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Branham Won't Retreat on Huffington Honor

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009
  

Arianna Huffington, shown at a conference last week, "is out there, pushing the envelope, taking risks and moving all of us forward," Newhouse School Dean Lorraine Branham says. (Credit: AllThingsD.com)

Dean Says, "I'm a Realist" on Changes in Industry

Amid debate about whether Arianna Huffington represents the future of the news business or its undoing, Lorraine Branham, dean of the Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, says she is not backing down from the school's decision to award Huffington its Fred Dressler Lifetime Achievement Award, even though Huffington's online Huffington Post does not pay most of those who write for it.

Lorraine Branham "The Fred Dressler Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes leadership in the media industry - and whether you support her or not, you can't say Arianna Huffington is not a leader. She is out there, pushing the envelope, taking risks and moving all of us forward, forcing the conversation about the changing nature of our industry," Branham told Journal-isms on Tuesday. 

"The Newhouse School, which teaches the full range of communications disciplines and studies the factors affecting them, recognizes the need to explore new solutions to the issues facing the industry, to experiment with new revenue models and find new approaches. Huffington has done just that; she has been willing to experiment and take risks and embrace change.

"That's why we chose to recognize her with this award."

On Monday, Simon Dumenco, the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age, wrote that, "Really, the school - which exists to train journalists - should know better than to honor a woman who thinks journalists should work for free!

"Funny how the fact that The Huffington Post fails to pay most of its bloggers didn't come up when Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham gushed about the blog mistress in a prepared statement: 'Arianna Huffington was ahead of the curve with HuffPo. She embraced the use of new media but never forgot that no matter where or how you tell the story, content is still king. This is what we teach our students.'" 

Mario Ruiz, a spokesman for Huffington Post, told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "It's inaccurate that Huffington Post 'does not pay journalists who write for it.' HuffPost staff writers are all paid salaries. The site currently has five paid reporters," he said, naming Sam Stein, Jason Linkins, Arthur Delaney, Ryan Grim and Thomas Edsall. "Our bloggers are not paid, but they have no deadlines or quotas. They post their opinions as often or as little as they like, and value the large audience and prominent platform HuffPost offers." 

None of the five is of color, he said in response to a question, "but of course we have many bloggers who are people of color, and whom we post prominently, including, Trey Ellis, Carlos Watson and John Ridley."

Branham continued in her response to Journal-isms: 

"I spent 25 years in the newspaper business and I certainly believe journalists should be paid for their work. But I am also a realist who can plainly see what is happening to the profession I know and love. It has changed and will continue to do so, and at a frightening pace.

"The journalism landscape is littered with former journalists who have been laid off, bought out and otherwise displaced by news organizations that can no longer afford their services. [Every day] there is a new list of closings and layoffs. Ad revenue and readership [have] plunged. The old revenue model is in shambles and I don't think we can lay the blame for this at the doorstep of the Huffington Post.

"We are in an era of amazing transformative change. Innovation and experimentation should be encouraged. In the end, it is the marketplace itself that will decide which publications, online and otherwise, will succeed or fail."

Dumenco hasn't been the only critic.

On Tuesday, the New Republic published a lengthy review by Isaac Chotiner of Huffington's new book, "Right is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (And What You Need To Know To End The Madness)."

He wrote:

"The truth is that The Huffington Post is not just supplementing a print media that has long been dominated by newspapers. It is also helping to destroy newspapers.

"The trials of print media have been explored at length recently in a number of settings, both print and digital, and for good reason. But some tough questions must be asked also about the powerful digital interlopers. For the blogosphere and the news aggregators that dominate cyberspace are completely reliant - completely parasitic - on the very institutions they are driving to bankruptcy. As my cursory summary of an afternoon's content at The Huffington Post showed, the site is thoroughly dependent on the reporting that Huffington has spent three decades bashing.

"Fire up the site on your computer some evening, and see how many of its main stories are from The New York Times or The Washington Post."

