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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Story About Vote-Suppression Plan Gains Traction

A court case resulting from a Web site article should settle whether parties can pull voters out of line at polling places to question them on the status of their home foreclosure.
(Credit: Macomb Messenger)Regardless of whether the Republican Party in Michigan actually intended to suppress the votes of African Americans living in homes undergoing foreclosure, a story on a Michigan Web site has made sure that such attempts will not go unnoticed.

"Call it the quote that launched a thousand calls to a county Republican Party office in Detroit," Carrie Dann wrote Tuesday on NBC's "First Read" blog.

"When a Michigan Web site quoted Macomb County Republican Party Chairman James Carabelli last week as saying that GOP officials 'will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses,' allegations of voter suppression spread like wildfire over the internet. The Obama team in Michigan seized on the remark, organizing a series of meetings to discuss the possible variant of address-based 'vote caging,' and -- today -- filing a lawsuit to block Republicans from using foreclosure listings to question voters on polling day."

The story broke after Eartha Jane Melzer of the Michigan Messenger quoted Carabelli's remarks about foreclosures. The Messenger calls itself "an independently-produced political news daily featuring original and investigative reporting," which is part of the Center for Independent Media," described by the Detroit News "as a 2-year-old nonprofit funded by a variety of liberal organizations."

"I was calling around the county Republicans' office asking what their plans were for challenges at the polls" when Carabelli volunteered the information, Melzer told Journal-isms.

Her piece said, "Carabelli is not the only Republican Party official to suggest the targeting of foreclosed voters. In Ohio, Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County (around the city of Columbus) and the chair of the local GOP, told The Columbus Dispatch that he has not ruled out challenging voters before the election due to foreclosure-related address issues."

Melzer wrote that the plan "is likely to disproportionately affect African-Americans who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. More than 60 percent of all sub-prime loans - the most likely kind of loan to go into default - were made to African-Americans in Michigan, according to a report issued last year by the state's Department of Labor and Economic Growth."

The Detroit News quoted quoted one community activist as saying that since 91 percent of Macomb County's population is white, foreclosure rolls would be ineffective tools to target the black vote.

Nevertheless, the Messenger story spread. One political blog, Prometheus 6, reprinted the piece under the headline, "Introducing the most evil plan in modern Republican history."

By Thursday, Carabelli was telling the Detroit News, "I never said anything even close to that. We won't be doing voter challenges on foreclosures, and we've never had a plan to do it," the News reported on Friday.

The denials may be too late. State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis threatened a libel lawsuit against the Messenger, but by midweek, the story had become accepted by many as fact.

And it's before the courts. University of Michigan law professor Ellen D. Katz told NBC that that the injunction -- if won -- would essentially address potential challenges well before Election Day, definitively settling the question of whether parties can pull voters out of line at polling places to question them based on the status of their home foreclosure.

Moreover, not only has the story heightened suspicions about renewed plans for dirty tricks at the polls, it has focused attention on how well voters' rights are protected. "Melanie Campbell, executive director and chief executive officer of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said weak enforcement of voting rights laws has been a persistent problem," Jackie Jones wrote Tuesday on Tom Joyner's

Jones also noted, "'The Tom Joyner Morning Show,' and the NAACP have established 1-866-MY-VOTE-1, a voter alert line that allows people to find out where their polling places are located, register to vote and report problems at the polls."

As for Melzer, she said she isn't finished. "I'm still reporting the story," she told Journal-isms.

Charges Dropped Against Journalists Arrested at GOP

"The city of St. Paul is declining to prosecute most, if not all, journalists arrested in connection with protests during the Republican National Convention," Jason Hoppin reported Friday on the Web site of Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"The city said today that it is dropping misdemeanor charges against the journalists. Dozens of journalists were among the more than 800 arrested during the four-day event earlier this month.

"A spokesman for the city said charges dropped include those against Amy Goodman, host of the left-leaning 'Democracy Now!' show."

The arrests drew protests from a variety of journalism and civil liberties groups.

"In this era of new technology and broader participation in citizen and independent journalism, it may become increasingly difficult for police to tell journalists from those who are not," the National Association of Hispanic Journalists said. "But police must be aware it is their duty to try, and to respect the role of the press in a democracy. When the media has credentials, as was the case with Goodman and other journalists arrested, the police should have a much easier job."

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said that the city attorney's office recommended against prosecuting reporters for the misdemeanor charge.

"This decision reflects the values we have in St. Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press," Coleman said in a prepared statement, according to Chris Williams, reporting for the Associated Press.

