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Paper's Account Compounds 9/11 Tragedy

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Attendant on Doomed Flight Falsely Labeled "Hysterical"

Newspapers Urge Perry to Block Racially Influenced Execution — U.S. Supreme Court Acts

NABJ, Unity to Form Task Forces on Reunification

Karin Phillips, Philadelphia Community Reporter, Dies at 53

East Africa Also Hungers for U.S. Coverage

Conservative Media Said to Downplay Effects of Poverty

NBC Names Community Affairs V.P. for L.A. Station

Readers Subsidize Project on Black Ex-Cons Seeking Work

Short Takes


Harry Ong arranges flowers at Betty Ong's niche at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, Calif., where mementos surround a picture of his sister. (Credit: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle)

Attendant on Doomed Flight Falsely Labeled "Hysterical"

The world learned that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had begun when flight attendant Betty Ong, flying on the hijacked plane that left from Boston, picked up the in-flight phone and punched the buttons for the American Airlines reservations desk.

" 'The cockpit is not answering the phone and there's somebody stabbed in business class,' Ong calmly told the male clerk who answered," the San Francisco Chronicle reported. "We can't breathe in business class. Somebody's got Mace or something. ... We can't get into the cockpit. The door won't open."

At 8:46 a.m. and 40 seconds, the Chronicle recalled on Sunday, Ong's American Airlines Flight 11 disappeared into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Ong is being called a hero by all who hear the tape of her conversation with the ground crew. But the Wall Street Journal, in a lengthy piece reconstructing the events of that terrible day a month later, described Ong as "hysterical with fear," and "shrieking and gasping for air."

". . . at 7:27 a.m. CDT, Craig Marquis got an emergency phone call [PDF]. Mr. Marquis, manager-on-duty at American's sprawling System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas, heard a reservations supervisor explain that an airborne flight attendant, hysterical with fear, was on the phone and needed to talk to the operations center. In the background, Mr. Marquis could hear the flight attendant shrieking and gasping for air," according to the story by Scott McCartney and Susan Carey.

" 'She said two flight attendants had been stabbed, one was on oxygen. A passenger had his throat slashed and looked dead, and they had gotten into the cockpit,' Mr. Marquis recalls."

It's a description that the Wall Street Journal has refused to correct, even though the tape, released later, portrays Ong acting in a calm, professional matter. Family members say the Journal's posture compounds their tragedy. The Journal account has made its way into at least one book.

A Journal spokeswoman, Ashley Huston, told Journal-isms by email Wednesday, "Our article of Oct. 15, 2001, told the recollections of senior executives and front-line managers at American Airlines and United Airlines and their personal experiences on Sept. 11. No corrections have been made to the article."

Asked why not, Huston said, "We'll refer back to our original response and decline further comment."

A weekend remembrance on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" began with excerpts of Ong's conversation:

AUDIE CORNISH, host: "Newly released recordings give us a better sense of what was happening on that flight at about this time 10 years ago. American flight 11 had turned off its transponder, making it more difficult to track, and the pilots would not respond to the airline's crew. Then a flight attendant picked up a phone built into the seat of the plane and made a call.

BETTY ONG: "Number three in the back. The cockpit's not answering. Somebody's stabbed in business class and I think there's Mace, that we can't breathe. I don't know. I think we're getting hijacked."

AIRLINE CREW MEMBER: "Which flight are you?"

CORNISH: "That is the voice of Betty Ong. She called American Airlines officials to alert them to what was happening."

ONG: "I think the guys are up there. They might've got, jammed their way up there or something. Nobody can call the cockpit. We can't even get inside."

CORNISH: "Betty Ong was the first to raise the alarm that day, the first warning of what was to come. The second warning came from the cockpit."

UNIDENTIFIED HIJACKER: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport. . . . "

Last Thursday, Lisa Tobin and Michael May of Boston's WBUR told Ong's story through her brother, Harry Ong Jr., and sister, Cathie Ong Herrera, both based on the West Coast.