On the other hand, Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Post, praised Huffington last week during a panel discussion. Quoting Weymouth, Peter Kafka wrote, "'I think Arianna has built an amazing site and drives a lot of traffic to us, so thank you!' We need to learn from what Huffpo does: Headlines, display, navigation. They have better headlines than we do. And its 'brilliant, clever' packaging, which works on the Web." [Updated June 3]

Gingrich: I Should Not Have Called Sotomayor "Racist"

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said Wednesday he should not have used the word "racist" in connection with federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court nominee. 

In a piece for the conservative publication Human Events, Gingrich wrote:

"Shortly after President Obama nominated her to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, I read Judge Sonia Sotomayor's now famous words:

"'I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.'

"My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice.

"With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).

"So it is to her words - the ones quoted above and others - to which we should turn, for they show that the issue here is not racial identity politics. Sotomayor's words reveal a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system - that everyone is equal before the law."

Reacting to Gingrich's statement, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider the Sotomayor nomination, told CNN's Dana Bash, "I'm very glad he backed off. I think that's unusual, that commentators do that, and I think it was very good that he did. I think that will help - help us. I think that will help us have a real good discussion about the serious issues that the nation faces and that the court faces."

However, the progressive media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting said on Tuesday that "the prevailing media discussion is totally misleading" about Sotomayor's 2001 comment.

"Does Sotomayor believe that Latina judges are wiser than white judges? That's what her right-wing critics want the quote to mean. "But anyone who reads Sotomayor's 2001 speech can see that the prevailing media discussion is totally misleading. Her point was that people's backgrounds affect how they see the world. This would seem to be a rather uncontroversial fact of life; justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Samuel Alito made similar statements about their own backgrounds to no great controversy.

"In regards to cases involving race and gender discrimination, which was the topic under discussion, Sotomayor was arguing that the experience of facing discrimination may help in judging such cases - pointing out that despite the presumption that 'a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,' such wise old men as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Benjamin Cardozo "voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society." She added: 'Let us not forget that until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.'" (Added June 3.)

Turning Racial Language Upside Down

June 1, 2009

CNN's Jim Acosta reports that the issue of race, fueled by conservative commentators, has entered the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (Video)

Why Do Media Let Newsmakers Get Away With It?

"The last time Rush Limbaugh talked to an Hispanic woman, it was his maid getting him his drugs.

"And yet Rush and his ilk have come up with a name for the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, a Supreme Court that has been 99 percent white men for 200 years; and that name is 'reverse racist.' She is a racist and someone has to stop her because for too long white men have been kept down by powerful Puerto Rican women."

Comedian Bill Maher delivered those lines last week on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" in discussing the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, and they were excerpted Sunday in a recap of the week's political jokes on ABC-TV's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos.

Maher's riff was a refreshing cut-to-the-chase about the tactic of using the word "racist" outside of its actual meaning, a calling-out that most of the journalists on the Sunday shows were unwilling or unable to do.

The journalists' response seemed to be simply to play soundbites of the accusations and have others comment.

On CNN's "State of the Union," for example, John King aired this passage from conservative talk-show host Limbaugh:

"So, here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one."

The Sunday television talk shows — lacking any Latino guests or panelists, incidentally — gave viewers their fill of controversial quotes from Sotomayor, the first Latino nominee for the Supreme Court. Some, such as PBS' Gwen Ifill, appearing on "This Week," did point out that Sotomayor was being defined by her ethnicity in a way that white nominees never were.

But by and large, Republican guests were asked whether they agreed with Limbaugh and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich that Sotomayor was a racist, or with Pat Buchanan that she was an "affirmative action hire."

Democrats defended the federal judge as simply trying to explain that a Latina would bring a different life experience to the Supreme Court. Republicans countered that life experiences should have no bearing on a justice's opinions.

It wasn't until Monday on Washington's local "Kojo Nnamdi Show," it seemed, that someone seriously addressed the choice of language, rather than ask only whether one agreed with it.

Geoffrey NunbergGeoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, told WAMU-FM substitute host Rebecca Roberts that in the 1960s and '70s, "the right took over the language of the civil rights movement and treated them as if they were neutral words and had no context."