"He added, 'At the scene, the police did their duty in protecting public safety. In this decision, we are serving the public's interest to maintain the integrity of our democracy, system of justice and freedom of the press.'" [Added Sept. 19]

Black Woman Sports Editor, a Rarity, Takes Buyout

Sports staff at the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise created dummy newspaper pages as a farewell to Sports Editor Patricia Mays, center.And then there were none. Patricia Mays, believed to be the only black woman who edits a sports section at a mainstream daily, is taking a buyout from the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif.

"Yes, it's true. I decided to take the buyout package that our parent company, A.H. Belo, offered to every employee at my paper, The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), as well as the Dallas Morning News and Providence Journal," Mays told her colleagues Monday in the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Yes, it was an extremely tough decision, especially considering that I was apparently the only black female sports editor at any newspaper in the country. But it was time, and as much as I'll miss my wonderful staff, I am happy with my decision.

"No, I'm not sure yet what I'll do next but I do plan to stay in journalism (in some form)."

Matt Wrye reported for the Los Angeles Newspaper Gropu on Sept. 5 that, "A.H. Belo Inc., the Riverside publication's parent, announced on Friday that 120 employees are leaving on voluntary buy-outs, and 30 other workers will get booted between now and the end of October.

"Overall, 413 employees will leave the company" under the voluntary severance offer, the Belo Co. said in a statement Sept. 4 – "270 at The Dallas Morning News, 23 at The Providence Journal, and 120 at The Press-Enterprise. The total cost of the VSO is approximately $11.2 million."

A June report from the Associated Press Sports Editors on diversity in newspaper sports departments and sports Web sites showed that "in 2008, 94 percent of the sports editors, 89 percent of the assistant sports editors, 88 percent of our columnists, 87 percent of our reporters and 89 percent of our copy editors/designers are white, and those same positions are 94, 90, 94, 91 and 84 percent male."

Mays started as the deputy sports editor at the Press-Enterprise in 2005 and was promoted to sports editor in January 2007. "Before that, I spent nearly a decade at The Associated Press, working in the Albany, N.Y., Detroit and Atlanta bureaus, and the AP's New York headquarters before heading West. During my tenure at the AP, I was a reporter/writer, editor in news and sports. My last position was as the assistant sports editor," she told Journal-isms.

"My staff gave me one of the best going-away gifts ever: They created two dummy newspaper pages, the fictitious cover full of stories based on comical events during my tenure and the second page full of tributes/goodbyes written by the staff. They had them matted and framed, and I must say, after seeing those pages, I nearly changed my mind about the buyout."

The anonymous blog IEReport listed others said to have taken the buyout.

Latina Leaving N.Y. Times Editorial Board for Purdue

Carolyn CurielCarolyn Curiel, who brought a Latina voice to the New York Times editorial board after serving as an adviser to former president Bill Clinton and an ambassador to Belize, is leaving the paper after six years and plans to work at her alma mater, Purdue University.

 Curiel's last day will be Friday, she told Journal-isms on Thursday. In her new role, she expects to be chief of staff to university president France A. C??rdova, become a professor of communications in the college of liberal arts and establish a policy institute, details of which are to be developed.

University spokesman Greg Kapp told Journal-isms Curiel's appointment was not final and said Purdue had issued no news release. Curiel said she had not given the university her official acceptance of the offer.

According to the Times' biography of its editorial board members, Curiel, 54, "served as special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter in President Clinton's first term, focusing on race relations, and later became ambassador to Belize. As ambassador, she focused on issues concerning environment, trade, immigration and law enforcement."

At the Times, her portfolio is listed as, "local government, social issues, national trends & environment."

"Everybody brings their life's experiences," Curiel said. "I've tried to do that here," oftentimes offering "the voice of working-class, blue-collar ethnic Americans" in addition to her experiences in the world of policymaking.

The 18-member Times editorial board includes Brent Staples, an African American journalist; Lawrence Downes, who grew up in Hawaii; and Eduardo Porter, a native of Mexico. But "diversity is still very challenging to newspapers generally," Curiel said, carefully not singling out the Times. "I hope newspapers will see the value of diversity. I don't think we're there yet."

She said she hoped that newspapers would soon see that their future depends on connecting with the population that is African American and Hispanic.

Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal told Journal-isms, "I don't have any idea who will replace her" and that it is the job of an editorial board to broaden its intellectual reach, as well as to seek ethnic, racial, age and geographic diversity.

Curiel's primary responsibilities were the local and regional political endorsements, and she wrote about transportation and urban issues, particularly about New York, he said. Latino issues "have not been the bulk of what she did," though he said "everybody's life experiences" come into play.  "Sometimes it's kind of intangible," he said.

