Are Op-Ed Columnists Fact-Checked?
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Columnist Walter Williams asserted that white voters were intimidated at a North Philadelphia polling place. The Justice Department alleged that both black and white voters were insulted. (Video)
E.J. Dionne Jr., the Washington Post columnist, wasn't talking about op-ed pages, but he might as well have been:
"The smearing of Shirley Sherrod ought to be a turning point in American politics. This is not, as the now-trivialized phrase has it, a 'teachable moment.' It is a time for action," Dionne wrote on Monday.
"The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that 'fairness' requires treating extremist rants as 'one side of the story.' And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama and against progressives in this year's election."
The same day Dionne's column appeared, Roy Maynard, editorial page editor at the Tyler (Texas) Morning Telegraph, posed this question to the e-mail list of the National Conference of Editorial Writers:
"Walter Williams makes some pretty serious allegations about black-on-Asian violence without giving specifics. Would you go with it, or spend time verifying a syndicated columnist? Do they have their own verification system?"
Williams is a black conservative who was trained as an economist, not as a journalist. In a moment of candor some years ago on the same e-mail list, one editorial page editor wrote, "the fact is from my 42 years in journalism, the majority readers want newspapers to feature 'conservative' commentary from other races in order to justify their own 'conservative' feelings, or vice-versa. My white readers have, for instance, insisted that I buy conservative black columnists who, to those readers, appear to agree with them."
Williams' column, for publication on Wednesday, was called "Racism or stupidity."
"A black or white person, now dead, who lived during the civil rights struggles of the 1930s, '40s or '50s, might very well be appalled and disgusted by black behavior accepted today. Yesteryear, it was the Klan or White Citizens Council who showed up at polling places to intimidate black voters. During the 2008 elections, it was the New Black Panthers who showed up at a Philadelphia polling place to intimidate white voters and tell them, 'You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.' What's worse is the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to not to prosecute.
"Black intimidation of voters, to my knowledge, is rare, but black intimidation of Asians is not. Recent reports out of Philadelphia and San Francisco tell of black students beating up Asian students. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in the wake of serious black-on-Asian violence at South Philadelphia High School, charged the district with 'deliberate indifference' to the harassment of Asian students and with 'intentional disregard' for their welfare."
A quick fact-check found at least two questionable statements.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported a Justice Department allegation that two members of the fringe New Black Panther group "hurled racial threats and insults at black and white voters" at a North Philadelphia polling place, not simply at whites.
In May, the San Francisco Chronicle published a front-page Sunday story about black-Asian violence. It followed a comment from an Asian woman alleging race discrimination with the countervailing, "Others - including the police chiefs of San Francisco and Oakland - are just as emphatic that the problem is not hatred of Asian Americans, but a hazardous collision between angry young men and a vulnerable population with cash in their pockets."
Williams' editor at Creators Syndicate, Melissa Bobbitt, told Journal-isms that "our policy is that fact-checking is left to the writer, however, we do double on." She said she had received no complaints about the column. Senior Editor David Yontz said it was Creators' policy not to disclose the number of outlets subscribing to a particular columnist.
Dennis Mangan, editorial page editor at the Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, told the editorial writers group that he does not subscribe to Williams.
But after reading "Racism or stupidity," he wrote this: "The intellectual dishonesty that permeates this column is troublesome because it is becoming so common from some of the people we're paying to write, presumably, serious commentary.
"One example (others can choose their own favorites, because they are surely there): Williams invokes a comparison between the widespread terrorization of blacks by the Klan over generations to an isolated incident at a Philadelphia polling place. What's his point: black racism is just as bad today as white racism was before the Civil Rights movement? I gotta think [he] knows that's not true, but he's happy to lay the idea out there. Then, he acknowledges that such voter intimidation is rare, but quickly distracts the reader by alleging that another kind of racism, black intimidation of Asians, is not rare (which makes it, what, somewhat common place? common place? prevalent? epidemic? who knows?) In two paragraphs, Williams has given himself the best of both worlds: he's planted a seed suggesting widespread black racism, but he can deny trying to do so because, hey, he said voter intimidation was rare."
Still, Mangan said he would use the column.
"I've got more flexibility to use or not use specific columnists, so I've started slugging ones like this with 'yin, needs a yang' and watching for something that provides at least a measure of balance that I can run the same day. If no yang shows up, I don't use the column." He said he might make a special appeal for reader responses.
Susan Parker, community conversations editor at the Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., said on the e-mail list that she runs Williams despite her misgivings.
