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Monday, January 19, 2009

BET Anchor Defends Fairness of Black Journalists

"I am overwhelmed at this moment, and I don't understand how anybody who understands the history of this nation cannot be," Jeff Johnson said after Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in Tuesday as the nation's 44th president.

Jeff JohnsonJohnson was anchoring BET's coverage of the inauguration, during which he said that some had questioned black journalists' ability to cover the event fairly, questioning whether they were "just drinking the Kool-Aid."

Johnson replied that BET's coverage would be "balanced and very fair," and that, "We're covering it the right way because we're celebrating this not with African Americans but with the entire country. And this is the brief opportunity we have, before we have to hold Barack Obama accountable, to celebrate the fact that he is the first president of the United States that is a person of color."

Johnson said it reminded him of how he felt on Election Night, another occasion when "It was difficult to remain a journalist and it was time to be an African American man."

On Election Night, a BET reporter stood in front of cheering students yelling "Oba-ma! Oba-ma!" at Spelman College in Atlanta and, increasingly raising her voice to be heard, declared, "Eighteen- and 22-year-olds now see a whole other vision as to what their lives could be!" She went on so excitedly about her jubilation that the camera seemingly was forced to cut away from the scene.  Juan Williams on Fox News Channel and Roland S. Martin on CNN also expressed their thoughts as African Americans on that historic night.

Williams told National Public Radio listeners on Tuesday that one of the sites for an inaugural ball had been a slave market, just as others told viewers and listeners that slave labor had built the Capitol and the White House. 

TV One commentators, who included the Rev. Al Sharpton and radio host Joe Madison, said on Tuesday that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had gathered a larger crowd in Detroit than at the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington., the kind of factoid one would learn "only on TV One," they said.

On MSNBC, celebrity academic Michael Eric Dyson opined that "there is no question that Barack Obama is a focused man," saying he was able "to speak broadly to the world and to be rooted firmly in the soil from which he sprung." He also said he was struck by Obama's outreach to Muslim nations. Obama said to them, "We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." carried comments from Jeffrey C. Stewart, a black studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, among others. "Emotionally, I like Rev. Lowery's speech the best," he wrote, referring to the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "because it allowed some humor in the line, we are working toward an America where 'black doesn't have to get back, that brown can stick around, that yellow doesn't have to hear 'never,' that the red man [I'm paraphrasing] can have his land and that white can do what's right.'

"This riffing on an old black folk line was funny, apt, and made the president laugh. We need a bit of laughter as well as tears in the next administration, and Lowery's speech was a good beginning."

Editorial writer Jonathan Capehart commented about now-former president George W. Bush on the Washington Post site. "Since that November day when the nation signed the lease of the White House over to the Democratic candidate, Bush has been a gentleman," Capehart wrote. "True to his patrician roots. And respectful of the office of the president and the man who now occupies it. That's the image of Bush I'll try to remember tomorrow as Obama starts to unravel the mess of problems he inherited today."

On National Public Radio, Michel Martin described the celebratory nature of the day, saying, "It seems like the largest church service I've ever seen . . . you just catch someone's eye and they just want to hug you. I've never seen anything like it."

Correspondent Ron Allen, appearing on MSNBC, agreed. "It didn't feel like a presidential inauguration.  It just felt like a good time. It was really a time for the nation to pause. It was as if the nation was suspended in time, to take a deep breath and get back to work in the morning."

The Washington Post's New York bureau chief, Keith Richburg, described being in Times Square amid 3,000 people watching the ceremonies on a dozen big screens: "You could hear a pin drop during the oath. Everyone was courteous, everyone was happy," he said on MSNBC.

While other networks were commercial-free leading up to Tuesday's swearing-in, BET cut away for at least one commercial break.


Jan. 19, 2009 

Some Journalists Have to Be There, No Matter What

Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record used photographs of readers' faces to construct an image of Barack Obama for a special section."January 20th 2009 is a fulcrum moment. African Americans and minorities across the world are about to see a person of color take the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our national psyche, scarred by slavery and Jim Crow injustice, will be altered for the better. That story belongs on tv screens." 

Those words came from Chris Glorioso, a white reporter from WPIX-TV, a Tribune Co.-owned New York station that would not pay for Glorioso to cover Tuesday's Inauguration in Washington.

