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"The Butler" Tops Box Office for 3rd Weekend

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Companion Book Debuts as N.Y. Times Best Seller

Balta, Navarrette Go at It Over NAHJ Panel Snafu

Skeptics Cautious on Source of Syrian Chemical Weapons

Jailed Liberian Editor Blasts Sirleaf in N.Y. Times Op-Ed


Egypt Releases, Deports 3 From Al Jazeera English

Snowden Papers Show Spying on Al Jazeera, 2 Presidents

West Calls Sharpton "House Negro of Obama Plantation"

Kennedy Counters Anti-Affirmative Action Arguments

MediaTakeOut: "Basically a Creative Writing Assignment"


Wil Haygood, author of "The Butler: A Witness to History" and the Washington Post news story on which it is based, spoke at Washington's Politics and Prose bookstore on July 30. For black journalists, Haygood told Journal-isms, one lesson is "not to shy away from our history, no matter how painful." (video)

Companion Book Debuts as N.Y. Times Best Seller

"Lee Daniels' The Butler engineered a surprise victory over Morgan Spurlock's 3D concert documentary One Direction: This Is Us at the Labor Day box office, becoming the first movie of 2013 to top the North American chart three weekends in a row," Pamela McClintock reported Monday for the Hollywood Reporter.

The book version, "The Butler: A Witness to History," by Wil Haygood, based on his 2008 Washington Post story, entered the New York Times best-seller list in the Times' print editions of Sunday. It remains there for the Sept. 8 edition at No. 10 on the "Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction" list and No. 13 on the "Hardcover Nonfiction" list.

"The success of the movie is overwhelming to me," Haygood told Journal-isms by email Monday. "I wanted to write about someone who had worked in the shadows at the White House. And now Eugene Allen, who loved his country ferociously, is out of the shadows." Allen is the real-life butler on whom the movie character is based.

Asked what journalists — especially black journalists — should take away from his success, Haygood replied, "I think a lesson for black journalists is not to shy away from our history, no matter how painful. There are still folks who have a difficult time dealing with the term BUTLER."

"The Butler" might be the first book-and-movie success ever to come from a newspaper story written by an African American journalist. Haygood also has associate producer's credit.

The major Hollywood studios turned down the movie, which was ultimately made by the Weinstein Co., Sheila C. Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, explained at Washington's Politics and Prose bookstore on July 30 as the book was released. Johnson completed the fund-raising required to make the film. "Without her, there would be no 'Butler' movie [video]," Haygood said then.

"This is a new day in black film," Johnson told the packed audience.

McClintock reported, "The Butler, distributed by The Weinstein Co., is one example of a smaller title that has shown remarkable staying power. The historical drama grossed $20 million for the four-day holiday, pushing its domestic total to a $79.3 million. The film's outstanding run is a testament, at least in part, to Oprah Winfrey's standing.

"Winfrey stars opposite Forest Whitaker, who plays a White House Butler working through eight presidential administrations. The film — a likely awards contender — is certain to gross north of $100 million.

" 'The audience continues to broaden out and get younger,' says TWC distribution chief Erik Lomis."

Carlos Sanchez

Among those in the broadening audience was Carlos Sanchez, editor of the Monitor in McAllen, Texas, who wrote on Aug. 25 that he had taken his 11-year-old daughter to see the film. "I worried that the movie might be too heavy a drama for her and, ultimately, was delighted when she declared that she loved the movie and all its historical references — particularly the civil rights era.

"Then my daughter asked me something profound: 'Are there any movies like that for Mexicans?' 

"I spent more than an hour explaining that the civil rights movement in our country was not only about African-Americans, but Hispanics as well. She was shocked that segregation extended to the Hispanic community.

Sanchez also wrote, "While I enjoyed the conversation with my daughter immensely, I couldn't help but wonder about the dearth of popular movies that tell the story of Hispanics in America. . . ."

Four historians of Ronald Reagan's presidency wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that "As historians of the 40th president, having written more than a dozen biographies between us, we are troubled by the movie's portrayal of Reagan’s attitudes toward race." The movie showed Reagan as the president who ended the dual pay scale between black and white White House employees, although Bill Hamilton, former White House storeroom manager, told ABC News that that distinction should go to Lyndon Johnson.

