Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

3 Things That Need Fixing at the N.Y. Post

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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Updated February 23

Cartoonists "want to really get to the heart of the matter, but you don't want to construct obstacles to communication," said the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tony Auth. (Credit: Tony Auth).

Writer Says Cartoon Flap Could Be Editor's Undoing

On the morning after the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox to win the 2003 American League pennant, some editions of the New York Post carried an editorial bemoaning the Bronx Bombers' loss.

"The Yankees couldn't get the job done," read the editorial.

Post Editor Col Allan blamed the snafu on a production error.

In the 2004 election season, the tabloid became a laughing stock when it trumpeted, "Kerry's Choice: Dem picks Gephardt as VP candidate."

Sen. John Kerry, that year's Democratic presidential candidate, didn't follow the Post's script. He picked Sen. John Edwards, not Rep. Richard Gephardt. Allan said the paper thought its unattributed "exclusive" information was correct.

When Journal-isms asked a Post staffer on Friday to explain how the Post could have published a cartoon this week that was widely taken to represent President Obama as a dead chimpanzee, the journalist cited those two incidents, gave verbal shrugs and said, "We've made mistakes before."

Regardless of whether one believes the cartoon deliberately portrays Obama as a monkey, which the Post denies, staffers told Journal-isms that the blunder can be traced to an autocratic management style and lack of diversity at the top. It could ultimately prove more costly than the pennant-race or vice-presidential-pick mistakes.

"The secret here and the really interesting development is Rupert Murdoch is not happy with this," Michael Wolff, author of a book on Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns the Post, said Thursday on MSNBC.

"I would say actually slightly educated speculation is he is livid. This is not what Rupert wants. This is not where he wants to be. He is actually rather a fan of Barack Obama's, plus he's positioning himself vis-a-vis this new administration, so [for] his New York Post to come along and be so out of sync, so tone deaf, so off the point, to put it mildly is going to be a problem for a lot of people there."

"So how does this end up?" host Keith Olbermann asked Wolff on his "Countdown" show. "Obviously, if he's upset they are not going to ignore it. Does [at] some point in the future Col Allan disappear? Is there a private apology?"

"I think he's disappeared," replied Wolff. "Col Allan is coming to the end of his run. He has spoken about his, the possibility of going back to Australia. This is part of an exit.

"I think Col has been deeply frustrated with the fact that Murdoch likes Barack Obama. That Murdoch is actually becoming in his old age rather liberal and I think he's been under a lot of pressure, Col has to toe the line, say nice things about Barack Obama. I think it exploded here. I think - I know exactly what happened. This cartoon came in. It crossed his desk. It crossed Col Allan's desk, nobody else. He looked at it and probably said, you know, I should probably send this back because this is - but he said I'm going to go with it. It was just one of those moments that an editor makes a call that's career defining."

The cartoon, drawn for the Post's Page Six gossip section by Sean Delonas, shows two policemen, one with a smoking gun, looking at a dead chimpanzee. One says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

TProtesters tell reporters why they find New York Post cartoon offensive.  Click image to play. (Credit: CBS)he resulting uproar produced protests Thursday and Friday in front of News Corp.'s headquarters, widespread commentary and a grudging, half-hearted apology from the Post in Friday editions.

A Post spokeswoman said the newspaper would not comment beyond the editorial.

But journalists inside and outside the Post newsroom were not shy in listing aspects of life at the Post they say led to the embarrassing turn of events. 

  • 1. Lack of newsroom diversity

    The Post does not participate in the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual diversity survey, and did not respond to a request for information on the diversity of its newsroom.

    But staffers said no journalist of color had served as an editor on its Metro desk since the late Lisa Baird was fired in 2001. Nor are there any in top management. The highest-ranking journalist of color is Business Editor Jay Sherman. There are so few that some asked Journal-isms not to identify them even in the broadest terms, because it would be easy to determine who they were.

