Malcolm Revelations: How Much Fact-Checking?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
An outdoor image of Malcolm X appears in a video in which Manning Marable touts his biography. (Video)
The Malcolm X scholar who in this space called the late Manning Marable's new biography of the black nationalist icon a "fraud and a failure" has released a blistering full review of the book, accusing the news media of failing to check its more sensational claims.
Karl Evanzz, a former Washington Post researcher and author of "The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad" (1999) and "The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X" (1992), originally wrote his lengthy review for theRoot.com. He was informed on Wednesday, however, that the website rejected his piece.
Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of theRoot.com, confirmed the rejection but did not elaborate. The editor-in-chief of the website, owned by the Washington Post Co., is Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar who wrote the uppermost blurb on the book's back cover. He called Marable's book "the crowning achievement of a magnificent career."
A 10-year project by a noted African American scholar and, for many years, columnist in the black press, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" gained added public attention when the author succumbed to illness at age 60 on April 1, three days before publication. The book began its published life in the top 10 list at amazon.com, now ranking No. 39. It has won praise in the mainstream media, with features on the "CBS Evening News," CNN's "American Morning" and MSNBC, in a report by Andrea Mitchell.
Jared Ball, who teaches at Morgan State University in Baltimore, was first to take Evanzz's invitation to run the review gratis if theRoot.com rejected it.
"Having read an earlier version of the review we find it well worth publication and discussion, Ball wrote, "but we might also understand why book supporters would shy away given its introductory line reads, 'Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is an abomination. It is a derivative cavalcade of innuendo, logical fallacy, and prevarications.' We will continue to encourage more dialogue around Marable’s book and more importantly the political lineage and legacy of its subject, Malcolm X."
Evanzz's review continued, "It may serve as grounds for at least two defamation actions. The publisher would do well to consider recalling the book and issuing an apology for two reasons: a man labeled an 'alleged murderer' has never been formally accused or convicted of that crime, and a woman mentioned by name is accused of committing adultery 46 years ago. As such, there is virtually no way to verify the allegation.
"Marable, who died on April 1, takes cheap shots at Malcolm X, Malcolm’s parents, Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s siblings, and almost anyone with a familial nexus to Malcolm X.
"Its official release on the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is symbolic because this book amounts to an assassination of Malcolm X’s character. Marable’s friends dare to call this his 'magnum opus.' To use street vernacular, this ain’t his magnum nothin’.
"It is merely the logical culmination of a life spent in the ivory tower writing books of scant interest beyond the tower walls. If the so-called public intellectuals praising the book were Marable’s true friends, they might have at least apprised him of the hostile tone and the lack of vetting on key allegations, the central one being Malcolm X’s alleged homosexual affair. The media ran with this allegation without checking its validity."
The publicist for the book at Marable's publisher, Viking Books, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a discussion with Ball and this columnist (audio) Friday on Washington's WPFW-FM, Ball's Morgan State University colleague Todd Steven Burroughs said the book seemed to have been written by committee, lacked sufficient primary research and appeared to be rushed toward completion as Marable succumbed to illness.
When Ball posted Evanzz's review Wednesday on his Facebook page, it drew comments ranging from critiques of Evanzz's own work to a discussion of how long one should wait before criticizing the labor of a figure so recently deceased.
Ball says he plans to revisit the subject on his show Friday. (This columnist discussed it Thursday on public radio's "The Michael Eric Dyson Show," which is to air Friday and be available after 9 a.m. that day via podcast.)
Separately, the editor of the Star-Ledger in Newark explained why the paper had not written about the man identified as the triggerman in the 1965 Malcolm X assassination when the man's photo was published a year ago.
When Marable's book was published, the Star-Ledger wrote on April 3:
"Al-Mustafa Shabazz is a 72-year-old, white-haired Muslim who briefly appeared in a 2010 re-election video ad for Mayor Cory Booker and is married to a community leader who owns a boxing gym in Newark.
". . . In his book, Marable claims to have evidence that Shabazz was once known as William Bradley, who many people over the years have placed at the Malcolm X shooting. Marable writes that he confirmed that the two men are one and the same through multiple sources inside the black Muslim community.
"William Bradley was accused of being one of the killers more than 30 years ago in a sworn affidavit by Talmadge Hayer, one of the three men convicted of Malcolm X’s assassination. In his book Marable also credits Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a historian who writes for the Association of African American Life and History, with linking Bradley’s name to that of Shabazz."