Herrera said, "I later on spent a lot of time back east attending meetings and during one particular trip I was in the Admiral’s Club at the JFK Airport in New York and I happened to pick up the Wall Street Journal and they just happened to have an article about Betty. And this one particular person had described Betty on the phone as being hysterical and gasping and shrieking for air, which just totally destroyed the comfort that we knew in hearing from Nydia about how she was describing Betty’s demeanor.

HARRY: "I actually called the Wall Street Journal writers and I said, you know, we had spoken with the person who spoke with Betty, her name being Nydia Gonzalez, and that it just contradicted everything that they had written, you know, it’s just not true.

"And they said, well, until you can maybe somehow get something different, this is all we have to go on and this is our report."

On Sunday, Kevin Fagan wrote about the family in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"There's only one thing sure to ignite anger in Ong, an impeccably dressed pharmacy manager known for his mild manner, friends say: mention of misconceptions of his sister's legacy," Fagan wrote.

"Initial news reports in New York and a book about 9/11 portrayed Betty Ong as panicking and screaming during her phone call, but her friends and family refused to believe it. They got their confirmation in 2004 when the federal 9/11 Commission played recordings of her call and took testimony from those who handled it."

Despite the Journal story, the Chronicle story said that Ong is being hailed elsewhere.

"After 9/11, then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown designated a day in Ong's honor, and the Chinese Development Community Center named a room after her. But her family and friends would like to see a school, a street or a building dedicated in her honor. After all, she is a national example of courage, they say.

"The Ongs may finally be about to get their wish.

"Mayor Ed Lee this month announced that he wants Betty's name to go on a new recreation center in Chinatown, where she grew up, when it opens next spring. The city's Recreation and Park Commission is expected to approve the designation.

"Cathie Ong created a foundation in her sister's name to encourage healthy eating habits and exercise for children in Bakersfield, where she lives.

"This summer she was close to having a school in that city's historic Chinatown named after Betty. But in July, the school board turned the plan down. It offered instead to name the campus library after her. The family is mulling the option.

"Betty Ong may have died a hero, but her relatives and friends will always think of her foremost as an effervescent, kindly soul."

Papers Urge Perry to Block Racially Influenced Execution

Duane Buck Pleas to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to block Thursday's scheduled execution of a black Texas man have picked up support not only from the original prosecutor and the surviving shooting victim, but from the editorial boards of two of the state's largest newspapers.

The death sentence was rendered partly on a psychologist's testimony that as a black man, Duane Buck should be considered more dangerous than others.

In his first debate appearance last week as a Republican presidential candidate, Perry won audience cheers when it was announced that he had overseen a record number of executions in the modern era. "Our governor has presided over 234 executions in one state — more than any other governor in the history of a state," according to Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University.

As explained to readers by Michael Landauer, assistant editorial page editor for reader engagement at the Dallas Morning News, "On May 5, 1997, Buck was convicted of capital murder in Harris County for the July 1995 shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. A third person, Phyllis Taylor, was also shot, but survived her wound. Ms. Taylor has forgiven Mr. Buck and does not want him executed.

"During Mr. Buck's trial, psychologist Walter Quijano testified, based on several factors, that he did not believe Mr. Buck would be dangerous in the future. On cross-examination, the prosecutor elicited improper testimony from Dr. Quijano that the fact that Mr. Buck was African-American increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future. The State urged the jury in its closing argument to rely on Dr. Quijano's testimony. The jury did so, found that Mr. Buck would be a future danger, and he was sentenced to death."

Bob Ray Sanders, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote Sept. 3, "As it turned out, Quijano made a reputation of testifying that a person's race or ethnicity, namely black and Hispanic, made it more likely that they would continue to be a threat to society. . . . " For that reason, former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator, supported a retrial on Buck's punishment.

