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Democrats' Racial Firestorm

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Critics Love That *&%$#!@ Show "The Wire"

Media Deny Clinton Charge That Obama Gets a Pass

Former president Bill Clinton came out swinging against Barack Obama and the news media over the weekend, saying a "double standard" prevented Obama's record, particularly on Iraq, from being examined as closely as that of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


"No one ever wants to hear her side," the former president said Monday in an early-morning radio interview on the nationally syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

Media representatives who responded to a Journal-isms query denied the claim.

"In the case of the Tribune, I do not think the charge has merit," Michael Tackett, Washington bureau chief for Obama's hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, told Journal-isms.

"We wrote an exhaustive series about Obama's first year in the Senate, and in that series, noted that he had not spoken out forcefully against the war as a member of Congress, among other things. This series is available on our website. We also wrote a multi-part biographical series about Obama as a presidential candidate, and again, we addressed his record in full. As just one point, I might note, we documented his 'present' votes in the Illinois legislature, a story that others reported on months later. That series is also available on our website. In fact, many of the instances cited by the Clinton campaign actually originated with coverage in the Tribune."

Nevertheless, after a weekend in which race and gender boiled over as campaign issues in the Democratic presidential contest, Bill Clinton struck back forcefully at notions that he and his wife were playing the so-called race card. Hillary Clinton's comments comparing Martin Luther King Jr.'s achievements with those of President Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton's statement that Obama's Iraq position was a "fairy tale" each received a backlash of criticism.

Clinton said to Jacque Reid, who interviewed him on the Joyner show, "His surrogate Larry Tribe said, 'She's not a phony but she plays one on TV.' Did you ask him to get rid of Larry Tribe?" The reference was to Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor and scholar on constitutional law who had hired Obama as a research assistant.

Speaking of Obama, Clinton said, "I have never before seen a candidate get through a year of a presidential campaign and hold himself and the people who work for him completely unaccountable for what they do and then try to blame everything else on everybody else."

"I can see you came to fight," Reid said when the 11-minute interview ended.

The Clinton counterattack started before the Joyner show.

"In case anyone doubted that Bill Clinton still harbors considerable resentment toward the press, it bubbled to the surface last week," Howard Kurtz wrote Monday in the Washington Post.

"He was, quite understandably, promoting his wife's candidacy. His chief mission, therefore, was to rough up Barack Obama. But his decision to rip news organizations for not reporting on what he sees as inconsistencies in Obama's record on Iraq raises an intriguing question.

"Have the media failed to adequately scrutinize the Illinois senator's stance on Iraq? Or was the former president simply trying to prod the press into carrying the campaign's water on an argument that Hillary Clinton herself has not raised?

"'It is wrong,' Bill Clinton said Monday in New Hampshire, 'that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years — and never got asked one time, not once — "Well, how could you say that, when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war . . . and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?'" . . .

Two electronic media outlets responded to Journal-isms' request for comment on Clinton's charge.

"ABC News' correspondents have asked tough questions of all of the candidates on a wide range of issues," ABC News spokeswoman Natalie J. Raabe said. "Case in point, Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross' report last week on the relationship between Senator Obama and Tony Rezko."

That piece, by Ross and Rhonda Schwartz, began:

"In sharp contrast to his tough talk about ethics reform in government, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., approached a well-known Illinois political fixer under active federal investigation, Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, for 'advice' as he sought to find a way to buy a house shortly after being elected to the United States Senate.

"The parcel included an adjacent lot which Obama told the Chicago Tribune he could not afford because 'it was already a stretch to buy the house.' "

A CNN spokeswoman said: "CNN has looked at the backgrounds and records of all the major candidates. The network has consistently and aggressively covered the 2008 presidential campaign and the presidential candidates through original reporting, long-form programming such as 'Ballot Bowl,' in-depth interviews on our programs and ground-breaking and widely-viewed debates.”

Kurtz wrote of Iraq, "Hillary Clinton aides want the press to highlight Obama's history on the issue because they fear their candidate will be branded as negative if she does so." He went on to cite exchanges on NBC's "Meet the Press" and stories in the Washington Post that discussed Obama's overall record on the war.