    Their relative scarcity is part of the problem, they said. "It couldn't hurt to have someone of color who is in a position to see some of the things that go into the paper prior to print," one declared, adding that white editors should also be attuned to hints of racial insensitivity.

    For some, it took only a glance. Reporter Austin Fenner, a black journalist, said of the cartoon, "It churned my stomach when I saw it."

    Sandra Guzman, a former editor of Latina magazine who is now a Post associate editor in its features section, sent out an e-mail to other staffers saying, "Please know that I had nothing to do with the Sean Delonas cartoon. I neither commissioned or approved it. I saw it in the paper yesterday with the rest of the world. And, I have raised my objections to management."

    However, another staffer of color said the thought never occurred that the chimpanzee would be seen as representing Obama. After all, the president does not "write" legislation - the word the cartoon used - though he is identified with it, this staffer noted.

  • 2. The approval process for cartoons

    One staffer said a Post cartoon has to pass muster in two stages. First, one or more top editors must approve the idea, and then one or more green-lights the finished product.  Unless it was brought to top editors' attention and willfully ignored, the potential danger of the chimpanzee imagery wasn't caught at either stage.

    Is there enough vetting? "He has certain issues in terms of homophobia and borderline sexism," one staffer said of Delones, indicating careful scrutiny was warranted. On the artist's end, some at other papers show their cartoons around the newsroom, testing reactions.

    "The real problem is, this is a collaboration," Tony Auth, cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, told Journal-isms. "It's not a matter of trying to sneak something into the paper. You want powerful cartoons. You want to really get to the heart of the matter, but you don't want to construct obstacles to communication" by detracting from the point you're trying to make. Auth drew his own take on the Post controversy in Friday's Inquirer.

  • 3. Arrogance and the wrong kind of "edginess."

    "They like being on the edge a little bit, too," a staffer said of Post management. Murdoch installed Allan, known as "Col Pot" while leading the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia, as Post editor in 2001. He was "a famously brash News Corp. veteran steeped in the cutthroat London newspaper market," Business Week noted later. He boosted circulation as he "cut story lengths, doubled story counts, devoted more space to photos (especially color ones), and upped the Post's daily quota of sex, celebrity, and scandal," the magazine said.

    Commenting on Allan's management style, a staffer said the half-hearted apology was actually progress. "What did you expect? For the Post, this is kind of a big step. The idea of a non-apology apology is such a huge move. Everything has to be read in context."

An outsider, Rafael Olmeda, president of Unity: Journalists of Color, offered this observation, which he couched as pure speculation: "They knew it was going to explode. They frankly enjoyed it, being the Post."

On the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists, a former Post staffer suggested that Australians failed to spot the problem with monkey imagery because they are not as familiar with America's racial history "and they have never indicated an interest in learning about it."  Current staffers agreed that good journalists learn the culture of the places they are covering.

There was this solution from the Post newsroom: "If there wasn't anyone who looked at that and thought that wasn't a problem, they need to get out of the office, interact with people of color. The obvious thing that comes to mind is a sensitivity class." They need to get out more, "and learn there's a world beyond their daily lives."

Meanwhile, the New York Association of Black Journalists, which denounced the cartoon, told the Post that the organization will not accept its money to pay for seats at NYABJ's annual scholarship dinner next Wednesday, said Gary Anthony Ramsay, president of the group. Post photographer G.N. Miller is to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

"We haven't actually received a check but we have informed the Post that we will not accept their money for the six people that want to come to honor G.N. Miller. We will ask them to still come as our guests. We don't want to punish Miller or his colleagues who were coming to support him," Ramsay told Journal-isms.

Cartoonists Treading Gingerly in Portraying Obama

"Editorial cartoonists are bending over backwards a lot these days, as they try to satirize the nation's first black president. And when they don't, the result is the kind of outcry that erupted this week after a New York Post cartoon featured a bloody chimpanzee — intentionally or unintentionally evoking racist images of the past," Jesse Washington wrote Friday for the Associated Press.

