Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Opinion Writers Puzzle Over Obama's Nobel

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Returning Oct. 14

President Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. "Let me be clear," he said, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations." 

Some Agree With President That Award Is Down Payment

Naomi Klein, the left-of-center author who shared her views on the Pacifica Radio show "Democracy Now!" was on one end. Michael Steele, the African American chairman of the Republican National Committee, was on the other. In evaluating Friday's surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, opinion journalists stood somewhere between them.

Actually, Klein and Steele were closer than we might expect.

"It's been cheapened before, and it will . . . be cheapened again," Klein told "Democracy Now!" host Juan Gonzalez, columnist for the New York Daily News. "And even just listening to the rationale that, despite overwhelming evidence, they're giving this prize in the hopes that it will change Obama's mind or encourage him to do things he hasn't done - this is a candidate that ran a campaign that was much more based on hope and wishful thinking than it was on concrete policy. So we have hopes being piled on hope and wishful thinking."

Klein went on to excoriate the Obama administration on climate change and on Israel-Palestine relations.

On the other side, Steele said in a statement, 'The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' It is unfortunate that the president's star power has [outshone] tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain - President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.'

Many journalists had time only for a blog post. Others managed columns or editorials. They agreed the honor was unexpected for a president as new on the job. But most called it a plus.

"The surprise in Oslo makes last week's Olympic disappointment in Copenhagen a distant memory for the president," Jonathan Capehart, editorial writer for the Washington Post, wrote in a brief blog post.

"Realistically," blogged Cynthia Tucker, columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is unlikely to prompt China to cooperate on Iran or to affect the White House war council as it deliberates on Afghanistan. It won't help the momentum very much. Nevertheless, it's quite an honor, and President Obama deserves hearty congratulations."

The Seattle Times posted a podcast of editorial writers Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey debating the prize.

Commentator Roland S. Martin was favorable in his syndicated column, posted Friday. He quoted from the Nobel Committee's statement: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. . . ."

"'Hope for a better future' - that, folks, is the key line," Martin said.

"In many ways, the 2008 presidential election was more about the future than the past - more about hope of what we could and should be rather than the status quo.

"His haters will say that he's unworthy and that he hasn't accomplished enough to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But maybe the real question they want answered - and only he can - isn't 'what have you done for me lately?' but 'what are you prepared to do?'"

The Philadelphia Inquirer, led by Editorial Page Editor Harold Jackson, likewise was favorable: "The rest of America should see the president's award as a message to us that the world craves U.S. leadership but wants it to be offered by a partner who listens, not a soloist who can't be bothered with other points of view. The world sees that type of leader in Obama, and that's good."

The Rockford (Ill.) Register-Star, sharing an upcoming editorial with the National Conference of Editorial Writers' e-mail list, wrote: "What makes us feel hopeful about Obama being awarded the Nobel Prize is that others feel hopeful. Or, as one editorial page editor wrote on a group e-mail to colleagues across the country, 'These Nobel judges presumably aren't idiots or living in a bubble. Did anyone see it from their point of view?' "

Fraser Robinson III and his wife, Marian, with their children, Craig and Michelle, now the first lady. (Credit: Barack Obama Campaign)

Story Establishes Michelle Obama's Mixed Ancestry

Rachel L. Swarns"Here are the top three reasons why yesterday's front page New York Times story on First Lady Michelle Obama's family history is a watershed in American journalism," media writer Amy L. Alexander wrote Thursday in her online column:

"1) It demonstrates in clear, unadorned language and images how present the 'peculiar institution' — slavery — remains within our body politic.

"2) It belies the widespread if unspoken belief among top news editors and publishers (and the awards and fellowship committees that laud them) that white journalists are better equipped than black journos to deliver 'serious' reports about race, and the history of racism in America. No, I am not hating on the authors of 'The Race Beat,' which received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, or on Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi, who recently received a MacArthur 'genius' grant for his reporting on Civil Rights era racial crimes. I simply point out that black journalists at legacy media organizations . . . rarely enjoy the same latitude — and frankly the trust — of white editors and publishers that would allow them to focus on such coverage.

"3) It throws a big bucket of water over the prevailing, shockingly dumb idea that inexperienced, under-paid bloggers and 'citizen journalists' can match well-paid, experienced, ethical journalists at producing accurate, well-written, exquisitely contextualized work that resonates beyond the 24 hour news cycle."

Alexander was commenting on "In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery" by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor, which traced Michelle Obama's ancestry back to Melvinia Shields, an enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her two years before the Civil War.

Swarns told Journal-isms the idea for the story originated with genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who had worked with the Times on an inauguration piece by Kantor about the diversity in the Obama family and kept on digging.  For this story, Swarns interviewed people who knew Michelle Obama's forebears in Birmingham, Ala.

"Lots and lots of readers" have contacted her, many calling it "such an American story."

