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NPR Loses Its Diversity Director

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

TV One's "Washington Watch" Carving Small Niche


Walt Swanston Leaves After Nearly 7 Years

Walt SwanstonWalt Swanston, a veteran journalist and diversity professional who became National Public Radio's first director of diversity management more than six years ago, has resigned, citing health reasons, Swanston told Journal-isms.

"In her memo to staff announcing Walt's retirement today, NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller wrote that the Director of Diversity position will be posted shortly," spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms on Monday.

"Vivian also wrote that she has selected a diverse group of staff to join her and members of the executive team in developing strategic goals and action plans around diversity in recruitment and retention; our work environment; our programming/content; and our audience."

Swanston was hired by the previous CEO, Kevin Klose, "to shape diversity strategies in staff development for the national nonprofit radio service," a news release stated when she was named in February 2003. "Ms. Swanston will head a Diversity Initiative with the overall goal of ensuring that NPR is an inclusive, productive workplace, so that NPR programming can reflect and attract listeners from the increasingly diverse American population."

The news of Swanston's departure comes days after NPR let go the black journalist in charge of its newscasts, Greg Peppers, one of two black men in newsroom management at the network.

Neither NPR nor Peppers has commented on the reasons for Peppers' firing, with NPR saying it does not comment on personnel matters.

And although Schiller said in April, "We need to make sure that we are constantly thinking about a diversity of audience," attention to diversity continues to be a concern at the network.

Over the weekend, for example, the NPR ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote on her Facebook page, "Disappointed that out of 60 'top thought leaders' on NPR's digital future, only 12 are women." None appear to be African American.

According to her bio, Swanston has "more than two decades in journalism and 12 years in diversity-focused work with the media. She comes to NPR from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF), where she directed the organization's diversity, educational and international programs for the past three years. Before coming to the RTNDF, Ms. Swanston served as the executive director of UNITY: Journalists of Color, and spearheaded the UNITY '94 and UNITY '99 conventions. She also has served as executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), directed diversity programs at the Newspaper Association of America Foundation and consulted for Knight-Ridder Inc.

"Ms. Swanston's journalism career included posts as executive editor at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.; and reporter/producer for WETA-TV, the PBS station in Washington, D.C, during which she reported on Congress, the White House, and the 1976 presidential campaign. She has written on assignment for The National Journal, National Observer, Washingtonian Magazine and The Washington Post. Early in her career she reported for The Washington Star, San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Sun-Reporter."

Diversity Left Out in Report on Future of the Press

A report on the future of the press argues "for the federal tax code to clearly recognize independent news organizations devoted to reporting on public affairs as nonprofit entities, allowing them to receive tax-deductible donations, along with advertising revenue and other income," Columbia University said on Monday.

That would be one step "for maintaining a vibrant, independent press, with special emphasis on local 'accountability journalism' that is essential to civic life.

But, a Columbia University spokeswoman acknowledged, diversity is not mentioned in the study, written by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, professor at the School of Journalism, and commissioned by Columbia’s journalism school.

Bobbi Bowman, diversity consultant for the American Society of News Editors, told Journal-isms that was a significant omission. "What kind of business model do you build when the majority of the students in this country will be minority?" she said. "Already, in California, Texas and Florida, the majority of students in public schools are minority.

"Either you deal with a majority-minority audience at this point" or you're building a model "for the shrinking white community," she said.

In the report, Downie and Schudson "make the case for a national fund, using receipts collected by the FCC, to finance local news reporting. To further encourage a commitment to such local reporting, the report calls for 'urgent action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting' to challenge public radio and television to invest in a significant expansion of news coverage of their communities," the university said.

The study "takes full account of the well-known problems caused by deep cutbacks in reporting on public issues, especially in local newspapers. Yet even as advertising revenues continue to fall, budgets are further reduced and more news outlets shutter their doors, the authors also identify 'abundant opportunity in the future of journalism' —especially in the very online medium that has caused the economic disruption of traditional media models. In particular, they point to a growing number of innovative online journalistic endeavors that can be developed on a broader scale to provide Americans with a diverse mix of for-profit, low-profit and non-profit sources of news and public affairs."

Opinion Leaders Oppose White House War on Fox

Donna Brazile Fox News is winning the battle of opinion leaders with its contention that the White House should not be declaring war on a news organization, no matter how biased, but its pleas that the network really is "fair and balanced" are straining credulity.

"I made the rounds before becoming an analyst and contributor here at CNN," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," "and I used to enjoy going on Fox because, after I did that round of fighting, I would come on CNN and feel like, 'Oh, I can take a bath now.'"

