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Anti-ACORN Agenda "Permeated" Media

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Biden, Clyburn to Open TV One's Sunday Talk Show

Byron Pitts Recalls a Bluntly Racist Message

Congress Urged to Act on Black Press' Ad Woes

A conservative Web site posted this video showing ACORN employees in Baltimore offering advice about how to establish a brothel to conservative activists disguised as a pimp and an underage prostitute.

Success of Right-Wing "Echo Chamber" Documented

As members of the news media berate themselves for failing to pick up quickly enough on the transgressions of ACORN, the agency designed to help low-income people that has been targeted by the right wing, a report by two professors concludes:

"Despite long-standing charges from conservatives that the news media are determinedly liberal and ignore conservative ideas, the news media agenda is easily permeated by a persistent media campaign, even when there is little or no truth to the story.

"In the instance of the 2008 presidential election, the conservative echo chamber's allegations about ACORN, mostly unfounded, became one of the news media's major stories of the campaign."

On Friday, support for the idea that a sense of proportion about ACORN's problems has been lost came from an unlikely place - a talk-show discussion on National Public Radio. On the "Diane Rehm Show," Rehm said listeners had compared the coverage given ACORN with the relatively minimal outrage expressed toward another government contractor, Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater. Mercenaries for the U.S. government, Blackwater guards were involved in shootings that left 17 civilians dead on a Baghdad street. It is still a government contractor, while Acorn's federal ties have been cut.

Juan Williams, an NPR analyst and commentator for Fox News, noted on Rehm's show that the value of contracts for ACORN - officially the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - pale by comparison. Since 1994, the group has received an estimated $53 million in federal aid, the New York Times reported.

Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, is a major financial backer of Republican political candidates and causes. "After the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, his company won numerous lucrative contracts to provide protection for U.S. personnel, including a $21 million no-bid contract to protect L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority," Walter Pincus reported in the Washington Post.

"The next year, Blackwater secured a $1 billion, five-year State Department contract to guard U.S. diplomats and other dignitaries worldwide.

"The precise dollar amount of Xe's business with other government agencies is difficult to determine. But 'Master of War,' an investigative book on Blackwater by journalist Suzanne Simons published this year, put the sum at $2 billion since 1997 - not including the company's classified contracts with the CIA and other intelligence agencies."

Williams also wondered whether the conservatives' outrage rose to the same level at Wall Street scandals involving far greater sums of money. He cited the case of Bernie Madoff, the former Wall Street financier, who in July began a 150-year prison sentence for orchestrating one of the largest frauds in history.

Chris Cillizza, who covers politics at the Washington Post, said of ACORN's situation, "there has been a lot of political grandstanding on this issue. Politicians will use it for their political best interests. It's not necessarily getting to the heart of the matter."

ACORN returned to the news this month when videotapes were posted on a conservative Web site showing ACORN employees offering, outrageously, advice about how to establish a brothel. The would-be clients were conservative activists disguised as a pimp and an underage prostitute.

"Congress has cut funds to ACORN, the Census Bureau cut its ties, and President Barack Obama, who once represented the group as a young lawyer, said it deserves to be investigated," the Associated Press reported.

"ACORN has also fired several of the employees, whom it described as not representative of important work it does for low-income families nationwide; ordered additional organization-wide training; suspended its housing assistance programs; and appointed a former Massachusetts attorney general to independently audit its operations."

News editors, conceding they were slow on a story promoted incessantly by Fox News and right-wing talk shows, ordered coverage ramped up. As one explanation, they said they needed time to verify the allegations.

Such caution was applauded on Wednesday, when Peter Dreier, politics professor at Occidental College, and Christopher R. Martin, journalism professor at the University of Northern Iowa, released their study of coverage of ACORN during the 2008 campaign.

"Although ACORN is involved in many community activities around the country, including efforts to improve housing, wages, access to credit, and public education, the dominant story frame about ACORN was 'voter fraud,'' they wrote.

"The mainstream news media failed to fact-check persistent allegations of 'voter fraud' despite the existence of easily available countervailing evidence. The media also failed to distinguish allegations of voter registration problems from allegations of actual voting irregularities."

