Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Did First Lady Come Between Editor, Columnist?

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Thursday, April 8, 2010
Updated April 10

Writer Out After Critique of Handlers' "Incompetence"

Minnie Two Shoes, NAJA Founding Member, Dies at 60

Tiger Woods Gives Masters' Its Highest Ratings Ever

David Mills Services Set for Monday in Md.

With Tyler Perry, TBS Draws Black Cable Viewers

Sheila Johnson Rips Confederate History Proclamation

Ruling Doesn't Settle "Net Neutrality" Dispute

NYU Picks Decade's Top 10 Works of Journalism

"I Had to Carry Him at Night Through a War Zone"

Short Takes

Visit of first lady Michelle Obama to Brinkley Middle School in Jackson, Miss., was the subject of a spiked column by Eric Stringfellow of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. (Credit: WAPT-TV).

Writer Out After Critique of Handlers' "Incompetence"

It's not unusual for columnists to have their work spiked, but an editor's wish for good relations with the White House is not often raised as the motivation.

Stark contrast: Eric D. Stringfellow, left, and Ronnie Agnew That's the implied accusation made by Eric D. Stringfellow, who was dismissed last month as a freelance columnist for the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, with which he had been associated on and off since 1982.

Stringfellow had written a column alleging sloppy work by the White House in staging a visit to the city by first lady Michelle Obama, who had granted an exclusive interview to the paper's executive editor, Ronnie Agnew.

The two men's approaches to the Obama visit, in which she promoted her initiative on childhood obesity, were in stark contrast.

Agnew began his March 7 column, "Michelle Obama walked into a room at Brinkley Middle School for her interview with me every bit the confident, personable first lady that the country has come to know. There is a realness about her that makes [her] less than imposing, certainly not intimidating.

"But she clearly knows the issues, states them with exactness and precision and advocates her husband's initiatives with command of the language that tells her what she should say and what she shouldn't. She's disarming with her likeability and impressive with an intellect that is already redefining the role of first lady."

Agnew also wrote a piece that explained how he came to be chosen for 10 minutes with the first lady: "A White House staffer had seen a column I had written supporting Mrs. Obama's 'Let's Move' effort and that led to an invitation."

Stringfellow, on the other hand, saw in the visit "a serious breach of protocol and good manners." He wrote that Republican Gov. Haley Barbour's gifts - "he was carrying the flag in the GOP's assault on the president's agenda but still managed to do a day-long waltz with the First Lady . . .  perhaps coupled with the White House's political incompetence, made part of Obama's show offensive.

"There were six people, for example, on stage at Brinkley Middle School, including Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., the governor, Marsha Barbour," who is the governor's wife, "Principal Leroy Pope and the student who introduced the guest of honor.

"All but the mayor graced the podium. Johnson was never allowed to publicly welcome the First Lady on her historic visit to his city. That was unbelievable.

"Even more inconspicuous was Jackson Schools Superintendent Lonnie Edwards. His seat was in the gallery and he was practically invisible until being acknowledged by Obama.

"By any standard, this was a serious breach of protocol and good manners.

"The indignities were not just related to the public show. . . ."

Stringfellow says he turned in his column on Friday for Monday's paper, but found out from an editor on Sunday night that it had been spiked. In an e-mail addressed to Agnew, he wrote, "You mentioned that the column contained no quotes and you suspected people like Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. had bent my ear about 'petty.'

"Given the courtesy of a telephone call, all of this could have been addressed. Your response was that it was late, it had been a long week [and] that on Friday you were anxious to get home to see your son who was home from Ole Miss."

When local and state officials said he should take his questions for them to the White House, Stringfellow said in his note to Agnew, "Josh Sergen, a White House advance press person, referred me to a White House web site. (Questions attached.) Rather than respond to me, they called you and you pulled the column, something that you acknowledged Tuesday evening. Whatever you told them must have satisfied them. They never responded to me."