"Other media mentions have been spotty, however, fueling the argument that journalists aren't taking the same magnifying glass to his record that they apply to just about everything Clinton does," Kurtz wrote.

Joyner's statement on the Bill Clinton interview is at the end of today's posting. ??Audio of the Bill Clinton interview is courtesy "The Tom Joyner Morning Show."


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Bob Johnson Knocked for Obama Statements


Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, fanned the racial flames on Sunday by raising the specter of Barack Obama's past drug use and comparing Obama to actor Sidney Poitier in the 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Johnson was immediately criticized, and some called for an apology from the Clinton campaign.


Katharine Q. Seelye reported on Sunday for the New York Times blog:

"At a rally here for Mrs. Clinton at Columbia College, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments that Mrs. Clinton made regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She did not mean to take any credit away from him, Mr. Johnson said, when she said that it took President Johnson to sign the civil rights legislation he fought for. Dr. King had led a 'moral crusade,' Mr. Johnson said, but such crusades have to be 'written into law.'

" 'That is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership,' he said. 'That's all Hillary was saying.' He then added: 'And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood — and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book —when they have been involved.'

"Moments later, he added: 'That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, 'I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.' And I'm thinking, I'm thinking to myself, this ain't a movie, Sidney. This is real life.' "

Hours later, Johnson issued a statement saying, "My comments today were referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

That was not enough for the Obama campaign. "Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman said: 'His tortured explanation doesn't hold up against his original statement. And it's troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton — who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing,'" Seelye reported.

On, Deborah Mathis wrote Monday, "While the Clintons might have been surprised by the reaction to their comments, Johnson has left himself no room to spin. No code talk, no ambiguities. Just a direct hit, a low blow from a man hugely invested in the establishment."

Chicago journalist Monroe Anderson, just back from covering Obama for the Afro-American newspapers, began his blog entry, "Now let's see if I can get this right, black voters are supposed to listen to Robert L. Johnson, who is unarguably the biggest sell out in African American history? Or does he think ethnic memory has come and gone in a flash?"

Some of the weekend commentary on the new racial tension in the Democratic primary campaign, and other aspects of it: Clintons Spend Weekend Defending Race Record

      Matt Bai, New York Times blog: The Clintons and History

      Deborah Bolling, WAMU-FM, Washington: Why Bill? (audio)

      Kenneth F. Bunting, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Momentum fleeting and illusory

      William Jelani Cobb, Washington Post: As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

      Phil Currie, Gannett Co. Inc.: Enough of the instant pontificating and inappropriate cackling; Let's emphasize responsible journalism and show why that matters

      Tim Giago, Sen. Barack Obama and the 'R-Word'

      Rick Horowitz, syndicated: Drawing Distinctions as Dems Battle

      Earl Ofari Hutchinston, syndicated: Obama Needs a History Lesson about Hillary and King

      Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: Head or heart— it's a matter of timing

      Andrew Kohut, Deborah Simmons, Michael Fauntroy, Charles Ogletree, Todd Shaw on "The Diane Rehm Show," National Public Radio: Race and Gender Questions in Presidential Politics

      Jerry Large, Seattle Times: Novelty is now a possibility

      Democratic strategist Ron Lester with Michel Martin on "Tell Me More," National Public Radio: Politics of Race, Gender Rock Campaign Trail

      Mark Leibovich, New York Times: Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision Course

      Dwight Lewis, Nashville Tennessean: An Obama success doesn't mean racism has ended

      Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Clinton Redefines What Experience Is

      Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher: Media Continue to Study 'Race Card' in Obama-Clinton Showdown

      Les Payne, Newsday: Hillary and Bill lose their hold on black voters

      Ishmael Reed, Counterpunch: Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man

      Stan Simpson, Hartford Courant: A Litmus Test For Obama

      Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell with Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now!" Pacifica Radio: Race and Gender in Presidential Politics

      Eve Tahmincioglu , MSNBC: Racial harassment still infecting the workplace

      Marjorie Valbrun, Washington Post: Will They Play the Race Card?

