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Bob Herbert Writes Final N.Y. Times Column

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Updated March 26

"Often Called 'the Conscience of The Times,' " Editor Says

Ferraro Earned Rebuke from NABJ in '08 Campaign

Hispanic, Asian Populations Grew Fastest During Decade

Mix-up Leads to Call Reporters Have Nightmares About

Obama to Address Nation Monday Night on Libya

Mexican Media Agree on Guidelines for Covering Drug War

Chairman of Black-Newspaper Publishers Targets Toyota

School Newspapers in Resurgence on Pine Ridge Reservation

Surveys Show "Millions" of Conservatives Choose NPR

Short Takes

"Often Called 'the Conscience of The Times,' " Editor Says

Bob Herbert, the first African American op-ed columnist at the New York Times, is leaving the paper after 18 years, the Times said on Friday. His last column appeared on Saturday.

"I have been writing a column for 25 years, nearly 18 at The New York Times," Herbert said in a note to the Times staff.

Bob Herbert"The deadlines and demands were a useful discipline but for some time now I have grown eager to move beyond the constriction of the column format, with its rigid 800-word limit, in favor of broader and more versatile efforts. So I am leaving The New York Times and the rewards and rigors of daily journalism with the intent of writing more expansively and more aggressively about the injustices visited on working people, the poor and the many others in our society who find themselves on the wrong side of power."

Andrew Rosenthal, editor of The Times opinion pages, "said it was too soon to know who might replace Mr. Herbert, and whether it would be one person or possibly more," Jeremy W. Peters reported for the Times.

Rosenthal wrote to the staff, "His columns over the years have been extraordinary, from his crucial series on the false arrests and imprisonment of dozens of innocent people in Tulia, Texas, to his profiles of soldiers wounded in combat, to his recent work on the individuals and families devastated by the Great Recession and its aftermath. "He was often called 'the conscience of The Times' and will take his place in the long, proud history of Times op-ed columnists."

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said Rosenthal was "very committed to diversity" and was sure he would "make every effort to maintain a diverse group of columnists." Charles M. Blow, who also is African American, began writing a Saturday multimedia column in 2008. Herbert wrote twice a week.

[In his final column, he declared, "Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

["New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed."]

Herbert, 66, was a champion of such social justice issues as the imprisonment of the recently released Scott sisters in Mississippi and the citizens of Tulia, Texas, "who were rounded up, arrested, and convicted on drug charges fabricated by a rogue racial cop — with the acquiescence of prosecutors, politicians, and judges," in the words of the jacket to the 2005 book collecting his work, "Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream."

Jamie and Gladys Scott are two black Mississippi women who they said had been unjustly imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Herbert helped bring public attention to their plight last year, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended their sentences in December.

Herbert also wrote frequently about the plight of the jobless and the poor. In February 2010, while the nation was in the grip of recession, Herbert wrote, "The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.

"We talk about the recession as if all of its victims were suffering equally, and all will be helped by some bland, class-and-category-neutral solution.

"That is so wrong." 

Some journalists said they felt Herbert had become predictable, but that sentiment had no traction with such admirers as Isaiah Poole, editor of, website and blog of the Campaign for America's Future, who said he felt Herbert's loss already. Poole is a former leader of the Washington Association of Black Journalists who briefly ran a nonprofit AIDS education organization in Washington, where he became noted for his advocacy for people living with HIV.

"The loss of Bob Herbert at the New York Times is a shattering blow to people like me who appreciated his too-rare advocacy for the poor, the voiceless and the downtrodden," he wrote to Journal-isms. ". . . I also have a concern that as newspapers continue to struggle in today's economy, our political discourse continues to be controlled by a small group of mostly white people who do not represent the diversity of the country and who are not in touch with the struggles of millions of American people."

Herbert's influence came not only from his perch at the Times, but because his column was distributed worldwide through the Times news service.

Still, Herbert was not without his critics. Novelist Ishmael Reed, who is also a media critic, told writer Jill Nelson last year, "Maybe Bob Herbert, who blames all of the 'underclass’s' problems on crack mothers and absentee fathers, the editorial line of the Times, would discover the complexity of urban crime were he to live in one of these neighborhoods instead of parachuting in from time to time and coming away with a sensational Neo-liberal eye bite."

Peters wrote for the Times, "Mr. Herbert’s move comes at a time of major shifts in the opinion pages of The Times. Mr. Rosenthal is assuming control of the Week in Review section and is working on a plan to reinvent it under a new name, adding more opinion and commentary pieces. The opinion pages recently redesigned its section on, and Mr. Rosenthal plans to add more online content in the months ahead. He has also hired a new editor for the Op-Ed page, Trish Hall, who succeeded David Shipley when Mr. Shipley left The Times to help lead a new opinion-writing endeavor for Bloomberg News.

