NPR Confronts Fallout From Williams Affair
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's "All Things Considered," with national editor Quinn O'Toole. (NPR)
NPR's board of directors has approved hiring a law firm to review the network's handling of the termination of Juan Williams' contract, and the network has taken steps to address concerns raised by journalists of color.
NPR has hired a second African American on-air reporter, Alex P. Kellogg, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, plans to make up for its omission of "All Things Considered" co-anchor Michele Norris from its 40th-year anniversary book and is in the final stages of hiring a senior editor whose job will be to find diverse sources and voices for NPR stories.
The firing of Williams hovered over the first meeting of the NPR board of directors since last month's events. And while the erstwhile "news analyst" was nowhere in sight, it was obvious that he had emerged the clear winner in the episode.
Williams' Oct. 20 firing over his remarks about Muslims on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" prompted a backlash that forced NPR to admit that it handled the situation badly. Moreover, Fox News gave Williams a three-year contract worth nearly $2 million. And Natasha Lennard reported Wednesday for Politico:
". . . According to an e-mail sent by the American Program Bureau to clients and obtained by POLITICO, since his NPR dismissal 'the demand for Juan Williams as a speaker has been unprecedented; APB's phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from associations, corporations and universities looking to secure Mr. Williams as a keynote speaker at their next event."
In his last remarks as NPR board chair, Howard Stevenson said: "Nobody is thankful for where we are, but the past is prologue, and now we have to look to the future. I tend to wish my term had ended two weeks ago," the blog Current Public Media, which covers public broadcasting, reported on Thursday.
Selected to conduct the review was the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, a 20-office multinational law practice, "highly regarded with considerable expertise in governance issues," incoming board chair Dave Edwards of Milwaukee Public Radio told the board.
CEO Vivian Schiller added in a note to the NPR staff, "We recommended and the board agreed that it would be prudent to commission an independent, objective third party to review both the process by which the decision was made, and the way it was implemented and communicated." Williams, a contract employee who was no longer on staff, was fired in a late-night telephone call. Working as a news analyst on NPR but a commentator on Fox News Channel, Williams had said on "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous, though it was wrong to discriminate against them.
Schiller repeated during the two-day meeting that believes she was justified in terminating Williams' contract but that "the matter was handled badly. I take full responsibility."
Board members, who met mostly in executive session but twice opened the meeting to public view, betrayed no indication of displeasure with Schiller. Nor did any NPR listeners or critics; no one came to the microphone in the time designated for public comments.
Williams' status as the only African American staff voice on the air throughout most of his NPR career gave the episode racial implications. Some black staffers asked whether a white employee would have been treated as Williams was and wondered aloud whether African Americans were disappearing one by one.
In August, however, NPR hired Corey Dade, a black journalist who was at the Wall Street Journal, as a Washington-based digital news correspondent. Now Kellogg, who has covered urban Detroit, the auto-company bankruptcies and other Michigan topics for the Wall Street Journal's Detroit bureau, has been hired to report on diversity and other issues, spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm told Journal-isms.
Kellogg was actually hired before the Williams firing, though it is only now being disclosed. He first appeared in this space in 2007 when he was working for the Detroit Free Press and Barack Obama's racial bona fides were being questioned. Kellogg, whose mother is a white American and father a black Eritrean, wrote about being an "African American" like Obama. He worked as a journalist in East Africa for three years, and the Sierra Club published an 5,000-word essay from him on the irony of being black in America yet considered closer to white in Africa.
Rehm also said NPR was in the "final selection process" for a senior editor to increase the diversity of sources used by NPR journalists. Referring to Keith Woods, picked by Schiller last year to be vice president of diversity in news and operations, Rehm said the senior-editor idea came from "a pilot project that Keith and News management initiated. A rotation of news staff were taken off their regular jobs to focus on finding new sources and voices; it worked so well that the decision was made to find a way to create a full time senior position devoted to this."
The senior editor's jurisdiction would be "newsroom wide and also across all the shows."
Meanwhile, the network moved to make redress after its embarrassment over the exclusion of Michele Norris, co-host of its popular afternoon news show "All Things Considered," from "This is NPR," the network's holiday-timed book about NPR's 40 years.