"The problem is, cartoonists make their living by making fun of people — especially presidents—and exaggerating their features and foibles.

"Ted Rall, president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, said that Obama's race has affected how his colleagues do their jobs: 'Without a doubt, people are stepping more gingerly. People are tiptoeing their way through this.'

"Rall, who is liberal, said it's harder to take shots at Obama because he's smart, charming and handsome, 'so when you attack the personality, people suspect there's only one reason: It's gotta be his race. My conservative cartoonist friends find it very frustrating.'"

Hillary Clinton responds to a question at the CNN/Congressional Black Caucus Institute Democratic Debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a year ago. A new survey of journalists of color found 66 percent saying Barack Obama, right, received positive media coverage and 53 percent declaring Clinton "received a negative bias." (Credit: Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN)

Few Expect More Diversity in Top Newsroom Jobs

A survey of 552 journalists of color, sponsored by Unity: Journalists of Color, found that 81 percent "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed that President's Obama's election will increase the coverage of "racial and cultural issues." Fifty-four percent expected that people of color will have an opportunity to cover "more high profile stories."

But only one in three expected any improvement in the number of people of color in senior newsroom positions.

The results were released Thursday in Washington, accompanied by a panel discussion on "Race & the Media" at the National Press Club.

"The lack of confidence in the journalism industry is startling," the study concluded, "with an overwhelming majority — 92% — of the respondents rating the mainstream media as not having done an adequate job in covering race relations. This can clearly be tied back to the disparity in the media industry, and the lack of diversity in our nation's newsrooms."

Among the findings:

  • "According to the survey respondents, the mainstream media demonstrated a distinct bias against some candidates during the presidential campaign. Sixty-six percent (66%) of the journalists said President Barack Obama was the recipient of positive coverage from the media. A majority rated the media coverage of his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, as neutral (59%); Senator John McCain's media coverage was equally divided between negative (34%) and neutral (35%).
  • "In contrast to the male candidates, the respondents perceived a more negative media environment for the female contenders; 66% said vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin received a negative bias and 53% said presidential candidate and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a negative bias.
  • "Seventy two percent (72%) of survey respondents were critical of mainstream media indicating that they spent 'too much time' covering the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and President Obama controversy and 'too little time' (57%) discussing the controversy between Rev. John Hagee and Senator McCain."
In the Press Club discussion, there were further observations.

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said, "the media love to talk about race, it helps us avoid talking about class."

Leslie Sanchez, a Republican commentator on CNN, said the television conversation about Latinos "was never directed to the full extent of our community," focusing too much on immigration.

Angie Chuang, an assistant professor at American University, said the media shied away from exploring why the word "Muslim " became a liability — like a Nannygate — and how the Obama campaign handled that issue.

Media writer Amy Alexander said part of the problem was that those in power simply don't want to give it up, despite the need to respond to nation's changing demographics. Broadcaster Ed Gordon, the moderator, observed that prime-time cable anchors remain all white, though there has been progress at other parts of the day. Joseph Torres of the media access group Free Press said the issue is ownership: "We do not control the dissemination of our image." 

James Asendio, news director of Washington's WAMU-FM, said from the audience that the class issue should include the "journalist class," in which too many associate only with people like themselves. Its managers end up being "some of the most clueless people" he has encountered, said Asendio, who is African American, speaking after having been on a conference call with other public-radio managers, nearly all of them white.

Story of Key Latino Rights Case Airs Monday

"It's only one hour in a saga that deserves a multi-part vehicle to rival 'Eyes on the Prize' in scope. But, especially for Texans, it is a critical starting point," David Barron wrote Monday in the Houston Chronicle.

Airing Monday night on PBS' "the American Experience," "'A Class Apart' tells the little-known story of a band of underdog Mexican-American lawyers who took their case, Hernandez v. Texas, all the way to the Supreme Court, where they successfully challenged Jim Crow-style discrimination against Mexican Americans," according to PBS.

