Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Obama Deflects Race in Talk-Show Marathon

Send by email
Sunday, September 20, 2009

President Obama on CBS' "Face the Nation." He also appeared Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Univision's "Al Punto Con Jorge Ramos," CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week." (Credit: Karin Cooper/CBS)

President Says Conflict Is "Catnip" in 24/7 News Cycle

In his marathon of five talk-show appearances on Sunday, President Obama insisted that race had little to do with some of the ugly rhetoric that has been part of the national debate over health-care reform, but that did not stop the Sunday talkers from raising race as an issue - though not as prominently as many expected.

In the process, they demonstrated how wide the differences of opinion are over how much the debate has a racial subtext.

"The media loves to have a conversation about race," Obama said on NBC. "This is catnip to the media because it is a running thread in American history that is very powerful and it evokes some very strong emotion."

"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Obama said on CNN's "State of the Union." "That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government. I think that there are - there's been a longstanding debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes."

On CBS' "Face the Nation," the president added, "I do think part of what is different today is that the 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of conflict. It's catnip to the media right now. And so, the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody. In that environment, I think it makes it more difficult for us to solve the problems that the American people sent us here to solve."

"The president says that this topic of race is like catnip for those of us in the media," moderator David Gregory said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Yeah. What - well, what newspaper or Web site does Jimmy Carter report for?" retorted Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. "I mean, he's a former president, he's not the media. He brought this up. And I'm glad that he did, because I do think there is an edge to the criticism that is related to race. And I don't think it's the totality of the, of the attacks on Obama. The country is concerned about the economy, about - over government spending, the - legitimately concerned about a lot of things. But this question of legitimacy, the question that, that somehow he doesn't deserve to be there . . . there is, there is a core, a nut, a, a group on the far right, but wherever you want to put them on the spectrum, that has difficulty accepting him as president.'

Robinson is black; Gregory is white, as is Carter.

The dynamic played out again on ABC's "This Week." "I have yet to see evidence, does evidence even intrude in this conversation? Is there any evidence that these people are racist? I think not," said conservative columnist George Will, who is white.

"Well, George, there is some evidence that, and not an overwhelming amount of evidence that some of - a small fringe of this movement, clearly there's some racism," replied Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party strategist who is black. "And you don't have to know the motives of someone's heart to understand when you see signs, incendiary signs that basically compares him to a witch doctor, an African heathen. We know racism. We don't have to be told or taught that. That much we do know. There's a culture of extremism that has gained mainstream acceptance. And I think the president is absolutely right, when you see it, you have to call it. You shouldn't duck it. But on the other hand, you shouldn't exaggerate it. This is why we need responsible leaders to denounce it. But more importantly, we need to find a way to have an honest and good dialogue whenever race is a topic so that the president of the United States, who is very busy, does not have to have beer summits all the time."

The differences broke down sometimes along ideological, not racial lines.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Republican strategist Mary Matalin said, "the Obama people themselves played the race card against, of all people, Bill Clinton - yes, they did - who is - arguably had a more authentic black American experience than Barack Obama."

"I guess it was a Republican congressman called him a boy. I guess there's no racial implications to that," replied her husband, Democratic strategist James Carville. He said a congressman, whom he did not name, declared, "I don't want this boy's trigger finger on the nuclear trigger."

On CNN's "Reliable Sources," it was Amy Holmes, a black conservative, who was downplaying race, and Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, who argued for confronting it. "People of color have to deal with race a lot in their lives, but because President Obama is our first black president, now white people have to think about color a lot more often than they are used to and I think that makes people uncomfortable as well," Deggans said. "We're seeing all of these dynamics come out in coverage and how people are reacting to the coverage."

"Well my two cents is the president told NBC the media loved to have a conversation about race and I agree with that," host Howard Kurtz said. "You take any story, it could be Jeremiah Wright, it could be Henry Louis Gates, it could be the Duke rape case. And once you inject race into that as the media sometimes have no choice to do, but sometimes love to do, it's like pumping steroids into an ordinary story and it makes it live on for weeks and weeks and months and months."