Columnists Call for Action on Deadly Teen Violence

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday used Chicago and a graphic video of the beating of a Fenger High School student to call for a 'national conversation' about a 'plague' of teen violence that has infected the country," Rosalind Rossi reported Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Duncan, a Chicago native and former Chicago Public Schools CEO, also brought promises of money for President Obama's adopted hometown: an infusion of $500,000 in federal emergency dollars to stabilize Fenger and its surrounding elementary schools in the wake of 16-year-old Derrion Albert's death."

But Albert's was only the latest killing. Opinion writers issued calls to action.

"It's 'just us' who are doing the killing. We are killing each other. African Americans must admit that, confront and claim responsibility for that, if we ever hope to turn the tide," Laura Washington wrote in the Sun-Times.

"We don't want to air our dirty laundry. Bill Cosby tried and was crucified. Obama can't go there. But we must. It's just us."

"Holder assessed the situation as a 'crisis,' wrote Betty Winston Bay?© in the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal. "But crisis implies something that is temporary or perhaps brand new, not the static condition that caused a young man, who graduated last year from Derrion Albert's school, to say of the violence, 'This is every day for us, and if he hadn't died the media wouldn't be here.'

"What an indictment of the powers that be."

Ruben Navarrette on, and Errol Louis in the New York Daily News went after the president. "There is plenty for Obama to say about this tragedy in the Windy City," Navarrette said on Oct. 2. "And the longer the president waits before he starts talking, the more damage he does to his reputation, even among some of his most ardent supporters."

Louis wrote on Thursday, "Big thinkers like Elijah Anderson at Yale and John DiIulio at the University of Pennsylvania have gone through reams of data and intensive studies of ghetto violence. I particularly like DiIulio's call to deputize, deploy and fund 55,000 churches nationwide to aggressively adopt, mentor and train inner-city kids.

"We have lots of good ideas and good people waiting to tackle youth violence. They can succeed — but only if they get funding and support for action, not conversation."

Center on Disability, Journalism Sets Up at Arizona State

"The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is the new home for the National Center on Disability & Journalism," the school has announced.

"The NCDJ provides resources, including a style guide and reporter tip sheet and source list, for journalists covering people with disabilities. The center’s Web site, hosted at the Cronkite School, also provides a forum for journalists and people with disabilities to share and comment on news coverage.

"The center was launched in 1998 in San Francisco as the Disability Media Project to raise awareness of how the news media cover people with disabilities. In 2000, the center’s name was changed to the National Center on Disability & Journalism, and it operated for a time out of Boston. In 2008, the center’s board decided to seek an affiliation with a university journalism program. The center has an office in the new Cronkite building in downtown Phoenix and is staffed by Cronkite graduate student Jake Geller, who himself has a disability. Cronkite Assistant Dean Kristin Gilger oversees the center.

"Gilger says the news media have lagged behind in coverage of disabilities. At least 19 percent of the U.S. population has some kind of disability, defined by the American with Disabilities Act as 'a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.'"

Black, Latino Groups Ready to Get Loud on Health Care

"In the debate over revamping the health-care system, there are the doctors and nurses, the insurance companies and industry lobbyists, and the patients with preexisting conditions, among others," Krissah Williams wrote Thursday in the Washington Post. "With so many interest groups, the conversation is loud and getting louder."

"Missing from the noise so far: the voices of minorities, who are disproportionately represented among the poor and uninsured and could benefit the most from reform, and who are more likely than others to have chronic illnesses such as diabetes. They are symbols of the failures of the current system.

"Starting this week, however, with a new campaign and new ads, their voices will become a larger part of the debate.

"Leaders of black and Latino advocacy groups say that because so many of their members favor health-care reform, they are becoming more forceful as the final drafts near, even though they are reluctant to make race and ethnicity a central issue."

N.Y. Black Journalists "Dismayed" by Guzman Firing

Sandra GuzmanThe New York Association of Black Journalists says it is dismayed by the dismissal of Sandra Guzman, editor of the New York Post's Tempo section and only one of two managers of color at the tabloid. "We are further disturbed to hear the firing took place as the Post interviews candidates for a similar position at the paper's city desk, which remains open. If financial reasons were the only motive for Ms. Guzman’s departure then at the very least it seems, she would have been offered an opportunity to move to that available spot. This did not happen and no such offer was made before she was shown the door," said a statement from Zachary R. Dowdy, the organization's vice president or print, and Gary Anthony Ramsay, the NYABJ president.

"We do remember that Ms. Guzman was the only manager at the New York Post to express objections over the now infamous 'monkey shooting' cartoon at the publication several months ago. It is our hope that this job action is not some delayed reprisal for her position, which was later shared by the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch."

"There is an industry-wide concern the current economic crisis affecting newsrooms everywhere is being used as a cover for politically-motivated dismissals. We ask that News Corporation, the parent company of the New York Post, take a look at this situation. They have said to us they are committed to diversity. Firing a qualified and experienced editor of color when a comparable position is open does not seem to fit that mission statement."

In a controversial decision four months after the Post caused an uproar with its cartoon of a chimpanzee that many took to be the president, the New York Association of Black Journalists accepted $10,000 in underwriting from the Post's parent company.

