Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Obama Irritated by Race Coverage

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Updated July 21

Sotomayor Hearing Viewed as It Began: With Diversity
Boston's Bay State Banner to Accept Loan from City

President Obama takes questions from seven reporters from the black press aboard Air Force One on their way to the NAACP convention in New York. Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser, is at top left. (Credit: White House Photo Office.)

Talk of Gov't Responsibility "Doesn't Make News"

A day after his address Thursday to the NAACP on its centennial celebration, President Obama observed, "I've noticed that when I talk about personal responsibility in the African American community, that gets highlighted. But then the whole other half of the speech, where I talked about government's responsibility . . . that somehow doesn't make news."

Obama made the comment in an Oval Office interview Friday with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who reported on his interview in his column on Sunday.

Eugene RobinsonObama has been criticized by such black commentators as Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson and, famously, Jesse Jackson after a Father's Day speech last year, for seeming to blame African Americans for their own problems. And many in the media have headlined those remarks.

But even as he urged that his comments on the role of government also be covered, Obama told Robinson, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary on the Obama campaign, that African Americans must account for a generational shift.

"One of the ways that I think that the civil rights movement . . . weakened itself was by enforcing a single way of being black - being authentically black," Obama said.

"And, as a consequence, there were a whole bunch of young black people - and I fell prey to this for a time when I was a teenager - who thought that if you were really 'down' you had to be a certain way. And oftentimes that was anti-something. You defined yourself by being against things as opposed to what you were for. And I think now young people realize, you know what, being African American can mean a whole range of things. There's a whole bunch of possibilities out there for how you want to live your life, what values you want to express, who you choose to interact with."

Obama spoke to the NAACP conference about both the persistence of discrimination and the need for African Americans not to let that slow them down. He particularly emphasized the importance of education.

"Make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America," he said. "More than half a century after Brown v. Board, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country," he told the crowd.

But, he added, "Government programs alone won't get our children to the Promised Land. We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes - because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we've internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves."

Under one widely criticized headline, the New York Times summarized the speech as, "Obama Tells Fellow Blacks: 'No Excuses' for Failure" in a story by the Washington bureau's Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

"Black journalists I know are questioning how some media outlets - including the New York Times - seemed to jump on Obama's pleas for more personal responsibility with headlines like 'No Excuses for Failure' while downplaying other parts of his speech that talked about continuing problems with racial discrimination in America," Eugene Kane, columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote Friday in his blog.

"As our first black president, Obama made a great point about the need for blacks to take more personal responsibility and stop making excuses for failure. But what some black Americans are skeptical about was the insinuation this is a big issue for African-Americans but nobody else."

Ironically, as one Journal-isms reader pointed out, Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton have the opposite problem as Obama - they routinely talk about personal responsibility, but the media often report only on their remarks about racism.

It was clear that the White House considered Obama's speech to be major. Seven black journalists from the black press were invited to accompany Obama on Air Force One on his way to New York so he could take their questions, mostly on racial issues. The White House posted a blog by Michael Blake of the Office of Public Engagement, reflecting on "the historic nature of the President's speech to the NAACP."

Robinson told Journal-isms he was supposed to talk with Obama in New York, right before the speech. "But they postponed it a day. I got to talk to him Friday around 4:45 in the Oval Office. I was the only journalist there at the time," and they spoke for about 20 minutes.

"One thing about him is that unlike a lot of politicians, if you ask him a question that comes at a subject from a different direction, he actually engages - rather than just fall back on a canned answer," Robinson said.

The columnist wrote Sunday:

"'Don't underestimate the degree to which a speech like the one I gave yesterday gets magnified throughout the African American community,' Obama told me in the Oval Office, where a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. surveys the room in silent admonition.

'''Folks on Friday go in and get their hair cut, they're getting ready for the weekend, they're sitting in the barber's chair, and somebody said, "Did you see what Obama said yesterday?" It sparks a conversation. . . . And part of what my goal is here is to make sure that I'm giving a lot of folks permission to talk about things that maybe they've talked about around the kitchen table but don't get fully aired in public."

"Obama embodies two trends that have made the African American community increasingly diverse. He is the son of a Kenyan immigrant - at a time when highly educated people from Africa and the Caribbean are coming to this country in record numbers. And he is biracial - the product of a kind of relationship that long was illegal in many states.

"'I think that I would add a third element . . . which is a generational shift,' Obama said. 'If we haven't already reached this point, we're getting close to reaching it, where there are going to be more African Americans in this country who never experienced anything remotely close to Jim Crow than those who lived under Jim Crow. That, obviously, changes perspectives.'

"Said Obama: 'I do think it is important for the African American community, in its diversity, to stay true to one core aspect of the African American experience, which is we know what it's like to be on the outside.

"'If we ever lose that, then I think we're in trouble. Then I think we've lost our way.'"

