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D.C. News Director Quits, Citing Ethics

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Asendio Says Reporters Shouldn't Be Part of Donor Event

N.Y. Times Avoids "Armor" Phrase in Jeremy Lin Stories

But Aren't Newsrooms Different Sorts of Places?

Comcast Moves on Pledge for Minority-Owned Networks

Blacks, Women Far More Interested in Houston News

"Today" Reporter Rewrites History on Jeremiah Wright

Scarborough, Brzezinski Stand by Buchanan on Firing

Killing of Blacks in Sudan Escapes World's Attention

Short Takes

Asendio Says Reporters Shouldn't Be Part of Donor Event

Jim Asendio, likely the highest ranking African American news director at a top-tier NPR affiliate, resigned at WAMU-FM in the nation's capital on Tuesday "because I did not agree with an upper management decision to have working journalists attend a donor-only, station-sponsored event," he said.Jim Asendio, left, Caryn   Mathes, Anthony Hayes

"I do not believe that reporters should be exposed to the real or perceived influence of individuals or foundations who fund the work of the newsroom," Asendio said in a message posted to "I wish the WAMU newsroom continued success as one of Washington, D.C.'s trusted sources for local and regional news and information."

A public radio ethics guide released in January 2004 says, "Funding decisions must be independent of editorial decisions. Program producers, stations and network management must establish procedures, appropriate for their particular organization, that maintain a firewall between funders and journalists. For example, journalists should not be prevailed upon to engage with funders [PDF].

"Unreasonable pressures on journalists create the appearance and the reality of editorial compromise."

Asendio told Journal-isms Wednesday that when he voiced his objections to General Manager Caryn Mathes, she wrote back in an email, "Understand that your refusal to participate in a major station event involves a permanent, irreversible statement to me, about whether you are part of my team."

The idea to include journalists in the donor-only breakfast, which took place Wednesday morning and which Asendio said was put together by the station's development office, seems reminiscent of a plan that embarrassed then-new Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth in 2009. As David Carr wrote then in the New York Times, "The Washington Post had sent out a brochure offering sponsorships — a fee of $25,000 for one, or $250,000 for an entire series — for an exclusive 'Washington Post salon' at Ms. Weymouth’s home in which officials from Congress and the administration, lobbyists and, yes, the paper’s own reporters could have a quiet, off-the-record dinner, discussions to be led by Marcus Brauchli, the newspaper’s editor."

The idea was abandoned when an uproar ensued after the plan was made public.

Kay Summers, director of marketing and communications for WAMU, licensed to American University, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday:

"Jim's departure was a personal decision; beyond that, per University policy, we do not discuss personnel matters. Here is our firewall policy in more detail:

"WAMU maintains a firewall between journalists and funders; journalists may not – and do not – discuss coverage planning with grant-making officials or individual donors. It is senior management's responsibility to manage contacts for their respective divisions with funders. Any one-on-one, private contact between a non-management journalist and a funder has high potential for putting that journalist in an awkward position and communicating the wrong message to the funder, and there is no situation where this should be allowed to occur.

"For example, this morning, the station hosted a Meet the Producers Breakfast as a 'thank-you' for approximately 30 people. The context was to give donor constituents an understanding of how the work is performed. Approximately nine of our reporters and producers spoke on a panel discussion moderated by program director Mark McDonald. They discussed how their work comes together, and entertained general questions from the audience, like 'how do journalists in the nation’s capital decide what is a local or a national story?'

"Allowing people to see the impact that their investment makes in our work is completely appropriate. However, the station does not permit crossing the line between a funder seeing that impact and a funder being allowed input into the planning process for coverage."

Asendio, who just turned 60, arrived at WAMU in 2006 from WLIU/WCWP on Long Island, N.Y., where he was news director. "I plan to take some time to think about what has happened and to decide whether I want to continue in journalism or retire," he told Journal-isms, adding that his work at WAMU was "nowhere near finished."

He praised his staff as "hard-working, dedicated journalists who punch well above their weight."

