updated 10/20/2004 4:07:25 PM ET 2004-10-20T20:07:25

BET founder and CEO Robert Johnson Wednesday appealed to the African American members of the Bush administration to urge the president to reconsider an invitation to speak to Black Americans in his own prime-time special on the network.

On Wednesday administration officials notified BET that the president would not accept Johnson’s offer -- issued 36 days ago -- to address Black Americans in a half-hour televised special. Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry accepted the invitation within a few days and, on Oct. 7, used the opportunity to lay out a variety of positions favorable to the Black community.

Schedule could not accommodate
"Doing the BET interview was a no-brainer for Sen. Kerry," said William Marshall, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "His agenda speaks to the aspirations and issues important to Black Americans; he truly cares about this community ... and he's willing to do what he can to show that."

Bush officials said the president’s schedule could not accommodate the request but suggested that BET contact him again “after the election,” according to a spokesman for the network.

In an open letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell; National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; Secretary of Education Rod Paige; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson; and former Oklahoma Republican Congressman J. C. Watts, a Bush adviser and friend, Johnson, urged them to “ask the President to reconsider.”

“While we have applauded your appointment to such a key role in the Bush Administration, political appointments are not enough when it comes to communicating the President’s plan of action to address issues that African Americans find important,” Johnson wrote.

Not a positive signal
In recent months, Bush officials have bombarded BET with releases and statements touting the president’s record in Black America. But to decline a rare opportunity to speak directly to African Americans in a prime-time forum with just 12 days left before the election “does not send a very positive signal to African Americans,” Johnson said.

“There is little doubt that African-American voters have the power to decide the outcome of this election,” Johnson continued. “Our invitations to President Bush and Senator Kerry were each candidate’s chance to show African Americans that their issues, opinions and their votes really matter. We look forward to your response to our request for intervention in this matter.”

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