Charges Dropped Against Henry Louis Gates Jr.

"Prosecutors on Tuesday agreed to drop a disorderly conduct charge against Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. after the noted African-American scholar accused police of racism when he was arrested at his home following a report of a break-in there," NBC News reported, incorporating wire reports.

"In a statement, the city and police department of Cambridge, Mass., said they had 'recommended to the Middlesex County District Attorney that the criminal charge against Professor GatesHenry Louis Gates Jr. 'I'm a black man in America.' not proceed.'

"'This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances,' the statement continued."

Gates "was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling," Tracy Jan reported Monday for the Boston Globe.

"Police arrived at Gates's Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

"He was booked for disorderly conduct after 'exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,' according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had 'no idea who he was messing with,' the report said.

"Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because 'I'm a black man in America.'"

In addition to his Harvard duties, Gates is editor in chief of theRoot.com, and is a an occasional journalist, frequent essayist, and now television documentary producer, exploring such topics as Abraham Lincoln and searches by African Americans for their genealogy.

At 58, Gates is too old to fit the profile of a break-in suspect, but the arrest recalls studies that show that African Americans are overrepresented in stories about crime, sports and entertainment and underrepresented in news about business, politics and stories about everyday life.

A statement from Gates' lawyer, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, posted Monday night on theRoot.com, said Gates "was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled 'Faces of America'. Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company.

"Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates's luggage into his home."

"Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside."

"Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address." [Updated July 21.]

Fox Host Sorry for Comment on Inter-Ethnic Marriage

"Fox & Friends" co-anchor Brian Kilmeade apologized on the air Monday for a statement that, "we [Americans] keep marrying other species and other ethnics . . . Swedes have pure genes . . . in America we marry everybody . . ."

Unity: Journalists of Color and, separately, Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, had blasted the comment as, in the words of Unity, validating, "under the guise of light-hearted humor, the basest of white supremacist ideologies, the notion that white people and non-white people are of different species, with the white race as 'pure.'"

Kilmeade was discussing a study on marriage and Alzheimer's disease conducted in Sweden and Finland. Unity launched a petition drive in protest, gathering 1,196 signatures, Onica Makwakwa, Unity executive director, told Journal-isms.

Returning from vacation, Kilmeade said, he did not intend to offend anyone. "Looking back on those comments, I realize they were inappropriate. I sincerely apologize. America is a huge melting pot and that is what makes us such a great country."

"It was good to see him step up and offer an unequivocal apology," Rafael Olmeda, president of Unity: Journalists of Color, told Journal-isms.

AAJA, Top Staffer Parted Over Response to Economy

Disagreements over how to deal with two issues key to journalists under siege - the economy and jobs - led to the parting of the ways between the Asian American Journalists Association and its executive director, Ellen Endo, Endo told Journal-isms on Monday. 

The disagreements apparently highlighted a feeling among board members that Endo's background and approach to the job turned out not to be what they were looking for. To replace her on an interim basis, the board picked a longtime member familiar with the AAJA culture.

Separately, AAJA National President Sharon Pian Chan said the organization is also losing its deputy executive director, Janice Lee, after AAJA's annual conference next month.Ellen Endo

Endo said the "philosophical differences" cited for her departure - which she said actually took place in mid-May, though it was announced only on Friday - included whether to forge closer ties with other groups in the Asian American community and which organizations from whom to solicit funds.

"Officially, it was a mutual decision" that she should leave, she said.

According to the news release issued when Endo was hired on Dec. 1, "Endo spent 24 years in TV industry senior management positions, serving as executive vice president of Republic Pictures Productions, senior vice president of MGM/UA Television, vice president of Embassy Communications, and program executive with the ABC network. She was instrumental in developing numerous television series, mini-series, and movies, among them the Emmy-winning 'Separate but Equal,' which dramatized the desegregation of schools by Brown vs. the Board of Education, and Golden Globe winner, 'One Against the Wind,' a historic drama set in World War II.

"She also served as managing editor of The Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles Japanese Daily News, and chief operating officer of the nonprofit Go For Broke National Education Center.

"A journalism graduate of the University of Southern California, Endo currently serves on the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association board of directors. She is president of the Little Tokyo Business Association and a member of the Little Tokyo Community Council executive board."

Endo told Journal-isms, "I had hoped to align AAJA with the Asian American community in general. That was facing some resistance. I have been a proponent of Asian issues and community needs most of my life."  But "it wasn't a priority I sensed" from the AAJA leadership.

Maya BlackmunThe board, which changed presidents after Endo was hired, preferred to focus on professional development, a priority this summer for all the journalist-of-color organizations as they seek to prepare members for multimedia jobs or to function on their own in light of the economic turmoil at their workplaces.

With diminishing funding opportunities from media organizations, Endo said she also favored casting a wider net than the AAJA board wanted.