Thus, the attempt to give the words "color-blind," "racism," "empathy," "affirmative action" and even "civil rights" different meanings.

"Racism" used to be, as Webster's New World dictionary says in its second definition, "any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc., specif., such a program or practice that upholds the political or economic domination of one race over another or others." The word has since been applied to any act of prejudice or bigotry, real or imagined. Moreover, "reverse discrimination" was coined to assert an equivalence between efforts to address injustice with the injustice itself.

Nunberg wrote about this tactic in his colorfully titled 2006 book, "Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show."

"The art of political language is to alter and expand the meanings of symbols without letting on that the symbols retain their ability to stir feelings," he wrote. "Once a word acquires a purely symbolic power, it can be used to create an impression of similarity between two things that are actually very different in their natures, simply because they share a name. This is the process marketers exploit when they acquire once-lustrous brands like Lancia, Godiva, Fisher Stereo, or Ambercrombie and Fitch and attach them to downscale product lines in the hope that their connotations will persist . . .

"In recent years, the right's boldest use of this strategy has been in appropriating the language of the civil rights era. When that language first entered the received moral vocabulary, it signaled the triumph of liberal ideals of social justice in the face of conservative resistance and foot-dragging. Now the right has repurposed it to stoke resentments about race and religion, while liberals are left to thrash around for a new script," he continued.

". . . That's how conservatives have generally modified the rhetoric of the civil rights era, deploying it to defend the privileges of their strongest constituency, white male Americans."

That some of these appropriated phrases and changed meanings have seeped into the language is testament to the failure of journalists to keep the record straight. That shortcoming was on display again during the Sunday shows.

Arnold Garcia Jr.Arnold Garcia Jr., editorial page editor of the Austin American-Statesman, got it instantly. When Journal-isms asked him about the responsibility of the news media amid these covert language assaults, he wrote:

"My immediate reaction is that we in the media often let the sources hijack the dialogue. The criticism about bias — much overblown — has got the industry on the defensive and quite sensitive to any accusation of 'censorship.'

"Those of who live in dark skins and have felt racism's bite are amused — not impressed — when rich, privileged elites like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich squeal about 'reverse racism.' What's their point of reference? Watching a movie about it? What have they ever been denied on account of their race? Reporters don't think to ask that and they should ask when someone starts pounding the podium about 'reverse racists.' Does the speaker really know what he's talking about? Or is he just talking?"

Images of Black Men Called Factor in Police Shooting

Police shooting is the talk of New York.In New York, "A plainclothes policeman who drew his gun while chasing someone he had found rummaging through his car was shot and killed by a fellow officer who was driving by and saw the pursuit, the police commissioner said," as Jennifer Peltz wrote for the Associated Press. The plainclothes officer was black, the shooter white.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Sweeten of suburban Philadelphia faked a kidnapping of herself and her 9-year-old daughter, police said, then fled to Disney World in the midst of serious financial troubles. She said the kidnappers were black men.

Amid the justifiable outrage, some see further evidence of the negative image of black men at work.

One is Eric Adams, a 22-year veteran of the New York Police Department and the co-founder of 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care. He appeared on National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" on Monday.

"Here's the point here that I think we're missing," he said in the discussion of the New York "friendly fire" shooting.

"The incidents like this, clock time are seconds. Clock time — when you look at the clock on the wall it happens in seconds. But mind time is a lifetime. The mind processes information not in seconds but nanoseconds or even probably smaller denominations. So when I approach someone, I'm bringing with me everything in my life, everything that I've been taught, all of my personal experiences. We're not training to that, we're training to the clock seconds and not the mind time, which is a vast number of time. And so it's more than just the shootings that is impacting race, it is also — you sit in your radio car every day, 125th Street, which is a predominantly black area —

"All day long you're hearing those who committed crimes, male black, male black, male Hispanic, male black, male black. By the time you get out of that car to take action on that three-second incident you have already spent the entire year, the entire day, the entire lifetime of what your opinion is of a criminal, male black. Now you see him with a gun. That gun pushes you into all that lifetime experience that you've taken action, not on that three seconds but your lifetime experience, and we're not training to that.

