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In Penn State Uproar, Pitfalls for Journalists

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Poynter Team Calls ESPN Coverage Spotty, Inappropriate

AP "Will Resume" Internship Program — Maybe

Murphy Denies Press Forced Him to Quit Oscar Job

SPJ, AAJA Want Apology Over Mistaken Dog-Meat Story

NABJ Members Honored Smokin' Joe Frazier in August

In Random Poll, Women Say They've Been Harassed at Work

MSNBC Won't Allow Buchanan to Promote Book on Network

Jackson Estate Wants MSNBC to Drop Conrad Murray Film

Vogue Editors, in Rare Photo Shoot, Reveal Lack of Blacks

Comments Prick Screening Audience for Film on Tech Divide

Poynter Team Calls ESPN Coverage Spotty, Inappropriate

Tuesday's Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., featured an editorial that filled the front page.A day before the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal forced the retirement of legendary coach Joe Paterno, the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News devoted its entire front page to an editorial calling on Penn State University President Graham Spanier to step down.

The university's board of trustees did the paper one better. On Wednesday night, the board fired Paterno immediately and accepted Spanier's resignation.

It was a bright spot in media coverage that received mixed grades. "With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal," Jason Fry and Kelly McBride wrote for the Poynter Review Project, a partnership between the sports network and the Poynter Institute offering independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlets.

"Instead, it was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., out in front of the journalism pack. Their reporters managed to track down two mothers of boys Sandusky allegedly abused. And the paper had the leadership to write a front-page editorial calling for Penn State trustees to clean house." (The Patriot-News' Sara Ganim broke the story of the grand jury investigation in March.)

"Meanwhile, the tone of the early ESPN coverage was spotty -- sometimes getting it right, but more often seeming inappropriate. It wasn't until mid-afternoon Tuesday that ESPN finally seemed consistently to ask the right questions and find the appropriate moral outrage. That's 72 hours after the story first broke."

Social media lit up once the trustees acted, and in that venue the Penn State college newspaper, the Daily Collegian, won praise from Twitter followers.

"In wake of the Board of Trustees' decision to dismiss Penn State President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, thousands of students gathered at Old Main at around 10:30 p.m., shouting chants of 'F--- the Trustees' and 'We want Joe,' " according to a Daily Collegian story filed at 11:23 p.m.

". . . During the riot, two light posts were ripped down — one on Beaver and one on College Avenue.

"The crowd also tipped over a WTAJ news van on College Avenue, and continued to walk on top of it. The damage included dented car roofs and shattered back windows."

Before the rush of events Wednesday night, some sportswriters were applying their knowledge of previous scandals. Howard Bryant of ESPN, while working at the Boston Herald, wrote "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston."

Bryant wrote Wednesday in his ESPN column:

"Sports might not be as important as law enforcement or religion, but the betrayal of trust is just as deep. For three decades, the Boston Red Sox employed a sexual predator who solicited sex from the young boys he would hire to work the clubhouse during spring training. It would become common knowledge that Donald Fitzpatrick was dangerous around children. One of his victims alleged that Red Sox players such as Jim Rice and Sammy Stewart would warn the clubhouse kids to avoid Fitzpatrick. When one of the kids confronted Red Sox management in 1971 with the charge that Fitzpatrick had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with them — some as young as 4 years old — in the Red Sox clubhouse and at the Holiday Inn where the team was housed during spring training, the Red Sox followed the Penn State template and more. Not only did the team fail to alert authorities or disassociate from Fitzpatrick but the Red Sox fired the victims who came forward.

"Only in 1991, when another victim, a young aide Fitzpatrick was suspected of recruiting, held up a sign during a nationally televised Red Sox-Angels game that read 'Don Fitzpatrick sexually assaulted me' did the Red Sox act, paying out a $100,000 settlement. After more than 30 years, in 2003, the Red Sox settled a $3.15 million lawsuit with the seven Florida victims. In 2002, Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty in Florida to four counts of sexual battery on a child."

Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, wrote that the scandal "epitomizes the best — and most challenging — moment for sports journalists."

"In this environment, some argue the press is forgetting the man charged with committing the molestation — a 32-year veteran of Paterno’s staff with access to the campus after his retirement in 1999," Deggans wrote Wednesday for Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center.

"With so many stories on Paterno’s fate, including a New York Times piece definitively stating he will not coach another season for the Nittany Lions, keeping the story in perspective with time spent on the alleged perpetrator and victims may be crucial.

"Another issue is identification of the victims. Though journalists avoid naming victims of sexual assault, especially when they are minors, at least some of the victims are adults now, including a ninth person police said came forward with molestation allegations Tuesday.

"Given the incendiary charges, journalists will be rushing to identify the victims and try to get interviews detailing their allegations. The tough decisions will come if no victims agree to speak on the record.

"Will news outlets reveal their names anyway, as happened with Karen Kraushaar, the woman who received payment from the National Restaurant Association after alleging sexual harassment issues with then-CEO-turned-GOP candidate Herman Cain? And is that such a momentous decision at a time when such information is often widely available through bloggers and Twitter posts, anyway?

But the toughest issue comes, Deggans said, when considering longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, "who has not yet been convicted of a crime, despite serious allegations contained in the grand jury report.

"Despite most sports anchors’ talents for superficial bluster, real sports journalists must keep in mind that even those charged with the most heinous of crimes with the biggest mountains of evidence are not guilty until proven so in a court of law.

"Retaining some semblance of objectivity while reporting on a scandal, which feels like the biggest administrative failure in the recent history of college football, may be the biggest challenge of all for a sports media increasingly addicted to the heat of hot topics."