Chan told Journal-isms she "can't say more" about why Endo left, but declared that "AAJA is moving ahead" with the interim executive director, former Portland Oregonian reporter Maya Blackmun, a 1987 graduate of the Maynard Institute's Summer Program for Minority Journalists and a longtime AAJA member.

Chan also said she could not say why the announcement of Endo's departure was delayed until now.

Lee, who has been with AAJA for 5¬? years, said she is spending half her time with Urban Solutions, an urban redevelopment group in San Francisco.

"I'll be full time with them on Aug. 17 as their Development and Communications Director. I have wanted to return to work that directly contributes to community and economic development efforts within San Francisco. In my new position, I'm hoping to be a resource for journalists looking to cover stories about how small businesses can revitalize some of the most distressed neighborhoods across the country," she said via e-mail.

Endo has returned to Los Angeles, where she said she will revive her consulting firm and write as an "examiner" for the Examiner chain of newspapers.

Sonia Sotomayor arrives July 15 for Day 3 of her confirmation hearing. Marisa Trevi?±o wrote, "While the decibel level was civil, it was far from respectful ‚Äî no matter how many times they said they respected her." Others found the hearing "mundane." (Credit: talkradionews)

Sotomayor Hearing Viewed as It Began: With Diversity

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote July 28 on President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, and if the hearings last week are any indication, the preponderance of media commentary will discuss how "civil" and unremarkable the confirmation process was, and there will be no Latino journalists among the commentators.

Yet there will be observers of all races who will have seen in the experience something completely different:

A public assertion of white male privilege and Sotomayor's successful effort to prevail despite it.

"As political theater, the Sonia Sotomayor hearings tanked faster than the 2008 Fred Thompson presidential campaign," Frank Rich wrote Sunday in the New York Times.

"Yet the Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-r?©gime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent."

Rich wasn't the only one who understood the dynamics. The previous Tuesday, his op-ed colleague Maureen Dowd, in a piece headlined, "White Man's Last Stand," was on to the game.

"The judge’s full retreat from the notion that a different life experience is valuable was more than necessary and somewhat disappointing. But, as any clever job applicant knows, you must obscure as well as reveal, so she sidestepped the dreaded empathy questions — even though that’s why the president wants her," Dowd wrote.

Jill Abramson, now a managing editor of the Times, covered the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991, when she worked for the Wall Street Journal. In a cover piece for the Times' "Week in Review" section Sunday, she compared the treatment accorded Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, and the experiences over time of women nominees to the court. Sotomayor would be the court's first Hispanic justice and its third woman.

"History is being made," Abramson wrote. "Though Republicans pushed her into disowning her 'wise Latina' remarks, the full texts of those speeches reveal an interesting generational shift between Judge Sotomayor and the women who preceded her, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg were among a tiny minority of women in their law school classes, and both faced barriers as they broke into the legal profession. (Justice O’Connor was offered secretarial jobs after graduating third in her Stanford Law class in 1952.)." Sotomayor fared better, "but success came at a price."

These writers were miles away from the worldview expressed on the Sunday talk shows. "The Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings were relatively calm, even civil," John King remarked on CNN's "State of the Union," seemingly oblivious to the undercurrents.

In the Washington Post, media writer Howard Kurtz said on Monday, "Sotomayor's rise from a Bronx public housing project was a stirring story at first, but that narrative quickly ran its course. The 'wise Latina' remark had its YouTube moment. With no new revelations to stoke public interest," he called the hearings mundane,

"Mundane" was the last word Sophia A. Nelson, in an essay on theRoot.com, seemed to be thinking of.

"I am not easily angered," she wrote. "But as I watched the second day of confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I grew closer and closer to the stereotype. Angry-black-woman syndrome — hard to get along with, excitable, overly aggressive, difficult, a bully and a badgerer — began to set in."

Added Jill Nelson on niaonline: "I felt disgust and anger listening to questions concerning Sotomayor’s judicial temperament, disposition, and the unrelenting question of whether she could, as a Latino woman from a working class background, be impartial. Sorry, dudes, but the days when you could convince anyone that being white, male, straight and rich was the baseline for being fair and impartial are over."

Boston's Bay State Banner to Accept Loan from City

"The Bay State Banner, Boston’s only black-owned newspaper, plans to accept a $200,000 loan from the city to stay afloat, despite criticism that the money could compromise its impartiality during an election year," Megan Woolhouse reported for the Boston Globe on Saturday.

"Publisher Mel Miller said yesterday that he never met with Mayor Thomas M. Menino to arrange the bailout loan, but when he learned of the offer, decided 'only a fool wouldn’t take it.’

“'Let the Banner fail and deprive the community?’ Miller, 75, asked yesterday. 'That’s just foolish, and I’m not going to do that.’"