"Mr. Rosenthal is also shuffling his lineup of columnists after the departure of Frank Rich earlier this month and the addition of Joe Nocera, a columnist for the business section, to the Op-Ed page. Mr. Rosenthal said it was too soon to know who might replace Mr. Herbert, and whether it would be one person or possibly more.

"Mr. Herbert did not share the details of his plans, saying only that he was leaving to focus on his book and a 'soon-to-be-announced effort to help bolster progressive journalism.' "

According to his bio, "Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Herbert was a national correspondent for NBC from 1991 to 1993, reporting regularly on 'The Today Show' and 'NBC Nightly News.' He had worked as a reporter and editor at The Daily News from 1976 until 1985, when he became a columnist and member of its editorial board.

"In 1990, Mr. Herbert was a founding panelist of 'Sunday Edition,' a weekly discussion program on WCBS-TV in New York, and the host of Hotline, a weekly issues program on New York public television.

"He began his career as a reporter with The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., in 1970. He became its night city editor in 1973." [Updated March 26]

Ferraro Earned Rebuke from NABJ in '08 Campaign

Geraldine Ferraro, who died Saturday at 75, was being praised as a path-breaking figure who paved the way for women in high-profile politics as Democrat Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984.

But in 2008, she earned a rebuke from the National Association of Black Journalists as one whose comments demonstrated "unapologetic bigotry."

Journal-isms published this item on May 23, 2008:

Ferraro's "Unapologetic Bigotry": NABJ Knocks Comment About Black Journalists

Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate and supporter of Hillary Clinton's candidacy, has demonstrated "unapologetic bigotry" in suggesting that black journalists are surrogates for the Barack Obama campaign, the National Association of Black Journalists said on Friday.

"NABJ is outraged that a former vice presidential candidate would suggest that all black reporters are mouthpieces for the Obama campaign. To suggest this shows not only a stunning lack of judgment but also her unapologetic bigotry," Barbara Ciara, president of the organization, said in a statement. "Ms. Ferraro used her appearance on Fox News to reinforce stereotypes that suggest that black reporters can't be trusted to cover another person of color without bias and favoritism."

Ferraro, who earlier in the campaign had suggested that Obama had succeeded chiefly because he is black — a statement that was widely criticized — had this exchange on Tuesday with Shepard Smith of Fox News:

FERRARO: "Well yeah...I know all the surrogates that they had out there from the black journalists...have you read Bob Herbert recently in the past six months? There wasn't one column that had anything decent to say about Hillary."

SMITH: "Well, that's more media though. Is that the campaign?"

FERRARO: "Well, well...yeah...if you have conference calls with these people every week and you give them your message and they put your message in the paper, that to me is campaign. But I'll go further than that. When he...and, by the way, this is not an issue any longer in this campaign. I've been speaking about sexist behavior in this campaign since December."

Ferraro might have been referring to conference calls that all the campaigns have with reporters.

To suggest that black journalists have done anything less than cover this campaign fairly and objectively "is a direct attack on not only their integrity, but the integrity of all journalists who work every day to provide good, honest journalism," said Ernie Suggs, vice president of print, in a news release.

"African Americans make up a tiny fraction of journalists covering this historic campaign. We are more than qualified to handle the job objectively," said Kathy Times, vice president of broadcast.

In this Washington Post video, a Latino mural is part of the backdrop as District of Columbia residents discuss demographic changes. The Post headline read, "Blacks’ majority status slips away." In the New York Times, it was, "Wave of Blacks Moving South." (Video)

Hispanic, Asian Populations Grew Fastest During Decade

"The U.S. Census Bureau released today the second in a series of 2010 Census briefs, Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010 [PDF], which looks at our nation's changing racial and ethnic diversity and provides a snapshot of the racial and Hispanic origin composition of the United States," the Census Bureau reported on Thursday.

"The examination of racial and ethnic group distributions nationally shows that while the non-Hispanic white alone population is still numerically and proportionally the largest major race and ethnic group in the United States, it is also growing at the slowest rate. Conversely, the Hispanic and Asian populations have grown considerably, in part because of relatively higher levels of immigration.

"More than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. The rise in the Hispanic population accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.

"The non-Hispanic population grew relatively slower over the decade at about 5 percent. Within the non-Hispanic population, the number of people who reported their race as white alone grew even slower (1 percent). While the non-Hispanic white alone population increased numerically from 194.6 million to 196.8 million over the 10-year period, its proportion of the total population declined from 69 percent to 64 percent.

