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Gates Caller Says She Never Mentioned Race

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Sunday, July 26, 2009
NPR Not Broadcasting from NABJ Convention

On Boston's NECN network, Suffolk Law Professor Frank Rudy Cooper speculates Monday on motivations of Henry Louis Gates Jr., left, and Sgt. James Crowley. (Link to Video)

Police Report Was Misleading, Chief Acknowledges

"The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is 'personally devastated' by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black, according to a lawyer acting as her spokeswoman," John R. Ellement and Matt Collette reported Monday in the Boston Globe.

The woman's statement - corroborated by the police commissioner - means that much of the media commentary over the last week about the incident has been based on a faulty premise: that the police report is accurate.

Moreover, tapes of the 911 call were released midday Monday. "One thing the tapes didn't show: any obvious background sound that indicated Gates was shouting during the incident, though an officer can be heard describing the person in the house as 'uncooperative,'" Martin Finucane wrote for the Globe. The woman "said she wasn't sure if it was a break-in," he added. "I'm up with a gentleman, says he resides here, but was uncooperative, but keep the cars coming," Crowley said.

The revelations punch holes in much of the media commentary over the last week. In three broadcast appearances since Friday, for example, Fox News and National Public Radio commentator Juan Williams has taken President Obama and Gates to task, denying the incident involves racial profiling and pointing to the police report.

"He got out way too far," Williams said of Obama. "These people feel like, you know what, the president has gone way, way too far without having looked at the police report, without knowing the facts of the case."

On the other side, Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King used the police-report reference as springboard for a column Saturday, "The Black Man at the Door," about white neighbors reporting black people in their neighborhood as suspicious.

He wrote, "Larry Irving, a resident of Woodley Park and subscriber to the Cleveland Park e-mail discussion list in Northwest . . . said that every year, usually in the spring and summer, there is a series of 'outrageous e-mails saying "There are black people knocking on doors. They are burglars.'"

The Globe story by Ellement and Collette said:

"The woman, identified in a police report on file in Cambridge District Court as 40-year-old Lucia Whalen, saw the backs of both men and did not know their race when she called 911, said Wendy J. Murphy, a Boston lawyer from New England School of Law. Whalen phoned police, Murphy said, because she was aware of recent break-ins in the area.

"In an interview last night, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said it was accurate that Whalen did not mention race in her 911 call. He acknowledged that a police report of the incident did include a race reference. The report says Whalen observed 'what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the front porch' of a Ware Street home on July 16.

"That reference is there, said Haas, because the police report is a summary. Its descriptions - like the race of the two men were collected during the inquiry, not necessarily from the initial 911 call, he said."

On the listserve of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, one veteran said (accurately, based on this columnist's own experience):

"It's been my experience covering crime stories that what's in the police report isn't always what happened, especially when there is a question of how the officer acted. It doesn't always happen, but a police report sometimes is written after the incident to justify the action taken. The other party also shades his/her story, which is why it's so difficult to sort this stuff out without independent corroboration."

In another widely quoted passage in the police report, the officer says Gates told him, "I'll speak with your mama outside," when asked to step onto the porch.

''Speaking about my mother,'' Sgt. James Crowley said sadly to a sympathetic local pair of radio talk-show hosts, ''it's just beyond words,' " as one writer put it.

"Gates wryly suggests Crowley got the line from watching 'Good Times' as a child," Maureen Dowd wrote Sunday in her New York Times column after speaking with Gates.

"'Does it sound logical that I would talk about the mother of a big white guy with a gun?' he asked. 'I'm 5-7 and 150 pounds.

"'I don't walk on ice, much less (expletive) with some cop in my kitchen. I don't want another hip replacement.'"

Gates' Web Site, the Root, Gets Ugly Comments

"It was probably inevitable that in the furor over the arrest of the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., some people would resort publicly to the ugly racial slurs that have largely disappeared from polite conversation," Richard P?©rez-Pe?±a wrote Monday in the New York Times.

Terence W. Samuel"But it is hard to imagine a more incongruous place for such comments than The Root, an online magazine of politics and culture largely by and for black people, where Mr. Gates is editor in chief.

"Yet there they were last week, in comments on an interview with Dr. Gates, who was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on a disorderly conduct charge that was quickly dropped.

"A few commenters used grotesque racial epithets, others crudely parodied black speech, and some proudly called themselves racist. One used the screen name of James Earl Ray, the man who killed Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those probably should have been removed, said Terence W. Samuel, deputy editor of The Root, but he added that worse comments had been taken down."