But on Facebook, one writer asked, is race "injected" into these situations or was it there all along?

The White House Monday released a four-minute video summarizing President Obama's health care plan.

Fox News Decides Obama Snub Is "Badge of Honor"

"The White House has issued a statement this weekend about his decision to exclude Fox from the Sunday blitz, and we want to put it up," host Chris Wallace said on the Fox News Channel's "Fox News Sunday."

"'We figured Fox would rather show "So You Think You Can Dance" than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform. Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again, not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.'

"Let me just briefly explain, for those of you who haven't been following this back and forth, the reference to 'So You Think You Can Dance" is the fact that while the Fox News Channel broadcast the president's speech to the joint session [of Congress], the Fox broadcast network ran the aforementioned show.

"The whining, I think, refers to me and the fact that I called the White House on O'Reilly's show Friday the biggest bunch of crybabies I've ever dealt with in my 30 years in Washington."

"Wear it as a badge of honor," said the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot. Wallace had done just that, in a Friday morning radio interview.

"Well, in fact, they think Fox is an ideological outfit, as you just saw in the statement from the White House," said Juan Williams, the Fox panel's only African American. "They also think that there are Fox personalities who've called the president racist, that the network, in the president's view, is all about defeating President Obama and bringing down his administration.

"Now, I think . . . we live in a fractured media universe and Fox, without a doubt, is more of a conservative outlet. We have more conservatives, especially in prime time on the cable channel.

"I think that the wise strategy here would be for the president to make strategic outreach to people so that he can be heard across the ideological spectrum. I think if he was going to make news today, he'd make it here.

"I don't think he's going to make news on any of those other channels. It's just that his face is out there."

Obama did in fact make news about the war in Afghanistan, the anti-poverty group Acorn and even on his preferred topic, health care.

. . . Fox Producer Shown Rallying "Teabagger" Crowd

"A Fox News Channel producer has been caught in a behind-the-scenes video rallying the crowd during last weekend's 9/12 protest in Washington," Danny Shea reported for the Huffington Post.

"The Huffington Post has confirmed that the woman . . . seen raising her arms to rally the crowd behind Griff Jenkins, who was reporting from the scene for Fox News — is Fox News producer Heidi Noonan.

"'The employee is a young, relatively inexperienced associate producer who realizes she made a mistake and has been disciplined,' Bryan Boughton, Fox News Channel Washington Bureau Chief told the Huffington Post."

Obama, "Newspaper Junkie," Feels for Old Media

"Saying that he is a 'big newspaper junkie,' President Barack Obama expressed hope Friday that newspapers can find their way through the financial crisis in which most are now mired," Dave Murray reported Sunday in the Toledo Blade.

"In an Oval Office interview with editors from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, the president spoke of the vital role journalism and newspapers play in American society.

"'Journalistic integrity, you know fact-based reporting, serious investigative reporting, how to retain those ethics in all these different new media and how to make sure that it's paid for, is really a challenge,' Mr. Obama said. 'But it's something that I think is absolutely critical to the health of our democracy.

"'I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context,' he said, 'that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.

"'What I hope is that people start understanding if you're getting your newspaper over the Internet, that that's not free. And there's got to be a way to find a business model that supports that.'

"Several bills have been introduced in Congress to aid the newspaper industry, including a Senate measure that would allow newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofit organizations with a variety of tax breaks."

"Mr. Obama was noncommittal about that legislation, but said: 'I haven't seen detailed proposals yet, but I'll be happy to look at them.'"

Ken Burns Film Shows Diverse View of National Parks

The latest film from Ken Burns, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," debuts on PBS on Monday.

