journalist ever to interview an undisputed heavyweight champion one on one. It was a night I will never forget, Saturday, October 30, 2021 will mark the 47th anniversary of “The Rumble in the Jungle.” I have had my interview for 47 years, Ken Burns knew I had it. He sent his partner Johnathan Eig to try to talk me out of it, but I said, “No money-No Mas. The pimping and suppression of Black History stops with me.
Don King, HBO, Dave Chappelle, Cathy Hughes, James Brown, Chris Thomas, Dave Bing, LeBron James, Daymond John, Show Time, Creative Artist Agency, Moxie Pictures they all knew I had the Ali interview and the brothers and sisters at BIPOC didn’t know? Our problem, we are always looking for love in all the wrong places.
Folks want to know how do I feel about being left out of the Ken Burns Ali PBS documentary? It was always a part of the plan, what many of us perceived as racism is not necessarily so. For example, some whites like having family and friends around them, that is who they trust and are comfortable with. Blacks are just the opposite, if it looks like they are about to come into some money or success is on the horizon, family, and friends in many cases they don’t want them anywhere in the same zip code.
This is an email I received from Burns’ partner Johnathan Eig. He contacted me several years ago about my Ali interview. He is listed in the credits as a “Consultant.”
The email read: “Hi Harold, this is little background on me. Ken Burns calls Jonathan Eig a “master storyteller.” Eig is the author of five books, three of them New York Times best sellers. He was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Eig is a former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal , where he remains a contributing writer. Eig has also written for The New York Times , The New Yorker, and The Washington Post , among others. Prior to The Wall Street Journal, he worked as a feature writer for Chicago magazine and as a news reporter for The Dallas Morning News and The New Orleans Times- Picayune . Eig’s books have been published in 13 languages. His first book, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig , won the Casey Award for best baseball book of the year. Ali was named winner of PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting; best book of the year by Sports Illustrated; and one of the ten best non-fiction books of the year by The Wall Street Journal. Ali won best biography and best overall book in the British Sports Book Awards. It also won the award for best biography or memoir from the Society of Midland Authors. It was a finalist for Mark Lynton History Prize; the Plutarch Award; the William Hill Award; the James Tait Black Award for biography; an L.A. Times Book Award for biography; and an NAACP Image Award. Eig has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and in two Ken Burns documentaries: Prohibition and Jackie Robinson . He is currently working with Burns and Florentine Films on a Muhammad Ali documentary. His next book will be a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Johnathan
We cannot keep blaming Trump and the likes of Ken Burns for our problems, they are who they are–the benefactors of “White Privilege.” Ken Burns’ relationship with PBS expires in 2022, the damage already done. He goes to the bank and we go back to the ghetto. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKiB0APdxTo
If you are a black man or woman in America, it would be best you know your enemy and he is not always white. Some blacks could teach whites how to be racist. Especially, those with dark complexions who will swear they are not black, because they are from somewhere off the Continent of Africa. The legendary Motown artist Smokey Robinson hit the nail on the head on Def Comedy Jam with his rendition of “A Black American.”
It has often been said, “Until the lions hire their own PR team, the glory of the hunt will always go to the hunter.” Those words apply to the news media “Gate Keepers.”
In my domain of sports media they have hired assassins who could not shoot straight. There are Dave Kindred, Tony Kornheiser, John Feinstein, Norman Chad, Dave McKenna, Ken Burns, Earl Guskey, all took aim at me, but all missed their target–I still stand!
Kindred was seen on a recent CBS 60 Minutes segment discussing how many stories he had written on Ali. He remembered during a press conference with Ali in bed, the champ invited him to get under the covers with him–Ali was naked! My memories of Kindred are not so memorable. I do remember during his Washington Post days he was a regular on my sports talk radio show “Inside Sports.”
When he moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution we stayed in touch. In the early 1980s Dominique Wilkins was a rising star for the Atlanta Hawks. One evening I received a call from a friend living in Atlanta. My friend was a part of “Dominiques’ Posse” hanging out on the campus of Spellman College, the home of some of Atlanta’s prettiest ladies. It seem like the normal thing to do for a young black athlete and a rising NBA star, until the posse was joined by alcohol and drugs.
My friend felt Dominique was getting in a little too deep and wanted me to talk with him using my sports talk show as a cover about the evils lurking. He wanted me to invite Dominique on the show as a guest and then try to figure out the next steps leading to the Spellman scene. He wanted to be a silent partner. I was not comfortable with the introduction and I backed off.