Why leave? The West Lafayette, Ind., school is 90 miles from her parents, Curiel said, the school is in the thick of climate change and other issues "that are changing around the planet," and C??rdova, a former chief scientist at NASA, is an exciting person to work with. (the university has a history of being a leader in aeronautics.) After six years, "It's time to do something different."

"It sounds like a spectacular opportunity for her," Rosenthal said. [Added Sept. 18.]

Towns Aims to Repeat Diversity Success in N.J.

Hollis TownsAt a Poynter Institute conference on "Diversity in the Digital Age" as the Unity: Journalists of Color convention began in July, Hollis Towns declared he had been able to attract journalists of color from larger papers to the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he holds the No. 2 job of executive editor, by providing the TLC of a nurturing environment.

On Tuesday, Towns, 44, was named executive editor and vice president of news for the Asbury Park Press in Monmouth County, N.J.

Does he plan to use the same technique there?

"Absolutely. We did really well recruiting and retaining people of color in Cincinnati," he told Journal-isms. "We'll follow the same model in Asbury."

Michael McCarter, a black journalist from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who became the Enquirer's director of visuals, agreed that Towns' approach worked. "He served as a teacher, mentor, counselor and supervisor," McCarter told Journal-isms.

"Hollis took genuine interest in making sure that the people that he brought in did not fail. I don't mean that in the sense that he would allow me or other individuals to make mistakes. Quite the contrary. He would allow me to make mistakes but served as a safety net and buffer if things went wrong. Hollis referred to those moments as 'teaching moments.' I have learned a lot from those moments in the year that I have worked for him.

"Do I expect this will continue after his departure? I am hopeful that it will to some extent. However, I have sincere doubts that it will be at the same level or with the same passion that Hollis had. As a journalist of color, operating at his level, he understands what it takes for other journalists of color to succeed."

Business writer Keith Reed, who came from the Boston Globe, said he and others "moved to Cincy from out of town largely with the idea that coming here was a better situation for our professional growth because of what Hollis seemed to be building -- an environment [with] a pipeline for developable black talent. Name me another paper right now that has a black executive editor who in a year's time would hire all those folks and give them the jobs that we all have."

Towns starts his new job Oct. 13.

As Joe Scarborough watched, MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski told Sen. John McCain that her brother works in his campaign. McCain had labeled her a supporter of Barack Obama.

McCain Calls Surprised Host an Obama Supporter

"John McCain's campaign has made a sport of criticizing the media in recent weeks. Now they may be trying a related tactic: surmising the political affiliations of journalists," Brian Stelter reported Tuesday on the New York Times politics blog, "The Caucus."

"In an interview on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Tuesday morning, Mr. McCain immediately changed the tenor of the conversation with co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski when he called Ms. Brzezinski a 'supporter of Senator Obama.' Mr. McCain appeared on MSNBC and other morning TV shows to comment on the economy," Stelter wrote.

"Ms. Brzezinski bristled at the comment, saying: 'Supporter of Senator
Obama? I'm not sure I would characterize myself that way.'

"Later, she repeated her objection and reminded viewers that her brother, Ian Brzezinski, is working on Mr. McCain's campaign.

"'Take care of my brother,' she said to Mr. McCain. 'Say hi to Ian for me.'

"After Ms. Brzezinski defended herself and mentioned her brother, Mr. McCain said thanks and added, 'that was a cheap shot.' It was unclear whether he was referring to his remark about her, or Ms. Brzezinski's rebuttal."

Probe of Palin's Firing of Official Called Undercovered

"Late Monday afternoon, as the country reeled from the news of Wall Street's implosion, a campaign-related announcement inserted itself into the news cycle. 'Gov. Sarah Palin,' the AP informed the public, 'is unlikely to speak with an independent counsel hired by Alaska lawmakers to review the firing of her public safety commissioner, a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday," Megan Garber reported Wednesday for the Columbia Journalism Review.

"Which is big news. . . . You wouldn't know that, though, from the coverage it was given yesterday. With a few exceptions, the she-won't-talk development has gotten precious little attention in the mainstream press.

"Which is indicative of the partisan veneer the TrooperGate story has assumed. Not just in its own plot twists and turns — the Alaska governor is claiming she won't cooperate in the investigation because, as Palin spokesman Ed O'Callaghan told the AP, it is, yes, 'tainted' by Democrats' partisan involvement in it — but also in its overall treatment in the media. The media outlets paying most attention to the story are those generally considered to have an ideological bent."

A group called Brave New PAC produced a video calling attention to McCain campaign distortions. Some are calling for the news media to try harder to restore their referee role.