"We think he needs a new sentencing hearing," Landauer told Journal-isms. The Morning News editorialized Sunday on "Perry’s odd ease with death penalty."

The Houston Chronicle said last week, "The case poses a test of leadership for Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Will he do the right thing and stop the execution, either through clemency or a reprieve, or will he take the politically expedient course and let a judicial miscarriage roll forward?"

Editors say that with so many executions in the state, newspapers don't take positions on all of them,

"We've weighed in on a number of high-profile cases and exonerations, but we haven't addressed the Buck case," Jonathan Gurwitz, editorial writer at the San Antonio Express-News, told Journal-isms.

At the Austin American-Statesman, Editorial Page Editor Arnold Garcia said, "We haven't specifically weighed in on the Buck case, but we did address the general topic of the administration of the death penalty in Texas this week in reaction to Rick Perry's statement at the California debate."

The newspaper wrote Monday, "Our governor says he has lost no sleep over the notion that Texas might have executed an innocent person. We hope his sound sleep is justified, but it's hard not to have doubts."

NABJ, Unity to Form Task Forces on Reunification

Greg Lee and Joanna HernandezTalks about a possible reunification of the National Association of Black Journalists with Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., began with a conference call Wednesday, but the prospect of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association joining the Unity coalition is not part of the discussion, Unity President Joanna Hernandez said.

"The status with NLGJA is still being discussed by the board. We hope to have some kind of resolution soon," Hernandez told Journal-isms.

After the conference call, Hernandez and NABJ President Gregory Lee issued this statement:

"The presidents of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and UNITY: Journalists of Color met this morning to begin sorting out the details on how to proceed with reunification talks.

"After a positive and constructive meeting, it was apparent that everyone takes these talks seriously and has agreed to approach this with much care and due diligence. We understand that the entire process will not be completed overnight, however, we anticipate a methodical approach that can help us reach our ultimate goal.

"The first step is that NABJ President Gregory Lee and UNITY President Joanna Hernandez are in the process of forming task forces that will conduct the talks and advise the presidents. We plan to have a timeline for the length of these talks within the next couple of weeks."

NABJ voted in April to leave Unity, citing dissatisfaction with the way Unity was governed and how its finances were divided among the associations.

NABJ members voted in August to "seek reunification with Unity: Journalists of Color as soon as is feasible," but "based on conditions involving the financial and governance structure of Unity that do not conflict with the best interests of NABJ."

Karin Phillips, Philadelphia Community Reporter, Dies at 53

"Beloved KYW Newsradio community affairs reporter Karin Phillips passed away suddenly on Tuesday after a brief illness," Philadelphia's KYW-TV reported on Tuesday.Karin Phillips "She was 53.

"Karin’s news beat kept the Philadelphia region aware of all the unique organizations, programs, and events that make a difference in our community."

Cari Feiler Bender, who handles public relations for nonprofits, said Phillips had "a passion for Philadelphia like few others. She wanted to tell those untold stories of community groups, nonprofits, neighborhood leaders, and unsung heroes to the entire region," Robert Moran reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"E. Steven Collins, a talk-show host on WRNB-FM (100.3), said that Ms. Phillips 'presented and represented African American people in the tristate area and journalism all over the country in an unmatched way,.' " Moran wrote.

"She joined the all-news staff in 1979 as a production assistant, and through the years wore many hats at the station – including reporter, writer, and daytime editor.

The KYW story said, "Before becoming a part of the KYW Newsradio team, Karin worked as a reporter for the Burlington County Times. She was also an anchor and producer for Express Traffic Services.

". . . In 2009, Karin received the Human Rights Award for Arts and Culture from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Rights. In 2004, she received the Outstanding Community Service award from the Philadelphia Council of Clergy, the largest multicultural religious clergy organization in Philadelphia."

Scott Pelley reported last month from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya for the "CBS Evening News."