"Norris was asked to contribute a chapter, along with other staffers or people who appear regularly on NPR for the book, which weaves the stories into a chronological history. Other contributors include Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, P.J. O'Rourke and Paula Poundstone. But because she was on sabbatical writing her own book, 'The Grace of Silence: A Memoir,' Norris couldn't contribute an essay and was not included anywhere else, said NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm, media writer Eric Deggans reported last week for his St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times blog.
Rehm told Journal-isms that Norris would be in the next available edition. The first, of 18,000 copies, is already in stores, and a spokeswoman for Chronicle Books, the publisher, said the second printing is due out at the end of the month.
Journal-isms reached Norris by e-mail in California, where she is on book tour. For "This Is NPR," she said she was told that "Morning Edition" co-host Steve Inskeep "is writing a lovely essay about our work together on York."
Norris’ own "The Grace of Silence: A Memoir" grew out of an NPR reporting project on race during the 2008 presidential campaign. She and Inskeep recorded conversations with a cross-section of York, Pa., area residents.
- Michele Norris blog: A Veteran's Day Remembrance
First lady Michelle Obama, just back from a relatively noncontroversial trip to Asia with her husband, is wading into a cultural thicket on her return. She is hosting a private White House screening of Tyler Perry's film "For Colored Girls," Journal-isms has learned.
The Perry film, based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 "choreopoem" "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf," has been criticized for its portrayals of black men but praised for giving voice to black women's struggles with emotional obstacles.
Obama plans to show the film primarily for staff at a Tuesday gathering in the White House theater. No word on whether the president will attend. It is White House policy not to comment on activities in the residence, a spokeswoman said.
The first lady accompanied President Obama abroad last week, dancing and playing hopscotch with disadvantaged children in Mumbai, India; joining schoolgirls in New Delhi on a field trip through a museum of Indian craft work; paying a first-time visit to Indonesia, where her husband spent part of his childhood; and surprising U.S. servicemen and women in Germany on Veterans Day, serving them steaks at a special meal.
- Darian Aaron, theDailyVoice.com: Tyler Perry fuels down low hysteria and homophobia in For Colored Girls
- Helena Andrews, theRoot.com: Single-Minded: Me, My Mother and 'For Colored Girls'
- Mark Corece, theDailyVoice.com: For Colored Girls, No Seriously it is
- Mary C. Curtis, Politics Daily: Why Must 'For Colored Girls' Be More Than Just a Movie?
- Robin Givhan, Washington Post: Michelle Obama acknowledges Indian fashion industry during trip
- Hill Harper, theRoot.com: Not Dealing With Depression
- Gregory Kane, BlackAmericaWeb.com, Hate the Male-Bashing, Love the 'Colored' Cast
- Rashod Ollison, Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.: It’s time for better black movies than Perry’s tales of woe
- Courtland Milloy and Vanessa Williams, Washington Post: On 'For Colored Girls' (video discussion)
- Salamishah Tillet, theRoot.com: Black Feminism, Tyler Perry Style
- Miki Turner, myjet247.com: On 'For Colored Girls'
When Tina Brown, editor of the online magazine the Daily Beast was interviewed on NPR Friday (audio) about the merger between her site and Newsweek, Brown noted that she would become Newsweek's first female editor. Female journalists at Newsweek had filed suit against the newsweekly in 1970, she recalled, and "a merger has created what a lawsuit couldn't."
Ethnic diversity, however, has hardly been a hallmark of the Daily Beast.
In February, the web magazine ran a list by staffer Tunku Varadarajan of "The Left's Top 25 Journalists" and a similar one for the right. No black journalists were among them, and Pulitzer Prize-winning African American commentators expressed their views about that in this space.
With the exception of Varadarajan, who is South Asian, all — Brown, Nicolle Wallace, Rick Outzen, Mark McKinnon, Paul Begala, Margaret Carlson, Sam Donaldson and Peter Beinart — appeared to be white.
In April and again in August, the American Society of News Editors said it had asked online news operations to participate in its annual diversity survey. Each time, the Daily Beast did not respond.
Nor did a spokesman for the website answer an inquiry about diversity from Journal-isms on Friday.
Newsweek, sold for $1 by the Washington Post Co. in August to Sidney Harman, a successful businessman who made his fortune in audio equipment, lost a number of its journalists of color once its fate became uncertain. Johnnie L. Roberts, for example, went to TheWrap.com in August as an editor-at-large covering entertainment news, and Fareed Zakaria, columnist and editor of Newsweek International, joined Time, also as editor-at-large.