"This report examines how different interest groups - we call them opinion entrepreneurs - were able to place their views in the media, and how they used the network of conservative media organizations (the so-called 'echo chamber') to test and promote their frames and channel the stories into mainstream media agenda.

"The conservative echo chamber also linked Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his campaign to ACORN and, more broadly, attacked Obama's experiences as a community organizer and, by implication, his ties with 'radical,' even 'socialist,' community organizing groups. These criticisms, too, were picked up by mainstream news organizations.

"If other stories of the campaign hadn't garnered more attention, particularly the nosediving economy (despite efforts of the conservative echo chamber to blame this on ACORN, too), it is likely that this story could have become a determining factor in the 2008 presidential race. (In fact, Republicans and conservative news media continued to insist in 2009 that the New York Times intentionally killed a bombshell story linking ACORN, Obama, and election fraud . . .) It still may be a factor in the 2010 mid-term elections and in the 2012 presidential race."

Johnson Reported Seeking Buyer or Investor for Ebony

"Now it appears Johnson Publishing’s chairman and CEO, Linda Johnson Rice, has reached what must have been an agonizing decision: Johnson Publishing is seeking a buyer or investor for its flagship publication, Ebony, in an effort aimed at securing the survival of the nation's oldest magazine devoted to African-American life. It's unclear whether the company's other properties, including Jet, would be part of a possible sale," Johnnie L. Roberts wrote Friday for Newsweek.

"According to media and investment executives familiar with the developments, Chicago-based Rice, the daughter of Ebony's legendary founder, the late John H. Johnson, has approached, among others, Time Inc., Viacom, and private investors that include buyout firms.

"Nothing has yet resulted from any of Johnson Publishing's overtures, however."


Byron Pitts Recalls a Bluntly Racist Message

Byron PittsByron Pitts, the CBS correspondent who now has a spot on "60 Minutes," might have entered the news business at a time when news organizations were making an effort at diversity, but that doesn't mean he didn't face racial obstacles.

In a memoir to be published Tuesday, "Step Out on Nothing: How Family and Faith Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges" (St. Martin's Press), Pitts, 48, writes, "I have been asked plenty of times if racism exists in the news business. The simple answer is that racism and other -isms have always existed in America. Newsrooms are not immune."

In a city he does not name, Pitts recalls, "I was actually up for a weekend anchor job since I had been filling in for weeks, but the station was delaying making a decision. The ratings were good and my work was fine, but the company would not pull the trigger. Finally, I pressed my news director, who was a friend. 'What's the deal?' I insisted. His response shocked me. His boss, a station executive, had said, 'A nigger would never anchor one of his broadcasts.' My news director reluctantly passed on the quotation.

"'You can sue if you'd like. Then you'll be blackballed and never work in TV. . . . Or you can press on,' he said, with a mix of sadness and disgust in his voice."

After praying and discussing the incident with family members, Pitts writes, he decided that "the point wasn't about a man's judgment of me; it was about what God had planned. Later that day, I went to my news director, thanked him for his honesty, and asked for his support when the chance came to move along. He agreed. A few months later I moved on.

"Perhaps I should rephrase that. I didn't move on. God moved me along."

The book has a larger theme, Pitts told Journal-isms via e-mail: "I didn't learn to read until I was 12 and stuttered until I was 20. Today I'm on 60-MINUTES. Tell me God ain't good! :)

"The book is meant to encourage all people. It's about struggle and what's required to get past the difficult moments.

"I talk very honestly about my faith and the importance it's played and still plays in my life.

". . . I pray there is a word there for people of faith, people in the midst of struggle, people on the way up on the way down or just holding on in the middle of our profession. And a word to those who need encouragement and to those who encourage others (teachers, coaches, mentors, the old school souls in the newsrooms around the country)."

Pitts said he had set up a Facebook fan page for the book. His publisher said he plans a book tour in October that will take him to cities that include New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas. Some appearances are hosted by chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists. He also plans sessions with CBS affiliates and appearances on CBS' "The Early Show" on Sept. 30 and "Sunday Morning" on Oct. 4.

Congress Urged to Act on Black Press' Ad Woes

Denise Rolark BarnesDenise Rolark Barnes, representing the black press at a congressional hearing Thursday on the future of newspapers, testified that "what papers like ours need is legislation that will end discrimination on the part of advertising agencies as it relates to ad-purchasing in minority-owned media, and that promotes diversity in advertising agencies' hiring and promotion practices."

