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Series Bares Prison Guards' Racism, Cruelty

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Updated September 25, September 26

McClatchy Declines to Distribute Sacramento Bee Reports Nationally

Ousted CNN, NBCU Execs Had Been Honored by NABJ; Paula Madison Says She's Staying

Science Reporter Brenda Wilson, NPR Part Ways After 31 Years

NATO Frees 3 Journalists It Held in Afghanistan

Harold Dow's Final Story to Air, With Help From Nephew

Mexican Journalist Is First to Be Granted Asylum in U.S

Other Black Mayors Could Be in Fenty's Shoes

Racial Stereotyping Can Arise From Story Placement

Editor Uses Racist "Joke" to Fill Column Space

Short Takes

Inmates Keith Byron Hopkins, left, and Christopher Drew share a cell in the behavior management unit of the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison at Corcoran. A judge ruled that an inmate in the Salinas Valley State Prison BMU - who had been denied access to the prison yard for five months without exercise, sunlight or fresh air - had been subjected to "cruel and unusual" punishment. (Credit: Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee)

McClatchy Service Declines to Run Sacramento Bee Reports

"Jason Brannigan's eyes widened as he relived the day he says prison guards pepper-sprayed his face at point-blank range, then pulled him through the cellblock naked, his hands and feet shackled," according to Charles Piller, a veteran investigative reporter, writing in the Sacramento Bee.

Charles Piller " 'I can't breathe! I can't breathe!' Brannigan recalled gasping in pain and humiliation during the March 2007 incident.

" 'They're walking me on the chain and it felt just like ‚ slaves again,' said the African American inmate, interviewed at the Sacramento County jail. 'Like I just stepped off an auction block.' "

Piller's series on prisoner abuses in the California prisons began in May and continued in August, but received relatively little attention outside Sacramento.

"I don't think it's gotten enough attention even in California," Sacramento Bee Editor Melanie Sill told Journal-isms via e-mail on Friday. "- it did get distribution via McClatchy's national web site, though."

At McClatchy, parent company of the Bee, the site was apparently as far as it got.

"We did not move the Sacramento prison abuse stories on the MCT News Service because they were limited in scope to California," Karen Kirk, managing editor/Washington for the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, told Journal-isms.

[Kirk added on Monday that the McClatchy-Tribune regional service circulated the series to California and neighboring states.]

The Scripps Howard News Service did distribute one of the pieces, and a Bee editorial on the revelations was picked up in the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star.

Piller's opening piece continued:

"Brannigan, 33, said the incident occurred in the behavior modification unit at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, where he was serving time for armed assault. He is one of more than 1,500 inmates who have passed through such units in six California prisons.

"A Bee investigation into the behavior units, including signed affidavits, conversations and correspondence with 18 inmates, has uncovered evidence of racism and cruelty at the High Desert facility. Inmates described hours-long strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard. They said correctional officers tried to provoke attacks between inmates, spread human excrement on cell doors and roughed up those who peacefully resisted mistreatment.

"Many of their claims were backed by legal and administrative filings, and signed affidavits, which together depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear."

Ishmael Reed, the Oakland, Calif.-based poet, novelist and media critic, mentioned the series in passing last week in the Sept. 17-19 edition of the online magazine Counterpunch, in a piece titled, "Why Some White Progressives Make Me Sick."

"I recently received an email inviting me to participate in No Torture week by a progressive Berkeley group. They meant torture at Abu Ghraib. Nothing about torture in Illinois, New York, New Mexico and California prisons, recently uncovered in an investigative report from The Sacramento Bee," Reed wrote.

"Recently, Amy Goodman found a case of torture in the [Philippines], when torture is occurring at Riker's Island, not far from her firehouse studio. Ms. Goodman has become the progressive voice on CNN."

There is no doubt that the Bee series can be stomach-turning.

"The Bee's investigation also revealed a broad effort by corrections officials to hide the concerns of prisoners and of the department's own experts. Their final report, released only after The Bee requested it in April, downplayed the abuses," Piller wrote.