Still, some journalists of color remain, including Allison Samuels and Joshua Alston, black journalists; Nisid Hajari, an Asian American; and Hispanic journalists Jessica Ramirez and Arian Campo-Flores, according to Newsweek spokeswoman Jan Angilella. In addition, veteran black journalist Lennox Samuels is an editor at newsweek.com.
Ellis Cose, a black journalist who is a past president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, writes columns as a contributing editor but is not on staff.
The Newsweek and Daily Beast staffs will be combined under Brown, Lucia Moses reported Friday for Mediaweek. "The combined staff will work out of the financial district, where Newsweek was already planning to relocate after its sale to Sidney Harman three months ago. The move is scheduled to take place in a few weeks."
- Tina Brown, Daily Beast: Daily Beast, Newsweek to Wed!
- Lauren Kirchner, Columbia Journalism Review: Wherein two media brands merge, and the Internet says hmmm
- Jeremy M. Peters, New York Times: Newsweek and Daily Beast Have a Deal
CNN en Español announced last month it was planning "the most comprehensive channel reface in its history." This month, it told Atlanta-based staffers that new positions were being created and that all current employees would have to reapply for the new jobs.
Now it says it is increasing the number of editorial employees at the network by nearly 20 positions and announced two more personnel changes.
Ismael Cala, a reporter and anchor, is relocating to Miami to head a new interview show and Mariela Encarnación, a former correspondent for Telemundo's morning show "Levántate," "has joined the team and will be based in Miami," spokeswoman Mariana Piñango told Journal-isms.
"As we recently announced, CNN en Español is making significant investments to support expected growth in Latin America and the U.S.," she said by e-mail. "This includes the addition of staff in key locations such as Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico City, New York and Washington, D.C. as well as investment in programming, studios and technology. Some individual roles in Atlanta will be impacted by the reorganization; however, overall we are increasing the number of employees at the network by nearly 20 positions.
"The positions being added are in fact editorial and they will be spread across our Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico City, New York and Washington D.C. locations."
Keith Olbermann quipped, "Doing nothing for these people, an American tradition since at least 1776."
"All it took was a one-minute commentary. On February 9, 2010, Keith Olbermann told his viewers about a humanitarian crisis affecting 50,000 people. It was so bad, college basketball fans were being asked to share their soles," Rose Aguilar wrote for Thursday for truth-out.org.
" 'Haiti?' he asked. 'South Dakota. The shoe donations are being sought at the University of South Dakota and they are for the residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.'
"On January 21, 2010, a devastating blizzard and snowstorm hit the area, one of the poorest in the country, knocking down over 3,000 utility poles. Residents were without electricity, water or heat in subzero temperatures for weeks. The tribe declared a state of emergency. 'The government has done next to nothing for the Native Americans, who on a nice, sunny spring day there still face unemployment of 85 percent,' Olbermann said sternly. 'Doing nothing for these people, an American tradition since at least 1776.' He then directed viewers who wanted to donate to the 'Countdown' website, where they would find a link to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe storm relief fund.
"There were no videos or photos of the devastation. There was no interview with a tribal member. It was a one-minute commentary. According to Tribal Chairman Joe Brings Plenty, Olbermann's call for donations, coupled with community efforts and matching money from the Bush and Northwest Area Foundations, brought in $975,000. Daily Kos blogger Bill in Maryland posted a diary with donation links for neighboring tribes.
"Chairman Brings Plenty said the response was overwhelming. 'It was crazy. It had a huge effect compared to what we were doing to get coverage and people in DC to take notice. The government had to take notice because of the phone calls that were coming in.' "
Aguilar went on to note, "Native American journalists who critique the press and closely follow coverage of Native Americans say these issues rarely, if ever, get attention in the national media."
Cristina Azocar, director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, said "part of the problem is that reporters often use studies that break things down by race in their articles, and Native Americans are always left out," Aguilar wrote.
Mark Trahant, author of "Pictures of Our Nobler Selves: A history of American Indian contributions to journalism," editorial page editor at the defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer and board chair of the Maynard Institute, said he couldn't think of a time when a Native American was interviewed on the Sunday morning political shows or on PBS.
