Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Getting It Right on Obama

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some See Flaws in the Campaign Coverage

President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday. It was the two men's first one-on-one meeting. (Credit: Eric Draper/White House)"When Barack Obama began thinking of running for president two years ago, he turned to a small inner circle of political advisers from his 2004 Senate campaign. Like Obama, they were talented, laid back and idealistic with limited exposure on the national stage," according to a piece on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday night.

"But with the candidate's help," it continued, "they orchestrated what some consider one of the most improbable and effective campaigns in American political history. They took a little-known senator with a foreign sounding name and almost no national experience and got him elected as the 44th president of the United States. They did it by recruiting and vesting millions of volunteers in the outcome, by raising more money than any campaign in history, and by largely ignoring that their candidate happed to be a black man."

The inner circle of political advisers all were white.

The piece represented one of the disconnects between media coverage of the president-elect and Obama campaign workers, advisers and observers who interacted Sunday and Monday with members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists at the group's annual meeting, held this year in Washington.

As the "60 Minutes" piece was about to air, Valerie Jarrett, who is African American, is co-chair of the transition team, and is an Obama intimate, was answering questions from the group.

So what about those advisers?

"Michelle is first," Mark Alexander, an African American who was the campaign's policy director, told Journal-isms, speaking of the first lady to be. "Valerie Jarrett is as important as anybody. She has been a mentor and role model for both the president-elect and Mrs. Obama for . . . many years," he said. Alexander, who was previously Obama's New Jersey campaign director, had met the senator years ago through his own wife, who was introduced to Michelle Obama in the mid-1990s while a faculty member in Chicago.

"On a day-to-day basis, he relies on 30 to 40 people for advice," Alexander said. "That's going to be a diverse group, and some of them we won't see publicly. He'll be hearing from a lot of different folks."

In a series of briefings at Howard University on such topics as immigration and poverty, the 25 or so columnists and their guests often heard entreaties to correct what were seen as media misconceptions.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush and President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, pause for photographs after the Obamas' arrival at the South Portico of  the White House. (Credit: Chris Greenberg/White House)Clifford Alexander, Mark Alexander's dad, Jimmy Carter's secretary of the Army and chief counsel for civil rights under Lyndon Johnson, recalled the 1964 election. Johnson, he said, called him into his office and asked what percentage of the black vote he had received. Alexander reported it was 95 percent. "What happened to the other 5?" Johnson asked.

Lesson: Black people voting their interests is nothing new. Don't let media voices say voting for Obama was simply a matter of voting for the black guy, Alexander said at an opening reception.

The point was made in greater detail by Steven C. Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

He pointed to Sen. John McCain's characterization of "Joe the Plumber" as Everyman. "We allowed the myth" that small business people have the same interests as those Pitts defined as "workers.

"No matter how many tax cuts you give a business, they will not spend if no one is buying stuff." Thus, he said, the plight of the consumers -- the workers -- trumps that of small businessmen.

William E. Spriggs, who chairs the Economics Department at Howard, said personal income taxes contribute more to the U.S. treasury than do corporations, so if a candidate derides personal income tax cuts as "welfare" but celebrates corporate tax cuts, "then why am I voting for you?" It's a question of interests, not race.

At another point, Spriggs added that blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites with the same education level, and are paid 25 percent less. When stories are written about how black people are faring, but lack that context, "it really hurts us in getting the story out, at least as I have experienced it," Spriggs said.

Zhu Xiao Di, a Harvard researcher and author, took on the myth spread by some right-wing columnists that the Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages the extension of mortgages to lower-income people of color, was responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of high-priced loans that went to low-income borrowers or low-income neighborhoods came from CRA-regulated banks lending in CRA-affected areas, he said.

Spriggs urged that the range of people of color affected by the meltdown be portrayed by including black former mortgage workers and now-jobless college graduates in the reporting.

"Give voice to black workers," pleaded Pitts. Too many stories about job training neglect the issue of improving the quality of the jobs workers already have. "We've seen a deterioration of standards and norms," he said. The garbage workers in Memphis for whom Martin Luther King marched in 1968 live much different lives today, not because of job training, but "because their jobs were transformed" after the protests for better conditions, he said.