The tabloid Boston Herald editorialized against the move on Saturday.

"Will the mayor be there with his checkbook when any other news outlet in this city runs into difficulty? Every other minority-owned business?" it asked.

"Of course not. But as he bids for an historic fifth term it can’t hurt Menino to have a paper that reaches deep into the city’s minority neighborhoods — one that has ripped him, at times mercilessly — owe him a favor.

"If the Banner can live with this arrangement, well, that makes it one of the few news outlets that could. But if the market didn’t support it — a fact common to struggling news outlets all over the United States — why should the government?"

Cronkite Fought for International Press Freedom

"Walter Cronkite had such a profound impact in so many ways that one might overlook an important part of his legacy — his long efforts on behalf of international press freedom and his advocacy on behalf of local journalists around the world," Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote Friday, the day the venerated CBS anchorman died at 92.

"Cronkite was a vital participant in the launch of the Committee to Protect Journalists 28 years ago and, though his title here may have been honorary co-chairman, he was an active force throughout the years."

As one example, Simon cited the organization's attempt to visit apartheid South Africa in 1983, "to persuade South African officials to ease the country's practice of imprisoning journalists and taking other highly repressive steps such as 'banning' them from public life.

"It was a letter from Cronkite to the South African Embassy that secured visas for our delegation. . . . A government official who was so powerful in South Africa that he proudly took credit for approving journalist detentions was in awe of Walter Cronkite."

Harry Porterfield, 81, Let Go From Chicago's WLS-TV

"Anchor and reporter Harry Porterfield, a celebrated Chicago TV fixture for 45 years, the last 24 at WLS-Ch. 7, is leaving the ABC owned-and-operated station at the end of this month, the latest casualty of the revenue crunch that's squeezing the media business," Phil Rosenthal reported Friday inHarry Porterfield the Chicago Tribune.

"Porterfield, 81, most recently has been working four-day weeks and filing his human-interest 'Someone You Should Know' reports twice weekly in addition to hosting occasional 'People, Places & Things You Should Know' specials.

"'Harry has been a legend and a pioneer in Chicago broadcasting,' Emily Barr, Channel 7's president and general manager, said in an interview. 'These are very difficult times and every decision we make is a challenge and, frankly, anguished. I adore Harry. He's a treasure. . . . But because of the economy, we have to be looking at everything. In the last few months, we have looked at other situations and other contracts. Some get renewed. Some don't.'"

Porterfield received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists last year at its Chicago convention.

From NAHJ Convention to a Coup in Honduras

"Parachuting into a foreign crisis can be journalistically treacherous, not least because, out of ignorance, you may get the story wrong. The Herald's Frances Robles, a foreign correspondent with experience in the region, faced a particularly daunting situation as she landed two weeks ago in Honduras, faced with two men claiming to be president and an unusual coup," Edward Schumacher-Matos, ombudsman at the Miami Herald, wrote on Sunday.

Robles told Journal-isms she was at the airport, having just left the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was program chair, when she got a message on her BlackBerry from World Editor John Yearwood, immediate past treasurer of the National Association of Black Journalists.

There had been a coup in Honduras and she needed to get there, he said. It was June 28.

"Robles published separate, exclusive interviews with the military chief, an army attorney and the deputy attorney general that best clarified the army role and captured the curious nature of the 'coup,'" Schumacher-Matos wrote.

Robles, who has since left Honduras, said that one usual aspect of the Honduras situation was the absence of reliable local media. All backed the coup leaders, and their reports reflected that.

Writing about Honduras, Reporters Without Borders last week "condemned targeted censorship by the de facto Honduras government against Venezuelan public television channels Venezolana de Televisi??n (VTV) and Telesur, which had 11 journalists detained then forced to leave the country, on 13 July.

"'The detention and departure of these journalists is yet another step in the selective news blackout that has been imposed since the military coup,' the worldwide press freedom organisation said," according to the group.

Schumacher-Matos wrote that overall, he saw from the Herald "errors common to foreign coverage from Central America. . . . What was missing from someone on The Herald's team was a genuine legal analysis sifting through the claims" about the legitimacy of the coup . . .

"If the coverage did better than most in reporting the military's involvement, it began last week to drift into stereotypical territory about class divisions and poverty in Central America."

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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Comments

Henry Louis Gates IS Samuel L. Jackson, in "Amos and Andrew"!

The arrogant absurdity of the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for being in his own home in the in racially retrograde regions of Boston: you can't make this stuff up! Oh, wait. Yes, you can. The film "Amos and Andrew" with Samuel L. Jackson and Nick Cage. SYNOPSIS: "When Andrew Sterling, a successful black urbanite writer buys a vacation home on a resort in New England the police mistake him for a burglar. After surrounding his home with armed men, Chief Tolliver realizes his mistake..."

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