Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

On Historic Night, Black Networks Fill Gap

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Anchors of Color Rare as Obama Wins Presidency

Networks declared Barack Obama the winner at 11 p.m. EST. (Credit: CNN)

If you wanted to see black America's reaction to the historic election of Sen. Barack Obama as the nation's first African American president, you had to watch the two black-oriented cable networks, Black Entertainment Television and TV One.

Specifically, as soon as the networks declared Obama the winner at 11 p.m. Eastern time.

Black journalists talked about how much it would have meant for their own ancestors to have seen it. A BET reporter stood in front of cheering students yelling "Oba-ma! Oba-ma!" at Spelman College in Atlanta and, raising her voice to be heard, declared, "Eighteen- and 22-year-olds now see a whole other vision as to what their lives could be." She went on excitedly about her jubilation, so caught up in the moment that the camera seemingly was forced to cut away from the scene.

A BET panelist told how her mother had dreamed that she saw Obama with his hands on the Bible. On TV One, Michael Eric Dyson, the pop culture academician, reached to both writer Langston Hughes and rap icon Tupac Shakur, quoting both as saying that as black men they could never be president. "I'm an American. I'm a black American. It's a beautiful expression of what it is to be an American," Dyson said.

TV One anchor Arthur Fennell called syndicated radio host Tom Joyner to the set. "There comes a time on television. You can break protocol and take the moment to feel it as it is," Fennell said, as Joyner hugged everyone on stage. A black Republican on the panel, born in Mississippi, said she had voted for John McCain, but that she was a black American first and applauded Obama's -- and the nation's -- achievement. "My daddy believed in this country," she said. "People can see that the playing field is leveled now and we all have a place at the table."

The BET and TV One coverage added an authenticity that underscored what was missing from the other television networks. In an e-mail headed, "Irony of the Evening," Roy S. Johnson, editor of Men's Fitness magazine, wrote his colleagues on the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists. The body of the message continued his thought: "We just elected a black president and not a single broadcast or cable network is anchored by a person of color."

In other words, the nation had made more progress than the television networks

Johnson meant besides the Spanish-language networks or those catering to black audiences. Besides National Public Radio, where Michele Norris hosted the coverage. The last black journalist to be principal anchor on a commercial television network was CNN's Bernard Shaw, who retired in 2001.

In the niche-oriented cable spectrum, conservatives could tune into Fox News and hear a conversation about what Republicans should do next.

PBS watchers could see Gwen Ifill and others on the familiar, functional "NewsHour" set giving the emphasis to talking heads over the sizzle of graphics.

CNN, MSNBC and others gave us technology, pundits, up-to-the-minute horserace results and whatever else was deemed state of the art.

But because there is no Latino-oriented network broadcasting in English, that perspective was lost to most viewers. Same with Asian Americans and Native Americans.

Yet on BET, anchor Jeff Johnson, took his audience away from the popular image of his network as repository of booty-shaking music videos by introducing thoughtful interviews with the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., rap godfather Chuck D. and others on the significance of the evening.

There, Lowery, an activist with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the days of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., took listeners back to the days of the Birmingham bombings in the 1960s and times when black people were killed for merely attempting to register to vote. "Frankly, when I cast my vote the other day, the spirit of God just grabbed me," he said. "What's happening today is that America is being born again." Black people, too, must be born again, he said.

"Hallelujah, I'll say it with you," his interviewer said. Jeff Johnson

Later, Johnson confessed, "I was one of those skeptics honestly, that didn't know if there was a black man who can totally unify the country," going on to say it was Obama's message of inclusion that won the day.

Before the jubilation that followed the declaration  that Obama had won -- it came as soon as the polls closed on the West Coast -- commentators on other TV networks were remarking on the significance of the night.  But by and large, they were commentators, not journalists, and the journalists of color were not anchoring.

"It's great to be an American again," Chris Matthews said on MSNBC, "surprising the world in a positive" way. "It will be a spectacularly different place for every kid who grows up. No one in the West has dared it except us."

"At 11:49 PM EST, live from Morehouse College in Atlanta, ABC News reporter Steve Osunsami choked up and came near tears as he recalled how 'my father used to tell us that there's no way this country would elect a black President,' but 'this evening, the country has proved my old man wrong -- and we're the better for it,'" Brent Baker wrote on the site. 

Juan Williams, an African American pundit on Fox News who often became one of Obama's most strident critics, called Obama's victory "not just history-making, this may be the cover of a history book. Even a year ago, I wouldn't have thought an African American man would be able to be elected president in this country. The image of Barack Obama with his children in the White House is just stunning." he said.

