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Ex-Editor Pleads Guilty to Larceny

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Jamal Watson Says Case Was "He Said, She Said"

The former executive editor of the New York Amsterdam News has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree grand larceny after being accused of cashing checks made out to summer interns.

 

 

 

Jamal E. Watson is to be sentenced on Jan. 29, and has agreed to make restitution of $1,700 in exchange for five years of probation, Jennifer Kushner, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan D.A.'s office, told Journal-isms on Monday.

Watson has consistently maintained his innocence, and did so again Monday. In a statement he said he delivered two weeks ago, after the Dec. 7 plea, Watson said he entered the guilty plea after "it became increasingly clear to me that this is a classic 'he said, she said,' case."

However, Elinor Tatum, the Amsterdam News publisher, told Journal-isms Monday, "You don't plead guilty unless you are guilty, especially to a felony."

Tatum said, "I'm sorry that it came to this. He was a good editor, and I'm sorry he violated the trust of us at the Amsterdam News, and that of the students he was working with."

Watson said in his statement, "From 2003-2005, I served as the executive editor of The Amsterdam News. In this capacity, I was responsible for the day-to-day news operation of the 96-year-old newspaper, which included hiring and evaluating reporters. I also created a very successful internship program which brought students from across the country to New York City to work for the historic black weekly.

"It's no secret that in September 2005, I used $1,700 from the Amsterdam News budget to hire an editorial assistant to work at the newspaper on a part-time basis.The funds to pay this individual came from leftover money from the summer internship budget. The individual that I hired worked every day in the newspaper's Harlem office completing a wide variety of clerical and administrative duties and was paid for the time worked. At no point did I use any of the funds left over from the internship budget for my personal gain. Every cent was used to help make the Amsterdam News the best publication that it could be and it was always my understanding that I had the authority to make such a hire."

It was the second resolution this year of a court case involving Watson.

In May, Watson, who had been charged with menacing, unlawfully imprisoning and harassing his ex-girlfriend, accepted a deal that would give his ex-girlfriend a "full order of protection" from him and drop the charges if Watson remained on good behavior for six months, Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor Deirdre Bialo-Padin said then.

Before that, on Nov. 20, 2001, the Boston Herald reported that Watson, who had worked for the rival Boston Globe, "was ordered to pay $435.45 restitution and the case against him was continued without a finding for a year after he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty on charges of larceny, credit card fraud and receiving stolen property.

"Watson, you may recall, was accused of stealing a wallet from his former co-worker and ex-friend, Boston Globe reporter David Abel, and using Abel's credit card to buy a Palm Pilot and some gasoline."

On April 18, 2002, the Herald reported that "Watson yesterday had his court-appointed lawyer enter a not guilty plea to charges he harassed a Northeastern University coed and violated a restraining order." NU, which employed the ex-Globe reporter as a journalism instructor, kicked him off campus for alleged 'repeated inappropriate interactions and conduct' toward one of his students."

Watson strongly objected to publication of the material from the Boston Herald in this column. "In reporting on my case, I was disturbed that you merely lifted information from a gossip column [hardly a reputable (one) at that] from the Boston Herald in recycling rumors from four years ago. At a time when African American journalists need the support of each other, I can not understand the need to perpetuate racist reporting that (seeks) to demonize Black men as thieves and abusers. There are far too many images of black men portrayed in this manner in mainstream media," he wrote.

"We are all presumed innocent until proven guilty. I have never been convicted of any crime."

Watson's full statement on the Amsterdam News plea is at the end of today's column.

MESSAGE BOARDS: Feel free to post a comment on this subject and view those from others.

Officials Clear Newspaper in Mpozi Tolbert Death

Indiana officials investigating the death last summer of beloved photographer Mpozi Mshale Tolbert, who collapsed at his desk in the Indianapolis Star newsroom, have ruled that Tolbert died because he had a heart condition and that the newspaper was not at fault in the circumstances after his collapse.

 

 

Former Star columnist Ruth Holladay, who retired after 37 years at the paper on June 30 and blogs at www.ruthholladay.com, claimed on July 22 that co-workers were unable to properly help Tolbert because they could not call 911 from newsroom phones. Her posting received more attention when the Poynter.org Romenesko site linked to it.

After that, Tim Grogg, a special assistant commissioner with the Indiana Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration office, said the agency did not know if the newspaper had reported the death as required by state law.

But Monday, Grogg told Journal-isms that "an investigation was completed and no OSHA violations were found." He said the determination was made "several months ago."

Separately, the Marion County coroner's office determined that the sudden death July 3 of the seemingly healthy Tolbert, 34, came because he had a heart problem.

"The coroner listed the cause as arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a syndrome typically found in people ages 20-40. Medical literature describes the syndrome as a buildup of fatty tissue in the heart's right ventricle, which can cause heart stoppage and death," Kevin O'Neal reported Oct. 7 on an inside page of the Star that apparently escaped national notice.

"While the syndrome can be detected, it usually takes extensive tests.

"Death can come even when a person appears to be in good health, which was the case with Tolbert."