      Rod Watson, Buffalo News: Familiar ring to late swing from Obama


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Democrats' Debate to Highlight Minority Issues

"NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams will moderate a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates Tuesday, Jan. 15, 9-11 p.m. ET, live on MSNBC from the Cashman Center in Las Vegas, NBC announced. Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina are to participate.


The debate, to focus "on issues important to minority voters," is sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 100 Black Men of America, IMPACTO, the Democratic African-American Leadership Council, the College of Southern Nevada and the Nevada Democratic Party.

Tim Russert, moderator of "Meet the Press" and NBC News Washington bureau chief, is to join Williams in questioning the candidates. "Today's" Natalie Morales will also join Russert and Williams; Morales will ask the candidates questions submitted by viewers via and The debate will also be streamed live at, the network said.


      Ken Ritter, Associated Press: Judge grants Kucinich entry to NV Democratic presidential debate

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CBS Anchor Antonio Mora Leaving Chicago for Miami


"Antonio Mora, the 6 p.m. co-anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-Ch. 2 who was relieved of his 10 p.m. anchoring duties in June, is set to become primary anchor at CBS sister station WFOR-TV in Miami, it was announced Monday, Phil Rosenthal reported Tuesday in the Chicago Tribune.

"Mora will work WFOR's 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, paired with Shannon Hori, beginning Jan. 28. His last day at WBBM will be Friday.

"Mora, who came to Channel 2 in 2002 from ABC's 'Good Morning America,' where he broke new ground for Hispanic males in network news, previously lived in Miami as a child after his family left Cuba. He studied for the bar there en route to a pre-TV career as a New York corporate attorney and returned for a year in 1992-93 as an anchor and reporter at NBC's WTVJ-TV. His parents have lived in South Florida for 30 years. 'It's like going home,' Mora, whose wife, Julie, grew up in the Chicago area, said in an interview Monday. 'I never thought I would fall in love with Chicago as much as I have. . . . But if I had to leave Chicago, Miami's a great place to leave for.'"

In October, Mora hosted the annual awards banquet of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. [Added Jan. 15]

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Critics Love That *&%$#!@ Show "The Wire"

The critically praised HBO police drama "The Wire" entered its fifth and final season this month, partly set inside the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun. The series has been lauded for its "authenticity," but what struck this first-time viewer most on Sunday night was the nonstop profanity— in the newsroom, in the police department and in the community.



At one point, a black woman police detective (Shakima "Kima" Greggs, played by Sonja Sohn) finds a black boy cowering in a closet after a murder has taken place and faces him, saying "How the f---k?" expressing her surprise.

Street cred aside, perceptions of the accuracy of the show's rendition of newsroom culture varied.

Paul Farhi, a TV and pop culture writer at the Washington Post, who mentioned the show in an online chat, told Journal-isms via e-mail, "NO ONE talks that way in our newsroom. It would get you fired, I'm sure. The characters on 'The Wire' — cops, politicians, drug dealers, as well as editors and reporters — all seem to speak the same way: Hyper-aggressively, disrespectfully, obscenely. I know it's stylized dialogue, for a TV show, but it bears no resemblance to anything I've heard here. I'm not being prudish or dainty about it—it just doesn't happen that way."


But another journalist told his colleagues in the National Association of Black Journalists, "It's absolutely dead-on, in terms of the places I've worked at in the past and work at today, and in terms of the language used even in front of kids. As I was born and raised in Baltimore, and grew up reading the Baltimore Sun, I see a lot this show gets right that wouldn't be noticeable to others."

David Mills, a journalist-turned-television writer who has worked closely with David Simon, the onetime Sun reporter and the brainchild behind "The Wire," told Journal-isms:

"I don't remember Shakima dropping the F-bomb in that scene . . . I just remember her turning to the uniform cops and saying, 'How?'

"But no doubt there is plenty of profanity in 'The Wire.' And if you read Simon's book 'Homicide,' you'll know that nobody cusses more than police detectives. It's just a part of that vernacular culture.

"Was there much cursing in the 'Wire' newsroom? Maybe I'm just numb to it, after all these years. My personal view is, in the hands of a gifted writer of dialogue like David Simon or David Milch ('Deadwood' was even more elaborately profane), those 'bad words' are just another tool in the toolbox, another color on the palette . . . useful in making a point about the coarseness of the world.