"Walter Williams makes analogies and comparisons on a fairly regular basis that seem a stretch to me. I am sure that Williams, an economics professor, is intelligent enough to see that they are a stretch (or worse) but he does it anyway. It seems condescending to me, as if he assumes readers will buy his arguments even though they are weak in substance. But we run Williams because readers have requested him, along with others we run who make ugly (in my opinion) and divisive allegations week after week," she wrote. "I like the idea Dennis offers, asking for reader comments back. Might give it a try."
In the end, she decided to run Williams' column online only.
Parker and Mangan were among no more than a handful of editors who responded on the e-mail list, but Maynard, who asked the original question, had enough information to make his decision.
"I chose not to use it. My main reason was his lack of supporting evidence for his assumptions," he told Journal-isms. "As I read the various news accounts of the black-on-Asian violence, I could find no solid confirmation that race was a factor. The Asian American Defense and Education Fund made serious allegations against a school district, but anyone can make allegations and no one has yet ruled on those. Williams is, in fact, our most popular columnist, so I took some heat for it. But I just wasn't comfortable with the column."
Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the truncated video that made Agriculture official Sherrod look like a black bigot, was also behind the successful move to discredit ACORN, the nonprofit organization designed to help low-income families.
One of their conclusions: "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."
Dionne concluded his column by saying, "The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it."
Then he added, "And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda."
- Sam Fulwood III, Center for American Progress: Race and Beyond: Editorializing While Black (Aug. 3)
- Pew Research Center for People and the Press: Sherrod Case Draws Heavy Coverage, Modest Interest
- Joe Strupp, Media Matters for America: Some Conservative Columnists Still Reluctant To Criticize Breitbart
- Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Black Panthers the GOP's New Willie Horton
The American Society of News Editors completed its second attempt at measuring diversity at online news organizations, the society reported on Wednesday ‚Äî but some of the biggest and most well-known websites still did not participate.
Missing were AOL, New York; MinnPost.com, Minneapolis; Salon.com, San Francisco; Talking Points Memo (TPM Media LLC), New York; the Daily Beast, New York; the Huffington Post, Los Angeles; and Yahoo, Sunnyvale, Calif.
Yahoo is the most-visited news site on the Web, and its head of local news efforts, Anthony Moor, sits on the ASNE board. AOL says it employs 4,000 journalists, though not all full time.
As ASNE explained, "ASNE released a survey of online-only news sites in April, along with its annual survey of traditional newsrooms, but subsequently dismissed those findings as an inadequate effort because only 28 sites were identified and just seven responded." Some said they never received the form.
"This second effort at surveying online-only newsrooms used more precise qualifying standards and was aided by others in the online industry who identified more sites to include.
"Questionnaires were sent to 58 sites, and 27, or 47 percent, responded. . . . This small sample means the results of the survey may not be indicative of online-only news organizations as a group. The universe of online-only newsrooms is still taking shape."
Nevertheless, "About one of every five full-time journalists employed by the 27 sites that responded voluntarily to the ASNE questionnaire was a journalist of color, compared to about one of every seven in the annual ASNE census of newsrooms that publish a daily newspaper. Two of every five staffers at the online-only sites were women, compared to about one of every three in the newspaper newsrooms," ASNE said in a news release.
Among those that did participate were the Center for Investigative Reporting/California Watch, Berkeley, Calif.; Factcheck.org/Annenberg Public Policy Center, Washington; GlobalPost, Boston; ProPublica, New York; the Center for Public Integrity, Washington; theRoot.com, Washington; SeattlePI.com; the St. Louis Beacon; the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen; and the Voice of San Diego.
"The survey found that online-only sites can range from news websites established to cover defined neighborhoods and run by one or two individuals who earn no money, to well-known commercial enterprises. The survey also suggests that an increasing number of people appear to be volunteering to tell their neighbors what is going on in their immediate community," ASNE said.
Black Entertainment Television laid off six people Tuesday from its Web operation, including Executive Editor Tanu Henry, and told employees that Mimi Valdés, former editor of Vibe and Latina magazines, would start Monday as vice president for content, sources at BET told Journal-isms.
"I was told they were taking the organization in a new direction, restructuring and reorganizing," one said.
Valdés spent two years in the top editorial job at the nation's largest English-language magazine targeting Hispanics before leaving Latina in May. An announcement then said she was leaving "to pursue new opportunities."
In January, she had become co-founder of K!dult, a teen-targeted website from Pharrell Williams, the hip-hop recording artist, producer, musician and fashion designer.
Henry left AOL Black Voices, where he was senior programming manager, in 2006 and landed at BET.
Others said to have been laid off include Rhonda Cowan, vice president for music at BET Interactive (photo), Tracy L. Scott, a senior producer and Trinket Lewis, who worked in video production. The employees were in New York and in Washington. BET was originally based in Washington, but after it was sold to New York-based Viacom in 2000, more operations moved to that city.