While Burns was criticized by Latinos two years ago for not initially including Hispanics in his "The War" series on World War II, the national parks series promises to be inclusive from the start:

Park Ranger Shelton Johnson is featured in 'The National Parks: America's Best Idea.'"These historical accounts are paralleled with contemporary stories of people who continue to be transformed and inspired by the parks today. They include Shelton Johnson, an African American who grew up in Detroit, where the national parks seemed distant, unreachable places until he later became a park ranger; Gerard Baker, a Native-American park superintendent whose tribe has long considered the land sacred; Tuan Luong, a Paris-born Vietnamese rock climber and photographer who fell in love with the parks and dedicated himself to photographing all 58 national parks with a large format camera; and Juan Lujan, who grew up in west Texas during the Depression and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, with which he would help develop Big Bend National Park in Texas," PBS says.

PBS also plans to air a special on health care reform on Thursday "with analysis, discussion and insight from three of PBS’ most respected news and public affairs series. THE NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT team will examine the costs and controversies of employer-provided healthcare. NOW ON PBS correspondents will consider how reform may change the way we live. TAVIS SMILEY will investigate the issue of childhood obesity, particularly within communities of color."

Also, on Oct. 12 and 19, PBS is screening "Latin Music USA," which "tells the story of the rise of new American music forged from powerful Latin roots and reveals the often overlooked influence of Latin music on jazz, hip hop, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll — and on all of American culture. . . . Jimmy Smits narrates."

GOP Senators Move to Stop "Net Neutrality"

"A top Republican senator introduced legislation Monday to block the Obama administration’s attempt to impose formal net neutrality rules, just hours after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced he would seek groundbreaking new limits on ISPs — both wireline and wireless," Ryan Singel reported Monday for, referring to Internet service providers.

"The new rules are intended to guarantee that citizens can use their choice of devices, services and applications, and to prevent ISPs from discriminating against services or creating high and low roads on the internet. Supporters say net neutrality rules will protect consumers and sets fair rules for all.

"But Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson is no fan. She has expressed her reservations that the FCC’s move would suffocate internet innovation, a view shared by the telecom industry, which says such rules are stifling and unnecessary. On Monday, she attached her amendment to a funding bill for the Interior Department."

In 2006, the presidents of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists called on Congress to preserve the "network neutrality" of the Internet.

"The Internet is a great equalizer, providing an opportunity for the average citizen or small business, including media companies owned by blacks, Hispanics and other persons of color, to compete in the marketplace of ideas," Rafael Olmeda of NAHJ and Bryan Monroe of NABJ said in their statement.

"Hutchinson, a Texas gubernatorial candidate and the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology committee, was joined by five fellow Republicans: John Ensign (Nevada), Sam Brownback (Kansas), David Vitter (Louisiana), Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and John Thune (South Dakota)," Singel wrote.

Shirley Velasquez to Lead New Latino Web Site

"My Latino Voice, a Web site focused on Latino news and culture, has named Shirley Velasquez editor-in-chief," Amanda Ernst wrote Friday for MediaBistro.

Shirley Velasquez "Velasquez is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a senior reporter at Glamour magazine since 2003. During her time at the Cond?© Nast pub, Velasquez worked on a number of influential pieces including on story that required her to go undercover as an undocumented factory worker.

"She also made news in 2006 over a controversial Q&A with Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, solidifying her reputation as a probing reporter not afraid to ask tough questions or delve into challenging topics — like the poor treatment of women in Afghanistan — even though she worked for a magazine that is considered by many to be merely about fashion."

Time Inc. Begins Yearlong Detroit Project

Time Inc.'s Detroit bureau"When I moved here last month from Chicago, Detroit felt, in many ways, like New Orleans, my hometown, in the months following Hurricane Katrina," Steven Gray wrote on the new The Detroit Blog, "a special Time Inc. project."

"For starters, much of Detroit is shockingly sparse, having seen its population more than halved from a 1950s peak of nearly 2 million. Many of its downtown skyscrapers are empty. There are vast tracts of land covered with weeds, sometimes filled with the remains of a store or church or house that may have not been inhabited since the 1967 riots. You search desperately for life's fundamentals: a caf?© serving a decent cup of coffee, a store selling a fresh green apple."