While the historians defended Reagan as sensitive to black concerns, a Washington Post/ABC News poll in July 1983 found that nine of every 10 blacks said blacks had been hurt and not helped by Reagan's policies, and seven of 10 said they did not think Reagan cared that they were hurting.

Balta, Navarrette Go at It Over NAHJ Panel Snafu

Hugo Balta (left), Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, struck back again at columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. Sunday over Navarrette's commentary on an embarrassing incident in which the Democratic speaker of the California Assembly, John A. Pérez, is said to have pressured NAHJ to remove a Republican from a political panel at its recent convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Navarrette, the most widely syndicated Hispanic columnist in mainstream newspapers, began his column with, "I'm mourning what has become of an old friend. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists became irrelevant as a journalism organization this week at its annual conference in Anaheim," Calif. On Twitter, he wrote, "NAHJ stands for 'Not Actual Honest Journalists.' "

Balta acknowledged that "mistakes were made" and said he took "full responsibility" for the incident. In a response reposted Sunday on voxxi.com, he said of Navarrette, "The sophomoric personal attacks became worse once I called him out on his bombastic approach. This isn't a concerned journalist or even wounded NAHJ member (on and off again as Navarrette describes). This is a self absorbed, irresponsible pompous opportunist who cut corners in his storytelling in order to increase readership. . . ."

Rafael Olmeda, a former NAHJ president, wrote in a comment under Navarrette's piece that "this broadside against NAHJ seems to me to lack a basis in reality."

However, other commenters have sided with Navarrette, who replied on his Facebook page, "Failed NAHJ President Hugo Balta's narcissistic pouting over the spanking he got in a recent column brings to mind another sore loser: Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, who I scuffled with in 2010 and 2011. . . ."

Balta concluded, "Deep down inside bullies are cowards [whose] bark is often bigger than their bite.

"The difference between people like [Navarrette] is that while those antagonists talk the talk…people like the fine staff and volunteers at NAHJ (and its partners) who produced an outstanding national conference walk the talk.

"School's out and I'm standing outside, waiting for Navarrette to come out..to call me — but I know he won't."

Syrian rebels on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on April 13. (Cr

Skeptics Cautious on Source of Syrian Chemical Weapons

"Let's compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, Jim Naureckas wrote Sunday for Fairness & Accuracy In Media. "One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).

" 'The government account expresses 'high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack' on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline 'Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.' Which of these two versions should we find more credible? . . ."

These were not the first accounts of chemical warfare in Syria, however. In May, the French newspaper LeMonde reported, "Reporters for Le Monde spent two months clandestinely in the Damascus area alongside Syrian rebels. They describe the extent of the Syrian tragedy, the intensity of the fighting, the humanitarian drama. On the scene during chemical weapons attacks, they bear witness to the use of toxic arms by the government of Bashar al-Assad. . . ."

As Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman reported Saturday for the New York Times, "President Obama abruptly changed course on Saturday and postponed a military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack so he could seek authorization first from a deeply skeptical Congress. . . ."

Meanwhile, Ann Curry of NBC News returned from reporting on the plight of Syrian children made refugees by the fighting. "The true face of the Syrian war refugee is not only a child, it's a child under the age of 11," she told host David Gregory Sunday on "Meet the Press."

Children have witnessed their friends killed from exploding shells, Curry said. Eighty percent of them have to deal with their emotions and trauma on their own. "We may be looking at a lost generation because of what these children are enduring. The world has not responded to the needs of these children and the needs of these refugees to the degree they require help."

When Curry spoke Aug. 24 at the New York convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, she said she had to leave early to report the children's stories.

Jailed Liberian Editor Blasts Sirleaf in N.Y. Times Op-Ed

Rodney Sieh"It's not uncommon in African countries like Zimbabwe and Ethiopia for newspapers to be shut, and their editors jailed," Rodney Sieh wrote Friday in an op-ed in the New York Times under the headline, "Jailed for Journalism."

"But the newspaper I edit doesn't operate in a dictatorship. We are in Liberia, the West's poster child for postwar democracy building. Our president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is a Nobel laureate who is celebrated by the likes of Bill Gates, Warren E. Buffett and Bono and has positioned herself as a champion of a free press.