"Argued weeks before the internationally famous Brown v. Board of Education case but much less known, the unanimous Hernandez decision by the U.S. Supreme Court established that Mexican Americans in Texas, while previously (and arguably) treated as 'white' under the law were in reality segregated as a class apart from the white mainstream and subject to discrimination, mistreatment and disregard by Texas law, society, governmental institutions and custom," the Mexican-American Legal and Educational Defense Fund says.

Barron wrote, "the court ruled that Mexican-Americans were a distinct group entitled to the same constitutional protection as other minority groups."

"'Had their gamble failed, they would have established 'at a national level the proposition that Mexican Americans could be treated as second-class citizens,' Ian Haney Lopez, a University of California, Berkeley, law professor, says in the film, Juan Castillo added Monday in the Austin American-Statesman.

"Hernandez v. Texas remains largely obscure. The case and the broader story of discrimination against Mexican Americans are not recounted in meaningful detail in classrooms. Even 'A Class Apart' co-producer/director Carlos Sandoval, a lawyer who had taken constitutional law, said he only learned of the case on its 50th anniversary," Castillo wrote. [Added Feb. 23]

Alternative Models for News Require New Mindset

"Thriving newspaper Web sites may be popular — USA Today and The Washington Post . . . drew more than 10 million monthly visitors last year — but they are slowly strangling print circulation," Howard Kurtz wrote  Thursday in the Washington Post. "Online ad revenue remains far too modest to support the sizable reporting staffs that make newspapers worth reading and enable them to do real digging.

"A wave of newspaper shutdowns seems likely this year as revenue continues to plummet. Tribune Co. and the Minneapolis Star Tribune are bankrupt. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News are for sale and will probably close if buyers cannot be found. Layoffs, buyouts and cutbacks are endemic. Even among the biggest papers, the [New York] Times has folded its Metro section into the paper, while The Post has killed its Sunday Source section and is dropping Book World as a separate section.

"It was arguably a mistake for newspapers and magazines to hand out their goodies to anyone with a computer screen, but the culture of the Net was —and is — that everything should be free. The question now is whether that mind-set can be changed." He went on to discuss emerging alternative business models  for news products.

Norfolk Paper Ends Multicultural Magazine Amid Layoffs

Mix's January-February issueThe Virginian-Pilot, battling the recession, will lay off 30 more workers, including black journalist Duane Bourne, a police reporter, and shut down Mix Magazine, edited by veteran black journalist Wil LaVeist, the Norfolk, Va., newspaper said on Friday.

Mix, a free monthly, was launched in 2007 as a multicultural publication covering the Hampton Roads area's African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and anchor and managing editor at Norfolk's WTKR-TV, had a column in the magazine.

The March issue will be Mix's last, Publisher Maurice Jones said. LaVeist, a former columnist, copy editor, reporter, online editor and Web executive producer and director, was apparently laid off. The company is also closing the print version of Port Folio Weekly, its 26-year-old free arts and entertainment weekly.

Both publications were losing money, Jones said.

Editor Denis Finley told Journal-isms that the percentage of journalists of color at the paper would rise from 13 to 16 percent because of the white males who are also leaving. The layoffs have not reduced the paper's commitment to diversity, Finley said.

The paper offered buyouts in 2007 and 22 in the newsroom took the offer, including public editor Marvin Lake and artist Ken Wright, both black journalists. Last year, the paper implemented 17 layoffs, none directly affecting journalists of color.


New Orleans Station, Nagin in Court Over E-Mails

"A legal battle between City Hall and WWL-TV heated up Thursday after the station filed a contempt of court complaint against Mayor Ray Nagin and his administration alleging failure to comply with the state public records law," Frank Donze reported Thursday in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"The contempt motion filed by WWL attorneys contends that the administration ignored an order issued this week by Civil Court Judge Rose Ledet to provide a copy of Nagin's 2008 appointments calendar that news anchor Lee Zurik requested in January.