East Africa Also Hungers for U.S. Coverage

"What a difference a generation makes," James Fahn wrote Tuesday for the Columbia Journalism Review. "Back in 1984-85, groundbreaking media coverage of the terrible drought and famine that affected around eight million people in Ethiopia spurred an outpouring of Western relief efforts. A harrowing report by BBC broadcaster Michael Buerk is often cited as the spark that led to Band Aid, a supergroup of British and Irish musicians who recorded a pop album for charity, and eventually Live Aid, a group of American pop stars who performed likewise.

"Contrast that to the media and cultural response to the current famine in Somalia and surrounding countries, which has affected around ten million people, caused the deaths of at least 29,000 children and placed half a million more at risk, led to a refugee crisis in East Africa, and which was set off by the region’s worst drought in sixty years.

" 'In July and August the food crisis has accounted for just 0.7 percent of the newshole,' notes a report from the Pew Research Center released this month. 'Year-to-date the crisis registers at just 0.2 percent.' This time, instead of pop singers crooning about Africa, we have Lady Gaga parading around in a meat dress.

"Relief organizations are blaming the lack of media coverage for what they consider to be a paltry response — at least within the US."

Conservative Media Said to Downplay Effects of Poverty

"Conservative media are using the announcement that poverty increased to return to their allegation that the poor in America don't have it so bad because they own appliances," Media Matters for America said Wednesday. "In fact, poverty affects Americans in profound ways, such as their health, education, and housing."

The Census Bureau's report, "Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States," said Tuesday, "The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 — the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 — the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

". . . Among race groups, real median income declined for white and black households between 2009 and 2010, while changes for Asian and Hispanic-origin households were not statistically different. Real median income for each race and Hispanic-origin group has not yet recovered to the pre-2001 recession all-time highs."

NBC Names Community Affairs V.P. for L.A. Station

Terri Hernandez RosalesKNBC, the NBC television station in Los Angeles, has named Terri Hernandez Rosales as vice president of community affairs and communications, the station announced on Tuesday.

"In her new role, Hernandez Rosales will manage the long-term strategy of the station's community investment and charitable efforts and oversee strategic communications for the station, handling local media relations and other external affairs," it said.

Hernandez Rosales was vice president of communication for Los Angeles Universal Preschool.

"Terri brings a unique blend of public relations and philanthropic experience to NBC4," said Craig Robinson, president and general manager, recently named executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBCUniversal.

Last month, CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists each protested what they called a demotion of five Latino anchors in the past year at KNBC.

Julio Moran, executive director of CCNA, told Journal-isms, "When I spoke to Craig he mentioned that this hire was in the works, so I'm not sure that it is in direct response to my letter.

"But, regardless, it is a good move because KNBC has been without a community affairs person since Paula Madison as GM got rid of the position, and instead used a producer to act in that role to produce community related stories to air on the news shows.

"It is important to have Latinos behind cameras, especially in the newsroom, but it is more important to have them in key anchor positions in front of the camera because that is what the community sees, and they want to see people who look like them."

Readers Subsidize Project on Black Ex-Cons Seeking Work

Cleveland freelance writer Afi Scruggs has raised $1,000 from readers to produce a multimedia package on the employment problems of African American ex-offenders. She used, which describes itself as "an open source project to pioneer 'community powered reporting.' ”

" 'Hard Time on the Unemployment Line' is a multimedia package that explores the problems African American male ex-offenders have when they look for work," Scruggs wrote to colleagues Wednesday. "I wrote two stories, produced a six-minute audio piece, and took the photographs included in the package. I raised $1,000 for this effort through an innovative site entitled This was a first for me, but I hope it won't be the last.

"I'm sharing because I believe crowd-funded journalism is a means to report and distribute untold stories.

"Now, for the best news. Because the package has already been paid for, all the content is free. Yep. Free. Gratis. If you use any part of it, please attribute and share the link. I'd like to see where this lands."

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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