"I interrupted my bosses in an editorial meeting," Glorioso continued in his piece, "and said, 'I know you can't pay for it, but I am going to cover the Inauguration.' My parents happen to live in the D.C. suburbs. I told them, 'We don't need a credit card to sleep on Mom's couch.' Is this utter vacuum of professional decorum a little depressing? Yes. Will my photographer and I be living like college frat guys? Yes. Will Mama Glorioso be asked to make her trademark meatballs? Absolutely. But I'm not going to let the flat-lining economy block me from reporting history."

Three hundred people attended a long-sold-out Washington reception sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists, many of them there to cover the inauguration. But among them were New York Gov. David Paterson, retired CNN anchor Bernard Shaw and actors Hill Harper and Glynn Turman, according to NABJ President Barbara Ciara, along with gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. Gwen Ifill of PBS read from her new book at the event, held at the home of the National Visionary Leadership Project, which documents African American history. However, the event was primarily an occasion for members to see each other, Ciara said.

Outside of Washington, those who weren't boarding the buses with hometown folks, ready to brave gridlocked D.C. traffic and the threatened freezing temperatures were still writing about it, some of them on front page, others simply on their Facebook pages.

That presented its own set of problems, as Steve Myers wrote on the Web site of the Poynter Institute:

"Back in November, I asked my colleagues at Poynter to be on the lookout for fellow journalists' Facebook 'status updates' regarding the election. I suspected many would express happiness at Barack Obama's victory, and that's pretty much what I saw in the 50 or so status updates we collected.

"There's no way to know if my unscientific survey reflects the journalism community as a whole. (Those 50 status updates come from a pool of perhaps a few thousand journalists with Facebook connections to my colleagues at Poynter.) But what it seems to show is that some journalists haven't resolved how they behave online with ethical guidelines against supporting political campaigns."

Meanwhile, media outlets were looking for different ways to cover the Obama phenomenon. At the Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record, features editor Susan Ladd asked readers to tell the paper what they would say to Obama.

"She was thinking we might get 100 responses," Editor John Robinson wrote Sunday on his blog. Instead, the paper got more than 350.

"At about the same time, we asked you to send us your photographs so that we could use them as part of a special edition on Inauguration Day. We were nervous, though, because we needed at least 150 mugshots to create a photographic mosaic in Obama's image. That's a lot to ask when people are so busy with more important matters over the Christmas holidays.

"Oh we of little faith. You sent us more than 470 photos."

The photos, cropped, color corrected and sized by design director Ben Villarreal, will comprise a mosaic of Obama's image that will anchor the front page of a special 16-page inauguration section, Robinson wrote. The Chicago Tribune had a similar idea for its front page.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian will be live blogging the inauguration throughout the day in a collaboration between the NMAI E-Newservice and the Navajo Times. In another Native publication, Native Times, writer S.E. Ruckman used the occasion to ruminate on the lack of Natives in newsrooms.

"Unambiguous in Calling Himself an African American"

"Throughout his barrier-breaking presidential campaign, Barack Obama avoided calling direct attention to race, long a divisive force in electoral politics. But now, as he stands on the verge of becoming the nation's first African American president, Obama is talking more about how his racial identity can unify and transform the country," Michael A. Fletcher wrote Monday in a front-page story in the Washington Post.

Heart & Soul features Barack and Michelle Obama for February."'There is an entire generation that will grow up taking for granted that the highest office in the land is filled by an African American,' Obama said in an interview last week with The Washington Post. 'I mean, that's a radical thing. It changes how black children look at themselves. It also changes how white children look at black children. And I wouldn't underestimate the force of that.'

"When Obama is sworn in tomorrow, many Americans will celebrate a once-unthinkable milestone achieved by a politician whose own mixed racial heritage — he is the product of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother — raised piercing questions of identity as he began his quest for the presidency. Is he black enough? some asked in his campaign's early days. Did his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia make him too different to fully appreciate America's painful struggle for civil rights and racial progress that laid the foundation for his ascendancy?

"Obama has confronted questions about his racial identity since his earliest days in politics. And now he is confronting new questions, as Americans of differing backgrounds are eager to claim him. Is he the first black president or the first biracial president? Why should the white part of his lineage give way to the black part?