The case "erupted into public view Tuesday when administration officials revealed in court that the city's technology office had deleted all but about a dozen of the e-mail messages sent and received by Nagin last year and half of the mayor's 2008 calendar.

"Deputy City Attorney Ed Washington said the computer files — which WWL is seeking under a public records request — were erased because the city lacks sufficient server storage space. The law requires government agencies to preserve documents for three years and Ledet ruled Tuesday that the administration is in violation of the law."

Black History Month's Real Target Said to Be Blacks

The debate over Black History Month continues, with Betty Bay?© of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal writing¬†on Thursday that she took exception "to the idea that Black History Month is mostly about combating the prejudice in others.

"The more important goal to me is working to combat black people's prejudice and ignorance about themselves by helping them dig out from under the mountains of lies that have left many feeling inferior, believing that they have no history but slavery, that their people never gave anything important to the world — and seeing instead that black people are just as good, just as beautiful, just as smart and just as capable as everybody else on the planet, no matter what anybody says."

Short Takes

  • "The editor of Chicago State University's student newspaper, who earlier this month filed suit against his school's administration alleging unlawful censorship, has now been told his paper will not go to print this week," Kate Maternowski wrote¬†Thursday for the Student Press Law Center. "George Providence II and the Tempo have been at odds with CSU administration since last year, when Providence says oppressive attempts at administrative oversight began. The most recent development in Tempo's saga began with the installment of a new adviser, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and culminated Monday night with Lansana's decision to suspend publication of Tempo."
  • The National Day of Remembrance, commemorating the detention of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, was observed around the country Thursday, Jesse Washington wrote¬†for the Associated Press. "We have this shared history," said Bonnie Clark, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Denver who is excavating materials from a former internment camp. The artifacts were to be displayed during the university's remembrance program.
  • Wearing leather shoes, a pressed beige suit and a scarf emblazoned with Iraq's flag, the Iraqi journalist who became a folk hero in the Arab world by slinging his shoes at President George W. Bush defended his conduct on Thursday in a Baghdad court, Ernesto Londo?±o and Zaid Sabah wrote¬†Friday in the Washington Post. "'I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces,' Muntadar al-Zaidi said, speaking clearly and forcefully from a wooden cage before a packed courtroom. 'I was expressing what's inside of me and what's inside the Iraqi people from north to south and from west to east.'"
  • Walter MiddlebrookWalter Middlebrook, director of recruiting and community affairs at the Detroit News, was named assistant managing editor-Metro on Thursday. "He's had broad experience in a 30-year newspaper career, working as a reporter at the Minneapolis Star, an assistant metro editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, assistant features editor at the Detroit News, special sections editor-Life at USA Today, various positions at Newsday and New York Newsday, and editor of the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times," Jon Wolman, editor and publisher, told the staff.
  • Liberman Media, a Burbank, Calif.-based Spanish-language broadcaster, has grown to include a roster of six television and 21 radio stations. It is now marketing its brand and outlets as a national network dubbed Estrella TV, scheduled to launch in July. In an interview Wednesday with Laura Mart??nez of Multichannel News, Lenard Liberman, the executive vice president, discussed his affiliation strategy and how he plans to compete head to head with Univision and Telemundo.
  • Since 1880, one black professor has earned tenure at Emerson College without suing the college and enduring a years-long lawsuit: Robbie McCauley, a performing arts professor who was tenured in 2007, Gabrielle Dunn wrote¬†Thursday for the campus Berkeley Beacon. This year, professors Dr. Roger House, who teaches journalism history, and Pierre Desir have prepared complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
  • For International Women's Day, CARE and the NCM Fathom film company are presenting "A Powerful Noise" in 450 movie theaters for one night, March 5. The documentary, executive-produced by Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila C. Johnson, follows three women from different countries "who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring lasting solutions to their communities." After the film, a town hall discussion that includes former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is to be broadcast live to the theaters.

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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