". . . police did not create the racial stereotypes that exist in society, but we have to police in it."

Adams called for bringing in scholars, criminologists, sociologists and psychologists to say, "here's the parameters that we have to police in, here's what our police officers are taking in their thoughts." How do we train police in that environment? And he didn't say it, but of course we should ask what role the media play in creating that lifetime of black-male images.

In the New York Daily News, columnist Errol Louis added this:

"An onslaught of gangsta rap and other cultural garbage bolsters the bias. We pay a heavy price by letting racist imagery, words and accusations slosh around society unchecked and unchallenged. In the tense, split-second needed to separate a cop from a crook on a dark street, those myths may have cost a good man his life."

Captive Journalists' Families Believe They Apologized

In custody in Pyongyang: Euna Lee, left, and Laura LingThe two American journalists being held in North Korea on spy charges almost certainly have apologized if they crossed the border from South Korea, their families said Monday on NBC's "Today" Show.

Journalist Lisa Ling, the imprisoned Laura Ling's sister, appeared along with their parents, Mary and Douglas; Laura Ling's husband, Iain Clayton, the imprisoned Euna Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, and their four-year-old daughter, Hannah.

Lisa Ling told the Committee to Protect Journalists that relatives have sent a letter to North Korean authorities, saying the women made a mistake if they had crossed into North Korea.

"Today" host Matt Lauer asked, "Do we know if while they've been in the custody of the North Koreans they have attempted a similar apology saying if we made an error, we're sorry? Or has that had any impact?"

Lisa Ling said, "Absolutely."

Mary Ling said, "Absolutely. I think — I think they have. The letter that Laura sent to us she had said that. I'm sure she had apologized, too."

Lisa Ling: "And we're certain they have."

Michael Saldate: "And Euna as well. I mean, she . . . "

Mary Ling: "Yeah."

Lauer: "So they're not standing on ceremony here. They're not holding some sort of — their ground out of pride reasons here. If they made a mistake, they're willing to admit that mistake."

Lisa Ling: "Absolutely."

Saldate: "Yes."

Lisa Ling: "And we apologize on their behalf as well. And we are very concerned. I mean, you know, Euna has a beautiful four-year-old daughter who has been without a mother now for almost three months and our sister has — my sister has an ulcer that requires medical condition and it's been long enough. It's been almost three months."

North Korea plans to try the journalists on Thursday. Lisa Ling was to appear on CNN's "Larry King Show" Monday and on Anderson Cooper's CNN program on Wednesday.

CNN's U.S. News Chief Acknowledges Ratings Decline

Jonathan Klein, president of CNN's U.S. operations, has acknowledged that its prime-time lineup, which includes Anderson Cooper and, recently, Roland Martin as maternity-leave substitute for Campbell Brown, is taking a ratings hit.

"While averaging 1.26 million viewers in January, according to Nielsen, Brown’s show brought in just an average of just 786,000 in April. And that number is expected to drop again in May, given that the audience on several nights this month fell below 500,000," Michael Calderone reported Monday in Politico.

"Klein acknowledged the recent decline, but said it indicated that the audience missed Brown while away. Whether viewers return should be apparent soon enough: Brown’s back at the anchor desk on Monday night, and the show tapped a new executive producer, Janelle Rodriguez.

"Current and former CNN staffers, though, say there’s definite concern inside about how Cooper and Brown are faring against the competition.

"Brown’s show has been billed as the antidote to Fox’s 'The O’Reilly Factor' — which continues to gain viewers post-Inauguration" — and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. "But her show's lack of traction begs the question of whether there's a way to bring in ratings without the ideologically slanted hosts that have pulled in partisan viewers on the left and right."

 

President Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office early last month. The youngster wanted to see if the president's haircut felt like his own, the White House said. On May 17, Obama spoke at Notre Dame. (Credit: White House/Pete Souza)

Obama Turned Down Morehouse for Notre Dame

Morehouse College has confirmed that it extended an invitation for President Obama to address the college on May 17, but the White House still refuses to say whether Morehouse or other historically black colleges asked the president to speak.