Samuel told Journal-isms, "We've have been having these exact kinds of conversations on The Root for a year and a half. Almost the same intensity, though not at the same volume.

"Any flashpoint conversation about race is a difficult, and often, disturbing one. We keep talking past the flashpoints and have gotten our readers, both black and white, talking about race with a level of civility and sophistication that I think is still evident on the site, even now with all the attention on the Gates event.

"Ugliness in racial dialogue is nothing new, and it not surprising to us at The Root. We are the embodiment, however, [of] how much better things are than they used to be, and how much better it can be for the country. As ugly as some of these comments are, we are watching a collision of the benefits of modernity both technological and racial. None of this is possible without the internet, and all of it matters much less if we did not live in a time when Skip Gates could be a prominent professor at Harvard and be friends with the President of the United States who, as it turns out, has something to say about this because he's black."

Asked about the accuracy of the Times' headline describing the Root as a "site for black readers," Samuel said, "This is a site by and about black people, but it is for everyone."

Paper Reports on Troops Who Continued to Kill

"Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill," Dave Phillips began Friday in a series for the Colorado Springs Gazette.

"It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

"(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor's Note)

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

"His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, 'Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.'

"Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

"Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last."

As the Associated Press reported Sunday, "Ten infantrymen from the Fort Carson-based unit have been accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since returning to civilian life. The Gazette of Colorado Springs reports soldiers from the unit, now called the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, say the breakdown in discipline in Iraq led to civilian murders there as well."

The damage was multicultural. "the racial make up was all over the map. white, hispanic, puerto rican mulatto," Phillips, the reporter, told Journal-isms by e-mail. "there were occasional mentions of 'hajis' in my interviews, but i get the feeling, given the situation, none of the hatred was based on race."

"Daniel Freeman, one of the soldiers interviewed by the paper, says the troops became 'mad and tired and frustrated' in Iraq," the AP summary continued.

"Referring to attacks on civilians, he says, 'You came too close, we lit you up. You didn't stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.' Another, who tells of various atrocities, says 'You didn't get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong.'

"Last week, the Army released a study of soldiers at Fort Carson that found the trauma of fierce combat and obstacles in the way of getting mental health care may have driven some to commit violence. It says more study is needed."

NPR Not Broadcasting from NABJ Convention

For the first time in years, National Public Radio will not be broadcasting from a National Association of Black Journalists convention.Michele Norris

"The pressures of NPR’s current economics means that we have had to reduce many discretionary costs, including travel and remote broadcasts. The decision not to broadcast from the conference this year is a result of the need to control our expenses," NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms on Monday.

"While we will not be broadcasting from the NABJ conference this year, several employees are attending and two producers are leading an all-day audio storytelling workshop in conjunction with NPR Member station WUSF in Tampa. It will be conducted at the station on August 5," she added.

Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's daily newsmagazine "All Things Considered," is to receive the association's "Journalist of the Year" award at the convention, to be held in Tampa, Fla., from Aug. 5 to 9.

In prior years, "Tell Me More" and the canceled "News & Notes" were among the NPR shows broadcasting from the annual conference. Other programs, such as "Talk of the Nation," have broadcast from the Unity and National Association of Hispanic Journalists conventions.

Facing a $2 million deficit, NPR announced in December it was canceling "News & Notes" as well as Next Generation Radio, a training project conducted during the summer conventions of the journalist-of-color organizations and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Its director, Doug Mitchell, was laid off when "News & Notes" was canceled.

Mitchell is continuing to work with the student journalism projects, however, and plans to be at NABJ, he said from Albuquerque, N.M., where he is working with students at the Native American Journalists Association convention. He said NPR was sending two professionals to help with the NABJ student project.

Blacks, Latinos Have Bigger Stake in Health Reform

"If President Barack Obama’s drive for some form of universal health care falters the biggest losers by far will be blacks and Hispanics," Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote last week in his syndicated column.

"Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of the estimated 50 million Americans who have no health care insurance, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund," he wrote, referring to a 2006 study. "But the danger signs for reform are real. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that public support for Obama’s plan is decreasing.

"This is no surprise.

"The instant Obama announced he would make health care reform his defining issue, reform opponents kicked their attack into high gear. The two hit points are that it’s too costly and too intrusive – meaning that it will snatch from Americans the right to choose their own doctors and health plans and dump health care into the alleged slipshod, inefficient hands of government bureaucrats. The real fear of private insurers, pharmaceuticals and major medical practitioners is that they’ll have to treat millions of uninsured, unprofitable, largely unhealthy blacks and Hispanics.