"But I also understand that it turns some folks off."

Diego Aldana, a spokesman for "The Wire," said the writers "are using their recollection in terms of the profanity. The degree varies from character to character," and in a future episode the city editor is chastised for his language.

The Sun is cooperating with the series, allowing it to film in its newsroom. Others helped in unorthodox ways. One of the reporters is named Mike Fletcher, the same as that of the Washington Post reporter who co-authored "Supreme Discomfort," the recent biography of Clarence Thomas, and who, incidentally, once worked at the Sun. The names of other former Sun co-workers are used in the show as well, with their permission, Aldana said. The Association of Black Media Workers of Baltimore provided awards, shirts and mugs for backdrops in the show, according to its former president, Charles Robinson.

      Lawrence Lanahan, Columbia Journalism Review: Secrets of the City: What The Wire reveals about urban journalism

      Maureen Ryan blog, Chicago Tribune: David Simon talks about his career in journalism and the final chapter

      DeAngelo Starnes, The Wire: An Odyssey's End Begins

      Sudhir Venkatesh, New York Times blog: What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire?

      Teresa Wiltz, Washington Post blog: 'The Wire' Gets Rolling


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Hispanic Link Weekly Report Celebrates 25 Years

The current issue of Hispanic Link Weekly Report, a training vehicle for scores of Hispanic journalists, celebrates its 25th anniversary this week.


"Weekly Report was born in 1983, the child of the fertile minds and big visions of our tiny staff," the issue says. "Give the community bullets of information and let it take aim at those guarding the white towers of power.

"In its prototype 4-page edition, our first Gannett Foundation intern-reporter, Julio Barreto, exposed the U.S. Congress as one of the nation's worst 'old white boys' clubs. In a nation that was 8.6% Hispanic, less than one percent of Congress's staff and committee members were Hispanic.

"To get that figure right, Julio had to contact well over 500 congressional offices. California's reputed liberal Senator Alan Cranston, running for the Democratic nomination for president at the time, had a single Hispanic on his staff of 64. Because of the attention given Julio's story by that state's press, Cranston's next five hires were Hispanic, we were informed."

The issue also notes, "Over the past quarter century, 750 people with enlightening, provocative, engaging and sometimes enraging things to say about the Hispanic community have had their voices heard through Hispanic Link News Service. Combined, they have composed 4,500 columns so far, reaching millions of readers, in Spanish as well as English."

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Short Takes

      "Better known now for its raunchy reality shows, MTV is trying to regain its cachet as the hippest election observer, a role lost in recent years to bloggers and Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show.' Starting Monday, MTV's novice reporters — armed with laptops, digital cameras, and camcorders — will file weekly video news stories, blog, create podcasts, and send out dispatches on mobile phones as part of the network's most ambitious election initiative," Jenn Abelson wrote Saturday in the Boston Globe.


      Paula Madison, executive vice president for diversity of NBC Universal and board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, is one of four leaders in journalism and broadcasting to be honored March 6 by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, the foundation announced on Monday. Others are Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent for CBS News and moderator of "Face the Nation," Tom Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press, and Richard Wiley, founding partner, Wiley Rein LLP, Washington.

      Nicholas Schmidle, an American freelance journalist and scholar based in Pakistan, was ordered to leave the country this week after writing an article that might have been deemed unflattering to the Pakistani government, according to friends, colleagues and a U.S.-based media rights group," John Ward Anderson reported Sunday for the Washington Post.

      The building that housed the Omaha Star, a long-lasting fixture in the Nebraska city's black community, in the heart of north Omaha's business district, has been officially entered on the National Register of Historic Places, Qianna Bradley reported Sunday in the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald.

      Louisiana Weekly Publisher Henry Baxter Dejoie Sr. was remembered Jan. 12 as a newspaperman who brought ''courageous truth in telling the stories of its adverse topics of corruption, graft and, most recently, the trials and tribulations of Hurricane Katrina.'' Dejoie died after a massive heart attack Dec. 31, in a Chambersburg, Pa., nursing home, where he and his wife had lived since their evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. He was 82, Hazel Trice Edney reported for the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

      The Sam Lacy Award was one of 25 baseball awards handed out in Kansas City Saturday night at the annual Legacy Awards, Justice B. Hill wrote for "Of those awards, the Lacy Award for Baseball Writer of the Year is the newest. It is a salute to the pioneering spirit of sportswriters who covered 'black baseball.' " It was posthumously awarded to Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe.