Tributes to Tolbert from readers and co-workers took up 13 pages on the Indianapolis Star Web site. They uniformly commented on his geniality, his kindness and the steps he took to make others feel comfortable in his 6-foot-6, dreadlocked presence. He was memorialized in both Indianapolis and in Philadelphia, his hometown.

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Students Surprise Columnist on "N-Word" Mission

"In my continuing mission to bring a 'ban the N-word' campaign to Milwaukee Public Schools, I went to Washington High School recently to persuade a classroom of mostly African-American students to reject any further usage of one of the most racially derogatory words in the English language," columnist Eugene Kane wrote Sunday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"It's safe to say my mission was definitely not accomplished. But in the end, I still had hope.

". . . Basically, I told these young people the N-word was no longer appropriate for young blacks to use around white people or among themselves. It is a word that suggests inferiority and self-hatred; we can all do without it.

"Frankly, these students were not having any part of that. To my surprise, most black students vigorously rejected my contention that the N-word wasn't a valid part of their vocabulary.

"'It doesn't mean the same to us it used to mean back in the past!' was a constant refrain.

". . . The intensity of the feedback from these black students made me realize the depth of the disconnect between some adults who have stopped using the word and younger people who don't see a problem. Some of these students felt I was essentially making too big a deal about their use of a word they claimed had little or no power over them.

"More than one said they wouldn't even mind if a white person called them the N-word."

"I honestly didn't buy that rationale; I think most of them were too young to predict what would happen if they come face to face with overt racism." But the teacher "told me she was excited by the students' ability to engage in the critical thinking necessary to debate the subject," Kane wrote.

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CNN Sets Guests for "Town Hall" in Vidor, Texas

CNN has firmed up these guests for its "town hall" meeting Tuesday night in Vidor, Texas: Roland Martin, editor of the Chicago Defender; author and columnist Joyce King; R.C. Horn, former mayor of Jasper, Texas, scene of the infamous incident in which James Byrd Jr. was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in 1998; Walter Diggles, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments; the Rev. Al Sharpton; William Brown Claybar, mayor of Orange, Texas; Guy James Gray, former criminal district attorney of Jasper, and the first elected black city council member in Beaumont, Texas, Calvin Williams.

The special, "Out in the Open: Racism in America,â?? airs at 8 p.m. Eastern time and is to take a closer look at the history of racism in America, progress made and the specific issues facing many small towns with a racially charged past, CNN said.

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Unity Gets Eyeful on Its Rebuke to O'Donnell

Unity: Journalists of Color felt a backlash from correspondents to its new discussion forum when it asked for comments on its stance condemning "The View's" Rosie O'Donnell's Chinese language imitation.

"In one brief action, O'Donnell and 'The View' not only offended Chinese Americans, but all of UNITY's partner organizations: the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association," Unity said in a statement.

The views expressed by participants were familiar:

"Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Germans, Polish, Mexican, Hispanic, etc, etc., have all come to this county and at one time or another have had their speech patterns mocked," wrote someone using the name nicknfla.

"America is all about freedom. Some people have a tough time getting that through their heads. Freedom of speech sounds beautiful until someone steps on your pretty little toes and then out the window it goes. In my lifetime I've seen people come to America that don't really want to be Americans. They want to be Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic-American. They don't want to be one race "plain ole American" they want to be different in some way. Then just stay in the country you want to be identified with, simple as that. We Americans don't mind. And that way you won't ever be offended again by people like Rosie O'Donnell cause you won't be here to hear anything she has to say."

MESSAGE BOARDS: Feel free to post a comment on this subject and view those from others.

Statement from Jamal Eric Watson on Guilty Plea

From 2003-2005, I served as the executive editor of The Amsterdam News. In this capacity, I was responsible for the day-to-day news operation of the 96-year-old newspaper, which included hiring and evaluating reporters. I also created a very successful internship program which brought students from across the country to New York City to work for the historic black weekly.

It's no secret that in September 2005, I used $1,700 from the Amsterdam News budget to hire an editorial assistant to work at the newspaper on a part-time basis.The funds to pay this individual came from leftover money from the summer internship budget. The individual that I hired worked every day in the newspaper's Harlem office completing a wide variety of clerical and administrative duties and was paid for the time worked. At no point did I use any of the funds left over from the internship budget for my personal gain. Every cent was used to help make the Amsterdam News the best publication that it could be and it was always my understanding that I had the authority to make such a hire.

I've been told that the publisher of the paper contends that as the executive editor I was not authorized to hire an editorial assistant. Others have tried to argue that I pocketed the funds. That's simply not the case. Though I have always maintained my innocence, it became increasingly clear to me that this is a classic "he said, she said," case. Faced with the prospects of this trial dragging on for months and the possibility that I could very well lose, I decided on December 7, 2006, that I would accept responsibility only for being an inexperienced manager; for failing to place into writing my plans for hiring a part-time staffer with funds left over from the Amsterdam News' internship budget.

Many individuals familiar with the various personal conflicts that existed between the Tatum family and myself in the months leading up to my termination from the Amsterdam News have urged me to publicly comment in detail on these incidents believing that it will provide clarity on why these baseless charges were filed against me in the first place. I will not do so. I am moving forward and I wish the paper well.

Jamal Eric Watson, New York City

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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