"The huge racial disparity in the number of uninsured has been a sticking point for every Democratic president since Harry Truman proposed the first national health care plan in the late 1940s. The number of blacks and Hispanics without a prayer of obtaining health care at any price has always been wildly disproportionate to that of whites – even poor whites. It has steadily gotten worse over the years."

Southern Poverty Law Center Asks Dobbs' Firing

"The Civil Rights group Southern Poverty Law Center is calling on CNN to remove Lou Dobbs from the air. In a letter sent to CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein on Friday, Richard Cohen, the president of SPLC writes that Dobbs is 'trading in falsehoods and racist conspiracy theories,'" MediaBistro reported on Sunday.

Lou Dobbs"The conspiracy theorists who have claimed for more than a year that President Obama is not a United States citizen have found receptive ears among some mainstream media figures in recent weeks," Brian Stelter wrote Thursday for the New York Times.

"Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the country’s most popular talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, told his listeners Tuesday that Mr. Obama 'has yet to have to prove that he’s a citizen.' Lou Dobbs of CNN said that Mr. Obama should do more to dispel the claims. Larry King, also of CNN, asked guests about it, and other media types, including the MSNBC hosts Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, merrily mocked the controversy. NBC News even did a segment on the subject.

"Cable news is often stretched for news in the summertime, but the birth certificate case has been fueled by the combustible combination of luck, compelling video, an outlandish topic, and savvy activists."

As reported on Friday, Klein, CNN/U.S. president, sent an e-mail to a handful of "Lou Dobbs Tonight" staffers Thursday night saying, "It seems this story is dead — because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."

College Media Advisers Censures Morgan State

"A national journalism organization has censured Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., for its firing of the student media adviser at the school and its attempts to deny students their First Amendment rights," the College Media Advisers said, referring to a July 23 letter.

"The board of directors of College Media Advisers voted the censure following a careful investigation by CMA into the June 30, 2009, firing of student media adviser Denise Brown.

"The letter of censure, sent to Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson, raises concerns about the way the university handled Brown’s case. In addition, CMA is concerned that the present academic and student affairs environments are not conducive to healthy journalism and student media programs at Morgan State."

Among other points, the letter to Richardson says, "Brown was removed from her position as adviser on June 30, 2009, as a result of her students exercising their civil and First Amendment rights by publishing a series of news stories and editorials that were critical of the university administration."

Short Takes

  • Harriette Cole Harriette Cole, author, columnist and life coach who became creative director of Ebony magazine, is listed as Ebony's acting editor in chief in a column she wrote for describing how Johnson Publishing Co. put together tribute publications for Michael Jackson. The publication has been without a top editor since Bryan Monroe resigned as editorial director in April. Cole told Journal-isms then, "I am very happy as the creative director of Ebony, as I have been for the past 2¬? years." Johnson is based in Chicago; Cole was in New York.
  • "Vicente Serrano has been busy since he was laid off from his anchor gig at Telemundo in Chicago back in May," Veronica Villafane reported Monday on her Media Moves site. "He started a blog published on Tribune's Chicago Now. Meanwhile, his production company, Mechicano Inc., will be launching a daily TV news magazine called 'Sin Censura' to air on Azteca Am?©rica's Chicago station in August, with plans for national expansion."
  • Jeffrey Ballou, a deputy news editor in Washington for Al Jazeera English, The Americas, was the subject of a feature story in his hometown Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His mother, Geneva Ballou, "knew he was more than prepared academically for the field, but what she'd heard about Al Jazeera gave her some pause," Deborah M. Todd wrote of the Arab satellite news channel, based in Qatar. "'I'd hear reporters sometimes talk about Al Jazeera and it sometimes has a negative tone,' she said. 'But he explained to me there's all different kinds of people at Al Jazeera and they were just trying to give fair coverage.'"
  • "The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office," the Pew Global Attitudes Project reported last week. "Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well."
  • Elliott Francis, a former reporter-anchor at Washington's WJLA-TV, will be teaching a weekend course "designed to bring journalism professionals up to speed on the basics of creating platforms for publishing and reporting news in the new 'Web 2.0' environment," he told Journal-isms. Francis will be an adjunct professor in American University's School of Communication, teaching in a master's level program, "Interactive Journalism."

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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