"The overwhelming majority (97 percent) of the total U.S. population reported only one race in 2010. This group totaled 299.7 million. Of these, the largest group reported white alone (223.6 million), accounting for 72 percent of all people living in the United States. The black or African-American population totaled 38.9 million and represented 13 percent of the total population.

"Approximately 14.7 million people (about 5 percent of all respondents) identified their race as Asian alone. There were 2.9 million respondents who indicated American Indian and Alaska Native alone (0.9 percent). The smallest major race group was Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone (0.5 million), which represented 0.2 percent of the total population. The remainder of respondents who reported only one race, 19.1 million people (6 percent of all respondents), were classified as 'some other race' alone.

"Nine million people reported more than one race in the 2010 Census and made up about 3 percent of the total population. Ninety-two percent of people who reported multiple races provided exactly two races in 2010; white and black was the largest multiple-race combination. . . ."

Mix-up Leads to Call Reporters Have Nightmares About

Anthony Blackmon, left, and Anthony Barder. (Credit: Colin Fogarty for NPR/Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)"It started with the kind of call every reporter has nightmares about," Colin Ferguson told NPR listeners on Thursday.

" 'We made a serious error and are profoundly sorry,' said Judy Stavisky, executive director of Friends of the Children.

"In February, I profiled a boy named Anthony who had participated in Friends of the Children, a mentoring program for at-risk kids in Portland, Ore. His was a story of success, but there was one problem: He wasn't the right Anthony.

"The story was supposed to be a follow-up to one that first aired 10 years ago, and the mentoring group tried to help me find the Anthony I originally interviewed — they hadn't given me his last name back then because he was just 8 years old.

"Stavisky calls the mixup an 'honest mistake.'

". . . Anthony Blackmon, from last month's profile, is in college and said Friends of the Children helped him overcome the odds to get there.

". . . Anthony Barber dropped out of Friends of the Children in high school because he moved away. He's now 19 years old and not exactly what you'd call an inspiration.

"While Blackmon is in college, Barber is in the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland."

Obama to Address Nation Monday Night on Libya

"President Obama plans to talk about the military operation in Libya on Monday evening in a nationally televised speech at the National Defense University, the White House said, offering his first formal explanation of the goals of this increasingly complex and dangerous mission," Mark Landler reported Friday in the New York Times. "Mr. Obama has come under criticism from Republicans in Congress for failing to provide a coherent explanation of the operation, which is in its sixth day. Administration officials say the air strikes have averted a rout by Col. [Moammar Gaddafi] in the Libyan city of Benghazi and established a no-fly zone over Libya."

Mexican Media Agree on Guidelines for Covering Drug War

"Many of Mexico's top media companies agreed Thursday on first-ever guidelines for covering a drug war that has drastically increased risks for journalists," Ken Ellingwood reported Friday for the Los Angeles Times.

"The 10-point accord, covering more than 700 outlets across the country, calls on news-gathering organizations to find ways to protect their journalists and avoid glorifying crime bosses.

"The guidelines also urge news organizations to unite against threats to journalists, such as by jointly publishing stories. Under the agreement, the companies should draw up standards for showing violent images, such as decapitated bodies, and provide more context when reporting on drug violence.

"Mexico's drug war, launched by President Felipe Calderon in late 2006, has put Mexican news organizations in a tough spot: They have been attacked or threatened by drug gangs and also accused by the government and others of sensationalizing carnage that has killed more than 35,000 people.

" 'The media have a responsibility to act with professionalism and question ourselves about the potential implications of how news is handled,' the six-page agreement says.

"But written guidelines may do little practical good in zones such as the northern state of Tamaulipas, where drug gangs have already in effect muzzled news organizations, leaving residents in the dark about the violence raging around them. Many people in these places rely on social networks, such as Twitter, to trade information on street shootouts and other incidents."

Chairman of Black-Newspaper Publishers Targets Toyota

Columnist George Curry, left, questioned Benjamin Chavis Jr., at a National Newspaper Publishers Association event at the National Press Club. The NNPA is supporting a pardon for Chavis, one of the 'Wilmington 10.'"I have recently been shocked and appalled by ads that I and other Black publishers saw in several major newspapers (The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.) confirming that Toyota spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise in White mainstream daily newspapers 'THANKING' their general market consumers for their loyalty and patronage to Toyota during their time of major controversy and concerns over the safety of Toyota’s vehicles, Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, wrote in a column this week.