Stringfellow started in 1982 at the Clarion-Ledger, his hometown newspaper, covering county government and City Hall before leaving in 1986 for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. He returned to the Clarion-Ledger in 1991 as a night assistant metro editor. He was political editor and became public editor in 1997 and metro columnist in 2003. He left in 2007 rather than accept another position "after you eliminated the columnist slot," he told Agnew.

Stringfellow is now an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Mass Communication at Tougaloo College.

Agnew, asked whether he killed the column because he had become cozy with the White House, told Journal-isms, "I really have no comment. It's very important to remember that Eric resigned from the newspaper three years ago, but we have been carrying his column once a week on a freelance basis. All freelancers understand that they are not employees of the paper and that we are under no obligation to carry their work."

Minnie Two Shoes, NAJA Founding Member, Dies at 60

Minnie Two Shoes, a founding member of the Native American Journalists Association with an offbeat sense of humor, died Friday, Rob Capriccioso reported Saturday for True/Slant. She was 60 and had been battling cancer.

"A character she was, the master of the one word speech 'ayyye,' Mark Trahant, a past president of NAJA and board chairman of the Maynard Institute, told Journal-isms via e-mail. "She deeply cared about NAJA and supporting next gen of native journalists."

Karen Lincoln Michel, a past president of Unity: Journalists of Color, said, "I was attending a UNITY: Journalists of Color reception in Washington, DC, when I heard the news last night. The NAJA members who were present quickly gathered. The female members went out and offered prayers for her family and her people. Her passing is a great loss.

"She could stir emotion by pointing out society's cruel injustices, but lampoon them in the next breath with her hilarious quips. It was her way of pushing people out of their comfort zones and making them laugh about it. In the process, she provoked them to think about issues that mainstream America would rather ignore," said Michel, who is also assistant managing editor of the Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette.

Two Shoes, an Assiniboine Sioux from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, was a freelance writer and media consultant, owned MTS Productions in Minneapolis, and served a number of times on the NAJA board. "She was still spunky enough to be this summer's conference chair for the Native American Journalists Association's yearly gathering," Patty Talahongva, another NAJA leader, said in a Facebook posting.

Her offbeat humor, shown in this video, struck people differently. "Few could understand if she was serious or joking, or if she thought something was important or frivolous," said Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native activist who has also sat on the NAJA board. "She was an entertainer or humorist type of commentator, and she wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but she made us laugh and question our perceptions, and that counts for a whole lot."

Harjo recalled that Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, died Tuesday at 64 after battling pancreatic cancer.

"The premature passing of both Minnie and Wilma is a sad, grim reminder that Native women fall to cancers at a high rate that rivals that in third world countries," she told Journal-isms. "This gives an idea of the environmental and historical stressors that affect the health and shorten the lives of Native women." [Added April 10]

Tiger Woods Gives Masters' Its Highest Ratings Ever

New York Daily News notes Tiger Woods' success. "Tiger Woods was almost done playing as ESPN began coverage of the Masters' second round Friday, a day after the network rode interest in his return from a self-imposed hiatus to its highest golf ratings ever," David Bauder reported Friday for the Associated Press.

"The Nielsen Co. said 4.94 million people watched ESPN's opening round coverage on Thursday, 47 percent more than last year's first round.

"The reason was abundantly clear: curiosity-seekers who wanted to see how Woods looked, acted and played golf since his personal life publicly crumbled in a shocking sex scandal."

Meanwhile, columnist David Kindred defended his colleagues' performance at Woods' news conference on Monday at Augusta National Golf Club, where "200 of us were admitted to the club’s interview room for a press conference. The idea was, Woods would answer questions from the media for the first time since his personal life became public five months ago.

"The hard news from the session was minimal. . . . Hard news that a subject wants hidden is never going to come from a press conference. What, are we going to water-board him? The man who agrees to [take] questions goes in knowing he can turn aside any question, can do circumlocutions, can get up and walk away if he wants. It’s his world and he’s in charge."

David Mills Services Set for Monday in Md.

Services for David Mills, the journalist-turned-screenwriter who died at 48 after collapsing on the New Orleans set of his latest project, HBO's "Treme," are scheduled for Monday at his alma mater, the University of Maryland at College Park.