As Journal-isms reported then, Muhammad identified Shabazz a year ago. But Muhammad told Journal-isms that the Star-Ledger would not touch the story then.
"They told me that they could never get it past their lawyers. That could have simply been the brush out line," he said.
With the book due for publication, "They called me desperately Sat. and wrote the piece in one day," he said via email.
Star-Ledger Editor Kevin Whitmer, returning from vacation, told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "We were on this story but unfortunately, the reporter who was legging it out was also on two other projects before leaving on a buyout."
- Noaman Ali blog: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
- Jared Ball, blackagendareport.com: Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention or the Reinvention of a Life?
- Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: The Sexuality Of Malcolm X
- Wil Haygood, Washington Post: Manning Marable’s "Malcolm X"
- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times: Peeling Away Multiple Masks
The convention center at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, site of the 2012 Unity convention, has 1.7 million gross square feet of meeting space, the hotel says. (Credit: Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino)
The pullout of the National Association of Black Journalists from the 2012 Unity convention in Las Vegas will not necessarily leave Unity paying a tab for unfilled hotel rooms, according to Unity's executive director, Onica Makwakwa.
"Yes, there is a signed hotel agreement with a food and beverage commitment," Makwakwa told Journal-isms by email on Tuesday. "We are re-assessing both to see what kind of adjustments need to be made. The room block is very conservative and may not need adjustment.
"Also, we negotiated a no attrition clause (fee hotel charges when you don't pickup all your [rooms]) such that the rooms are not a great concern. We are taking a close look at the food and beverage minimum to see if and what adjustments are may be needed there."
Journalists of color organizations were stuck with bills for unpaid rooms at the 2009 conventions when the recession deepened and the turnout was smaller than expected. Because their conventions are major revenue-generators for the associations, some of the groups ended the year with a deficit.
NABJ cited what it considered a business model that disadvantaged NABJ in its decision to pull out. It is now planning its own 2012 convention, location to be determined.
Members of the remaining Unity groups — the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association — have been in Las Vegas in preparation for the still-scheduled Aug. 1-4, 2012, convention.
"I spent the past two days walking the hallways of the Mandalay Bay convention center in Las Vegas, site of UNITY 2012," Sharon Pian Chan of AAJA wrote on Facebook. "Good feng shui. Plenty of room for workshops but much more intimate feeling than Chicago or DC. Plus there's the wave pool."
Individually, some journalists wrote on social-media sites that they hoped NABJ members still would attend.
Meanwhile, the Journal-isms item "Unity Agreed to Grant Each Partner Veto Power on Decisions" in Monday's column prompted protests from some Unity board members that whatever unofficial assent might have been made behind closed doors, it did not constitute an agreement.
"You can take it to the bank when it's voted on," Kathy Y. Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms. ". . . The UNITY board did not approve any changes to the voting structure or give NABJ any veto power."
"Correction requested," began an email from Rhonda LeValdo, president of the Native American Journalists Association.
"First of all no decision on veto power was made at the meeting. What was decided on was a motion agreed on by a majority vote by the board," she continued, repeating the language of a motion that directed that "the Governance Committee made up of the four alliance presidents will review and recommend a revised process to represent the alliance partners in decision making, with the UNITY board of directors to approve by April 30, 2011." (Text in Comments section.)
In an electronic "town hall" meeting of the Asian American Journalists Association on Wednesday, national president Doris Truong confirmed that the "veto power" was discussed, but made the same point that no official vote was taken, according to a tweet from Emma Carew, co-president of AAJA-Minnesota.
"Q comes up about VETO POWER — reported by @princeeditor / @DorisTruong says this is a mistaken report. Was discussed, but not voted on #aaja," she wrote.
The Journal-isms item began, "At its meeting last month, the board of Unity: Journalists of Color responded to a key complaint of the National Association of Black Journalists by unofficially deciding to grant each partner veto power over Unity decisions, according to board members. "</p><p>". . . the movement on the veto was made in a session where no onlookers were permitted."
Although the NABJ board cited financial reasons on Sunday for its pullout from Unity, governance issues and the rest of the Unity board's willingness to respond to NABJ's concerns were also factors.