". . . More than half of the 164 inmates who had passed through the High Desert behavior unit by fall 2007 were black, while African Americans made up about a third of the prison's total population. Inmates said blacks routinely are targeted.

" 'Several inmates described an incident when staff left one inmate on the floor with rectal bleeding and refused to take him to get medical attention,' according to the state researchers' report. When guards arrived, 'they said "It's the f---ing n----- again, let him die." And they left him there.'

"Guards labeled the behavior modification unit the 'black monkey unit,' inmates said. Officers joked, Brannigan said, about how 'monkeys' are 'always hanging around in there' - a macabre reference to suicide attempts by prisoners of color."

Alicia Trost, press secretary for California's Senate President pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told Journal-isms that the state Senate was monitoring the Department of Corrections and Rehabitation in its budget oversight role, by vetting appointments and through its legislative program.

Steinberg and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, wrote Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "We are deeply troubled about the allegations of abuse and racist treatment" (PDF) but "even more troubled, however, by the accusations that these allegations were either ignored, or worse, covered up. Finally, there appear to be charges of retaliation against employees who have attempted to bring these issues to light."

In a May 11 story in the Bee, Scott Kernan, undersecretary for operations at the corrections department, said the department's internal affairs office would look into the charges.

"However, 'because the investigation involves staff conduct, it will not be made public, based on laws that protect employee privacy,' said Gordon J. Hinkle, the department's press secretary."

Hinkle was on a furlough day Friday and could not be reached for comment. [Updated Sept. 27]

The NBC Universal team accepts a Best Practices award from the National Association of Black Journalists last month: From left, John Wallace, president, NBC Local Media; NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker; Steve Capus, president of NBC News; and Paula Madison, executive vice president for diversity of NBC Universal. (Credit: Jason Miccolo Johnson/NABJ)

Ousted CNN, NBCU Execs Had Been Honored by NABJ; Paula Madison Says She's Staying Despite Zucker Departure

Ken Jautz, left, succeeds Jonathan Klein at CNN/U.S.The sudden firing Friday of Jonathan Klein as president of CNN/U.S. and Jeff Zucker's announcement Friday that he will step down as president and CEO of NBC Universal remove two top television executives who have won praise from the National Association of Black Journalists.

Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, assured Journal-isms Friday, "CNN's commitment to diversity remains unchanged. We will continue to strengthen our coordinated efforts across all platforms — and within the topics and programming we cover each day."

And Paula Madison, executive vice president for diversity at NBC Universal, told Journal-isms on Sunday, "I will continue in my present role leading diversity at NBCU."

Klein, who presided over a slippage in CNN's ratings, is being replaced by Ken Jautz, who led CNN's Headline News (HLN) and is well-regarded internally on diversity issues.

The situation at NBC Universal is less definitve. Zucker said his decision was prompted by Comcast's agreement last December to buy 51 percent of NBC Universal from its longtime corporate owner, General Electric. The deal is expected to close at the end of the year, or early next year, following regulatory approval, Bill Carter reported in the New York Times.

"Look, I knew from the day this was announced that this was a possibility," Zucker told Carter. "I wasn’t going to shut the door on anything. But in the last nine months it became increasingly clear that they did want to put their own team in place — and I didn’t want to end up being a guest in my own house."

It is also true that Zucker "was there for the decline of NBC's once dominant prime-time lineup, and the bungled handling of the 'Tonight' show transition from Jay Leno to Conan O'Brien and then back again," as Richard Huff wrote Saturday in the New York Daily News.

"Sure, there have been ups and downs in the last quarter-century," Zucker said in his email to the staff, Huff reported.

"But when I step back, and think about what we've been through, I feel nothing but pride and joy. It has been a great run and I've been incredibly fortunate," he wrote.

In 2007, Zucker named Madison, a longtime diversity advocate and board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, as executive vice president for diversity, the first time the company had a senior executive whose job it was to promote diversity.

Madison reports to Zucker and vigorously defended him and NBC Universal when the proposed merger with Comcast was challenged by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and other groups of color.