David Mills The service at the Memorial Chapel is to take place the morning after the debut of "Treme," for which Mills was staff writer and co-executive producer.

The chapel holds 1,000 people and will be open to the public [PDF] for the service. But chapel spokeswoman Megan Miller would not identify any of the eulogists or disclose who is conducting the service. Mills' colleagues on "Treme," "The Wire," "E.R.," 'NYPD Blue,' "Homicide" and others might be expected to attend. David Simon, who produced most of those shows, met Mills while both attended Maryland. Simon also wrote HBO's unsigned obituary of Mills.

Viewing and visitation take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by the funeral services.

Mills continues to be the subject of commentary as reviewers, meanwhile, render their verdicts on "Treme."

Angie Chuang wrote Thursday for the Poynter Institute that she teaches a graduate course on race issues in reporting at American University and had long planned to focus her March 30 class session on a New York Times article, "Who Gets to Tell a Black Story."

"The piece, which was part of the Times' Pulitzer Prize winning series, 'How Race is Lived in America,' is about David Simon's and David Mills' writing collaboration on the HBO miniseries 'The Corner' — a precursor to their partnership on 'The Wire,' " she wrote.

"It seemed like a perfect way to get into an issue I like to address with aspiring journalists: the racial politics of authorship.

"My graduate journalism students launched into a lively debate about Simon, who is white, and Mills, who is black. Why, when Simon approached HBO executives about adapting his book about the drug trade in a black Baltimore neighborhood, did the executives strongly encourage that he team up with Mills? Does it matter if a white person writes a person of color's story? Our conclusion: It shouldn't matter, but it does."

Visitors to Mills' Web site, "Undercover Black Man," received a surprise this week: A post from Mills' nephew, Clifton Porter II.

"Dave approached me a couple of years ago and said to me that 'I hate to do this to you Clifie but in the event something happens to me I have designated you to take care of my business'. I told him that I hope we will be old farts when that happened and that he is only five years ahead of me so he may need to have my back instead," Porter wrote.

"Everyone knows his accomplishments and his intellectual heft but what most did not know is that Dave was a devoted family guy. . . . He always shared his success with his family, inviting them to awards ceremonies, premiers etc., but he always seemed to feel uncomfortable with the accolades. He hated the shallowness and fakeness of Hollywood, preferring to keep a small circle of friends. While insular in nature he shared his skills and talents with so many people," Porter wrote.

Deborah Simmons, Mills' colleague at the Washington Times in the late 1980s, wrote in that paper on Friday, "The old cliche about a deceased artist's work outliving the person applies to David Mills, whose insights and reflections will forever be accessible on the Web, in libraries and on film."

The Daily Beast said this about Treme on Friday:

"According to the first reviews, the show is a success, drawing praise for its tribute to the city's residents and especially its music, which the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley describes as 'the real hero of the tale.' The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert wrote that 'there are so many positive things to say about Treme (pronounced treh-MAY), I hardly know where to begin: with the seamless acting, the outrageously good music, the sensuous cinematography?' In the San Francisco Chronicle, Tim Goodman praises the show for its surprising optimism, a major contrast to the bleak tone of The Wire."

With Tyler Perry, TBS Draws Black Cable Viewers

Tyler Perry continues to be the Turner Broadcasting System's secret weapon for luring African American cable viewers.

For the week ending April 4, according to the Nielsen Co., Perry-produced sitcoms on the TBS Network held four of the top five ratings positions among African American cable viewers. Episodes of "House of Payne" ranked 1 and 2, and "Meet the Browns" shows were 3 and 5. "WWE Entertainment"on the USA Network was No. 4.

The highest-raking show on Black Entertainment Television was "Family Crews," which ranked No. 8. In all, BET had six of the top 25 shows among African Americans. TV One, the other network specifically targeting African Americans, had none. TBS had six — as many as BET — and another Turner outlet, Turner Broadcasting Network, had one.

Broadcast television choices were dominated by "Dancing With the Stars," two episodes of "American Idol" and the NCAA basketball championships, which comprised the top five.