Times said she left the March 30 Unity meeting believing "communication was effective," she told Journal-isms then. "I'm happy to hear the alliance partners . . . have a better understanding of what our concerns are." She repeated those sentiments on Wednesday.
But Deirdre Childress, NABJ's vice president for print, wrote Sunday that she attended the meeting as an onlooker and concluded, "There were no serious concessions made and, in the end, I could not trust that we would ever again be able to gain a consensus on ideas and goals proposed by NABJ. I went to the last UNITY meeting and did my own research. I saw a failure to respect us and to be transparent by providing our financial statements in a timely manner."
Childress is one of three candidates for NABJ president. Statements from her and fellow candidate Charles Robinson III, a regional director for the mid-Atlantic, appeared here Sunday. Treasurer Greg Lee Jr., later issued his statement.
Meanwhile, Times scheduled a web discussion for NABJ members for Monday from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Eastern time to discuss the decision to withdraw from Unity.
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- Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter Institute: As solvency and solidarity collide in NABJ departure, how will UNITY survive?
"In this space I also broke some major news stories and reported countless exclusives," Murray wrote.
". . .'BV Buzz' also championed Black cinema; helped lobby to save the show 'The Game;' introduced Karrine 'Superhead' Steffans to the masses; offered 'Where Are They Now' features on everyone from Ja'Net Dubois ('Good Times') to LaTavia Roberson of Destiny's Child; filed destination features from places like Japan to London and all throughout the Caribbean; and made sure gospel music got its mainstream shine!"
Among four high-trafficked African American-oriented websites, MediaTakeOut.com, BET.com, Black Voices and Black Planet, the number of unique viewers at Black Voices and Black Planet decreased from February to March, according to the ComScore market research company.
MediaTakeOut went from 2.803 million to 3.007 million, BET.com from 1.665 million to 1.816 million, Black Voices from 1.714 million to 1.316 million and Black Planet from 1.115 million to 1.037 million.
As reported Monday, Black Voices' interim life & style editor told colleagues she had been let go that day. As reported March 14, Alexis Garrett Stodghill, programming manager who supervised the Money division, and Timothy Cornwall, who ran BVX.com, a portion of the site devoted to readers under 35, sent farewell notices. AOL-wide, freelancers have been dismissed. The editor-in-chief position is open at Black Voices, but in the meantime, culture editor Rebecca Carroll is making changes in subject matter and presentation.
Murray told Journal-isms by email, "I saw Black Voices go from being a fledging portal just acquired by AOL in 2004 to the number one website for African-Americans online today. . . . Though I chose to leave BV, I’m definitely not done being a columnist or blogger or whatever they call us now. I’m exploring a bunch of options and we’ll see how things pan out."
In prime time, MSNBC beat CNN and Fox News Channel among African Americans and Hispanics, according to ratings for the first quarter of the year. An MSNBC spokesman said this been the case for some time.
For Hispanics, the figures were 56,000 for MSNBC, 49,000 for CNN, 43,000 for Fox News Channel and 18,000 for HLN, formerly Headline News, according to numbers supplied by MSNBC.
Among African Americans, 171,000 watched MSNBC, 129,000 CNN, 31,00 Fox News Channel and 41,000 HLN.
The figures mean that about 1.3 percent of Fox's viewers are African American and 1.8 percent Hispanic, MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines told Journal-isms.
MSNBC's success with African Americans and Hispanics was cited in a New York Post Page Six story Wednesday that said, "CNN brass are scrambling to find a new host for their troubled 7 p.m. timeslot, and trying to win back the African-American and Hispanic viewers sources say they've lost since the 2008 presidential campaign.
"Hoping to accomplish both things at once, insiders said the network is interested in wooing African-American entertainers for the slot, currently held by 'John King USA,' and has mentioned comedian Chris Rock and former 'Talk Soup' host Aisha Tyler as possibilities."
A CNN spokeswoman said of the story, "My general reaction is it's inaccurate." She said King's show was second in its time slot for the first two weeks of April, and that all cable news network had lost viewers since the 2008 election.
Tony Harris, who in December left CNN, where he was an Atlanta-based daytime anchor on "CNN Newsroom," resurfaced this week as an anchor for Al Jazeera English, based in Doha, Qatar, where the network is headquartered.
"Ok, friends, the new adventure begins NEXT WEEK! I've been on my butt long enough," Harris told his Facebook and Twitter friends last week. "TIme to go GLOBAL! Have a great weekend. We'll play a little Where In the World is Tony early next week."
