Miffed Sharpton Cancels NABJ Appearance
Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Rev. Al Sharpton has been guest-hosting in MSNBC's 6 p.m. time slot. (Credit: National Action Network)
A miffed Rev. Al Sharpton canceled a Thursday appearance at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia because of comments by NABJ members questioning MSNBC's reported choice of the activist to host a 6 p.m. show on the network, according to NABJ.
Roland Martin, the NABJ secretary, CNN, TV One and "Tom Joyner Morning Show" commentator, told attendees that he and NABJ President Kathy Y. Times told Sharpton that the comments, published in Journal-isms, represented the views of two members, not the entire NABJ membership of 3,400.
"Rev. Sharpton took offense to the story that was written and thought that was the position of NABJ," Martin said. Despite their explanations to the contrary, "he was still upset by that and felt that by coming here and being a part, that would be the story," Martin said.
Brian Stelter reported July 20 for the New York Times that "After giving a nearly six-month tryout for the Internet talk show host Cenk Uygur, the cable news channel MSNBC is preparing to instead hand its 6 p.m. time slot" to Sharpton.
This column reported that "such a move would respond to complaints from the NAACP that 'currently, there are no African American hosts or anchors on any national news show, cable or broadcast network, from the hours of 5PM-11PM.'
"But it is less likely to satisfy black journalists, who have continually criticized the networks for their failure to place journalists of color in these key prime-time slots.
"When rumors surfaced this week that Sharpton was under consideration for the MSNBC job, one NABJ member told colleagues without challenge, 'This would still be just another non-journalist media "celebrity" receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.' "
The comment, from Columbus, Ohio, blogger Jeff Winbush, reverberated around the Internet, and Sharpton reacted in an interview with Lynette Holloway published the next day on theRoot.com. "We can't get into a crabs-in-the-barrel mentality," Sharpton said.
A July 21 news release from NABJ cast the issue as pro-journalist, not anti-Sharpton. Times said on July 24, "The issue is not whether Rev. Sharpton gets a show," and Winbush told Journal-isms then, "I was not attacking him personally. I bear him no ill will. I simply want to see Black journalists get a fair shot as well."
Sharpton has continued to guest-host in the slot. The Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes reported Tuesday from the Summer TV Press Tour 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif., that MSNBC President Phil Griffin "insisted that Sharpton is doing well guest-hosting the 6 p.m. time slot, which leads into MSNBC’s prime-time lineup.
" 'No decision has been made yet,' said Griffin, who noted that Sharpton 'fits in with the MSNBC . . . sensibility.' "
After hearing Martin's explanation, many journalists at the convention expressed surprise that Sharpton, who so often has sought out television cameras and microphones, would be so "thin-skinned," as one put it. Others have noted that the MSNBC evening lineup is devoid of journalists of any color as hosts and that Sharpton's hire could open opportunities for black journalists to work in other roles on the show.
But Carole Simpson, the retired ABC News anchor, echoed Winbush in a telephone interview Wednesday with Mallary Jean Tenore of the Poynter Institute.
"[Sharpton] was not a journalist. It seems like having a name is more important than your credentials and the news you’ve covered, and how well you did as a reporter and how much you did as a thinker and writer about the issues of the day," she said. "Who’s going to get the eyeballs? … That’s the bottom line. It’s all about eyeballs. It’s the drive for ratings.
"I have nothing against the Rev. Al. I’ve known him for years. I’ve covered him, but he doesn’t sound like a professional broadcaster. Somebody sounding like that wouldn’t typically be hired by any station. Yeah, as a pundit. He’s an intelligent man. I give him credit for that. But he doesn’t sound like a professional broadcaster.
"But he’s controversial, he’s provocative, he yells, and so they’re looking for personalities and not journalists. The problem that I have, as NABJ has, is fine — hire somebody of color — but how about a journalist? Not a reverend. I don’t get it."