The set list for Kanye West's show in Abu Dhabi, Dubai. West tweeted from Dubai after announcing he would not be performing on "Today." (Credit: www.ddotomen.com)
"After firing off critical tweets of the 'Today' show earlier this week, Kanye West announced Friday via Twitter that he won’t be performing on the NBC program on November 26, as was previously planned," CNN reported on Friday, adding later that a "Today" representative confirmed that West has canceled his concert.
" 'I’m not performing on the Today Show for obvious reasons,' West tweeted, then going on to say how happy he was that 'the world got to see just a small piece of "the set up." '
"What West refers to as 'the set up' are the elements of his pre-taped interview with Matt Lauer that caused him to launch into a Twitter rant this week. 'Today' aired the video on Thursday.
"The topic of discussion during the interview was to be the relationship between West and former President George W. Bush and his upcoming album, but things got sour when the artist felt like he was being attacked.
"After responding to Lauer’s question of whether or not West regrets uttering that infamous phrase, 'George Bush doesn’t care about black people,' during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina, Lauer asked West to take a look at the video clip of Bush reacting to the statement in a 'Today' interview.
" 'Don’t even listen this time. Just look at his face when he’s commenting about you, just look at him,' Lauer told West. 'This is the most emotional he got during my entire three-and-a-half-hour interview. What would you say to him if he were to meet with you face to face?'
"West responded, 'I don’t need you guys to show me the tape in order to prompt my emotions. Pre-looking at his face, I came up here because I wanted to say something to him right after the fact. You don’t have to do the TV stuff with me….I don’t need all the jazz.' ”
". . . According to his tweets, West is currently in Abu Dhabi to perform."
- TheRoot.com: Kanye West's Top 10 Most Egocentric Moments
- Mawuse Ziegbe, mtv.com: Russell Simmons, Ne-Yo Support Kanye West After 'Today' Drama [Nov. 13]
"Journalists under extreme threat have two painful options before them: to either remain in their home countries at the risk of suffering a fate like Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, who prophesied his own murder in an editorial written shortly before his death, or to flee and entirely and forsake the profession for which they have endured so much," Alia Ahmed wrote Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"At least 85 journalists fled their homes worldwide between June of 2009 and 2010, 42 from the continent of Africa alone, according to CPJ's June 2010 exile report. Ethiopia, along with Somalia and Iran, marked the nations with the highest exile rate this last year, with 15 Ethiopian journalists leaving the country compared to only two between 2008 and 2009.
"Less than one-third of all resettled journalists continue to work in the field, CPJ research shows. Even after surviving the lengthy bureaucratic asylum process with no legal allowances to support themselves, the linguistic and cultural differences they contend with can force accomplished journalists to take any employment opportunities they can find."
Ahmed was reporting on the case of Ethiopian journalist Samson Mekonnen, who only recently received his work permit in Washington after almost a year in exile in the United States.
" 'Of course, I wish I could work as a journalist here in the U.S.,' Mekonnen told me recently," Ahmed wrote. " 'But how am I to do it? My English skills are a barrier, I have no contacts. How can I be recognized for my experience? Where am I to start?' Even once asylum has been granted, there are few adequate resources — such as cultural orientation, affordable language classes, or job training services — for refugees."
- Nieman Watchdog: Somali reporter wins Louis M. Lyons Award
Former President George W. Bush's new memoir, "Decision Points," contains "a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections," staffer Ryan Grim wrote for the Huffington Post on Friday.
"He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial 'decision points' of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir.
"Bush, on his book tour, makes much of the fact that he largely wrote the book himself, guffawing that critics who suspected he didn't know how to read are now getting a comeuppance. Not only does Bush know how to read, it turns out, he knows how to Google, too. Or his assistant does."
Asked how he was able to discover what had eluded book reviewers, Grim told Journal-isms by e-mail, "I read a lot of Bush era memoirs and it sounded too familiar.
Did he then start putting Bush's passages through Google? "Yeah, that was about all there was to it," Grim said.
Mark Trahant's high praise for the Obama administration's record on Indian affairs is now part of the record of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which held a town hall meeting Nov. 5 in Geneva, Switzerland. Others joined from Washington or via the Web.
Trahant, board chair of the Maynard Institute and editorial page editor of the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was quoted by Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Department of Interior.