". . . For his part, Obama is unambiguous in calling himself an African American, the identity he embraced early on.

"Though he has always honored his white mother and grandparents, the young Obama read African American writers and studied the mien of the black guys he encountered on the basketball court. He was intrigued by the older African American men who played cards with his grandfather. He imitated the dance moves he saw on the television show 'Soul Train,' and he tried to curse like the late comedian Richard Pryor."

Actor Says, Why Can't We Just Drop the Labels?

Giancarlo Esposito and actress Angela Bassett after a showing of the movie "Gospel Hill" in Denver during the Democratic National Convention in August. (Credit: Sheba R. Wheeler)Barack Obama "should be referred to as a biracial human being who embraces his African American heritage as well as his heritage that is from the Mayflower. That's what I feel," actor Giancarlo Esposito told Journal-isms.

Best known for his roles in early Spike Lee movies, Esposito, 50, is the son of an African American mother from Alabama and an Italian father from Naples. He is in Washington for the Obama celebration, and on Sunday led an inauguration-crowd screening of the film he produced, "Gospel Hill," about racial redemption in a Southern town.

"I feel like the media should refer to him as a human being," Esposito told Journal-isms on Monday. "Once we start putting labels on how to refer to a man who's both black and white, then we get in trouble. Is he a black white man? Is he a white black man? He's a man. He's a man. My suggestion is, I can't tell the media what how to address Barack Obama. But remember that Barack was Barry, he was Barry Obama, he's come to us now in a new incarnation that embraces his indigenous name, so he became Barack Obama, and then we all got scared he was a Muslim, and accused him of being in bed with all these organizations, that are out to harm America." Then he said, repeating words from the actor accompanying him, "Matthew Modine is saying we should address him with our eyes closed."

Elizabeth Atkins, a biracial author and former Detroit print and broadcast journalist, wouldn't go that far. She wrote Journal-isms, "Journalists should get into the habit of saying that he's BOTH — African American and Caucasian — a true symbol of American human unity.

"Today is the day for journalists — when referring to his race — to include that fact that he's half white, too.  It was his white family who raised him, and built his character as he is today," she said.

But Elliot Lewis, a freelance television journalist who wrote the 2006 book "Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial America," and whose family is biracial on both sides, said this: "First, we need to recognize that the terms 'black' and 'biracial' are not mutually exclusive. One doesn't cancel out the other," Lewis told Journal-isms.

"That said, in referring to Barack Obama, the media should be mindful of certain social realities of race (how one 'looks' for example), how this moment should best be framed in the context of U.S. history, while at the same time also respecting individual declarations of one's own racial identity. That's important. In Obama's case, all of these things point to identifying him as black, or 'African-American,' because he has made it clear that this is the identity he has embraced.

"That's an easy one. With Tiger Woods, who has made it clear he identifies as multiracial, it gets trickier. But the same rules of thumb should apply: social reality, historical context, respect the individual. After he won the Masters, I advocated that the media describe him as follows: 'Tiger Woods will go down in history as the first black golfer to win the Masters Tournament, a milestone in a sport with a long track record of discrimination against non-whites. Woods, who has an African American father and an Asian mother, identifies as multiracial.'

"It's also possible to handle these questions by noting the distinction between ancestry and identity," added Lewis, a former board member of the National Association of Black Journalists. "Obama embraces his multiracial ancestry while also embracing a black identity. So, you could call him the first black president while also noting he's the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. This, too, would be consistent with how he describes himself."

"So Comfortable Defining Black in Certain Ways"

Leonard Pitts Jr."Once, I interviewed Obama and he started quoting something I had written about him," Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote in his syndicated column from the Miami Herald. "I expressed surprise that he knew my work. To which he replied, 'Oh yeah, brother, I read you.'

"He said it just like that, with the easy, offhand familiarity of black men among black men. It struck me, this oblique reference to the tie we share, a tie he would not, could not and, he might argue, need not reference so baldly in a public setting.

"Some might call that a lie of omission. Others might call it politics. Either way, 'Oh yeah, brother' becomes a way of pulling back the curtain to say, I'm still in here, I'm still me.

"We are so comfortable defining black in certain ways, in restricting it to the politics of grievance and lament, that we sometimes do not recognize it when it takes other forms."