Sharpton has not responded to inquiries from Journal-isms.
The NABJ panel, "Black Out or Black In?," a discussion of African Americans' posture toward President Obama, proceeded with Princeton professor Cornel West; Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta; Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee; Martin; and author and journalist Sophia Nelson.
Steele maintained that "the Black Caucus has had less access to the president than the Hispanic Caucus."
West said, "We don't have enough people in the black community who are pit dogs like I am," and sounded as though he called former president George W. Bush a "motherfucker," but he told Journal-isms later that he had said "motherhucker," out of respect for his mother.
Martin, who hosts TV One's "Washington Watch With Roland Martin," the only Sunday morning talk show geared toward African American issues, said that over its two years, Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Allen West of Florida had been the only Republicans in Congress who accepted an invitation to appear. "But they say they want to talk to black people," Martin said of the GOP.
Steele confirmed that as party chairman, "I made personal appeals to both conferences" — the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate — to appear on the show, but to little avail.
Reed urged the journalists to "keep us focused. Please help us have a conversation about the issues that can move us forward."
West and activist Tavis Smiley are planning a 15-city "Poverty Tour" beginning Friday to bring attention to the needy and to what they say are Obama's failings. West responded to criticism that he had been too personal in his attacks on Obama by saying, "I tried to tell the truth" and "we have to love ourselves and love each other enough to tell the truth."
Paula Madison, who retired in May as executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, announced on Thursday that businesses her family owns are donating $100,000 to support the NABJ convention in New Orleans next year.
She urged members to attend the NABJ event rather than the Unity convention if they can attend only one.
"I have been a supporter of diverse people coming together," Madison said at the convention's opening session, noting also that she has not missed an NABJ convention since the organization's 1975 founding.
But "whether you know it or not, these are your people," she said. If you are walking down the street, others notice your skin color before any other personal attribute. "Don't be fooled," she said. "You need to be at NABJ. I am not saying don't go" to Unity, but "you are defined by the rest of the world as black."
Madison and her family are majority owners of the Los Angeles Sparks, the Women's National Basketball Association team, and of the Africa Channel. She is an investor in Broadway Federal Bank, the largest African American bank west of the Mississippi, and has created the Madison Media Fund, a division of Williams Group Holdings that she has said would invest and advise multicultural media.
NABJ's decision to pull out of the Unity: Journalists of Color alliance has been an undercurrent in conversations at the convention. The New York Times Co. said last week that it would not attend NABJ's convention scheduled June 20-24 for New Orleans. "We are supporting Unity," Desiree Dancy, vice president, diversity and inclusion, told Journal-isms then.
Dana Canedy, a senior editor at the Times, told Steve Myers of the Poynter Institute this week, "This was never a debate about not supporting NABJ, of course. It’s about attending an alternate convention in a UNITY year. We have every intention of returning to the NABJ convention in non-UNITY years."
The three NABJ presidential candidates were asked about the Times' decision at a forum Thursday.
Gregory Lee Jr., senior assistant sports editor at the Boston Globe, a New York Times Co. property, said he had conversations with the Times earlier this year "and I had a hint they would possibly leave, but I had an obligation to NABJ to do right by you. The New York Times decision against NABJ has nothing to do with my journalism." Lee, who was endorsed by New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., said the Globe has its own budget.
Deirdre M. Childress, entertainment/film/weekend editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, said it was more important that "our members support us."
Charles Robinson III, a reporter at Maryland Public Television, repeated his belief that "I'm not sure the New York Times' mission is compatible with NABJ."
The Huffington Post, which has refused to disclose how many people of color work there, is reversing itself and will cooperate with the American Society of News Editors' annual survey, Arianna Huffington told Journal-isms on Thursday.
"We're going to do that, now that we have the resources," she said.
Huffington spoke after addressing the National Association of Black Journalists opening ceremony in Philadelphia, where she announced the makeover of Black Voices as HuffPost Black Voices (video).