Asendio, Mathes and Anthony V. Hayes, director of corporate marketing, represented an unusual trio: African Americans in senior management at a general-market radio station. It was considered such an inspiration that Asendio conducted a tour of the station Tuesday for visiting journalism students from historically black Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, N.C. Asendio told the students that after the tour, he was submitting his resignation.

Last July, WAMU compiled a list of initiatives and successes from WAMU News under Asendio's leadership. Among the items on the list:

  • "Expanded coverage of local and regional news with the creation of a beat system that added full time reporters to cover D.C., Maryland, Virginia, the Eastern Shore, Education and the Environment... and part time reporters to cover Labor issues, Transportation issues, Education issues, Environmental issues, Arts and Culture and Capitol Hill.

  • "Diversification of the newsroom staff with respect to cultural and racial backgrounds and sexual orientation."

  • ". . . Addition of three full-time digital journalists to enhance the newsroom presence on, the station's website."

  • ". . . Expansion of the WAMU Youth Voices student journalism program via a partnership with Youth Radio and D.C.'s Latin American Youth Center."

NBC's 'Saturday Night Live' made fun of the puns that have been surfaced during 'Linsanity' and the inconsistent sensitivity to ethnic slurs. (Video)

N.Y. Times Avoids "Armor" Phrase in Jeremy Lin Stories

The New York Times has been reporting on the controversial ESPN headline "Chink in the Armor," used with a story about New York Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin, without using the phrase.

The Asian American Journalists Association, however, does state the phrase in its own headline denouncing the way it was used.

And columnist Huan Hsu wrote that "these incidents suggest that it’s time to retire chink in the armor from the lexicon for good."

Meanwhile, the Poynter Review Project, which has been functioning as an ombudsman for ESPN, reviewed the steps that led to publication of the offending headline and its utterances on the cable network. It concluded, "The Poynter Review Project sees one as a lapse in judgment by an editor working without a net and the other two as terribly timed slips of the tongue."

Separately, the Asian American Journalists Association Wednesday issued a media advisory on Jeremy Lin news coverage.

Richard Sandomir's Feb. 19 story in the New York Times began with three avoidances of the phrase in question, and continued that way for the rest of the article:

"ESPN announced Sunday that it had fired one person and suspended another for using an ethnic slur last week in describing Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. It also said that it had discovered a third use of the offensive phrase, on Friday night," the story began.

"The fired employee posted a headline on’s mobile Web site that used the phrase in a headline about Lin that appeared from 2:30 a.m. to 3:05 a.m. Saturday, after the Knicks’ loss to the New Orleans Hornets the night before. The phrase had two meanings, one of them an ethnic slur. The name of the employee was not released."

Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "Our feeling is just that it's not necessary to repeat a phrase that we know to be offensive in order to tell the story."

By contrast, a Feb. 18 statement from AAJA was explicit: "AAJA to ESPN: Saying 'Chink in the Armor' Is Inexcusable."

Doris Truong, national president of AAJA, told Journal-isms by email Wednesday, "It's a fine line. You don't want to leave people guessing. But I've seen well-handled coverage in which reporters said 'blank in the armor.' For many Asian Americans, the 'C' word is the equivalent of the 'N' word. It's a freighted term that reminds us that some people don't think we belong or that we won't defend ourselves."

The Poynter Review Project said the 30-day suspension of ESPNEWS anchor Max Bretos, who used the phrase Wednesday night while interviewing Knicks analyst Walt Frazier, was too harsh. But it did not say the same about the firing of 28-year-old Anthony Federico, who wrote the headline that appeared on the ESPN mobile site, although Federico said no slur was intended and he has apologized.

"One potential factor in the severity of the punishments: Earlier in the week, racial sensitivity regarding the Lin storyline was a topic in the company’s monthly editorial board meeting, and ESPN issued a memo to all its content groups urging staffers to be cognizant of how Lin was discussed — a directive that was revisited in a Friday staff meeting," the report said.

Its authors also suggested that ESPN "demand that its writers and on-air talent find richer language and fresher turns of phrase."

The AAJA guide to Jeremy Lin coverage advises, "Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American or Latino?"

