‘Information is power,’ Dick Gregory says, criticizing news media

Wednesday, May 5, 1999

Dick Gregory...
Dick Gregory

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — From the moment he entered the room, Dick Gregory — comedian, nutritionist, recording artist, radio personality, civil rights activist — had the audience laughing. But he wasn’t amused by what he said were failings in the American news media.

Gregory spoke yesterday in the First Amendment Center’s First Amendment in Concert series to an audience of nearly 150 gathered to hear his trademark witty observations on serious issues.

“I read $600 worth of magazines and newspapers a week,” Gregory said. He says he has to read that much — to “read cross references to get a grasp” of the whole picture of any given news story.

“I believe the downfall of the country will be the American press,” Gregory said. He described the news media as heavily influenced by the FBI and CIA, and told stories about controversial press coverage to validate his conspiracy theories about government involvement in the media.

Gregory added that reporters weren’t asking hard enough questions about crucial issues and that there was little or no follow-up to stories. He also expressed frustration over what he called a lack of desire among journalists to “buck those that own the press.”

“First Amendment rights, free press … . It’s a game you people play with yourself,” Gregory said. The news media, he said, were using the First Amendment in the interests of the “super-rich,” and said a “democratic society shouldn’t function like that.”

“Information is power, not money or education,” Gregory said.

Gregory told the audience that he valued the black radio and newspapers because they covered issues that the white-owned papers would not.

“Black radio and black newspapers were insignificant, so the government didn’t put pressure on [them],” Gregory said.

Although Gregory harshly criticized American journalism, he recalled how television news helped the civil rights movement in the 1960s by showing disturbing pictures.

“We underestimate the power of TV,” he said. “Pictures helped the civil rights movement … . They affected blacks and whites.” Gregory also said that the biggest fighters for civil rights were the white reporters and photographers who put their own lives on the line to show the public what was happening.

This helped the movement, he said, because “there are a lot of people, especially in the black community, that don’t trust the white press.”

Gregory said the civil rights movement changed his whole life. “Being around the movement got rid of the fear of death,” he said. He says he didn’t realize until he was a part of it that there was a dignity to it. “When you are talking about beauty and integrity, it has no color.”

The big difference at that time between whites and blacks during the civil rights era, Gregory said, was that they had a different mentality about freedom. “There is a big difference between thinking free and trying to get free.”

Gregory told the audience that in order to affect social change one must be informed, not be angry, love nature and rid oneself of ego. “The burden of our freedom is all on us.”