"Having spent the past week in jail and now under armed guard in a hospital since I contracted malaria, I’m not feeling particularly championed.

"Until it was shut down last week, my paper, FrontPage Africa, had been setting a new standard for journalism in West Africa."

Sieh also wrote, "The libel case that landed me in jail began in 2010, when we published the results of two investigations by the General Auditing Commission, Liberia's independent corruption watchdog, into the Agriculture Ministry's accounts. The investigations, which Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf ordered, found nearly $6 million unaccounted for and raised questions about the agriculture minister at the time, Christopher Toe, a former president of the American online university Strayer.

"When Mr. Toe was quietly dismissed from government, he reacted by suing the paper for libel, as well as me and the reporter Samwah Fallah in our personal capacities. . . ."

Egypt Releases, Deports 3 From Al Jazeera English

"Egyptian authorities say they have deported three members of a TV crew working for the English-language version of Qatar-based news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, after they were detained for nearly a week and accused of working illegally," the Associated Press reported on Sunday.

"An official at the airport says Al-Jazeera English correspondent Wayne Hay, cameraman Adil Bradlow and producer Russ Finn left Cairo for London on Sunday. The three were detained Tuesday with an Egyptian colleague while covering events in Egypt.

"The official says they were deported for working in Egypt without a permit or license to use satellite transmitters. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. . . ."

Reporters Without Borders said Monday, "Since 3 July, a total of five journalists have been killed, 80 journalists have been arbitrarily detained (with seven still held) and at least 40 news providers have been physically attacked by the police or by pro-Morsi or pro-army demonstrators," a reference to deposed President Mohammed Morsi.

"These violations of freedom of information have taken place in a highly polarized political environment that has made the situation extremely difficult and dangerous for journalists. . . ."

Snowden Papers Show Spying on Al Jazeera, 2 Presidents

"Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera was spied on by the National Security Agency, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL," the German magazine Spiegel reported on Saturday. "The US intelligence agency hacked into protected communication, a feat that was considered a particular success.

"It makes sense that America's National Security Agency (NSA) would be interested in the Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera. The Qatar-based channel has been broadcasting audio and video messages from al-Qaida leaders for more than a decade.

"The United States intelligence agency was so interested, in fact, that it hacked into Al Jazeera's internal communications system, according to documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden that have been seen by SPIEGEL. . . ."

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Monday from Sao Paulo, Brazil, "The U.S. National Security Agency spied on the communications of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, a Brazilian news program reported, a revelation that could strain U.S. relations with the two biggest countries in Latin America.

"The report late Sunday by Globo's news program 'Fantastico' was based on documents that journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was listed as a co-contributor to the report.

" 'Fantastico' showed what it said was an NSA document dated June 2012 displaying passages of written messages sent by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was still a candidate at that time. In the messages, Pena Nieto discussed who he was considering naming as his ministers once elected.

"A separate document displayed communication patterns between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top advisers, 'Fantastico' said, although no specific written passages were included in the report. . . ."

West Calls Sharpton "House Negro of Obama Plantation"

Cornel West, left, and Al Sharpton

"Public intellectual Cornel West tore into many of this week's speeches surrounding the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech, accusing everyone from President Obama to Rev. Al Sharpton of 'sanitizing' Dr. King's vision," Andrew Kirell reported Friday for Mediaite. The venue was the "Smiley & West" talk show on Public Radio International.

" 'Brother Martin himself, I think, would've been turning over in his grave,' West said of the event. '[King would have wanted] people to talk about Wall Street criminality, he wants people to talk about war crimes, or drones dropping bombs on innocent people,' he asserted.

" 'Instead,' he lamented, 'we saw the coronation of the bonafide house negro of the Barack Obama plantation, our dear brother Al Sharpton.' West went further declaring that Sharpton's decline was 'supported by [MSNBC analyst] Michael Dyson and others who've prostituted themselves in a very ugly and vicious way.'

"West and Tavis Smiley both lamented that black leadership has become 'so sold-out' so as not to have the courage to be a 'bull in the china shop,' break rank, and talk about 'racism, poverty, and militarism' at an otherwise 'bought-out' event. . . ."

(Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Kennedy Counters Anti-Affirmative Action Arguments

Randall Kennedy, the author and Harvard Law School professor, has written a new book that provides retorts to all of the anti-affirmative action arguments lobbed by critics.

"For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law" (Pantheon Books) even brings television news hiring into the argument.

"There are reasons to believe that affirmative action is not as stigmatically burdensome as certain anti-affirmative action detractors suggest," Kennedy writes. "Especially among racial minorities, relatively few complain about this cost, against the concomitant benefit. Some do, as we have seen. But most blacks and Latinos embrace affirmative action notwithstanding this drawback.

"One thing they recognize is the notable unevenness of attitudes toward different sorts of preferences. Racial affirmative action is said to be highly stigmatizing. But the stigma objection is advanced much less strongly when the preference in question has to do with geography (collegiate in-state preferences) or alumni status (collegiate legacy preferences) or preferences for the wealthy or for those with connections. A columnist sarcastically made note of this phenomenon in a piece about the emergence of Chelsea Clinton, Jenna Bush Hager and Meghan McCain as television journalists under circumstances that suggests that their familial prominence played an outsize role in their hiring," Kennedy continued, quoting Mary C. Curtis in the Washington Post.

" 'That's the way it is in America. So let's just call it what it is: affirmative action. I know that term has been corrupted in the public realm as shorthand for being on the receiving end of unearned privilege. Someone beats you out for a job, a spot in Yale's freshman class? Blame affirmative action. The ones doing the blaming usually aren't referring to women or veterans or people with disabilities or students with a building on campus named for dad, mom, or other generations that made their mark. It's those minorities — you know, because minorities have always had it so great in America."

MediaTakeOut: "Basically a Creative Writing Assignment"

Last month, the New York Times tried to describe the celebrity gossip site MediaTakeOut, but the result was a puff piece. Not so GQ's attempt, by staff writer Zach Baron.

"Like TMZ, MediaTakeout does occasionally break news: It was the site, for instance, that first outed rapper Rick Ross, author of 'Rich Off Cocaine,' as a former corrections officer," Baron writes. "This past spring, MTO posted photos of NFL cornerback Kerry Rhodes in a clutch with another man — 'This Ish Here Is Looking SUSPECT,' the site wrote — though tellingly, Rhodes went to TMZ, not MediaTakeout, for the exclusive interview to avow his heterosexuality.

"But MTO has also inaccurately claimed 'exclusives' on everything from suggestions that Beyoncé was faking her pregnancy (until she gave birth) to Lil Wayne's decision to cut off his dreadlocks (until another photo showed that the dreads were very much still there). In June, the site proudly proclaimed a 'WORLD SUPER MEGA EXCLUSIVE' on the name of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's newly born child, Kaidence Donda West, and then, a few days later, quietly 'updated' the post to reflect the baby's actual name, which was and remains North. Other MTO stories seem essentially unverifiable but equally improbable: 'Beyonce Is Linked To Ray Lewis STEROID SCANDAL... And We've Got AIRTIGHT Evidence That Bey's ON THE JUICE!!!'

"After reading for a while, you get the rhythm of it — it's maybe one-sixteenth news and fifteen-sixteenths entertainment, more fun-house filter than reliable source. The in-vogue bit of slang ratchet — gleefully irresponsible, more than a little wild — was basically invented to describe MediaTakeout. The site, which updates just once a day, true to tabloid form, is alternately funny, outlandish, vulgar, bullying, and surreal; usually it's most of those things at the same time. MTO's writers (there are five, including [founder and editor] Fred [Mwangaguhunga], none with traditional training in journalism) are virtuosos of the caps-lock button, geniuses of ellipses, masters of the end-parenthetical: 'We Have CLOSE UP PICS... Of The Woman That Rick Ross Was In The CAR WITH... When He Got SHOT UP!! (Cute Girl).' There are days when it feels like the site gets as much mileage out of grammar and punctuation as it does from real people and what they do in the real world. There are also days when MediaTakeout doesn't seem to be describing the real world at all.

"Says one high-level editor at a rival, more established gossip magazine: 'At a certain point, if you're so far removed from the actual information, what you're doing is basically a creative-writing assignment.' . . ."

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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 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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