Columnist Lists 6 Ways for Media to Reclaim Upper Hand

It's time for the media to fight back against attacks on its ability to counteract lies in the political arena, Will Bunch argued Tuesday in the Philadelphia Daily News, because "this is going to be do-or-die for an integral part of what once made America special -- a free and independent news media that can make a difference in a functioning democracy.

"So how do we fight this war? Let's change the rules! Here are some suggestions:

"1) From now through Nov. 4, let's not make fact-checking a secondary task, but our No. 1 duty -- the thing that belongs on Page One, not on A17 (and in the upper corner of our Web sites, as soon as a new ad or dubious claim hits the airwaves.) . . .

"2) Now is the time to lose our pathological fear of the word 'lie.' It's not only a perfectly good word in the English language, but it's the best word when a politician says 'red' and the undisputed truth is 'green.' . . .

"3) . . . Increasingly, campaigns are developing 'commercials' that aren't even broadcast but appear only on their Web site, with the main purpose that we then write stories about them. Let's not. If they want people to see their video press releases, there's plenty of ways to do that without involving us.

"4) Ditto for the candidates' families. They don't want us to cover their kids -- so we shouldn't. That means no more stories about Bristol Palin's pregnancy, but also no more stories about Palin's son fighting in Iraq, or puff pieces about her raising a special needs child . . .

"5) In our diminished state, journalists need to think of ourselves . . . less as competitors and start thinking of ways that we collaborate more often, with our common goal of amplifying the truth and reaching as many voters as possible in the next seven weeks. . . .

"6) Think outside the box -- way outside the box. Make truth-telling our crusade, but don't make it deathly dull -- call ourselves 'The Truth Party' and post our own Internet 'campaign ads' disproving THEIR campaign ads on our Web sites -- and for God sakes make them funny."

Howard U. Hires Professionals for Journalism Faculty

Howard University's John H. Johnson School of Communications has hired three journalists and a public relations practitioner to teach this semester, along with other professionals who work as adjuncts.

Phillip Dixon, chairman of the journalism department, listed the faculty members as Valerie Cummings, formerly of the Miami Herald, WPLG-TV in Miami, CBS and Channel One, to teach broadcast news; Craig Herndon, longtime photographer and photo editor at the Washington Post, teaching visual storytelling and photojournalism; Ingrid Sturgis, former editor in chief of, former managing editor of Savoy magazine and of BET Weekend magazine and a former senior programming manager at America Online, teaching news design for online and for print, and reporting, writing and editing for online and for print. All are expected to eventually teach multi-media journalism.

Charles Fancher, a public relations practitioner who runs his own firm and has been an executive at Knight-Ridder Co. and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is a nine-month temporary full-time lecturer in public relations.

Adjuncts are Unnia Pettus and Pat Wheeler in public relations, both of whom worked in Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign; Ofield Dukes, mentor of many successful public relations practitioners in Washington; Kris Jirgl, a former advertising manager at the Washington Post and Newsweek; Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, who took a buyout after being obituaries editor at the Washington Post; Post reporter Keith Alexander; veteran journalist Dwight Cunningham and Ron Harris, another veteran journalist who is Howard's director of communications. They are teaching "Fundamentals of Journalism" and "Reporting and Writing."

"They are collegial. They are big thinkers. They all are committed to giving our students the best possible education to prepare them for today and for whatever journalism might look like tomorrow," said Dixon, himself a veteran journalist. He is to receive the Barry S. Bingham Fellowship from the National Conference of Editorial Writers this week in Little Rock, Ark., an award given to an educator who has done the most to promote journalism diversity.

Short Takes

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists plans to honor Bilal Hussein of Iraq, Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad of Afghanistan, Andrew Mwenda of Uganda, and H?©ctor Maseda Guti?©rrez of Cuba, who "have all risked imprisonment, harassment, and, above all, their lives to report the news and stand up for press freedom in their countries," the group announced¬†on Wednesday. In addition, Beatrice Mtetwa of Zimbabwe, "a tireless defender of press freedom in Zimbabwe, where the law is used as a weapon against independent journalists," is to receive the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award at the Nov. 25 ceremony in New York.

  • Michelle Valles
  • Michelle Valles has ended her reign as news anchor at Austin's KXAN-TV, Diane Holloway reported Tuesday in the Austin American-Statesman. "Valles walked away from her job Thursday, after a new contract was offered that she deemed unacceptable. Her status with the station was unclear over the weekend, with KXAN insisting that the stalemate could be broken. But on Monday, station manager Eric Lassberg confirmed that Valles is 'no longer employed at KXAN.'"