Smiley: Obama Must Be Pushed into Greatness

"Last February,  . . . Tavis Smiley held his annual State of the Black Union forum in New Orleans. For the second year in a row, Obama declined to attend. Smiley was angry about the slight and criticized Obama openly," Marc Ambinder writes in the January/February issue of the Atlantic. "The backlash against Smiley was intense. . . . The Smiley backlash was evidence to Obama's inner circle that, in the words of one adviser, `Barack became untouchable in the community.' . . . `Tavis Smiley was the object lesson for everyone,' says Anita Dunn, a senior campaign strategist."

Moderator David Gregory read those words to Smiley, the activist broadcaster, Sunday on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press." He asked, "Tavis, do you think that this president has a unique obligation to specifically target issues and problems in the black community?"

The question came after Smiley invoked the figure of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass as NBC's Tom Brokaw, the New York Times' David Brooks, NBC's Chuck Todd and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin discussed Obama's prospects.

"In my study of history, great presidents aren't born, great presidents are made," Smiley said. I want, as we all do — to Tom's point earlier about even Republicans cheering for Mr. Obama to succeed; 58 percent of Republicans, David, who supported McCain, are — want Obama to do well, and they're, they're excited about what, what this, what this next four years will mean. So the country wants him to do well. That said, while we want him to be a great president — and Doris makes it very clear he has all the requisite talent to become a great president — because they're made and not born, presidents, I think, have to be pushed into their greatness.

"MR. SMILEY: Somebody's got to be willing to play the role of Frederick Douglass. Is it the media . . .

"MS. GOODWIN: That's right.

"MR. SMILEY: . . . the American people? There's got to be a Frederick Douglass in this equation if you're going to have an Abraham Lincoln. And if Obama is going to be a great president, he's got to be pushed, held accountable, supported. We can't abandon our post now. Back to the point that, that Chuck made earlier about, you know, what is he going to call on us to do?

MR. BROKAW: Right.

"MR. SMILEY: We've got to push him into his greatness."

Smiley returned to the theme in a story Monday by ABC News' Pierre Thomas and Jack Date.

"There was this sense in black America — let's stay quiet, let the brother win. When he gets in, then we can raise these issues," said Smiley. "Well, now is the time. We'll see what kind of response we get from the Obama administration."

ABC-TV's "This Week" featured two women of color on its political roundtable on Sunday, journalist Gwen Ifill of PBS and political strategist Donna Brazile.

Crowd gathers Sunday for opening inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Credit: HBO)


Screw-Up Leaves Bishop Robinson Out of HBO Telecast

"Some writers are already asking why the invocation by the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, wasn't included in HBO's coverage of Sunday's celebratory concert We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration," Eric Deggans, media writer for the St. Petersburg Times, wrote on his blog. "Was Robinson's remarks, which came about 15-minutes before the rest of the event began, ever intended to be a part of the program determined by Obama's inaugural committee? 

"And if not — given that Obama has already stirred controversy by having a pastor who opposes gay marriage kick off his actual inauguration — why not?"

The answer, supplied by Josh Earnest of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, via HBO spokesman Tobe Becker:

"We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson's invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday's program. We regret the error in executing this plan — but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event."

Columnist Shanna Flowers Leaving Roanoke Times

Shanna Flowers, Metro columnist for the Roanoke (Va.) Times for the past four years, is leaving journalism to join the local hospital "as a member of its Guest Services team," which "will allow me to use my people skills working with the hospital system's hundreds of volunteers," Flowers told readers on Sunday. 

Shanna Flowers"This job just happened to come up," Flowers told Journal-isms. "It's just a great job." The Carilion Clinic has 225 volunteers and "my charge is to recruit many, many more," she said.

Flowers, 46, has been in newspapers for 15 years, having been an assistant city editor at the Detroit News and worked at the Saginaw (Mich.) News and Orlando Sentinel, as well as a time out of 18 months in the communications department of General Motors. She joined the Roanoke paper as an editorial writer, a job she held for four years.

"I really like Roanoke. I'm embedded in the community," she said. "The Roanoke Times is the best place I've ever worked. When I told my boss . . . I started to cry."