Nevertheless, she said, "I don't always agree with the White House."

Former GOP Cabinet member Bill Bennett said, "Was it Mark Twain who said, 'Don't get into fights with people who buy ink by the barrel?'"

"If Team Obama ignores Fox, it just gives the network's talent the chance to further caricature him as a socialist, foreign, effete, America-hating Other. It isn't a racist portrayal, necessarily, but is certainly one that gives actual racists a lot of comfort," Chris Rovzar wrote in New York magazine.

The previous weekend, White House communications director Anita Dunn said of Fox News in the New York Times, "We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent." She added on CNN, ""Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

Other administration officials echoed her sentiments Sunday on the talk shows, though some were eager to change the subject.

"Fox News Sunday" relished discussing the issue. Karl Rove, the former Bush administration pit bull, said, "Look, I think this White House is dominated by Chicago-style politics. So if you don't like the questions that are being asked by Major Garrett or Wendell Goler or Chris Wallace, then you try and demonize Fox News.

"If you don't like what the Chamber of Commerce is doing in opposing health care reform, you go out and you start telling CEOs to pull out of the Chamber. If you don't like a Democrat, a wayward Democrat voting against the stimulus bill, then you have the president of the United States in the House Democratic Caucus meeting say to him in public, 'don't think we aren't keeping score, buddy.'"

Wallace said, "Let's fact-check Anita Dunn" and concluded that her "facts were just plain wrong."

Wallace portrayed his critics as confusing Fox's broadcast channel with Fox News, which is on cable, and the Fox News opinion shows with the news content.

Left to defend the Obama administration was Terry McAuliffe, the onetime Democratic National Committee chair who was at somewhat of a disadvantage because he is close to the Clintons, not to Obama.

He missed some opportunities. Neither Wallace nor McAuliffe noted that the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, reporting on the health care reform bills in Congress, reported in August that "Among those who say they regularly get their news from Fox News, 45% say claims of death panels are true, while 30% say they are not true. By contrast, majorities among regular viewers of rival cable news channels MSNBC and CNN and nightly network news say they think it is false that health care legislation will create death panels." There are no such "death panels" in the legislation.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that the same misinformation took hold among Fox News viewers about whether the health-care plan will  cover illegal immigrants.

Defenders of Fox News contend that MSNBC or CNN slant the news as well, only from the left.

But Jacob Weisberg argues in Newsweek that it's important to note that Fox went first. "What matters is the way that Fox's model has invaded the bloodstream of the American media. By showing that ideologically distorted news can drive ratings," Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes "has provoked his rivals at CNN and MSNBC to develop a variety of populist and ideological takes on the news. In this way, Fox hasn't just corrupted its own coverage. Its example has made all of cable news unpleasant and unreliable."

Marc Lamont Hill discusses the award of Nobel Peace Prize on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor."

Fox News Fires Progressive Analyst Marc Lamont Hill

"Liberal Fox News analyst Dr. Marc Lamont Hill has been fired, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch revealed at a shareholder's meeting Friday," Danny Shea wrote Friday for the Huffington Post.

"Murdoch made the announcement after being asked about Hill's 'reputation of defending cop killers and racists.'"

"Lamont Hill's credibility as a commentator had been called into question by David Horowitz last month:

". . . By his own account, Hill is an expert on 'hip-hop culture,' i.e., rap music. His academic degree is in education. What are his views on foreign policy worth, unless putting him on was designed to show up the shallow views of the left?" Horowitz was quoted as saying.

"Since then, as the Hollywood Reporter reports, Lamont Hill 'has been the target of increasing criticism on the blogosphere for alleged sympathies to controversial figures including Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal.' He also defended Van Jones on Fox News' 'On the Record with Greta van Susteren.'"

Juan Williams Defends Rush Limbaugh Comments

Fox News commentator Juan Williams, the only African American panelist on "Fox News Sunday," said on this week's show that based on what he heard in barbershops at the time, Rush Limbaugh's 2003 comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, which cost Limbaugh a commentator's job at ESPN, were not racist.

"There are a couple of comments that Limbaugh did make that have attracted some attention, and let's put those on the screen," host Chris Wallace said in a discussion of investors' rejection of Limbaugh as a potential co-owner of the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

"In 2003, he said Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb was mediocre and overrated, and added this, 'The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.'

"Then in 2007, he said, 'The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips,' two gangs, 'without any weapons. There, I said it.'

"Juan, over the line?