"Thanking their customers is a smart move on Toyota’s behalf and one that I applaud. However, we can’t overlook the fact that Black people represent almost 10 percent of Toyota’s American market share, and with a $1.2 billion annual advertising budget it is not unreasonable for the Black Press to always expect to have a stake in Toyota’s advertising (including Black advertising agencies). Nevertheless, Black newspapers were left off Toyota’s latest marketing campaign, sending a clear and direct message that the Black consumer is still being taken for granted and Black people are still being disrespected and undervalued," wrote Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel.

". . . As chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, I represent 200 Black publishers throughout America. I am challenging Toyota’s chairman and CEO to do the right thing and meet with me to discuss the future of their relationship with Black consumers and whether or not we as Black newspaper publishers should continue supporting Toyota or should organize a campaign to take Black brand loyalty to Toyota elsewhere. WE WILL NOT BUY WHERE WE ARE DISRESPECTED….THAT IS A PROMISE!"

At an NNPA luncheon last week, Mary Alice Thatch, publisher of the Wilmington (N.C.) Journal, provided a retrospective on the Wilmington 10, who were falsely convicted and imprisoned in 1972 on arson and conspiracy charges. The case became an international cause celebre and while their convictions were overturned in 1980, no pardon was issued.

"NNPA is rallying its member newspapers to support that cause in the year ahead," Khalil Abdullah reported for New America Media. Benjamin Chavis Jr., one of the 10 who went on to briefly become president of the NAACP, spoke to the group.


Little Wound High School journalism students check their published work. Their newspaper is a supplement to the Lakota Country Times. (Credit: Jared Reddy)

School Newspapers in Resurgence on Pine Ridge Reservation

A new journalism teacher and an enthusiastic newspaper publisher are giving Native American teens on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota an opportunity to be heard," Jim Kent wrote last week for the Voice of America.

"The school newspaper isn't just circulated around school. It's also read across the reservation — and the region — as a supplement to the Lakota Country Times.

"The Mustangs of Little Wound High School on the Pine Ridge Reservation are hoping to have a winning basketball season this year. But basketball isn't the only group activity that's been rebounding at Little Wound.

"Speaking over the noise of the classroom heater, Nicky Oulette gives her 12 students some pointers on what makes a story newsworthy. Oulette is the first journalism teacher Little Wound has had in years. Her arrival last fall helped spark the resurgence of an activity that's also been absent for some time: the school newspaper.

" . . . Other student papers have been incorporated into Native American newspapers, but it’s not the norm, according to Jeff Harjo, executive director of the Native American Journalists Association, who notes that the Association’s slogan is 'raising the next generation of storytellers.'

". . . The Mustang News inspired two other schools on the Pine Ridge reservation to publish their own papers, and they take turns being circulated in the Lakota Country Times. Publisher Connie Smith's goal is to have a student newspaper in every reservation school."

Surveys Show "Millions" of Conservatives Choose NPR

"The facts show that NPR attracts a politically diverse audience of 33.7 million weekly listeners to its member stations on-air," Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR's "Morning Edition," wrote Thursday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "In surveys by GfK MRI, most listeners consistently identify themselves as 'middle of the road' or 'conservative.' Millions of conservatives choose NPR, even with powerful conservative alternatives on the radio.

Inskeep also wrote, "I've met an incredible variety of listeners in my travels. The audience includes students, peace activists, and American soldiers I met in Iraq. They're among many people in the military who rely on NPR's international coverage. When I was NPR's Pentagon correspondent, I discovered that it's a prize beat, because on every base you meet people who already know who you are. Many other Americans are listening in places like Indiana, my home state, or Kentucky, where I first worked in public radio. Not much of the media pays attention to the middle of the country, but NPR and its local stations do. Many NPR stations have added news staff as local newspapers have declined.

"Conservatives in our diverse audience let us know when they disagree with our coverage — as do liberals, who've sent notes for years to advise me that I am conservative. Most listeners understand that we're all figuring out the world together, calmly and honestly, in an atmosphere of mutual respect."

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Nugent's comments re Africa

Rocker Nugent's comments about Africa could well apply to parts of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Corruption, senseless violence and even genocide seem to ignore geographic boundaries. That said, anyone with personal knowledge about and experience in Africa knows his comments have some truth to them.  Corruption, tribal hatreds, superstition and violence are far too common in many African countries and have slowed or halted progress that is social, political, economic and health-related. Africa and its people have tremendous potential, but viewing them through rose-colored lenses of denial--as many here do--is neither realistic or productive in achieving that potential. It's not an excuse to say "Well, others do it too." 