  • "Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 82 times Tuesday during sworn testimony in a newspaper Freedom of Information lawsuit," David Ashenfelter and Joe Swickard reported Wednesday in the Detroit Free Press. The rival Detroit News counted 84. The two papers filed the lawsuit in early January, a few weeks before the Free Press published text messages -- some of them blatantly sexual -- that Kilpatrick and former chief of staff Christine Beatty "exchanged on her city-issued paging device in 2002-2003. The messages showed the mayor and Beatty lied under oath at last year's police whistle-blower trial when they denied having a sexual relationship and provided misleading testimony about firing Deputy Chief Gary Brown," the Free Press story said.¬†

  • Tunku Varadarajan, formerly contributing editor at the Financial Times and assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal, has been hired by as the new Opinions Channel editor, announced on Tuesday. "As his first order of business, Varadarajan unveiled today a re-launch of the Opinions Channel (, which has been expanded with the addition of several new columns."

  • "One current and five former Tribune Co. employees accused the company and Chief Executive Sam Zell in a lawsuit¬†Tuesday of mismanaging the newspaper-and-television concern, the latest sign of worker protest against Mr. Zell's oversight," the Wall Street Journal reported.

  • The University of Southern Mississippi School of Mass Communication and Journalism has received $55,000 from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to support a two-year project that will allow 20 high school and college students from the region to work with several of the country's top photojournalists, the school's director, Christopher Campbell, said. The Southern Mississippi Photojournalism Project will be headed by Clarence Williams, the former Los Angeles Times photographer who is in his third year as photojournalist in residence. In addition, Gina Gayle, a former Hearst fellow and San Francisco Chronicle photographer, has joined the faculty, as has Dr. Cheryl Jenkins, who previously taught at Xavier and Texas Southern universities.

  • " Live, the network's live, multistream video news service, is serving up gavel-to-gavel coverage of O.J. Simpson's latest trial in Las Vegas where the former NFL great and double-homicide suspect is charged with 12 crimes including armed robbery in connection with an incident at a Las Vegas hotel-casino last September," Larry Barrett reported Tuesday for Multichannel News.

  • "Disembodied ideas with no feeling are often mistakenly considered superior to others, especially in our age when we learn early to in-dwell with our own egos and pretend we are the world already; that we can walk away from disturbing information just as we can from a bad play," Jose de la Isla wrote Wednesday for the Hispanic Link News Service. "Thank God some writers, microphones and cameras are still around to set things straight about all that." He was discussing Friday's awards banquet of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

  • TV One is debuting "Murder in Black White," a series of four one-hour documentaries, directed by Keith Beauchamp, that delve into unsolved murder cases from the civil rights era, Herb Boyd reported¬†Wednesday for the Black World Today Web site. The series airs Oct. 5-8. "There are so many African Americans, forty years of age and under, who were not a part of the civil rights generation. Programs like this will help illustrate for them exactly what was going on and the price that was paid for some of the rights we currently enjoy. On the other side, the programs are for those of my generation who are eager to see justice brought to bear in these cases," CEO Johnathan Rodgers told Boyd.

  • Spanish Broadcasting System and Entravision Communications, the two major remaining publicly traded U.S. companies in the Hispanic space since Univision Communications went private in March 2007, were languishing near their 52-week lows even before Monday's horror show on Wall Street, Georg Szalai wrote¬†for the Hollywood Reporter. "Most media and entertainment stocks outside of cable and satellite TV have been pummeled this year amid economic and advertising sluggishness. While their Hispanics-drawing peers might do better, they aren't immune."

Feedback: The Fleas Come With the Dog

It never ceases to amaze me how sensitive today's generation of journalists are.

We are getting all worked up because one congressional candidate referred to a black journalist as "uppity."


That reporter was lucky, if that's all he was called.

Just ask many of those who work in the everyday newsrooms of our nation. Even minority lawmakers have made more disparaging remarks about minorities in the news media.

As much as I admire the gesture by Steve Capus, president of NBC News, I hope he also writes the president of NBC and chair of GE strongly condemning the fact that most television news operations, including those of NBC, do not pay their summer interns. It is an offensive barrier for many people of color seeking that important internship experience and resume blurb. It's worse than being called "uppity." It's denying opportunity.

As for a professional journalist being called names or referred to negatively in the course of doing their job, I always thought the fleas came with the dog. If not, I'd be out of ink and paper from writing letters of protest.

Reginald Stuart
Silver Spring, Md.
Sept. 16, 2008

Stuart is a journalist and corporate recruiter for the McClatchy Co. who was a NBC-RCA Journalism Fellow at Columbia University Graduate School of 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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