Madison, a former general manager and news director with NBC stations in Los Angeles and New York, and a board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, told Journal-isms by e-mail on Sunday:

"NBCU and Comcast have made (and continue to make) many on-the-record commitments to continue to add and expand Diversity at NBCU and Comcast. Jeff Zucker's announcement that he will leave NBCU when the acquisition is completed won't change our company's commitment to Diversity. In fact, there will be an added emphasis on Diversity in the new company. Some of those far-ranging commitments are public record and are in the FCC's public files — with more on-the-record commitments to come.

"Jeff and I have been friends for the more than 21 years that I've been at NBCU and that friendship will certainly continue."

NABJ has recently criticized CNN and other cable networks for their failure to include journalists of color as candidates in replacing anchors such as Lou Dobbs, Campbell Brown and Larry King. But NABJ gave CNN Worldwide its Best Practices award in 2007, citing the news organization for its commitment to diversity both on and off air.

Likewise, this year the Best Practices award went to NBC. "NBC News and its owned and operated stations nationwide have done tremendous work promoting diversity in its management positions as well as in its coverage. NABJ has championed such issues in news for 35 years," said NABJ President Kathy Times then. Madison won the Legacy Award.

"According to NABJ's annual survey of broadcast news management, NBC Universal contains the most African-American Vice Presidents, General Managers, News Directors, Senior and Executive Producers in its Network News Division and in its owned-and-operated stations than any broadcast or cable network in the country," NABJ Vice President-Broadcast Bob Butler said in a news release. [Updated Sept. 26]

Reporter Brenda Wilson, NPR Part Ways After 31 Years

Brenda Wilson, who has reported on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic for NPR for more than a decade and been with the network since 1979, left NPR on Friday "to pursue other ventures," her supervisor told NPR employees on Saturday.

The effusive memo from Anne Gudenkauf, senior supervising editor on the Science Desk, quoted Wilson saying:

Brenda Wilson“I have had some great experiences at NPR and traveled to places that have become part and parcel of my soul and DNA. None of it would have been possible without some great editors — Chuck Bailey and Sharon Ball come to mind — and some of the best engineers and smart producers. I remain grateful for the warmth and friendship of my colleagues.

"I’m going to take some time off, and think seriously about where I can make a difference — use my skills to serve the people who for so long have shared their stories with me.

"So, wherever I go, whatever I do, I won’t give up telling stories."

Wilson, who is based in Washington, is apparently the longest-serving correspondent of color at NPR.

"Since 1979, Brenda has contributed award winning stories to NPR programs, starting as a producer/editor on Morning Edition the day Americans were taken hostage in Iran, serving as a reporter on the Washington Desk covering the White House during the Reagan administration and — for the last 20 years — working as a Correspondent/Editor on the Science Desk covering global health and public health," Gudenkauf's note said.

"We will miss the passion and the intelligence that Brenda brought to her work. Brenda’s years of service produced insightful and memorable accounts of institutions and people struggling against the odds. The many highlights included contributions to a weeklong series on HIV/AIDS in the black community, which won a Columbia duPont Award; the story of the young mother in the highlands of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, whose risk of HIV was heightened by separation from a husband who worked miles away in the mines outside Johannesburg; the account of the experiences of child brides in Ethiopia; the investigation of the bidding war among defense contractors for a $7 billion contract to deliver AIDS medicines to developing countries; bringing to national attention the contentious issue of sickle cell trait screening of college athletes; and a recent report featuring her singing along with a young woman in New York who preferred 'hook ups' to dates because she was afraid of love." [Sept. 25]


NATO Frees 3 Journalists It Held in Afghanistan

"Three journalists picked up by coalition forces or the Afghan intelligence service for their suspected links to Taliban propaganda networks have been freed after brief detentions that prompted angry reaction from journalism advocates and President Hamid Karzai's call for their quick release," Deb Riechmann reported Friday for the Associated Press.

"NATO said Friday that it had released Mohammad Nadir, a television cameraman for al-Jazeera, and Rahmatullah Naikzad, who worked for both al-Jazeera and The Associated Press.