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, added Barnes, publisher of the weekly Washington Informer, to the witness list on Wednesday after being notified that a similar hearing was criticized by the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association of Black Journalists as slighting the interests of African Americans.

"Minority or ethnic newspapers have always experienced a recession when it comes to advertising," Barnes said. Advertisers have one pool for advertising and another for diversity, and the black press gets money from the much smaller "diversity" pool, she said.

Maloney and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., have introduced the “Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009,” legislation that would allow community and metropolitan papers to become nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations similar to public broadcasting.

John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, the newspaper publishers' trade group, said he saw the legislation as "a step in the right direction, but we don't see it as a comprehensive solution."

Maloney took strong exception to characterization of her legislation as a "bailout" of the newspaper industry, one made both in the press and by Republicans. However, Dr. Paul Starr, professor of sociology and public affairs at the Stuart Chair of Communications and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, said there was precedent for a government role regarding the press.

Newspapers enjoy separate postal rates, for example, and at the country's founding, a conscious effort was made to avoid taxing newspapers, as was a hated practice in England.

He also cautioned that by erecting pay walls for online content, as is widely being discussed, news organizations risk losing more readers for hard news. The Internet has segmented categories of information, such as entertainment or sports news, he said, and readers are least likely to pay for national or international news, which they can get in another form elsewhere.

"We are probably only seeing the beginning of this crisis," Starr also said, explaining that newspaper readership is aging.

Barnes suggested the language of the legislation be broadened to include weekly newspapers and that the term "general circulation" not be interpreted to exclude the ethnic press.

Testimony of the four witnesses, who included Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, is posted on the committee's Web site.

Reporters' First Question: Why Are We in Pittsburgh?

Friday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"Hundreds of members of the international media arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday morning, made their way through a gauntlet of security and arrived at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center with no big stories to cover and editors back home waiting for news," Ann Belser wrote in Friday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"They did what any good journalist would do: They punted. The story became why Pittsburgh was chosen to be the site of the G-20 summit."

In the Pittsburgh market, the Post-Gazette's TV editor, Rob Owen, wrote, "given the restrictions on local TV coverage during yesterday's opening of the G-20 summit — they couldn't report from the sky due to security restrictions on news choppers — local stations generally informed viewers without unnecessary, over-hyped, rambling reports."

On Friday night, "A vociferous but peaceful group of several thousand people marched for miles through the downtown area on Friday, united by opposition to the Group of 20 summit but expressing a diversity of mostly liberal causes as an army of stone-faced riot police watched their every move," the Associated Press reported.

Columnist Tony Norman wrote in Friday's paper, "my sympathies are more with the non-violent protesters than they are with folks who have what I consider an irrational fear of dissent. Seeing Downtown Pittsburgh transformed into a virtual police state because our political leaders want to party with international dignitaries without encountering flash mobs of protesters or the homeless isn't a testament to democracy.

"When you have boarded-up storefronts and empty buildings Downtown, how does that translate into a picture of a vital American city? With most of the workers gone, doesn't it feel more like a capitalist vision of the Rapture than proof that some scheme of economic revitalization worked?"

Sanjay Gupta Contracts H1N1 Virus in Afghanistan

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who contracted H1N1 in Afghanistan, receives treatment. (Credit: CNN)"Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, reportedly contracted a case of the infamous H1N1 flu while reporting on the war in Afghanistan. Nothing keeps Gupta down for long, however, and on Wednesday, while he waited to return to work, the energetic journalist blogged about his experience," TV Spy reported.

"'It started as a cough,' Gupta recalls. But, he continued, 'it wasn't the kind of cough where something is temporarily stuck in your throat. It wasn't the kind of cough where simply clearing your throat would've been adequate. This was the kind of cough that hurts when you do it. A stinging pain that makes you wince and guard and hope that you don't have to cough again anytime soon."

"Gupta, who almost never gets sick, said that this was 'the sickest I have ever been.' He experienced 'high fevers, the lack of appetite, terrible sinus congestion, body aches, and yes — that hacking, come out of the blue."