"Our Commencement was the same day as Notre Dame. We were apparently on the 'short list,' but ultimately they chose Notre Dame," Morehouse spokeswoman Elise Durham told Journal-isms. It was at Notre Dame that Obama delivered an address that attempted to bridge a gap between those who consider themselves pro-life and those who are pro-choice.

As reported on Friday, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at a May 18 press briefing, "Did the president receive any invitations from any HBCUs to be the commencement speaker?"speaking of historically black colleges and universities.

Gibbs replied, "I'd have to ask the scheduling office. I don't — I don't know what we — what we were invited to and what we didn't accept. I simply know what — what we have accepted and how I spent my Sunday."

DeWayne Wickham of Gannett News Service and USA Today wrote that he asked the question of both press aide Corey Ealons and Gibbs. Wickham wrote, "Imagine that. The list of black schools that asked Obama to give a commencement address is a state secret."

Ealons told Journal-isms on Monday, "the White House does not generally comment on declined invitations."

Prosecutors Rule Out Death Penalty in Bailey Killing

"Prosecutors won't seek the death penalty against former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV and another man in the 2007 killing of journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men, a lawyer said Friday," Thomas Peele reported.

"The decision was disclosed in the chambers of Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson during a meeting of lawyers involved in the case, said attorney Duffy Carolan, who was present.

"Carolan represents The Chauncey Bailey Project, which is seeking to have grand jury transcripts in the case unsealed and a provisional gag order lifted."

Short Takes

  • "Harvard University‚Äôs Nieman Foundation for Journalism announced a series of budget cuts today, including the suspension of popular writing conferences, in the latest financial setback for the university and a blow to journalism across the country," Milton J. Valencia wrote Friday in the Boston Globe. "Robert H. Giles, the foundation‚Äôs curator, sent out a notice saying Nieman will have fewer fellows than last year, will institute salary freezes for non-union employees, will scale back its Nieman Reports publication, and will suspend its annual Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism and Nieman Seminar for Narrative Editors."
  • The closing of dealerships by General Motors, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday, can be devastating to minority communities, Randi Payton, president and CEO of On Wheels Inc., wrote on a New York Times blog on Monday. "In many cases, the Big Three have provided more support to minority businesses, nonprofits‚Äô causes and media than the federal government. Many of its minority dealers and suppliers did not receive Small Business Administration funding, but were financed by the auto companies. The impact of shutting these dealers down goes far beyond the auto industry and affects almost every area of our society. The media has focused more on smaller things like dealer support of softball leagues, rather than the huge tax base these dealers provide from their auto shows, new and used vehicle tax, charitable contributions, safety awareness campaigns and more."
  • Former San Diego anchor Lisa Lake has filed a lawsuit against the McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Co., alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract, denial of equal pay, racial discrimination, gender harassment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the San Diego local of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America said on Monday. Lake's lawyer, Joshua D. Gruenberg, said, "We believe we can prove that Lisa was paid less than her male co-anchor for the same work and that race was a motivating factor in the decision to remove her from her anchor position" at KGTV-TV."She's an icon in San Diego."
  • A spokesman for Vogue magazine Monday denied a story in Star magazine, circulating on the Internet, that Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour changed her mind about featuring singer Rihanna on the cover after nude pictures of the singer appeared in cyberspace. "This item is a complete fabrication," spokesman Patrick McConnell told Journal-isms, saying Rihanna continues to work with the magazine and there had been no plans for a cover.
  • Donald M. Wells Jr., news director at KGTV-TV News in San Diego for much of a 14-year career at the station, was shot in the hip at his home on his anniversary, the station reported on Friday. His wife, Kalisa Wells, 59, is booked at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee with a bail set at $75,000. "His Internet biography says he has been 'Transformation Project Lead' at the ABC affiliate for one year," the station said. "Officers found a revolver on the kitchen counter and Donald M. Wells Jr., 55, upstairs on the floor with a gunshot wound to one hip," the San Diego Union-Tribune said.

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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