"Obama is certainly a strong politician who (ran) a magnificent campaign." 

"I have to say it made for remarkable television," Andrew O'Hehir wrote Wednesday on

 "Williams is a contentious fellow who has long borne the burden of being the designated African-American centrist on both Fox News and National Public Radio. His antipathy toward Barack and Michelle Obama has been evident throughout this election season, but on Tuesday night, faced with the almost unbelievable spectacle before him, Williams had his finest moment. There was nothing fake about his intense emotion or the eloquence of his response -- and if you saw it you'll never forget it." [Updated Nov. 5]

Anti-Affirmative Action Measure Passes in Nebraska

A ballot proposition banning affirmative action won in Nebraska and remained undecided Wednesday in Colorado.

"With legal uncertainty over the petition drive that pushed Initiative 424 onto the ballot, the vote signifies the middle - not the end - of the fight to bar minority scholarships and other traditional race- and gender-based affirmative action programs," Matthew Hansen wrote in the Omaha World-Herald.

"Nebraska voters approved the constitutional amendment by a comfortable margin, sending California businessman Ward Connerly and the amendment's other backers into celebration mode shortly after polls closed.

"The constitutional amendment bars public agencies such as universities and city governments from considering race, gender and ethnicity when handing out contracts, hiring employees and awarding scholarships

". . . .University leaders and lawyers will soon decide: Is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln girls math camp now illegal? Is a Cultural Day at the University of Nebraska at Kearney OK because it lets white students attend? Is a black leadership conference at the University of Nebraska at Omaha doomed?"

With 99 percent of the vote counted, the initiative was winning 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent against.

In Colorado, "Opponents of Amendment 46, which would eliminate race or gender preferences in government hiring and contracts, continue to lead by the slimmest of margins, just 1 percent," the Denver Post reported on Wednesday morning.

By Wednesday night, the paper said, "With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Amendment 46 was failing 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent, or by a margin of 14,038 votes. But clerks in Boulder and Adams counties were still counting possibly more than 100,000 ballots.

"Critics are concerned that such an amendment would cripple diversity efforts at public universities and hurt programs to help woman and minority owned businesses."

Similar measures have been approved in California, Michigan and Washington state. They do not always result in the negative effects their opponents fear.

Three years ago, David Sherman, director of student services for the Department of Communication at the University of Washington told Journal-isms that his program actually increased the number of students of color despite passage of I-200, an anti-affirmative action initiative in the state, in 1998. "We're committed to having a diverse population and we sort of acted accordingly," he said. "It didn't affect us and we made sure that it didn't."

From November 3, 2008

Hip-hop video blogger and New York radio host Jay Smooth, who has appeared in this space during the campaign, delivers a plea to young people for Election Day (

U.S. Probes Leak of Story on Obama's Aunt

"The government is investigating whether any laws were broken in the disclosure that Barack Obama's aunt was living in the country illegally," Eileen Sullivan reported Sunday for the Associated Press.

"Obama's half aunt, who is from Kenya, was ordered to leave the United States years ago after an immigration judge denied her request for asylum, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press late Friday. This person spoke on condition of anonymity because no one was authorized to discuss the case.

"The woman, Zeituni Onyango, is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama's late father.

"The Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked its inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility on Saturday to investigate whether any policies were violated when information about Onyango's case was publicly disclosed, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. The Homeland Security Department, which oversees ICE, cannot disclose details about an individual's immigration status.

"Information about Onyango's case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release, just five days before the presidential election. Obama's campaign strategist David Axelrod said people are suspicious about stories that surface so close to an election."

Papers Wrap Themselves in NRA's Anti-Obama Ad

Four newspapers in Kentucky and three in Indiana arrived on doorsteps Monday in plastic bags with advertising from the National Rifle Association opposing the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, but the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and others refused the advertising.

The Courier-Journal and other newspapers would not accept the polyurethane bags not because of their advertising messages but because they would run so close to or on Election Day, according to Teresa Revlett, sales director for the Kentucky Press Association, wrote Jack Brammer of the Lexington  (Ky.) Herald-Leader, which participated in the advertising.

The NRA bought the bags through the press association. Revlett told Journal-isms Monday that the newspapers wrapped in the advertising bags were circulated without incident.

In Richmond, however, plans to carry the advertising "caused deep concerns in the newsroom as well as with some people in corporate leadership, sources say," the alternative newspaper Style Weekly reported. At a staff meeting, "They worried the wrap might suggest a news bias against Obama that runs counter to the longstanding separation of news, opinion and advertising that is central to maintaining public trust in any news operation. 'There were some very bitter comments from our executive editor [Glenn Proctor],' says a staffer who attended the meeting. Proctor, the source says, made clear his dismay over the ad."