Pakistani Journalists Lack Battle Protection

"The fighting along the border in Pakistan is a classic counter-insurgency: a large military force trying to oust an entrenched group from its base. Such armed conflict will always be risk-filled — especially for local journalists — but government leaders, military officials, and media executives can take basic steps to improve security," Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote in the fifth part of a series on journalists and the war in Pakistan.

"Pakistani journalists have long asked that their employers supply safety training and protective gear for combat situations. Some news organizations did offer employees protective gear when fighting escalated this year, but the vast majority of reporters (particularly those not embedded with the military) were left to fend for themselves. Many journalists told me that even full-time staff members for prominent, profit-making news organizations were sent into the field without protective equipment. Pakistani news organizations should equip all staff deployed in hostile environments with training and equipment that meets internationally recognized standards."

Short Takes

  • The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has told members that "if we do not raise more funds now, NAHJ will have to cease operations and stop all programs for the rest of the year." NAHJ President O. Ricardo Pimentel said, "By now you know that cuts in funding from sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers as well as registration at our annual convention have left NAHJ with a $300,000 budget shortfall. To date we have raised over $75,000 to close that gap," which was announced¬†in July.

  • The National Association of Black Journalists Thursday announced¬†a "100 Members in 100 Days" lifetime membership campaign to help resolve its financial problems. "The campaign has already received commitments from campaign chairman and NABJ Secretary Roland Martin, a CNN/ TV One analyst, as well as NBC Universal's Executive Vice President of Diversity, Paula Madison, TV One CEO/President Johnathan Rodgers, USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, and Boston Globe Senior Assistant Sports Editor Gregory Lee," NABJ said.

  • Michael Vick"He's out of prison, back in the NFL, and now Michael Vick is going to star in his own television series," Greg Braxton wrote¬†Wednesday for the Los Angeles Times. "The quarterback, who took his first regular-season pro snap just two weeks ago after serving 18 months in prison, is partnering with BET for a new eight-part docu-series scheduled to air early next year. The program, tentatively titled 'The Michael Vick Project,' spotlights his controversial comeback with the Philadelphia Eagles while also examining his tumultuous past ‚Äî including his troubled childhood and his 2007 arrest for running a dogfighting ring."

  • "September witnessed the birth of 71 new magazines from which 18 are published with a frequency of four times or higher," Samir A. Husni, known as "Mr. Magazine," wrote last week on his blog. "The total number of magazines that have started in the first nine months in this year of doom and gloom has reached 528 and counting. Compare that to a grand total of 685 new magazines for the entire 2008 calendar year. From the 528 new magazines at least 138 titles have a frequency of four times or more."¬†In 2004, Husni said¬†that 60 percent of magazines fail in their first year, 80 percent¬†by their fourth year, and 90 percent¬†by their tenth.

  • "Mike Stefani, the lawyer who shepherded the police whistle-blower case that led to the downfall of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, testified this afternoon that he gave a copy of Kilpatrick‚Äôs incriminating text messages to the Detroit Free Press 'for safekeeping' in October 2007," M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer wrote Thursday in the Free Press.

  • "It seemed pretty grim at the time. But Gregg Primus says he owes his business acumen to the boss who sacked him after nine years spent as a photographer at Fort Worth-based NBC5," Dallas area television writer Ed Bark wrote Thursday on his blog. "We're talking in the low overhead corporate headquarters of Just DVD It!, which Primus, 53, has operated out of his home for the past couple of years. Bring him your oldie, moldy VHS or Beta tapes, and he'll put them on a shiny disc."

  • From Miami, John Henry Smith"John Henry Smith, WPLG sports anchor and reporter, is joining WVUE, the FOX affiliate in New Orleans," the Web site SFLTV reported¬†on Wednesday. "He will replace Sports Direct Eric Richey who is leaving the station to focus on his morning sports show at WIST-AM. John Henry Smith‚Äôs contract with WPLG wasn‚Äôt renewed and he left the station in July of 2009."

  • Six journalists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela were winners in the second edition of the ‚ÄúLatin America and the Millennium Development Goals‚Äù Journalism Award, according¬†to the United Nations Development Programme¬†and the news agency Inter Press Service. The $1,000 first prize went to the series ‚ÄúTereso es el ejemplo‚Äù (Tereso Is Just One Example), written by Mario Alejandro Mu?±oz, journalist with the Mexican newspaper El Informador. "The series, which covers the death of a young indigenous man forsaken by his family and the State, constitutes a harsh portrayal of poverty in Mexico." Some 461 stories were submitted.

  • In Congo, "reporter Jolly Kamuntu is more than eight months pregnant, but she joined hundreds of Congolese journalists today in nationwide protest marches against insecurity and threats," Mohamed Hassim Keita reported Thursday for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Kamuntu, who is based in Bukavu, where three reporters have been murdered since 2007, was cited recently in an anonymous text message threatening to kill her and two other local journalists, Delphie Namuto and Caddy Adzuba, if they did not stop 'interfering in what does not concern them.'‚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.

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