BET.com is the top-rated Internet site catering to African Americans, according to ComScore, an Internet ratings service. It received 3.5 million unique visitors in June, compared with 2.9 million for AOL Black Voices, 2.3 million for Media Takeout and 1.7 million for Black Planet.
Jeanine Liburd, spokeswoman for BET, said she did not have "the latest" on Valdés and did not respond to question about the layoffs.
"Essence, a Time Inc.-owned monthly that is seen as the ultimate fashion and lifestyle title for black women, is wrestling with a controversy sparked by a former fashion editor who criticized the magazine's decision to hire a white woman as its new fashion director," Keith J. Kelly wrote Wednesday for the New York Post's "Media Ink" column.
"Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray told Media Ink she's aware of the controversy now playing out on Facebook after the magazine named Ellianna Placas, who has worked at O: The Oprah Magazine and US Weekly, as its fashion director but said she's not changing course.
"Michaela [angela] Davis, who was also founding fashion director for Vibe magazine and a onetime editor-in-chief of the print version of black fashion magazine Honey, started the cyber controversy yesterday with a Facebook posting that has attracted dozens of comments.
" 'It's with a heavy heart I've learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director,' she wrote. 'The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people ‚Äî especially women. The seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole (+ me) is now ‚Äî I can't. It's a dark day for me.'
"The controversy has drawn over 90 comments on Facebook. . . . But many of the comments seemed to be in the vein of 'Let's cut a little slack here and see what happens and maybe it will all turn out fine.' "
"Burt-Murray told Media Ink: 'I understand that this issue has struck an emotional chord with our audience. However, I selected [Placas], who has been contributing to the magazine on a freelance basis for the last six months, because of her creativity, vision, the positive reader response to her work and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. We remain committed to celebrating the unique beauty and style of African-American women in Essence magazine and online at Essence.com.' "
- Danielle Belton, the Black Snob blog: Essence Hires White Fashion Editor; Gets Raised Eyebrows, Tempers
- Claire Sulmers, AOL Black Voices: Essence Editor-in-Chief Responds to Controversy Over White Editor
- Geneva S. Thomas, Clutch Magazine: Essence Hires White Fashion Director, Leaves Loyal Readers Asking Why
NBC veteran Vickie Burns has been named vice president, news for KNBC in Burbank, Calif., the network announced on Wednesday.
"In this role, Burns will lead the day-to-day news operations of KNBC and will oversee content production and distribution across all digital platforms," the announcement said.
"Burns joins KNBC from WNBC, NBC‚Äôs owned and operated station in New York, where she was Vice President of Content and Audience Development for NBC Local Media New York since 2009. In that capacity, Burns was responsible for developing strategy to build audiences across the station‚Äôs media platforms, including WNBC, NY Nonstop, nbcnewyork.com, taxicabs and other out-of-home platforms at NBC Local Media New York. . . . ."
"Prior to joining WNBC, Burns was the Vice President of News for WRC, the NBC owned and operated station in Washington, D.C., from September 2003 to March 2008, the #1 news station in the market. She joined the NBC family in 1986 when she began working as a Line Producer for WMAQ, NBC‚Äôs owned and operated station in Chicago."
"Young Latinos born in the United States are far more likely to use text messages, social networking sites and other digital methods to communicate with their friends than their foreign-born parents or peers, according to two reports released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center," Tara Bahrampour reported for the Washington Post.
"The reports, 'How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age' and 'The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus The Foreign Born,' found that 85 percent of native-born Latinos older than 16 use the Internet while 51 percent of foreign-born Latinos do; that 80 percent of native-born Latinos between 16 and 25 use cellphones compared with 72 percent of their foreign-born peers; and that 78 percent of native-born Latinos 16 to 25 who have Internet access use social networking sites such as Facebook, compared with 62 percent of their foreign-born peers.
"The biggest discrepancy was in text-messaging: 83 percent of native-born Latinos age 16 to 25 do it, compared with 56 percent of the foreign-born.
"The studies found that Latinos use digital communication technology less than non-Latinos, with younger people embracing the technology more enthusiastically than their parents.
"Gretchen Livingston, one of the authors of the reports, speculated that the wide gap between native and foreign-born populations and between Latinos and non-Latinos might be because new arrivals work longer hours or at jobs with less time for text-messaging or going online."
"Longtime Mississippi and New Jersey newspaperman Donald V. Adderton died Saturday. He was 61," Geoff Pender wrote Tuesday in the Sun Herald of Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss.