The guide supplies some facts about Lin and lists six analogies it calls "danger zones": driving, eye shape, food, martial arts, "Me love you Lin time" and "Yellow Mamba."

But Aren't Newsrooms Different Sorts of Places?

". . . Newsrooms, which used to be filled mostly with white men, were known for off-color language, sexist jokes, cigarette burn holes on desks and chairs, more profanity than you might hear in jail, occasional fistfights and frequent attacks on chairs, desks and trash cans," John Robinson, former editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., wrote Feb. 16 on his blog. "That typewriter with the sticking keys? Back in the day, it might find itself tossed out of a second-floor window.

"Now smoking is banned, the floors are carpeted, there are as many women as men, and everyone has to go through training to understand the laws involving harassment. I once had to cruise the newsroom and take down photos that staff members posted in their cubicles that might be considered inappropriate or contributing to a hostile environment. (I briefly removed a pinup photo of a male actor with his shirt off from one female reporter’s wall. The language that resulted may have contributed to a hostile workplace.)

"I don’t miss those days, but I do think newsrooms are different sorts of places. Journalists are irreverent and don’t stand on convention. Editors demand that they speak truth to power and that they don’t back down when put off. So, how can we expect them to be PC in a newsroom? . . ."

Comcast Moves on Pledge for Minority-Owned Networks

"Comcast Corp, the leading U.S. cable company, is launching four new minority-owned cable networks with partners including former basketball star Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, hip-hop mogul Sean Diddy Combs and Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez," Yinka Adegoke wrote Tuesday for Reuters.

"The new networks come out of Comcast's agreement with regulators to create 10 new independently owned cable networks for minority populations in exchange for clearance of its acquisition of a controlling stake in NBC Universal.

"As a result, four of the networks [will] be majority African-American owned, two will be majority American Latino owned, two will be operated by American Latino programmers and two will provide additional independent programming. Comcast hopes to have the networks all launched over the next eight years.

"Magic Johnson will partner with GMC TV to launch a network called Aspire aimed at African-American families with a mix of movies, documentaries and comedy among its programming formats. The channel is planned for this summer.

"Combs' channel, Revolt, and MTV veteran Andy Schuon will focus on music and is planned for launch in 2013. Combs has also been in talks with other networks including Time Warner Cable [Inc.], the second-largest U.S. cable operator.

"Rodriguez in partnership with FactoryMade Ventures has proposed a Hispanic channel called El Rey. The English-language channel is aimed at Latino and general audiences with a mix of reality, scripted and animated TV shows, movies and documentaries."

Blacks, Women Far More Interested in Houston News

The death of Whitney Houston drew strong interest from African Americans, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported on Wednesday. "Four-in-ten blacks (40%) say they paid very close attention to news about Houston’s death, compared with just 13% of whites. And far more women (25%) than men (10%) say they followed news about Houston’s death very closely."

Brian Stelter reported in the New York Times, "Millions of television and Web viewers spent time Saturday afternoon watching the funeral service for Whitney Houston, the pop music icon who died a week earlier.

"CNN was the biggest beneficiary of the viewer vigil, according to Nielsen ratings. The cable news channel had an average of five million viewers between 12:15 and 3:45 p.m., the hours that it and other channels carried the funeral service without commercial interruption.

Rather than being "ousted," the Rev. Jeremiah Wright retired as planned from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. "Today" was reporting on remarks by former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., above. (Video)

"Today" Reporter Rewrites History on Jeremiah Wright

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the bogeyman of the 2008 presidential campaign, returned as a campaign issue this week when former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., mentioned President Obama's former pastor in explaining Santorum's statement that Obama had a "phony theology."

But the "Today" show, which aired a story on Santorum Tuesday, rewrote history in reporting that Wright was "ousted" from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ after the news media publicized sound bites of his most controversial statements.

NBC News reporter Peter Alexander showed the Republican presidential candidate saying, "He went to Rev. Wright's church for 20 years. You can question what kind of theology Rev. Wright has, but it's a Christian church. He's a Christian."