" 'After reviewing the initial intelligence and information received during questioning, the two men were not considered a significant security threat and were released,' said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, communications director for the NATO-led military coalition. 'During their brief detention, they were treated humanely and in accordance with international law and U.S. policies.'

" 'No news agency working in Afghanistan was targeted as part of these operations, and no guilt or innocence is presumed by our activities,' Smith said. "The operations were conducted with our Afghan partners and based on intelligence gathered over an extended period of time, focusing on insurgent propaganda networks and their affiliates.

"A third journalist, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa province north of Kabul, who was being held by Afghan intelligence officials also has been freed, NATO said. The intelligence service would not say when he was released or disclose information about why Mujadadi was apprehended Sept. 18, the same day as the Afghan parliamentary elections."

Harold Dow's Final Story to Air, With Help From Nephew

Jay Dow, left, finishes work of his uncle, Harold Dow"When 48 HOURS MYSTERY Correspondent Harold Dow died suddenly last month, he was completing more than a year’s work on the intricate tale of Rodney Alcala," CBS News announced on Wednesday.

"On Saturday, Sept. 25 (10:00-11:00 PM ET/PT), 48 HOURS MYSTERY will pay tribute to Dow when it broadcasts his final story, 'The Killing Game,' as its season premiere on the CBS Television Network. Featuring Dow’s exclusive interviews with Alcala’s ex-girlfriend, girls Alcala had approached, investigators, and victims’ family members, the season premiere will be presented by Harold’s nephew, Jay Dow, a correspondent for WCBS in New York and a contributor for CBS News.

"Rodney Alcala committed his first known crime in Sept. 1968, when Los Angeles Police Officer Chris Camacho was dispatched to a house where police suspected a little girl had been abducted. Inside, Camacho found 8-year-old Tali Shapiro battered, bleeding and barely alive with her throat constricted by a 10 pound steel bar. But while Camacho saved Tali’s life, Rodney Alcala, the monster who was later proven to be responsible, slipped out the back door. The 25-year-old UCLA graduate and photographer eluded the authorities for three years. Finally, after the FBI put him on its Most Wanted List, he was found working as a counselor at a New Hampshire girls’ camp under the alias 'John Burger.' He pleaded guilty in 1972 to a lesser charge of child molestation in the Shapiro case and was released after just 34 months. The now registered sex offender had no trouble charming his way back into the swing of things, attending school, working as a photographer and even appearing on the television show 'The Dating Game.' . . . "

Mexican Journalist Is First to Be Granted Asylum in U.S.

Jorge Luis Aguirre"Assassins shot veteran crime reporter Armando Rodriguez, 40, in November 2008 as he sat in front of his house, a young daughter in the car beside him. Rodriguez had published hundreds of stories about Juarez's astonishing increase in gangland murders in the months before he too became a victim," Dudley Althaus and Lise Olsen reported Friday for the Houston Chronicle.

Jorge Luis Aguirre, 52, editor of the La Polaka online news site that closely follows the gangland violence, "fled across the Rio Grande after receiving death threats within minutes of Rodriguez's killing.

"Earlier this week, Aguirre became the first Mexican journalist to announce that he'd been granted asylum in the United States.

"Other Mexican journalists also have applied for U.S. asylum and some have been given refuge by Spain and Canada.

" 'In Mexico, there is no justice,' Aguirre said from El Paso, where he continues publishing La Polaka. 'That's why I came to the United States, where there is both press freedom and justice.'"

"It's too soon to say what Aguirre's case will mean to other Mexican journalists seeking asylum," John Burnett added Friday for NPR. "But over the past four years, the U.S. government has been more receptive to Mexicans who can prove a well-founded fear of persecution from drug cartels, the government or both.

"Figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that in 2007, asylum officers recommended 58 Mexican cases for approval; already, by the third quarter of this year, they have recommended a 176."

Other Black Mayors Could Be in Fenty's Shoes

"Once welcomed as a reformist mayor, he developed a leadership style that was criticized as aloof and autocratic. Budget cuts produced clashes with public employees and alienated some of the most important constituencies in the city," Karen Tumulty and Perry Bacon Jr. wrote Friday in the Washington Post.