Proctor referred Journal-isms to a company spokeswoman, who has not responded.

The plastic bags are tailored to each state. "Vote Freedom First," the bags in Kentucky say on one side, adding, "Defend Freedom NRA Defeat Obama," according to the Herald-Leader.

On the other side, they say "Vote Freedom First Mitch McConnell for U.S. Senate."

The Indiana bags have the Obama message on one side and Republican incumbent "Mitch Daniels Governor" on the other.

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk also rejected the ad, that paper's Julian Walker reported. He quoted Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute: "I think it would be hard for voters, in that moment, to discern whether this is the paper's point of view or someone else's. You don't want to do something on Election Day that essentially alienates your readers."

But "The Herald-Leader opted to distribute the bag because of its belief that free speech extends to advertising, said Publisher Timothy M. Kelly," that paper reported.

Belo's Spanish-Language Al Dia Lays Off Five

Al Dia, the Spanish-language publication of the Dallas Morning News, has laid off five employees as part of the cuts mandated by the parent A.H. Belo Corp., Publisher Alejandro Sanchez Sobrino told Journal-isms on Monday.

They are Elda Gonzalez, translator; Carlos Moreno, Web editor, Ben Torres, photographer; Liliana Vargas, reporter, and Isaac Lasky, marketing director.

A free newspaper, Al Dia publishes Monday through Saturday with a circulation of about 43,000 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Sanchez said, and 120,000 on Wednesday and Saturdays. It is delivered to homes.

The losses leave about 23 editorial employees, he said.

Brendan M. Case reported Oct. 24 in the Dallas Morning News that, "The company expects to achieve annual savings of nearly $30 million from the staff cuts, including $24 million from the voluntary departure of 412 employees and $5 million from the layoff of 90 people."

Five of 22 people laid off at the Dallas Morning News on Oct. 24, the same day the cuts took place at Al Dia, were journalists of color.

Copy of New Yorker's Obama Cartoon Nets $1,800

David Rapp, who stepped down two years ago as editor of Congressional Quarterly, put in the winning bid for a signed copy of the infamous satirical New Yorker magazine cover that caused a firestorm in July. It featured Barack Obama in "Muslim" garb and his wife, Michelle, as an Afroed '60s radical.

"I like a lot of political cartoons that capture a point in time," Rapp told Journal-isms. "This captures a moment in history and will be remembered forever."

Rapp said he had not intended to bid on the cartoon, which was part of an annual "Cartoons and Cocktails" benefit at the National Press Club Oct. 23 for the Young D.C. teen newspaper, Cartoonist Rights Network International, which defends cartoonists persecuted abroad, and the Eric Friedheim Library at the press club.

But Rapp, who is now in the travel business, said his wife encouraged him. He placed the winning bid of $1,800.

Rapp said he thought the cartoon, framed and signed by cartoonist Barry Blitt, was the perfect counter "to all the b---- being spread about" the Obamas and said it could assume even more significance after Tuesday's vote. It could be "one of the pieces of the story that led to this guy's election."

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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Barack Hussein Obama It is clearly a name with an “other-worldly” sound, foreign if you will. Yet today, a name that has evoked curiosity, fear, pride and hope, is the name of the 44th President of the United States of America. The son of a Black African father and White American mother, he has claimed the ultimate prize in American politics. It is a prize that for so many of us was something that seemed not only improbable, but impossible. For me, an African-American man, fast approaching his sixth decade of life, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States is an affirmation of the values and promises that America professed to embrace, but all too often fell short of when it came to its citizens of color. I celebrate that affirmation and take pride in the fact that my country has chosen to look beyond self and embrace selflessness. To be sure, the journey that Barack Obama is embarking upon is beyond imagining for most of us. It will be challenging, exciting, frustrating and possibly dangerous. But as one who was trained as a historian, it is clear that there are moments in time when someone takes center stage and in the words of Colin Powell, is a “transformational” figure. Forty-five years ago I sat with my parents and heard another “transformational” figure talk about his dream. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live to see his dream fulfilled. Yet for me and many of my generation he gave us a glimpse of what could and should be. For me, it was that hope that we could be better than we were, was often, all I had to hang onto. As a professional journalist who has often seen and reported on the worst of us, the experience of seeing Barack Obama, an African-American, elected President of the United States, for at least one day, allowed me to see the best of us. It is a feeling that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Tom Jacobs

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