"Remember that famous weekend when Wall Street was in trouble, and everybody — all the financial establishments, the political establishments — came together?" Huffington asked. "They threw everything against the wall and they said 'we cannot allow Wall Street to fail.' We've never had that sense of urgency when it comes to African-American issues, and I believe it's up to us in the media to generate that sense of urgency."
She cited a new Pew Research Center study showing wealth disparity at a record high. "African-American households now have 20 times less wealth than white households — with blacks experiencing a 53 percent drop in median wealth from 2005 to 2009 (whites lost only 16 percent during that same period)," Huffington said. "If white America had seen its wealth drop by 50 percent, they would be acting as if their hair were on fire. . . NORAD would be scrambling the F16s."
In her speech and in a column on her website, Huffington said, "One of the biggest voids in our cultural landscape has been created by the traditional media's ongoing neglect of the issues most important to black America, and the dearth of black perspectives and voices.
"Enter HuffPost BlackVoices, which will focus on current events and cultural trends from a black perspective, covering a broad range of topics — from presidential politics to pop culture, from money and beauty to sports, music, fashion, books, and parenting. Featuring dynamic storytelling, comprehensive curation, investigative reporting, and real-time opinion, BlackVoices will spotlight the best and brightest black thinkers, writers, and cultural game changers with the goal of making issues important to the black community part of the national conversation, because these are issues that matter to everyone."
She said the Huffington Post had 40 open positions and would be interviewing for them at the convention job fair. The Huffington Post also has an ad on the NABJ website and arranged for the slogan "Have Something to Say? Say It on HuffPost BlackVoices" to be inscribed on the room keys at the downtown Philadelphia Marriott, host hotel for the convention.
Responding to a question about not paying bloggers, Huffington said the organization had 1,300 professional journalists on its payroll but also provided a platform for bloggers "to write about whatever they wish."
She brought with her Sheila C. Johnson, the BET co-founder who is strategic adviser for multicultural and African-American initiatives for the AOL Huffington Post Media Group; Rebecca Carroll, managing editor of BlackVoices; and Derek Murphy, general manager, multicultural.
In April, ASNE completed its second attempt at measuring diversity at online news organizations, but the Huffington Post, Salon.com, Yahoo, the Daily Beast, Politico and AOL did not participate.
Since the last survey, however, AOL agreed to pay $315 million for the Huffington Post. Huffington became president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which includes all Huffington Post and AOL content, and presumably a larger and more diverse workforce.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. each urged black journalists Thursday to spotlight racial disparities and to give voice to the underrepresented.
Obama, who was celebrating his 50th birthday Thursday, addressed the National Association of Black Journalists convention by videotape; Holder was in Philadelphia for the opening ceremony.
"We need you to keep lifting up the stories that are so often underreported," Obama said. "We need you to keep shining a light on the achievement gap in our schools and the violence on our streets.
"We need you to keep reporting on what’s wrong with our society and showing us examples of what’s right. This isn’t just important for the African American community; it’s important for America as a whole.
"And it’s especially important today.
"The truth is, folks of all backgrounds are suffering right now — and with an unemployment rate almost twice the national average, African Americans have it tougher than most.
"That’s why if we’re going to make sure anyone who wants a job can find one — if we’re going to give our children a good education and make sure families can stay in their homes — then we need to have a discussion in this country.
"We need to make sure those voices are heard. That’s the role we need you to play. Your job is to speak truth to power — to remind those of us in Washington why we’re here, and who we’re here to help."
Obama began by recalling his first appearance at an NABJ convention as a candidate in 2007, when NABJ met in Las Vegas. "Back then, we were all a little younger. I didn’t have all these gray hairs," he said.
Holder, who did a dance as he took the stage to strains of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star," told the audience he was once better known as "Ricky from Queens." He said he considered journalists "essential partners in the administration and achievement of justice" and outlined issues he thought journalists should spotlight:
"You can report the fact that the majority of children in this country – more than 60 percent of them – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence; and that rates of exposure – as both witnesses to and victims of violence – are even higher in low-income and minority communities.