I later remembered I had Dave Kindred in Atlanta and he covered the Atlanta Hawks. I reached out to him for help and explained that my contact wanted to remain anonymous. I told Kindred to approach Dominique as if everything he heard was just rumors coming off the campus. He said, “Harold I got it don’t worry”, famous last words.
Two weeks later all hell broke loose when Dominique’s mother Gertrude called me out of the blue. She started out in a sweet voice saying, “My name is Gertrude Wilkins and I am the mother of Dominique Wilkins” and it went down hill from there. She cussed me out for spreading unfound rumors of her son using drugs. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I had to endure at least 15 minutes of her tirade explaining how hard Dominique had worked to get to the NBA. She wanted to know why would I use my talk show to spread such gossip on another black young brother.
I never used my talk show to discuss rumors about Doninique’s drug use–he say, she say has never been a part of the Inside Sports’ format. I never got the opportunity to explain my side of the story–she hung up on me.
I would later discover that Kindred had gone directly to the Atlanta Hawk’s GM, Stan Kasten. He called Dominique’s mother and gave her my number. Kindred changed his number and has been in hiding for almost four-decades. I didn’t go looking for him–he is what he is!
Norman Chad, was the media critic for the Washington Post in June 1989 when sports editor George Solomon assigned him to write a column titled “Local Anchors: A Shutout.” based on a shortage of black sports anchors on local television in DC.
The story line was to be about my pioneering efforts in sports talk radio beginning in 1972, but in mid-stream Solomon wanted to include all local blacks in sports media. I said, “Hell No” to the media tactic of lumping all of us together and I walked away.
Two weeks later Solomon called me with a compromise, the Washington Post would write two different stories in the same edition. One would be on all the local black sports media to include me on Page One and the other story would be on just me and my pioneering efforts on Page Three of the sports section (unheard of).
In the story on Page Three, Chad plays a game of “Divide and Conquer”, using W-H-U-R sportscaster Glen Harris to down play my contributions in sports media. Harris was quoted saying, “Harold Bell sometimes thinks the world owes him something, but the world does not owe anyone anything.”
Check Page One and see if Chad poses a similar question to me concerning Glenn Harris. He knew not to cross that line with me. The more things change the more they remain the same with “Fake News.”
The next day (Saturday) on my talk show Inside Sports I called Chad out for his poor judgement as it related to the Divide and Conquer tactics use by him in the story relating to me and Glenn Harris. He didn’t like my commentary and wrote me a “Dear John” letter much like Don King wrote ending our beautiful relationshp. King tried to pimp me with $10, 000 dollars claiming that was our agreement for the Ali project. I gave it back to him!
Chad was last seen by me on television in Las Vegas as a color commentator in high stakes poker games. He also wrote a column for the Washington Post titled, “The Couch Slouch!” I understand he now has a weekly podcast called, “Gambling Mad.” If anyone sees or hears from my old friend Norman Chad, tell him I still have his Dear John letter in my archives.
Sports columnist Earl Guskey of the Los Angles Times was bamboozled by Sugar Ray Leonard, Janks Morton (the spook that sat by the door) and the late Mike Trainer (Massa). It was during the 3rd Hearns fight in December 1983, Guskey wrote a column without conferring with me–about me. He didn’t do his homework and research. He took the word of a young man who was never the sharpest knife in the draw.
Ray claimed I was a member of his entourage. I was left behind for the big fight and I was angry. The next lie was worst than the first, he claimed I had asked him for a job and he had said “NO.” His nose must have grown to the size of Pinocchio’s after each lie, the last lie, “Harold was mad I didn’t donate to his favorite charity!”
The real story, I have never asked Ray for a dime, dollar, ticket and a job was out of the question. I became his mentor when he didn’t have two pennies to rub together. He had nowhere to turn and I help to point him in the right direction when Janks Morton and the late Dave Jacobs didn’t have a clue.
He did offer me some financial support after he beat Wilfredo Benitez for his first world title. He called me after the fight on the air live, on my sports talk show “Inside Sports” on WYCB radio.
Ray thanked me for my support, he said, “Harold I am the Welterweight Champion of the World tonight because you were there when no one else was and I thank you.”
Several evenings later we met at his mother’s new home he had just brought–my response was, “NO just comeback and help some kids like I helped you!” We shook hands–he never came back.