Nugent's comments reflect the lens of a bigot

Nugent's comments reflect the lens of a bigot there is no need to give him a pass his footprints are full of racist statements. I don't recall anyone on this site in denial about the reality and shortcomings of Africa.

Nugent's comments don't advance any discourse or the state of affairs in Africa his ignorance is his alone. No one is wearing any rose color glasses except perhaps YOU.


The "rose colored glasses" was not referring to those on this site but to many Afro-Americans whose romanticizing of a continent they really know little about makes them oblivious to the shortcomings that hinder its progress. No need for a personal attack if you don't agree.


What personal attack I just disagreed with your fiction and tired themes... I don't know you to get personal..

Bob Herbert (Isaiah J. Poole)

The loss of Bob Herbert at the New York Times is a shattering blow to people like me who appreciated his too-rare advocacy for the poor, the voiceless and the downtrodden. To me, his gift was his ability to know firsthand the pain of people of color and of economically struggling people and to sear the national conscience with both passion and intelligence.

I take it at his word that Herbert is leaving on his own volition. But if I were the editor of The Times, I would fight with all I had to find a way to keep his voice on my opinion page. We need people who have no hesitancy about mentioning the word "poor," or writing about the plight of young black men, or saying that the reason today's America falls short of greatness is not because its government to big but because the minds of those who control the reins of government are too small.

I also have a concern that as newspapers continue to struggle in today's economy, our political discourse continues to be controlled by a small group of mostly white people who do not represent the diversity of the country and who are not in touch with the struggles of millions of American people. The New York Times is too important a player in that discourse to fall prey to what too many other media outlets have fallen prey to: a mostly monochromatic commentariat that seeks to analyze and even capitalize on the anxieties of ordinary people without deigning to understand or even be close to those anxieties.

-- Isaiah J. Poole

Ditto..I am so worried about

Ditto..I am so worried about this loss of perspective in the MSM such an absence puts Black folks in particular in peril which is why I have been an advocate on this site for the bickering to end within UNITY...

We need progressive journalism that speaks to the issue of those whose voices do not register on the assignment docket of editors. We must have vessels which protray the wonders of lives ignored instead of the gloom and despair of this lot..

Herbert's loss on the page and within the fabric of NYT is tragic for all..

Bob Herbert

I fear that Bob's committed, truth-to-power style will become increasingly quaint in the atmosphere of market populism that now pervades the realm of journalism  -- and just about every other realm of cultural activity.

Bob Herbert

By his reporting, Bob Herbert had no fear of declaring himself, week in and week out, a Black columnist unafraid to be identified with focusing on issues and policies that crushed, inhibited or exploited the disenfranchised Black poor. 

He didn't hide in the Style/Arts section or gripe about NOT reporting on other stories.  He knew, but for him, the NYT (like the rest of the press) would allot precious little space (if any) to positive solutions and urgent alerts that affected people off the radar of advertisers, politicians and readers brainwashed to like cozy.

He was more than the conscience of the NYT. His readers knew he was an island that would one day disappear.

Bill Alexander

DC Freelancer

Re: Bob Herbert

Bob Herbert sold out a long time ago when he refused to join the Daily News lawsuit led by the late Davd Hardy. I lost respect for Herbert.


Talk about imploding right before our eyes. Terrible way to end a career beginning with her comments in '08 and the implication of subjectivity with the black press and then-candidate, Obama.


Bob Herbert

Bob Herbert leads with his heart. He is fully human, & does not look away from those who are uneducated, weak, suffering. I found it painful to read his column sometimes, for just this reason: there is so much cruelty shown to the poor and the rest of us can't bring ourselves to care..The NYT needs a columnist who reminds us of what our obligations are! Chris Matthews once said on "Hardball" that he regarded Herbert's column as "holy writ", and I have to agree...

Louise Davis Stone, -30-

Twenty years ago NABJ members, except for a select few founders, did not know precisely how many men and women created the association. The literature at that time said "about 50."

On June 17, 1991, founding President Chuck Stone, Louise Davis Stone's husband, agreed to give me a copy of the list of signatures. After six refusals Chuck also granted an interview. He was leaving the PDN to teach at the University of North Carolina J-school.

That evening a drenching rain hit the region and rendered the interstate a parking lot. I was parked in lower Camden County, N.J. and needed to get to the Stone's house in West Philadelphia.

I got there, but an hour late. Mrs. Stone cooked steaks. My tardiness earned her consternation. I ate it, and dinner, and got the interview and list of signatures.

After that night we could say unequivocally that 44 men and women founded NABJ. Thank you for the hospitality Louise Davis Stone. 

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