Election Returns Keep Racial Views Out for Discussion

What to make of the report that according to exit polls, whites preferred John McCain over Barack Obama 55 percent to 43 percent? That, "In exit polls dating to 1972, Democrats have never carried a majority of the white vote," as Alan Fram reported last week for the Associated Press?

If you're an Obama aide like Mike Strautmanis of the transition team, who spoke Sunday before the Trotter Group of African American columnists, you say you always thought it would be a close election and thus the strategy was to work to grow the electorate to outnumber those who would never vote for you.

If you're a columnist like Dwight Lewis of the Nashville Tennessean, you point out the figures and take heat for it.

"Well, at least people are honest in expressing themselves," Lewis wrote on Sunday. "But my column was not meant to say that anyone who voted for McCain on Tuesday was racist. The column simply said that the South was being isolated for overwhelmingly voting Republican, when most other parts of the country voted for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama."

Elsewhere in Tennessee, Michael L. Pirtle, editor and publisher of the Murfreesboro Post, apologized "for any offense generated" by humor columnist Stephen Lewis' effort, "Thanking early voters for getting out of way, Ode to Obama."

It included these lyrics, sung by Obama to the theme song of "The Jeffersons":

"Well we're movin' on up,
To Washington, D.C.
To a deee-luxe pimp pad,
Painted whiiiite.
Yeah we're movin' on up,
To the White House.
I'll be jetting with P. Diddy cross the sky."

Sports Columnists Debate Comparison to Athletics

It was handy for many cartoonists to depict Abraham Lincoln reacting to Barack Obama's election last week, and some sports columnists likened it to black athletes who made breakthroughs.

That didn't sit well with some.

"It's always dangerous, but never boring, when a newspaper sports columnist uncorks a political thesis," Dave Zirin wrote Sunday in the New York Daily News.

"For more than a century, masses of white audiences have cheered black entertainers and athletes. And for most of that time, blacks struggled mightily to climb the corporate or political ladder. Why? Because being wowed by the ability of blacks to perform on a field or stage is not in the same ballpark as accepting their political leadership. Not even close.

"More to the point, the rare black athletes who have dared to make waves have been pilloried for not knowing their place. After men like Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos got too political, the phrase 'just shut up and play' emerged — to smack down future jocks for trying to do more than entertain."

On the other hand, said David Steele, writing in the Baltimore Sun, "You couldn't open a paper, click on a site or turn on the television or radio without finding a reaction to the election from an African-American athlete.

" . . . Suddenly, a nation whose reaction to athletes making political and social statements historically has been 'shut up and play' couldn't get enough from a group disproportionately populated by the race shared by the president-elect.

". . . Go figure. Society might have been a catalyst for change in sports, instead of the widely held view that it's the other way around. Or, at worst, they're catalysts for change in each other."

Who Can Resist Commenting on Election?

Web Site Veteran Among 50 Layoffs at Kansas City Star

Stan Austin"In the third round of cost-cutting in less than five months, The Kansas City Star on Monday began to notify about 50 employees newspaper-wide that they were being let go," the Star reported on its Web site. Publisher Mark Zieman told Journal-isms, "We looked very hard at our whole workforce to make sure we were not disproportionately affecting any group."

Zieman would not say how many newsroom employees or how many people of color would be affected, but Stan Austin, a black journalist who is senior online editor and marked 23 years at the paper in September, confirmed that he was one of those laid off.

"I just told my kids," Austin, 48, said early Monday evening. "I haven't had a whole lot of time to think about it. I'll be fine. It's just tough to see a lot of talented folks and colleagues leave the paper. A lot of institutional memory is leaving."

Austin was managing editor of the Web site when it launched in 1995, and had been copy editor, makeup editor and assistant business editor before moving to the Web operation.

Zieman said in a memo to employees that the newspaper had "taken a number of extraordinary steps to keep The Star safe during this harsh economic downturn, and to buffer this great newspaper against future financial pressures," the Star story reported.

"The affected employees include workers in The Star's news, advertising, circulation and other departments. All of them will receive severance pay, benefits continuation and outplacement services, according to the memo.