"WILLIAMS: Not — the Donovan McNabb comment, by the way, is something I've heard, you know, in the barbershop, you know, people talking football, because, in fact, the NFL, sad to say, had a history of excluding black players.

"I mean, they came along after Jackie Robinson in terms of breaking the color barrier, and in terms of certain positions, especially what people consider to be the thinking position like quarterback — there was a dearth of black quarterbacks.

"And so when Donovan McNabb came along — and he was struggling at the time that Limbaugh said this — Limbaugh said the press — and by the way, some people have said this about President Obama — that the press was getting on the bandwagon and wanted to break through this color barrier at a key position, quarterback.

"I thought he introduced race into it. Maybe — and I know the NFL doesn't want to talk about race and how many players are black. But that wasn't a racist statement. I don't even think — I mean, I guess you could say it was racial, but that wasn't the point."

Journal-isms put the question to the e-mail list of the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Not a lot of talk in barbershops about how the otherman is trying to do to the brotherman a favor," replied Bomani Jones, a sports radio host.

Mike Freeman, columnist for, wrote, "In black barber shops there were of course African-Americans who wanted McNabb to do well. That's not what Limbaugh was saying. Limbaugh was saying there was a campaign by the media to back McNabb. First, I can tell you, as someone who's covered the NFL for 20 years, that just wasn't true at all. The only player many in the media have and do root for is Brett Favre (and that rooting is very open). Second, Limbaugh was race hustling. He was injecting race into a situation where a racial discussion wasn't needed or required.

"Most of all, the biggest thing about Limbaugh, besides him being a bigot, is that he doesn't know jack about football. He really doesn't. He's the worst kind of football fan. He thinks he knows the sport but his knowledge is superficial at best."

Chuck Johnson, a USA Today veteran, wrote, "As he usually does, Limbaugh created controversy with a biased assessment that wasn't rooted in fact but reflected his racist views.

"In 2003, McNabb was in the process of leading Philadelphia to its third of four consecutive appearances in the NFC title game and has since entrenched himself as the Eagles' all-time leader in career victories, pass completions, attempts, passing yard and passing TDs.

"To single him out as overrated, when he was clearly one of the game's top QBs, makes it quite apparent that Limbaugh's only problem with McNabb being a successful quarterback was that he is a successful black QB.

"Equating the NFL with 'Bloods and Crips' is another example of his racist hyperbole. The league is composed of predominantly black players and many of them are law-abiding, community-involved citizens. But in Limbaugh's view, it's cut and dried. He sees black and he only sees thugs.

"But it's not just that. Limbaugh has a history of vile and vicious racist statements. Unfortunately, his warped opinions play favorably to a sizable segment of America. Still, it's hard for any self-respecting black American to see anything but racism in some of his declarations. What other reason besides having a problem with Obama's race would any American openly be hoping for the president to fail?"

Williams also defended Limbaugh on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" last week. Hearing Williams, Warren Ballentine, a radio host who was also on the program, told Williams, "You can go back to the porch, Juan. You can go back. It's OK."

TV One's "Washington Watch" Carving Small Niche

NBC's "Meet the Press" remains the big dog among Sunday talk shows, according to Nielsen ratings for Oct. 11, with TV One's new "Washington Watch with Roland Martin" carving out a small niche and Spanish-language Univision's "Al Punto" ("To the Point"), hosted by Jorge Ramos, exceeding the first hour of CNN's "State of the Union" in viewership.

The Nielsen Co. reports these total viewers for the Oct. 11 shows: "Meet the Press," NBC, 3,020,000; "This Week," ABC, 2,660,000; "Face the Nation," CBS, 2,430,000; "Fox News Sunday," Fox News, 1,140,000. "Al Punto" on Univision drew 886,000 and "Washington Watch With Roland Martin" on TV One, 70,000. The 11 a.m. hour of CNN's "State of the Union" averaged 571,000 viewers from Sept. 21 to Oct. 11, a Nielsen spokeswoman said.

Such shows are usually produced to help meet public service obligations, to make news and to add to a network's prestige and credibility. "It's not about the ratings," Johnathan Rodgers, TV One’s president and chief executive officer, told Journal-isms in reaction to the Oct. 11 figures.

In fact, "Washington Watch," which debuted Sept. 27, was conceived with a different purpose.

Rodgers "said the creation of 'Washington Watch' stems from President Barack Obama winning the White House and from his own frustration with the current state of Sunday morning news shows," Frederick Cosby wrote in August for "The last straw that triggered Rodgers to green-light the show was what he perceived as a lack of mainstream news coverage of a black caucus trip to communist Cuba earlier this year.