As David Carr wrote Monday in the New York Times, Time Inc., as part of a companywide decision to spend a year in Detroit, bought a house in Detroit where Gray and other reporters will stay while they do stories. "The house is on a grand street flanked by huge trees in the West Village neighborhood, with six bedrooms and four bathrooms. In any other city in America, it would be worth well over half a million dollars."

Rick Tetzeli, "the former managing editor at Entertainment Weekly who is leading the project , led the search, and Time Inc. bought the house for $99,000, or more than $85,000 over the current average home price in Detroit because most of the houses being sold have been foreclosed."

Reporting on the city will come from Time,, Fortune,,, Sports Illustrated,, Money and Essence magazines.

Short Takes:

  • "In the first few minutes of 'Brick City,' a five-episode miniseries airing this week on the Sundance Channel, it‚Äôs easy to see the parallels to HBO‚Äôs 'The Wire' . . . If you‚Äôre looking for some real television ‚Äî real-life, riveting, can‚Äôt-wait-till-the-next-episode television ‚Äî then set your DVRs to 'Brick City,' a real-life television series on the city of Newark‚Äôs politics, crime and effort toward community renewal," Erin Evans wrote Monday for
  • "Americans still support the idea of a free press as a watchdog on government, and turn to traditional news sources on major news stories despite skepticism about bias in the news media, according to findings in the first segment of the 2009 State of the First Amendment national survey conducted by the First Amendment Center," the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center reported last week. African Americans and Hispanics were somewhat more likely to view Twitter postings as reliable, and in comparable numbers to the 71 percent figure in the general population, still saw a free press as a necessary ‚Äúwatchdog on government,‚Äù Gene Policinski, vice president of the First Amendment Center, told Journal-isms on Monday.
  • "The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report (Fall/09) is calling attention to Pacifica Radio network member station KPFK for airing the Spanish-English show La Causa's 'naked anti-Semitism,'" Gabriel Voiles wrote Monday for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. "According to the SPLC, the weekly program's hosts, August??n Cebada and Rafael Tlaloc, "are more than just passive enablers of anti-Semitic rhetoric."
  • Norfolk, Va., TV anchor Barbara Ciara, facing misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a confrontation outside a Norfolk courthouse last month, has had her court date pushed back to Sept. 30 so that all of the accusations in the scuffle can be addressed at the same, the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., reported on Friday. Ciara is immediate past president of the National Association of Black Journalists.
  • Journalists who specialize in covering environmental issues are on the front line of a new war, according to a report by the global press watchdog, Reporters Without Borders. Because their work often poses a threat to companies, government and even organized crime groups, they are regarded as undesired witnesses and, sometimes, enemies who need to be "eliminated," Roy Greenslade reported for Britain's Guardian Web site.
  • "W. Horace Carter, the editor and publisher of a small-town North Carolina newspaper whose stubborn, angry opposition to local activities of the Ku Klux Klan helped quell the expansion of the Klan in the Carolinas and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953, died Wednesday while being transported from a hospital in Wilmington, N.C., to his home in nearby Tabor City. He was 88," Bruce Weber wrote Sunday in the New York Times.
  • Jose Antonio Vargas The Huffington Post launched its technology section Monday, and it is being edited by former Washington Post national reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who joined the site in July. He appears in a Beet TV video.
  • "An amendment to the bipartisan Senate bill that would create a federal shield law for journalists will likely exclude many bloggers and internet journalists, according to the text of the amendment introduced by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York," according to Cristina Abello, writing for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
  • "Eritrea now has at least 30 journalists and two media workers behind bars, which means that, exactly eight years after the round-ups of 18 September 2001 that put an end to free expression, it has achieved parity with China and Iran in terms of the number of journalists detained," the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday. ‚ÄúEritrea‚Äôs prisoners of conscience are not just the victims of their jailers‚Äô cruelty. They are also, and even more so, the victims of indifference, tacit consent or overly timid efforts on the part of the country‚Äôs international ‚Äòpartners‚Äô. The Eritrean government has become a disgrace for Africa.‚Äù

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.

Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.

To be notified of new columns, contact and tell us who you are.

About Richard Prince

View previous columns.



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.