"Ultimately, the hope he once inspired gave way to suspicion of his 'post-racial' brand of politics.

"That, of course, was the narrative of Adrian Fenty's rise and fall as mayor of Washington. But the circumstances he faced are not unique. Most of those statements could also describe the political arc of Mayor Cory Booker in Newark, Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia, and Mayor David Bing in Detroit. . . .

"Some experts see a paradox in the fact that these African-American mayors are facing such difficulties in the years after a black man has become president. But Barack Obama's election may have implanted an overly simplified view of racial politics, particularly in big cities. Fenty's race, for instance, was entangled in racial politics despite the fact that his opponent, Vincent Gray, was also an African-American.

"To white ears, the word 'post-racial' sounds like progress. But to African-Americans — particularly those who struggle daily with the lingering effects of generations of discrimination — it can feel like abandonment."

Racial Stereotyping Can Arise From Story Placement

"Assuming 'perception is reality,' does TV news victimize minorities?" Steve Bornfeld asked Thursday in his "Mediaology" column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"Long a complaint of minority leaders is how they're often portrayed in the media, right down to the local level. Bluntly put: as criminals, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics.

"Whether racist agendas exist in mainstream news is a legit debate, but suspicions are often more conspiracy-minded than factually-based. Yet perceptions can stem as much from a newscast's presentation as from its content. Racial stereotyping can arise — unintentionally — just from ill-advised story placement. Stories don't exist in a vacuum. They combine for a cumulative effect on viewers.

"Consider a KLAS-TV, Channel 8 newscast last week, led by Aaron Drawhorn's report on the off-duty cop who shot and killed a man breaking into a Seven Hills home. Stations regularly report violent crime by whites, as it was in this case. However, the spin here was of a genteel white neighborhood shocked and rocked by violence — in and of itself, an accurate narrative, but creating a stark contrast to what came next in the perceptions of white vs. minority crime on one given night.

"Factor in not only tone but volume — ONE story about white crime portrayed as particularly unusual (at least in that neighborhood), followed by FOUR stories of minority crime not portrayed as unusual at all. . . ."

Editor Uses Racist "Joke" to Fill Column Space

"Lake Crystal Minnesota, nestled in the rolling farmlands of Blue Earth county, is home to some 2,500 people, sparkling crystal lakes, and one of the most spectacularly racist newspaper editors you're likely to meet," Nick Pinto wrote Wednesday in the Minneapolis Citypages.

"In a lighthearted column this month, Lake Crystal Tribune Editor Don Marben wrote a delightful anecdote about a golf course that replaced [its] caddies with robots, only to find that their metal surfaces reflected sun in the golfers' eyes.

"When golfers suggest painting the robots black, a course employee responds 'We did. And four of 'em didn't show up for work, two filed for welfare, one robbed the pro shop, and the other thinks he's the president.' "

". . . Marben has since apologized for the column, explaining that he pulled the joke off the internet because he didn't have enough actual news to fill the space."

Short Takes

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Appalling judgement by McClatchy-Tribune

The post about the Sacramento Bee's important investigation into California prison conditions is deeply troubling for what it says about McClatchy-Tribune, which distribiutes articles by McClatchy papers like the Bee and Tribune papers.

What the news servuce has done is reduce significantly any chance that the reporter, Charles Piller, will win national awards; that people elsewhere will have any increased understanding of how our prisons turn out many people more violent than when they entered; how our prisons routinely ignore Constitutional protections, making a mockery of the rule of law.

Of course there is an antidote for this awful judgment -- McClatchy-Tribune News Service should distribute Piller's work now and package it so that editors at client newspapers are likely to read it and see its value to their readers.


New Faces of Racists often colorful...

The MSM in our country with regard to racial topics that demonized Black folks has migrated from having Black apologists handle the assignments of demonizing Black americans to installing other ethnic groups to write the scripts. Dinesh D'Souza ( Indian) has a long paper trail in authoring these types of texts and content with his attack piece on President Obama we should expect more from these diverse mercenaries......

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