“'They didn’t get any coverage and, if they did, people laughed and said it (the trip) didn’t matter,' Rodgers said. 'The Congressional Black Caucus matters to us.'” [Updated Oct. 20.]

Newsweek Reporter Freed in Iran After 4 Months

Maziar BahariNewsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, imprisoned in Tehran since June 21, was released from Evin Prison on bail Saturday, Newsweek reported.

"Iranian authorities did not specify the reasons behind the release, but Bahari, 42, is expecting his first child on Oct. 26 and the mother has experienced serious health complications. Humanitarian considerations were presumed to have played a role in the decision.

"Bahari, NEWSWEEK's Iran correspondent and an internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker, was arrested in the aftermath of the contested June 12 re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has been accredited to the magazine in Iran for over a decade, and in that time had established a solid reputation for balanced reporting. . . .

"Several hundred authors, journalists, and filmmakers from around the world, including several Nobel prize winners, have signed petitions asking for his release."

“We hope the many journalists who remain jailed in Iran will also be released soon,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Bahari is back home in Tehran.

Rose Arce, a producer at CNN, talks to about "Latino In America."

Is Lou Dobbs CNN's Real "Latino in America?"

"In a few days CNN will launch its ambitious 'Latino in America' series," Albor Ruiz wrote Sunday in the New York Daily News. "Hosted by the popular Soledad O'Brien, the heavily promoted four-hour program will air on Oct. 21 and 22.

"'Witness the evolution of a country as Latinos change America, and in return, America changes Latinos,' is how CNN entices potential viewers on its Web site. The series is a serious effort to capture a larger share of the Hispanic market — and according to some who have seen it, a worthy one.

"Ironically, the series comes at a time when CNN has a huge trust problem with Latinos — and its name is Lou Dobbs.

"Dobbs, some say, has thrown ethics overboard and has made a career out of vilifying immigrants.

"'The truth is that CNN already airs a nightly program on Latinos in America. It's called 'Lou Dobbs Tonight', and for 260 hours a year CNN provides air time for anti-immigrant distortions and anti-Latino propaganda,' said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a national pro-immigration reform group."

Medill's Innocence Project in Standoff With Prosecutor

"After spending three years investigating the conviction of a Harvey man accused of killing a security guard with a shotgun blast in 1978, journalism students at Northwestern University say they have uncovered new evidence that proves his innocence," Jeff Long wrote Monday in the Chicago Tribune.

"Their efforts helped win a new day in court for Anthony McKinney, who has spent 31 years in prison for the slaying. But as they prepare for that crucial hearing, prosecutors seem to have focused on the students and teacher who led the investigation for the school's internationally acclaimed Medill Innocence Project.

"The Cook County state's attorney subpoenaed the students' grades, notes and recordings of witness interviews, the class syllabus and even e-mails they sent to each other and to professor David Protess of the university's Medill School of Journalism.

"Northwestern has turned over documents related to on-the-record interviews with witnesses that students conducted, as well as copies of audio and videotapes, Protess said.

"But the school is fighting the effort to get grades and grading criteria, evaluations of student performance, expenses incurred during the inquiry, the syllabus, e-mails, unpublished student memos, and interviews not conducted on the record, or where witnesses weren't willing to be recorded."

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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White House vs. FOX

Dear Editor, My cockles are still cockling over the views held by the likes of Donna Brazille and Eugene Robinson regarding the White House pushing back at the despicable. race-dividing FOX cable network. How can they NOT know that FOX devotes its programming 24/7 to wooing those who voted against Obama. How can these two USUALLY perceptive folks NOT know that anti-Black opinions are endemic to the message FOX sends out to its diehard racist viewers (do they WATCH O'Reilly, Hannity, that ghastly morning show, do they SEE any Black anchors?) To see Robinson continually bested by White Supremacist Patrick Buchanan (his books and columns hide nothing on this subject AND he doesn't believe the Holocaust happened) on MSNBC -- and then agree with him -- is more than I can bear. Robinson reacts to Buchanan with an affected stutter and a logic defending FOX so gruesomely embarassing, I wince. Same with Brazille. The viewers are far more sophisticated regarding FOX'S intentions than these two. Bill Alexander Freelancer Wash., DC

Walt Swanston

When I was first introduced to NABJ in the late 80s, early 90s (don't quite remember), Walt was the executive director. She always answered the phone when I called the office and helped with whatever I needed. Thanks Walt and I wish you well.

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