"When conversations center on the fact that African Americans are disproportionately jailed, you can ask why we aren’t also discussing the fact that black people are also disproportionately victimized by violent crime.
"You can question why, although African Americans are only about 13 percent of the nation’s population, they represent nearly 50 percent of its homicide victims; and why the leading cause of death for young black men – those aged fifteen to twenty four – is homicide.
"You can challenge our fellow citizens to consider how our nation can risk losing so many of tomorrow’s teachers, physicians, artists, attorneys, and journalists to violence.
"You can encourage our nation’s leaders to recognize that 1.5 million American children have a parent behind bars; that the majority of African-American households nationwide do not include a father; and that the children growing up in these households are more likely to live in poverty, to perform poorly in school, to commit crimes, and to abuse drugs.
"You can shed light on the fact that – in America today – black and Hispanic 12th graders are, on average, reading at the same level as white 8th graders; and that graduation rates for African American males currently lag 30 percent below the rates for white males.
"You can continue to ask why many of our nation’s minority communities were uniquely, and disproportionately, affected by mortgage fraud and other financial schemes that undermined the dream of home ownership in some of our nation’s most fragile neighborhoods."
Holder also was asked about the Justice Department's recent decision not to open an investigation of the assassination of Malcolm X.
"We have limited resources," he said, "and there is a very small possibility that we were likely to come up with a crime that can be prosecuted in federal court. On the other hand, if information is developed that will change that conclusion, we also have the option" to reconsider.
CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California is protesting what it says is demotion of five Latino anchors in the past year at KNBC, the NBC owned-and-operated station in Los Angeles.
"Unlike other major markets in this country, Los Angeles is a market where nearly half the population is Latino," begins a letter from Julio Morán, executive director.
"It is important — and good business — to have anchors who look like your audience. For too long, Latinos have been relegated to secondary anchor positions. Removing Ana Garcia as an anchor on your 6 p.m. newscast was bad enough, but your station has also removed Latino anchors form your midday show (Kim Baldonado) and from weekend evenings (Andy Adler and Pablo [Pereira]). Your station has even removed an anchor from the digital world (Mekahlo Medina).
"Demoting one or two Latino anchors may be a coincidence; demoting five in the past year raises suspicions.
"As you may know, KNBC in 1994 was accused of bias against Latino journalists when five Latino anchors and reporters left the station. Since that time, the Latino population in the market has grown even larger, as has the need for more visible Latinos at your station.
"Last year, Comcast and NBCU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with several Latino advocacy organizations pledging to set a higher standard for the media industry. Comcast and NBCU committed to '….retain more Latinos so that the workforces more accurately reflect the communities they serve.'
"Removing Latino anchors from the more visible anchor positions is a step in the wrong direction."
NBC veteran Vickie Burns was named news director at the station a year ago, though the letter was addressed to Craig Robinson, president and general manager. Burns is African American and Robinson is Asian American.
Kevin Roderick of LAObserved, reporting on the letter on Thursday, wrote, "If Robinson cares to do anything about it, he just got the right title. He's leaving Channel 4 to become chief diversity officer for all of NBC. Announced Wednesday, his job change has its own coincidence attached. He's succeeding Paula Madison, herself a former station manager at KNBC.
"What happens now at KNBC will be interesting to watch. Garcia's demotion and the other moves Moran mentions in his letter have the station's staff in a bit of turmoil. Also, Comcast's new president of NBC Local Media, Valari Dobson Staab, was in Burbank recently and reportedly told a meeting of staffers that the station has become notoriously sloppy on the air. Dobson Staab also rebuked the apparently unpopular VP and news director, Vickie Burns, by killing her pet digital project and the midday show 'Daily Connection.' "
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