"In June, The Star cut 120 jobs, or about 10 percent of its workforce, as part of the elimination of 1,400 employees companywide by its parent company, The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, Calif. An additional 65 employees accepted voluntary buyouts or were laid off in September. An additional number of positions were eliminated through attrition."

Zieman told Journal-isms that the Star has more readers than ever, and that the layoffs are influenced by both a migration of advertising to the Web and the worldwide economic recession. Yet, he said, "we had record traffic last week," and he declared "we are not going to lose our focus on the Internet. We are transitioning from one model of distribution to another.

"We're doing this so we will be here 100 years" from now, he said.

Diverse Sunday Supplement Suspends Publication

RiseUp launched on June 23.RiseUp, a Sunday newspaper supplement promoting diversity and printed by the Kansas City Star, has suspended publication, although Star Publisher Mark Zieman told Journal-isms there was no relationship between the suspension and the layoffs announced Monday at the Star.

RiseUp, which launched only on June 23, posted this notice on its Web site on Sept. 23:

"RiseUp has struck such a positive chord with our readers across the nation, that we are getting numerous requests from other newspapers to have RiseUp inserted in their papers. Our circulation will be increasing from almost 4 million to over 7 million. However to meet the demand, we are pausing to address printing and transportation issues. Don't worry, your newspaper will still be carrying RiseUp when we return, and you should receive your next issue of RiseUp soon. Meanwhile, we will be updating the website each week with new articles, so be sure to return often!"

Although RiseUp claimed a large circulation, in the Washington Post, for instance, it was marked as an advertising supplement, did not run in all editions and was stuffed in with advertising material printed in advance. Published on newsprint, it was easy to miss.

Short Takes

  • Chris Murray"For the second year in a row, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is honoring a writer who embodies the pioneering spirit of Sam Lacy, a Hall of Fame sportswriter whose half-century of work for the black press beat the drum for equality in the sport," Justice B. Hill of told fellow sportswriters on Monday. "The inaugural Lacy Award, in 2007, went posthumously to Larry Whiteside, a longtime baseball writer for The Boston Globe and a mentor to scores of Task Force members. This year the award goes to Chris Murray, who has written extensively about baseball for The Philadelphia Tribune, a weekly paper that targets the black community. Murray is one of a handful of black sportswriters in America who cover Major League Baseball regularly."
  • Nick CharlesNick Charles confirmed on Monday that he has left Essence magazine, which he joined in September as managing editor of a project combining the Web site with television production. He had been vice president of content for BET Interactive and before that editor in chief of AOL Black Voices. Charles said that for the moment, he was "taking it easy."¬† An Essence spokeswoman said Charles left Friday and that Angela Burt-Murray, the magazine's editor in chief, was running the Web site.
  • Two black women are under consideration as Barack Obama appointees to head the Federal Communications Commission, Olga Kharif reported Monday in Business Week. They are Julia Johnson, a Florida consultant who chairs Video Access Alliance, an advocacy and advisory group for independent, emerging and minority networks and Internet content providers; and Mignon Clyburn, who has been a commissioner for the Public Service Commission of South Carolina since 1998. She is a daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's most prominent black politician.
  • Marcela Sanchez, who wrote a column about Latin American and Latino affairs for the Washington Post and the Washington Post Writers Group, has left for the New York Times Syndicate, she told Post colleagues on Friday. "Back in 1997 I started in Sports editing the Spanish soccer page. Then I moved to the Foreign desk to write a weekly bilingual column on Latin American and Latino affairs. Most often, though, I worked with Metro, National and Business editors in order to prepare a daily report for the Spanish language newscast on Univision," she said. "Last month I finished my contract with The Washington Post Writers Group."
  • "Colorado voters became the first in the nation to reject a ban on state affirmative action programs, narrowly defeating a measure that California businessman Ward Connerly has helped pass in four other states," Colleen Sleven reported Friday for the Denver Post. "By 51 percent to 49 percent, Coloradans rejected a proposed constitutional ban on considering race or gender in state hiring, contracting and college admissions. The Election Night tally showed voters about evenly divided, and The Associated Press didn't declare a winner until Friday, when more votes had been counted."

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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