The previous week was similar. "The Tyler Perry Show" on TBS, a special on the making of Perry's new movie "Why Did I Get Married Too" was tops on cable among African Americans, followed by "Meet the Browns," "The Bad Girls Club" (Oxygen Media); another "Meet the Browns" episode and "WWE Entertainment."

On broadcast television, tops were "Dancing With the Stars," "American Idol — Tuesday"' the NCAA basketball championships — Saturday; "60 Minutes" and the NCAA basketball championships — Thursday.

Sheila Johnson Rips Confederate History Proclamation

Sheila JohnsonSheila Johnson, who became a billionaire as co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, endorsed Republican Robert F. McDonnell last year for the Virginia governorship. He won. But on Wednesday, Johnson was among the first to condemn McDonnell's proclamation of "Confederate History Month."

McDonnell later apologized and added a condemnation of slavery, but that failed to quiet the furor.

Johnson's statement read:

“I must condemn Governor McDonnell’s Proclamation honoring 'Confederate History Month,' and its insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history, the remnants of which many Virginians still wrestle with today. The complete omission of slavery from an official government document, which purports to be a call for Virginians to 'understand’ and 'study' their history, is both academically flawed and personally offensive. If Virginians are to celebrate their ‘shared history,’ as this proclamation suggests, then the whole truth of this history must be recognized and not evaded."

Ruling Doesn't Settle "Net Neutrality" Dispute

"At first glance, Tuesday's federal court ruling on Comcast looked like a clean win for the cable giant and for competitors including Time Warner and AT&T. The court, after all, ruled that Comcast could regulate high-speed Internet traffic over its own system and that a company that wanted to push its content through Comcast's pipelines could not," Cecilia Kang and Frank Ahrens wrote Thursday for the Washington Post.

"But the ruling might be only be the beginning of a long campaign between Internet service providers and companies such as Skype, Google and Microsoft. The outcome is far from certain.

"At issue is the wonky-sounding phrase 'net neutrality.' In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission told Comcast and other big high-speed Internet companies that they must treat content that flows through their pipelines equally, whether it's digitally lightweight e-mail or hefty movie files, by pushing it all through at the same speed.

"Comcast complained that certain kinds of Internet traffic are so heavy that they slow down the entire system. Essentially, Comcast wanted to be able to enforce speed limits on its information highway, moving the big, traffic-clogging Internet traffic into a slower lane. Comcast sued the FCC, and Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Comcast."

NYU Picks Decade's Top 10 Works of Journalism

The faculty of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, "together with a group of distinguished outside judges," has selected "The Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade in the United States," the university announced this week.

"Our purpose was to call attention to and honor work of exceptional importance and quality — journalism that brilliantly met the challenges of this difficult decade."

The 10:

Among the judges were Leon Dash of the University of Illinois, Juan Williams of National Public Radio and NYU faculty members, who include James McBride, Mohamad Bazzi, David Dent, Frankie Edozien, Yvonne Latty, Suketu Mehta, Pamela Newkirk and Jason Samuels.

Hassan Ali Gesey, left, and Abdihakim Jimale in their Nairobi apartment. (Credit: Tom Rhodes/CPJ) 

"I Had to Carry Him at Night Through a War Zone"

"Somali journalists Hassan Ali Gesey and Abdihakim Jimale are roommates these days, living in a tiny, graffiti-ridden room in Nairobi, Kenya. Neither would have wanted to eke out an existence like this, but dire circumstances brought them together — starting with the night three years ago that Gesey saved Jimale’s life," Tom Rhodes wrote Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Gesey, who was Jimale’s neighbor in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, heard gunshots coming from his friend’s home that August evening in 2007. He came running and found Jimale badly wounded on the floor. Gesey grabbed a wheelbarrow, loaded his injured friend, and pushed him through the bullet-scarred streets of Mogadishu to the nearest hospital, avoiding soldiers, rebels, and shelling along the way. 'If we used a car they would have shot us, so I had to carry him at night through a war zone,' Gesey told me.