"Well, I'd like to just comment in a general way first with regard to the Obama administration," Echo Hawk said. "And it's not just Larry Echo Hawk speaking; I would like to quote from an article that was published just recently by a well-known Native American journalist named Mark Trahant.
"He says, 'In just two years, this administration has done more for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities than any government in decade — decades. By any objective measure, Barack Obama has been the most engaged and effective president on American Indian issues since at least Richard Nixon. You could even make the case that Obama is better than Nixon because there has been so much successful legislation and executive branch action in less than two years.' So that, I think, displays, you know, the vigor of the Obama administration in trying to address Native American issues."
Trahant told Journal-isms on Friday, "I absolutely stand by those words."
The Buffalo News, recent target of black-community wrath over its coverage of the shootings of eight people at a downtown restaurant, is having difficulty getting black journalists to apply for a reporter opening.
"The Buffalo News has an opening for a reporter whose main responsibility will be to cover suburban communities for print and web. The successful applicant should have at least three years experience covering local government and schools as well as some clips showing some investigative and enterprise stories," reads an ad the paper placed on the website of the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists. "Please send letter, resume and clips to Ms. Bobbie Rein, The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14240."
Association president Rod Watson, urban affairs editor and columnist tapped to head the News' outreach effort, told Journal-isms "the black-community outreach initiative has certainly heightened awareness of the need to fill the slot with an African-American. In that sense, the timing is fortuitous because I don’t think 'we couldn’t find any' will be accepted by the community as an excuse. Conversely, if we can fill the slot with an African-American, it will enhance our credibility as we move forward with the other efforts. So in that sense, I think there is a connection."
- In Washington state, "Bainbridge Island attorney Charlie Wiggins has been elected to the state Supreme Court, unseating incumbent Richard Sanders after a tight race in which Sanders effectively conceded on Friday," Steve Miletich reported Friday for the Seattle Times . . . . "In an interview Friday night, an emotional Sanders blamed The Seattle Times for what he called certain defeat." Sanders came under fire late in the campaign after the Times reported that Sanders and Justice James Johnson, who was re-elected in the August primary, disputed the view that racial discrimination plays a significant role in the disproportionate number of blacks in prison. "The Times editorial board, which is independent of the newsroom, then withdrew its endorsement of Sanders, throwing its support behind Wiggins."
- Jimmy Myers, one of the few black voices on Boston radio, has lost his WTKK-FM (96.9) Sunday show after a 3 ½ year run," Jessica Heslam reported Wednesday for the Boston Herald. Myers' attorney, Henry F. Owens III, said Myers had been paid a salary, but the station now wanted him to raise the revenue for his show, which cost $500 an hour. "Myers, 62, a longtime sportscaster who worked at WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) during the 1970s and later at ESPN, said he couldn’t accept the deal. . . . Owens said WTKK wanted to get rid of the outspoken Myers for a long time because he’s 'too controversial.' "
- "President Barack Obama held a departure news conference in Seoul, South Korea last night at 2:45amET," Molly Stark Dean reported Friday for TVNewser. "The tvnewsers were there in full force to talk about trade agreements with South Korea. But which cable news networks took the event live? . . . That’s right: Fox News Channel was the only cabler to carry the news conference, preempting a replay of 'Glenn Beck' and 'Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.' ”
- Comcast SportsNet aired "Out. The Glenn Burke Story," an hourlong documentary on the first openly gay Major League Baseball player. "A superbly talented two-sport star at Berkeley High 40 years ago, Burke . . . eventually signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers," Monte Poole wrote Tuesday in the Oakland Tribune. "He was an immensely popular outfielder with incredible speed, power and a spectacular throwing arm. He conceivably was the organization's top prospect in the mid '70s. As a gay man, though, he was not spared victimization and stigmatization, much less that obstinate foundation of hate. . . . He was 42 when he died of AIDS in 1995." A Comcast spokesman said that there were no plans to show the documentary on other Comcast channels but that it would air again Tuesday at 8 p.m. Pacific time. It can be accessed nationwide on Dish Network channel 419 and on Direct TV channel 696. Executive producer Ted Griggs, the visionary behind the project, grew up a baseball fan in the Bay Area, spokesman Jay dela Cruz said. Co-producer Doug Harris, an independent Bay Area filmmaker, answered questions from Ron Kroichick in the San Francisco Chronicle.
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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