Alexander said of Wright, "He was the Chicago pastor forced to resign after controversial sermons were made public during the 2008 campaign," as the words "ousted pastor" flashed on the screen.

In fact, Trinity United members, feeling themselves besieged, rallied around Wright, who retired as pastor as planned in 2008. He was followed by the designated successor, the Rev. Otis Moss III.

Moss distributed an op-ed saying that Wright "stands in the prophetic tradition of biblical truth-tellers, such as Amos and Micah. . . . I am convinced that much of the recent controversy stems from the deep racial and social divisions and misunderstanding of African-American sacred rhetoric."

Scarborough, Brzezinski Stand by Buchanan on Firing

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," issued a statement Friday disagreeing with MSNBC's decision last week to drop conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

"Everyone at Morning Joe considers Pat Buchanan to be a friend and a member of the family. Even though we strongly disagree with the contents of Pat's latest book, Mika and I believe those differences should have been debated in public," Scarborough said. "An open dialogue with Morning Joe regulars like Al Sharpton and Harold Ford, Jr. could have developed into an important debate on the future of race relations in America.

"Because we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, Mika and I strongly disagree with this outcome. We understand that the parting was amicable. Still, we will miss Pat."

Buchanan is defending "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive Until 2025?" the book that prompted his ouster. "The critics should read the book instead of trying to blacklist and censor it," he said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

Killing of Blacks in Sudan Escapes World's Attention

"A great humanitarian catastrophe and vicious ethnic cleansing is unfolding here in the remote and impoverished region where Sudan and South Sudan come together," Nicholas D. Kristof wrote Sunday in the New York Times.

". . . In some ways, the brutality here feels like an echo of what Sudan did in Darfur, only now it is Nubans who are targets.

“ 'They said that they want to finish off the black people; they said they want to kill them all,' recalled Elizabeth Kafi, a 22-year-old Nuban who said she was kidnapped in December by Sudanese uniformed soldiers.

". . . When the food runs out in the Nuba Mountains, perhaps in two or three months, there will be a risk of mass starvation. I saw one 4-year-old girl at a feeding center run by Samaritan’s Purse, the aid group, who weighed only 22 pounds. Unless outside countries enforce humanitarian access into the Nuba Mountains, we can expect more famished children like her.

"The Sudanese armed forces try to keep aid workers and journalists out, so the story of suffering has not received much international attention. I’m going to try to slip into the Nuba Mountains and report back. Stay tuned."

Separately, Long Island University announced  on Monday that "the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting will acknowledge the fearless reporting of New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman and the powerful photographs of his colleague, Tyler Hicks. The two have documented conflicts in some of the most dangerous regions on Earth — the new state of South Sudan in central Africa and the Horn of Africa.

"They produced numerous exclusives and heart-wrenching photos of ethnic conflict, pillage, famine and piracy. To get them, the pair holed up in caves and riverbeds with bombing victims, tracked down Islamist warlords who spoke blithely of executions and ventured into coastal havens to interview notorious kidnappers."

Short Takes

  • "For their investigative series that brought attention to the controversial tactics of the New York Police Department’s intelligence operations, a team of four Associated Press reporters earned the George Polk Award for Metropolitan Reporting," Long Island University announced on Monday. "Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan collaborated on an investigation that showed the NYPD had built one of the largest domestic intelligence agencies in the country. The operations, conducted with advice and guidance from the Central Intelligence Agency, were secret until the AP series. The AP reporters documented how the NYPD assigned 'rakers' and 'mosque crawlers' to ethnic neighborhoods, infiltrating everything from booksellers and cafes to Muslim places of worship."
  • A Los Angeles Times study found that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who bestow the Academy Awards, "are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect," John Horn, Nicole Sperling and Doug Smith reported Sunday for the Los Angeles Times. "Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership."

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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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Caryn Mathes: Loyalties

During Caryn's stint at WDET ( NPR Detroit Affiliate) she refused to program hip-hop music despite the station being owned by an urban university ( Wayne State) in city's core center. Many urbanites were upset with her williness to appease WDET's corporate and affluent patrons.

It is troubling to observe some things never change with some people....

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