"Was it the dreaded swine flu? Not exactly. As Gupta notes, 'the term swine flu is a misnomer, as this strain is made up of several different components, including swine, but also avian parts.'"

Obama Explains Why He Spoke of "Illegal Immigrants"

In his marathon of interviews for last Sunday's talk shows, President Obama explained to Jorge Ramos of Univision that he meant no disrespect when he used the phrase "illegal immigrants" in his address to a joint session of Congress, Marisa Trevi?±o wrote¬†Thursday on her Latina Lista blog.

"Now, in your speech to Congress you used the words 'illegal immigrants,' she quoted Ramos as saying, "However, and I remember very clearly, during the campaign you were very careful to use the words 'undocumented immigrants.' Why the change? You said words matter. Now, why do you choose to use the language that is being used by . . .

Obama: "Well, keep in mind . . ."

Ramos: ". . . those who criticize immigrants."

Obama: "Well, keep in mind what I was addressing. I was addressing misinformation by the other side that was engaging in scare tactics. So I was essentially quoting them. I was saying, 'for those of you who are saying that illegal immigrants are going to be covered under this plan,' I said that's not true. Right? So I'm using their language because I was addressing the misinformation that they are providing. And I was speaking directly to an audience, the American people, who because of this misinformation, I think actually were very responding often times in a negative way."

Trevi?±o continued: "The President's exact quote that night was:

"'There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants . . ."

"Looking at what the President told Ramos during his interview and reading the line from his speech above, it seems pretty obvious, now, that Obama was using the language best understood by all those Joe Wilsons out there."

NAHJ to Survey Latinos on Use of News Media

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has received a one-year, $100,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation for the next phase of NAHJ’s Parity Project program, assessing how many of the nation’s Latinos use, view and participate in news media, NAHJ announced on Friday.

"This will be done with the help of more than 8,000 Latino community contacts that NAHJ has worked with through the Parity Project."

Kevin Olivas, Parity Project director, told Journal-isms NAHJ was still working out the details on how the survey would be conducted, but he said "online surveys are one method that we will likely use.

"Among those likely to be tapped for help in compiling these results will be members of some of the Hispanic Community Advisory Councils that some of the 24 NAHJ Parity Project media partners have formed in order to receive guidance on covering the Latino community in their respective areas. These committees have also helped news organizations to find diverse sources for any story they cover."

New Wave of Censorship in Honduras Protested

"Ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s reappearance in Tegucigalpa has prompted a new wave of censorship of the national and international press," Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.

"The de facto government’s response to the news of his return and his appeal to the army to 'turn its rifles on the enemies of the people' has been to impose an immediate curfew, keep the international press away from the pro-Zelaya demonstrations and do everything possible to silence the few independent and opposition media still operating.

“This clampdown on the media in Honduras is unacceptable,” the press freedom group said. “We condemn the attempts of the de facto authorities to ensure that a serious situation goes unreported and we urge them to respect the rights of Honduran citizens, especially the right to free expression and free movement.”


Biden, Clyburn to Open TV One's Sunday Talk Show

Roland MartinVice President Joseph Biden and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., are the scheduled guests for the premiere of TV One’s new Sunday public affairs series "Washington Watch with Roland Martin" on the African American-oriented cable network. It airs at 11 a.m., repeating at 5 p.m., both times Eastern.

"Other panelists on the premiere episode are expected to include: The Washington Post National Editor Kevin Merida; syndicated columnist and author Deborah Mathis; American Urban Radio Networks White House correspondent April Ryan; Comcast Network Washington Bureau Chief and Philadelphia Tribune columnist Robert Traynham; Washington Times columnist and commentator Armstrong Williams; and Interactive One Chief Content Officer Smokey Fontaine," TV One said.

In May, when it introduced its fall programming, Black Entertainment Television announced a 30-minute program, "The Bottom Line," saying, "Each week, BET News will rise above the clutter of cable chatter and get to 'The Bottom Line' on Black America's most pressing issues. A diverse panel of our most prolific writers, thinkers, teachers and cultural icons will provide vital insight and analysis."

Spokesmen for BET, which once offered such regular fare as "BET News" and the Sunday news discussion "Lead Story," did not respond to inquiries on whether "The Bottom Line" is still planned.