"Adderton, most recently of Passaic, N.J., was a reporter, columnist and editor at the Sun Herald from 1994 to 2000, where his personal columns continued to run occasionally through recent years. Adderton in 2000 was named executive editor of the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, becoming the first black person to hold the top editor post at a Mississippi daily newspaper. Most recently, he served as assistant city editor and columnist for the Herald News in Passaic.
"Adderton began his newspaper career as a paperboy for The Record" in Bergen County, N.J. "He received a degree in radio, television and film from Shaw University. His journalism career included stints at United Press International, Asbury Park Press, CBS News, JET and Right On! magazines, the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News and the Hattiesburg American. He also had been journalist-in-residence at Jackson State University, where he taught newswriting and reporting; and he worked briefly for the Newark, N.J., Housing Authority.
"Adderton was known for florid personal columns, conservative political columns ‚Äî which often found him at odds with black contemporaries in politics and news ‚Äî and his love of jazz music. His jazz columns appeared in publications nationwide. A series of columns he wrote in the 1990s criticizing modern affirmative-action practices earned him praise and notoriety, with political Web sites still quoting from and debating his views today."
A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. at Nesbitt Funeral Home in Englewood, N.J., according to the Associated Press.
- "The findings of the Univision-AP Poll relating to Politics show that Hispanics still overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party and the majority think President Obama is doing a good job overall, but the once solid Hispanic support is now waning. On issues important to Hispanics, the President received tepid ratings," Univision and the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
- In Connecticut, "After an appearance in Milford Superior Court Tuesday, Desiree Fontaine announced that she has resigned her on-air position with WTNH, effective immediately," the Hartford, Conn., station reported. "Fontaine was facing a charge of larceny in the sixth degree following a June 19th arrest for shoplifting at the Sears store in the Connecticut Post Mall. The charge was dismissed following Fontaine's performing of community service."
- As usual, Fox news channel held a commanding lead over its cable news competition in July. The network had more total viewers than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined in primetime, averaging 1.85M," Alex Weprin reported for TVNewser.
- "While CNN is spending much of its time focusing on jump starting its 8 and 9 p.m. hours, it might want to start paying a little more attention to the 7 and 10 p.m. hours as well. That's what a quick look at the July ratings reveals," Joe Flint reported for the Los Angeles Times. "At 7, John King's show is off 42% in viewers and 36% in adults 25-54 from what Lou Dobbs was averaging last July, according to Nielsen. . . . Anderson Cooper also doesn't have a lot to smile about. His 10 p.m. show had a disappointing July, averaging only 575,000 viewers." CNN's evening lineup has been criticized for its lack of African American hosts.
- Adam B. Ellick of the New York Times won the South Asian Journalists Association's Daniel Pearl Award on Saturday for reporting on South Asia. His entry consisted of two video pieces, "Class Dismissed in Swat Valley," a short documentary profiling an 11-year-old Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban closed down her school, and a sequel that follows a Pakistani girl through a perilous six months as she loses her education, is forced into exile and faces an uncertain return back home in Swat, Pakistan.
- "The recent release on the Internet of a trove of classified military documents draws widespread attention to the high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan at the hands of U.S. soldiers, and a general disregard for the lives of Afghans," Jalal Ghazi wrote Tuesday for New America Media. "The secret documents, revealed Sunday by WikiLeaks, are not news to Arab media, which over the past five years have broadcast reports documenting American attacks and indiscriminate killing of Afghan and Iraqi civilians."
- California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is skipping this Saturday's candidate's forum at the San Francisco Christian Center on black and Latino issues sponsored by the California Foundation, Harrison Chastang wrote Wednesday for the BeyondChron website. "African Americans newspaper publishers and radio station managers say Whitman's decision to skip Saturday's forum reflects a pattern of Republican candidates ignoring or bypassing African Americans and refusing to do interviews with, or to buy political advertising with African American owned newspapers and radio stations."
- "The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Mexican government today to do everything in its power to bring four journalists who are being held hostage by an alleged criminal group to safety. The group‚Äôs members have demanded press coverage of videos they made in exchange for the reporters‚Äô release, according to international and local news reports," the committee said Wednesday. "The four were abducted on Monday in the Laguna region, which includes Durango and areas of the neighboring state of Coahuila."
- "Authorities arrested a journalist on Tuesday on criminal defamation charges in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo," the Committee to Protect Journalists reported Wednesday. "Hours earlier, in an unrelated incident, armed men briefly forced the city‚Äôs three main opposition broadcasters off the air, according to local journalists and news reports."
- Richard Prince discusses Tuesday's column with Keith Murphy on "The Urban Journal" on XM/Sirius satellite radio. To listen online, go to "pt. 3" and "pt. 4" for "7/28" at www.theurbanjournal.org.
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 BugMeNot.com 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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