"As many as eight gunmen had entered Jimale’s house while he was sleeping. 'Which one is the government reporter?' demanded one assailant, flashlight in hand. Before Jimale could respond, the gunmen started firing. 'I remember just spinning to the floor,' said Jimale, who was shot five times in the arm.

"I visited the two journalists recently in Nairobi, where they face significant economic, security, and health challenges. Working with local partners, CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program is helping the two reporters with their daily needs and seeking to ensure Jimale gets sufficient medical attention. . . . "

Short Takes

  • "The judge presiding over a high-profile serial killer case in Cleveland is now herself under scrutiny after her e-mail address was linked to dozens of comments on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Web site," Dan Bobkoff reported for WCPN in Cleveland. "Some comments were about ongoing cases she's hearing, including that of Anthony Sowell, who's suspected of killing 11 women. Now, Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold is suing the newspaper for $50 million, saying it violated her privacy."
  • "Oprah Winfrey‚Äôs coming cable channel, OWN, said on Thursday that the queen of talk would host an evening interview show," Brian Stelter reported for the New York Times. "The show, called 'Oprah‚Äôs Next Chapter,' will place Ms. Winfrey in prime time when it begins after her current talk show ends in September 2011. But the one-hour series is not a replacement for the 'Oprah Winfrey Show.' ‚Äù
  • Discovering that there are two Native American journalists at the Washington Post, Rob Capriccioso wrote Thursday for True/Slant: "An even more important issue to explore, I think, is why no reporters, Native or not, regularly write on tribal/federal relations for WaPo as part of a well-defined beat, even though the paper is a major player in covering the development of U.S. policy. I‚Äôd remind the powers that be that tribal issues are a major focus of many top decision makers in Washington, so it seems rather silly not to at least dedicate one reporter to covering them ‚Äî again, whether that reporter be Native or not."
  • Confusing black co-workers for each other "may not be an intentional slap in the face, but it sure does sting," according to career and life coach Jackie Jones, but "In rare cases, such mistakes can work to your benefit. I once worked for an editor at a newspaper who said he was promoted because a senior editor mistook him for another reporter who had done something outstanding. Many months later, he asked the senior editor why he was chosen for the job. Only then did he find out about the mixup. Fortunately for the senior editor, the younger editor, the latter proved to be great at his job."
  • In Orlando, "WFTV-Channel 9 last week announced that it had transformed its digital subchannel 9.2 into Severe Weather Center 9 Now. Today, WFTV said its digital subchannel 9.3 will be home to Spanish-language WAWA an affiliate of the GenTV network, starting no later than June," Hal Boedeker wrote Monday in the Orlando Sentinel. "WAWA will offer a half-hour newscast [at] 9:30 p.m. and will hire at least seven people to start, General Manager Laura Santos said. The station also will offer news updates through the day."
  • "The Committee to Protect Journalists voiced concern today about the fate of Mexican journalist Ram??n ?Ångeles Zalpa. . . who has been missing since Tuesday, according to his family and reports in the local press," the organization said Friday. "?Ångeles, a part-time correspondent for the newspaper Cambio de Michoac?°n in the municipality of Paracho, in western Michoac?°n, left home in his car around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, his son Romel ?Ångeles told CPJ. The journalist was on his way [to] the National University of Pedagogy, but never reached the school‚Äôs facilities, his son said."
  • "In the reclusive Red Sea nation of Eritrea, the fate of 10 journalists who disappeared in secret prisons following a September 2001 government crackdown has been a virtual state secret ‚Äî only occasionally pierced by shreds of often unverifiable, secondhand information smuggled out of the country by defectors or others fleeing into exile," Mohamed Hassim Keita wrote for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Adding to this trickle of information was a grim account last week detailing the supposed deaths of five journalists in government custody and the whereabouts, health, and detention conditions of the others."
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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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Black Folks Speaking in Black Tongue

I simply do not understand all the drama over a simple premise Black folks should tell thier stories...Should a man speak for a woman? The idea that the story can be told by anybody is nonsense . I perfer my Blackness straight without a chaser. When I listen to jazz i want Miles, Coltrane, Duke, not Brubeck, Kenny G and Sinatra.

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