Harris is likely the first African American anchor on the network. "It looks like it — no one here can think of any others," Al Jazeera spokesman Osama Saeed told Journal-isms in a Twitter message.
Al Jazeera quoted Harris as saying, "I’m really pleased to have joined. Having an interest in news from around the world, I was attracted by AJE’s global focus and look forward to being involved in stories from all points of the globe. It’s a very exciting time to be coming on board.”
"Spanish-language media company Univision Communications is planning to launch a telenovela cable channel in the U.S. during the third quarter and a sports and likely also a 24/7 news network next year to offer its Spanish-language audience additional content outlets, executive vp and COO Randy Falco said Wednesday," Georg Szalai reported for the Hollywood Reporter.
". . . in 2012, Univision hopes to launch a 24/7 news channel, UniNoticias, according to Falco who said the company's core Hispanic audience prefers to watch the news in Spanish. Jessica Rodriguez, senior vp, Univision Cable Networks, is a key executive working on the new channel launches. Sandy Brown, president of Univision Sports, is preparing the sports network, while Isaac Lee, president of Univision News, is working on the news channel. They all report to Cesar Conde, president, Univision Networks.
" 'We're Univision,' Falco said when asked why the company is confident it will do well despite the large number of cable networks in existence today. 'We have a very, very unique relationship with viewers and the Hispanic community.' "
"A day after longtime NBCUniversal executive Paula Madison announced her retirement, another longtime local and network news topper is retiring," Chris Ariens wrote Tuesday for TVNewser.
"Don Browne, who has been president of Telemundo since 2005, is leaving the company June 3 — the eighth anniversary of his arrival at the Miami-based, NBCU-owned Spanish-language network.
"Browne’s TV news career began with CBS News, working his way into the Atlanta bureau in 1974. That’s where he met his wife Cuban-born, Maria Junquera. (Browne — as head of the #2 Spanish language network in the U.S., speaks little Spanish.)
"Browne moved to Miami as NBC News bureau chief in 1979. 10 years later he headed to New York as executive news director and later, EVP of NBC News.
"He returned to Miami in 1993 to run WTVJ, which had been acquired by NBC. He remained President and GM of WTVJ until his move to Telemundo, which had also recently been acquired by NBC.
" 'Don Browne has had an outstanding career as a broadcaster and executive,' said NBCU CEO Steve Burke. 'We are grateful for what he has accomplished and wish him all the best on a well-deserved retirement.' "
- Laura Martinez, Portada: It is "Mission Accomplished" for Telemundo's Don Browne
"Going to the doctor is like taking your car to the shop," Rubén Rosario, columnist for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, wrote on Sunday.
"You go in for something, and they find something else wrong, and more serious.
"That's why I don't like going to see a mechanic or a doctor.
"But last week was a life-and-death exception.
"I went in after I aggravated a basketball-related spinal fracture that occurred months ago. I left with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, an incurable blood-related cancer.
"Roughly 11,000 Americans die from it annually. Geraldine Ferraro had the disease, and succumbed to pneumonia while being treated for it in a decade-long battle. The general survival rate, I was informed, ranges from two to five or six years. But there are many folks, like Ferraro, who keep on going for years and years. She had been diagnosed in 1998.
"I start chemo this week. Wish me luck. I don't like writing about myself. But I make an allowance on this occasion. Hope you bear with me. . . ."
"Neda Ulaby reports on Wednesday's 'Morning Edition' that there's a surprising channel where you can see Latino, Asian, or African-American people, as well as gays and lesbians, in significantly larger numbers than in much of the rest of broadcast and cable television," Linda Holmes wrote Wednesday on her NPR blog.
"That channel is HGTV — from Home And Garden Television — which features people of color as hosts and homeowners, as well as designers and retailers. Neda considers an episode of House Hunters, for instance, that featured a black couple where one was a tech consultant and one was a government nuclear inspector. The president of HGTV makes clear that the diversity of participants — not only the homeowners, but the design professionals and other consultants — is entirely intentional, and has resulted in an overall increase in its audience and an even bigger increase in its minority audiences.
"It's easy to write off inexpensive basic-cable shows as largely time-swallowing placeholders, but according to some of the folks quoted in Neda's story, there can be big payoffs from remembering to make them a little bit more inclusive."
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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