      "Syndicated columnist Walter E. Williams has recently questioned whether historically black colleges and universities have outlived their usefulness and viability," Larry E. Rivers, president of Fort Valley State University, wrote in an op-ed Monday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "While desirous of affording Williams all due respect, please let me — as a veteran HBCU faculty member and, now, president — respond. Simply ridiculous." Williams focused his essay on a series of pieces written by Bill Maxwell for the St. Petersburg Times last spring. "HBCUs" are historically black colleges and universities.

      USA Today, which lost veterans David DuPree and Roscoe Nance as primary NBA writers in buyouts in December, is covering the NBA with Jon Saraceno and Chris Colston, who were both on the staff in other capacities, Oscar Dixon, the NBA editor, told Journal-isms.

      Lennox Samuels, who took a buyout in 2006 at the Dallas Morning News, where he had been a deputy managing editor, is in Iraq for Newsweek, for whom he is on contract, based in Bangkok. He has a first-person piece in the current issue, "In Diyala, A New Offensive."


      Mark Trahant, editorial page editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote his last regular column for the paper, he told readers on Sunday. "because of changes in technology — and the way we reach readers — I find less time to report and think about what to say for a Sunday essay." Trahant, who is also board chairman of the Maynard Institute, said he will spend more time "managing the interactive nature of the medium."

      Juan Carlos Fanjul, a reporter and fill-in news anchor at Tribune Co.-owned WGN-TV in Chicago, is leaving to return to his hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla., as an anchor at WPEC-TV, Robert Feder reported in the Chicago Sun-Times.

      "A group of Gambian journalists and pro-media freedom bodies in West Africa on Saturday launched Radio Alternative Voice (Radio AVG), an online radio which can be accessed on," Freedom Newspaper, based in Raleigh, N.C., reported on Sunday. "Organisers said the launch in Dakar was in response to 'very limited media freedom' in their tiny West African country. 'We cannot continue to live in a country where divergent views cannot be expressed," said Amie Joof-Cole, a Dakar-based Gambian journalist and coordinator of the project."


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Tom Joyner Statement on Bill Clinton Interview

I think the most significant thing that came out of this morning's interview with President Clinton is that this Democratic race is very close and in any close race, politicians play politics. If Obama were not such a viable opponent there would be no heat and no passion —and that's what we heard this morning.


Race is real and I don't know why every time something involving race comes up America acts so surprised. Of course race is an issue in this election. President Clinton and I have a good relationship and that relationship began with race. He reached out to us years ago because we have 8 million African American listeners tuning in every morning. He came on the air this morning to address those African American listeners and there's nothing wrong with that.

Most of our audience loves President Clinton but many of them were surprised at his remarks this morning—not so much at what he said, but at this tone. He was clearly upset. This is his wife running. He was defending her. He was playing politics, yes but it was also personal, probably more personal than when he was running for office himself. I understand that.

When he spoke this morning, some people thought he was saying, I've done so much for Black people, how dare you question me. I think it was more like, you know me, you know who I am, you know what I've done, I can't believe you wouldn't trust me.

Either way, he has to remember this is politics and as beloved as he and Hillary are in the black community, there's someone else running who is just as qualified and has a chance to make history. I'm not sure if I believed we would see a black president in my lifetime and a lot of other black people feel the same way. So all other things being equal, many of us are inclined to support this black man who we believe will be good for America. Just like all things being equal, President Clinton is supporting his wife. If Obama wasn't in the picture many of us would be supporting Hillary Clinton hands down.

By the same token, if Hillary were not running, President Clinton would probably be supporting Obama. In a few months this thing will work itself out and I and most of our listeners will support the Democratic candidate, whether it's Hillary, Obama or Edwards.

Right now, they all need the black vote as they head to South Carolina.

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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