The scarcity of African Americans on the Sunday talk shows was documented in 2006 by the National Urban League in a study, "Sunday Morning Apartheid."

On the mainstream networks, the only African Americans listed for appearances this Sunday are New York Gov. David Paterson on "Meet the Press" and Juan Williams, a regular panelist on "Fox News Sunday."

"Cosby Show" Reaffirmed Value of Traditional Family

Cast of 'The Cosby Show.'"Twenty-five years ago NBC took a risk," syndicated columnist Clarence Page wrote Wednesday for the Chicago Tribune. "In late September, the network launched a half-hour situation comedy about a prosperous, well-educated family where the children actually listened to their parents without a lot of wisecracks.

"And, oh, by the way, the family also happened to be black. Young people today may have a hard time imagining it, but that was a big deal at the time.

"ABC had turned the show down, but NBC, which was lagging in the Nielsen ratings, was a bit more desperate. It won. 'The Cosby Show' lasted eight years, five of them as the No. 1 sitcom in the ratings.

"The passing of years gives the show's anniversary special significance as we ponder how much the TV series helped change our times. The program is often credited with enriching the image of the African-American family in the eyes of the world. I think it also deserves credit for reaffirming the value of the traditional American family unit, regardless of race or ethnicity, although with a more equal-partner role for the wife than what was the typical case in 1950s sitcoms. . . .

"It is inevitable that we also wonder how much 'The Cosby Show' helped to prepare the way for Barack Obama's election to the White House. [Bill] Cosby plays that down. 'You can't get elected because of somebody you see on TV,' he told The Root. But Cosby was being modest about media power. Since John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, no one has gotten elected president without paying due respect to the selling power of TV images.

"I think Obama owes a cultural debt to the Huxtables. What better way for the Obamas to calm voter anxieties than to present the nation with a real-life version of America's most beloved TV family."

Short Takes

  • Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor in chief of the New York Amsterdam News, editorialized¬†Thursday that Democratic New York Gov. David Paterson should not drop out of his race for re-election and that the entry of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, is uncertain. Paterson is "A governor who, in a short and difficult time, has been able to end the dreaded Rockefeller Laws, get our famously unruly Legislature to settle on a budget on time, and lead the MTA out of its most serious financial crisis in recent memory," she wrote, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the mandatory sentencing laws for drug crimes.
  • Tim Jue, a journalist with KFSN, an ABC affiliate in Fresno. Calif., photographed an Oakland parking enforcement officer, but he didn't count on a $262 parking citation landing in his mailbox two weeks later, the Bay Area's KGO-TV reported¬†on Wednesday. Jue took a photo of the officer parked in a red zone, which for other citizens is supposed to be kept clear.
  • "Veteran television journalist Diego de Jes??s Rojas Vel?°squez was gunned down Tuesday outside the central Colombian city of Sup??a, according to interviews and press reports," the Committee to Protect Journalists said¬†on Thursday, calling on Colombian authorities to thoroughly investigate the killing.
  • Terry Jimenez, publisher of a sister paper, AM New York, was named acting publisher of Newsday, the dominant paper on Long Island, Richard Perez-Pena reported Wednesday in the New York Times. Timothy P. Knight, the publisher of Newsday, said he was leaving the paper after a turbulent five-year tenure that included a circulation scandal, downsizing and changes in ownership and management.
  • William Bennett, the conservative commentator and onetime Reagan administration official, told the Values Voters Summit, "I don't know why more of the African American leadership doesn't talk about Frederick Douglass . . . . Probably because of his deep devotion to Lincoln, and his deep devotion to this country." according to Jim Naureckas of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, writing on Tuesday. But Naureckas quotes the African American abolitionist and newspaper publisher as saying, "Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model."
  • "The last thing you‚Äôd expect Michelle Malkin to be is charming, funny, or vulnerable," Lloyd Grove wrote for the Daily Beast on Tuesday, in a profile of the "agent provocateur of the hard right ‚Äî blogger, newspaper columnist, Fox News contributor and, for the past six weeks, queen of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list." Mary C. Curtis commented¬†for Politics Daily, "The public Michelle Malkin has no patience for whiners. Now the private Michelle Malkin wants it both ways?"

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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