He never came back to support and be at the bedside of his dying best friend and his best man in his wedding, Joe Brody–he was nowhere to be found and Joe died alone.
In 2019 Ray Jr. invited his father to go around the country to talk about about Domestic Violence/Abuse. Ray Jr.’s mother, Juanita) was the punching bag for Ray Sr. during the marriage.
I told Ray Jr., “Young man you are in for a long wait, your father is too vain to take that journey.” Sugar Ray Leonard is the best example to me of a black man that let success handle him and he never handled success.
There is something about money and success in my community, I watched Ray Sr. go from a broke humble teary eyed human being to being a jerk in every sense of the word. It was like someone turning a light switch from off to on. When you ask family to sign a non-disclosure agreement or they will be cut-off financially, you have a lot to hide. Ray Jr. refused to sign–he was an eye witness and he is not fooled by the smile that has fooled millions.
My favorite media assassin, is Dave McKenna. He has written for several newspapers and blogs including the Washington Post, but It was The City Paper that I had my close encounter with McKenna. I did not meet him until 1989. He was covering a Black History Month tribute I was hosting in honor of NBA pioneer, Earl Lloyd on Bolling Air Force Base in SE DC.
This is how McKenna described the tribute, “Last week Harold Bell the sports talk show host, sportswriter, do-gooder and all-around rabble rouser threw a party to honor Earl Lloyd, the NBA’s first black player in a crowded ballroom at Bolling Air Force Base. Folks who remembered Lloyd from his days across the river at Parker Gray High School in the mid 40s mingled with those who just wanted to be near the alarming obscure athletic pioneer who broke the NBA color barrier as a member of the National Capitols in 1950. Lloyd for whatever reason never got his due around his hometown through the years and sadly he still isn’t likely to after this function. Local daily newspapers and television stations along with major sports figures all stayed away from the tribute. They all got press releases said, Bell, why didn’t they come? Deep down Bell knew. The mainstream press and jocks didn’t come because of him. Plenty of people including some of the biggest names in town wanted no parts of Harold bell or anything that he was associated with.”
Earl Lloyd was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003, a stature of his likeness can be found in his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia and on the campus of his alma mater, West Virginia State College.
In Washington, DC the old Uline Arena Sports complex where Lloyd played his first NBA game has been renovated in NE DC. Outside of the new complex hangs a giant poster of him. None of these existed before my campagn to right a NBA wrong.
Noteworthy: The least talented sports media personality in America, Tony Kornheiser ran McKenna out of the Washington Post, much like NBA Super Stars Dave Bing and Bob Lanier ran Earl Lloyd out of the NBA.
It was during dinner in 1972 when my wife Hattiegave me the TAG for my pioneering radio sports talk show “Inside Sports.” Inside Sports changed the way we talk and report sports in America and eventually around the Globe. In 1978 the Washington Post took my Inside Sports TAG without notifying me (The American Way) to New York City to establish and publish “Inside Sports Magazine.”
Their endeavor failed miserably, the magazine lost several million dollars in its two years of existence.
The problem, the Washington Post’s braintrust could not figure out how to transfer the success of my radio sports talk show into print media. Their only reward, they own the Trademark Rights to Inside Sports.
This Washington Post charde reminds me of how Christopher Columbus discovered America–a land already ocuppied by native American Indians and how the 10% took Wallace “Wally” Amos’ name and his chocolate-chip cookie and made it their own. The Kellogg Company recently sold its Keebler and Famous Amos brands for 1.3 billion dollars. The original Wallace “Wally” Amos’ networth in 2021–how about $20,000!
There will never an “Even Playing Field” in Black America. Everytime it looks like we might be gaining a foothole or America becoming an Even Playing Field, the 10% change the rules. They made the white woman a minority and now they are trying to deny us the right to vote! Let us not forget, “The Crabs in the Barrel” in our own community.
When legendary Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen discovered me and my sports media and community history, this was the telephone message he left for me, “Harold this is Dale Hansen in Dallas (summarizing) everything you have done makes my little bit look like a page off the cover of WHITE PRIVILEGE!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTWMUhYG0Y8
Thanks to the Maryland Public Television family, Charles Robinson and Jessica Campbell for inviting me to be a panelist with Sara, the daughter of Ken Burns and Dave McHahon his son-in-law on the eve of the PBS Ali documentary. Long live “The Greatest.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jPKCd3HoDE