Managing Editor Michael Stowe told Journal-isms that "we plan to have a columnist" to succeed Flowers, but had not decided whether it would be a person of color, or if it would be someone on the staff. He said the paper would look for someone like Flowers, "who can really connect with readers . . . and at the same time, take a strong stand."

Short Takes

  • "Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday marks the end of an era for the Fox News Channel, the cable news network of choice during the George W. Bush years," Brian Stelter wrote Sunday for the New York Times. "But the network is showing no concern about the new administration; if anything, it seems re-energized. With a series of program changes this month, Fox News is doubling down on the programming strategy that has made it the No. 1 cable news network for seven years."
  • "After working as a freelance reporter with KTVU-TV" in the San Francisco Bay area "for 8 years, Renee Kemp is leaving her position to manage a television station in Bermuda. She filed her last report for KTVU on Jan. 17," KTVU reported on Saturday. "Kemp, an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter, is moving on from KTVU-TV to become General Manager of Community Information Television (CITV) in Bermuda, an English protectorate. There, she will be overseeing operations, hosting her on talk show and, of course, reporting local news stories."
  • "USA Today said Friday it will stop publishing its international edition on Feb. 6 but will look for partners in Europe and South America to continue operating it," the Associated Press reported.
  • Gannett Co. said it is trying to sell assets of the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen and would close the newspaper if a sale is not completed by March 21, the Dow Jones News Service reported on Friday. "It is published as part of a joint operating arrangement by TNI Partners with the much larger Arizona Daily Star, which is owned by a subsidiary of Lee Enterprises Inc. Average daily circulation of the Citizen is 19,851, according to the latest Audit Bureaus of Circulation report."
  • "In a remarkable statement one day before the birthday holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. ‚Äî and two days before the inauguration of Barack Obama ‚Äî the Meridian (Miss.) Star has, in an editorial, offered an apology for its past coverage of civil rights issues, as Greg Mitchell reported Sunday in Editor & Publisher.
  • The Source, a one-time bible of the hip-hop world, "announced recently that it would no longer take what the co-publisher, L. Londell McMillan, calls 'booty ads,' for pornographic films, pornographic Web sites or escort services. But those have been a mainstay for The Source ‚Äî more than half the ads in the magazine at times, he said," Richard P&eacuterez-Pe?±a reported Sunday in the New York Times.
  • "Add another casualty to the list of victims of the Mumbai attacks: the credibility of India's 24-hour television news channels," Mark Magnier reported Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. "In the wake of the November assault that killed more than 170 people, India's TV channels, often accused of sensationalism, have come in for rebuke, accused of informing their viewers so quickly and completely that the alleged masterminds in Pakistan were able to tell the attackers what Indian security personnel were planning and when."
  • The venerable musician Quincy Jones "is kicking off a new series of articles and viewpoints written by artists and musicians to be carried in Tribune newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jones' piece will appear first in the Chicago Tribune and The Hartford (Conn.) Courant this weekend and then in other Trib papers on Jan. 19," Editor & Publisher reported on Friday.
  • Angela RussellAngela Russell, the former 4 p.m. news anchor at CBS-owned KYW-3 in Philadelphia who uncovered Larry Mendte's email obsession with Alycia Lane and triggered a federal investigation that cost him his career, has landed squarely on her feet. Two months after her contract wasn't renewed in Philly, she's been hired as the new primary 5, 6, and 11 p.m. news anchor at Cox Broadcasting's KIRO-7-CBS in Seattle. She starts in March, according to the NewsBlues Web site.
  • "A British photographer said Sunday that the wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe punched him repeatedly in the face after he tried to take pictures of her near a luxury hotel in Hong Kong," Min Lee of the Associated Press reported on Sunday. "Richard Jones told The Associated Press that Grace Mugabe, 43, ordered a bodyguard to hold him down and then attacked him herself on Thursday near the Shangri-La hotel on Hong Kong's Kowloon peninsula."
  • Reporters Without Borders said Thursday it was dismayed by the fatal shooting in Venezuela of Orel Zambrano, the editor of the political weekly ABC, in Valencia, in the north-central state of Carabobo. Zambrano was also vice president of privately owned Radio Am?©rica 890 AM and a columnist for the regional daily Notitarde as well as being a lawyer.

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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