AP "Will Resume" Internship Program — Maybe

In December 2010, The Associated Press confirmed that it was suspending the 26-year-old internship program that has launched the careers of many a successful journalist , but said it would restart the program in 2012.

"We will resume an internship program in 2012, which will have the same focus on diversity, and also resume our attendance at recruitment conventions," spokesman Paul D. Colford said then.

A Nov. 2 notice on the AP's "Careers" Web page is not so definitive:

"Pending completion of a budgetary review this fall, internship programs at The Associated Press and attendance at journalism recruitment conventions remain on hiatus, as we continue to focus our financial resources on our essential core businesses," it reads.

Asked to explain, Colford told Journal-isms Wednesday, "As the notice says, the budgetary review is under way."

Murphy Denies Press Forced Him to Quit Oscar Job

Eddie MurphyComic actor Eddie Murphy's publicist denied Wednesday that Murphy's past routines disparaging gays — pointed out by at least one columnist — played any role in the comedian's decision to relinquish the host spot for the next Academy Awards show.

"Absolutely not." Arnold Robinson told Journal-isms by email. "As the statement reads, it was a decision solely based on the change of the producers of the show."

Producer Brett Ratner resigned on Tuesday "in the wake of vulgar public statements that incensed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," according to a story from KTLA-TV and Reuters.

". . . Ratner apologized on Monday in a statement, calling his use of the word 'fag' as 'a dumb way of expressing myself.' "

On the FishbowlLA website, Richard Horgan wrote, "In the wake of Brett Ratner‘s resignation as co-producer of the 84th Academy Awards, FishbowlLA wondered how long it would take for a prominent journalist to raise the issue of Eddie Murphy‘s full F-word rant in 'Delirious,'

" We now have the answer–this morning, New York Times media columnist David Carr touches on the comedian’s Mr.T-Honeymooners opening bit, suggesting that the routine makes Ratner seem 'positively refined by contrast.' "

Carr wrote, "Perhaps the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences thinks it has inoculated itself against exposure to homophobia, but we’d ask, have they forgotten 'Delirious,' Mr. Murphy’s famously scabrous rant against all things gay? And no, we aren’t posting a clip, thank you. Mr. Ratner, whose coarseness is legendary, seems positively refined by contrast."

Murphy withdrew on Wednesday morning.

As the KTLA-Reuters story continued, "things went from bad to worse for Ratner during an appearance on the Howard Stern show.

"On the show Ratner apologized for other recent comments in which he implied he had a relationship with actress Olivia Munn, who, he told Stern, was just a friend.

"But in the process the conversation veered into a discussion of sex, masturbation, cunnilingus ('I'm probably the best in the world at it'), pubic hair, the size of his testicles, the sex habits of Hollywood moguls, condoms (he doesn't like them but now he uses them) and how he sends women to his doctor to be checked for sexually-transmitted diseases 'before I go all the way.' "

Murphy, who accepted the hosting job at Ratner's request, said in his statement, "First and foremost I want to say that I completely understand and support each party's decision with regard to a change of producers for this year's Academy Awards ceremony. I was truly looking forward to being a part of the show that our production team and writers were just starting to develop, but I'm sure that the new production team and host will do an equally great job."

SPJ, AAJA Want Apology Over Mistaken Dog-Meat Story

James Schugel"The Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists agrees with the Asian American Journalists Association of Minnesota chapter that WCCO-TV is woefully unresponsive in reaction to an errant news segment aired October 31, 2011," the SPJ chapter said on Wednesday.

"The news report made a serious mistake, inaccurately stating dogs from Minnesota were shipped to New York where they were butchered for meat. The story relied on a misunderstanding with a Chinese meat market owner further perpetuating an unfortunate stereotype. Responsible journalism methods could have prevented the mistake, but it appears the newsroom is too willing to hear only what would make a sensational story. The story prompted a state investigation into the meat market that found no evidence the business used dog meat."

In a comedy of errors, WCCO reporter James Schugel asked a worker whether his Chinatown store sold dog meat, but the worker thought Schugel said "duck." Then the reporter misunderstood his response, thinking the worker said, 'Yes, we sell dog.' " WCCO has taken down the video of its story from its website — but kept the text posted, backdated with a 2008 timestamp — and has steadfastly said it has no comment.

The SPJ statement continued, "WCCO cannot undo the harm inflicted by airing the story. However, the editors and managers of the station can improve their own credibility and the esteem of all professional journalists by being upfront and transparent from here on out. If a newsroom publishes an incorrect story, it is imperative to acknowledge the mistake and issue a correction and an apology to those the story harmed. Not doing so makes it harder for all journalists working to win the respect of the public they serve."

Kiki Rosatti, director of communications for WCCO, a CBS affiliate, told Journal-isms again Wednesday that the station would have no comment.

Joe Frazier accepts the Pioneer Award of the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force in Philadelphia on Aug. 5. (Video)

NABJ Members Honored Smokin' Joe Frazier in August

Sportswriters who covered former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who died Monday at 67 after fighting liver cancer, recalled the champ in news articles and commentary on Wednesday, with members of the National Association of Black Journalists having a more immediate recollection: They honored Frazier at their August convention in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists issued a statement thanking "Mr. Frazier for his support over the years. Not only was he an amazing championship fighter, but Smokin' Joe always gave back as an member of the Philly community.

"Mr. Frazier supported PABJ by donating gloves and signed prints for the PABJ scholarship auction. The proceeds helped students go to college to study journalism. In August 2011, Mr. Frazier was honored by the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force with a Pioneer Award at the NABJ convention in Philadelphia. PABJ extends heartfelt sympathies to the Frazier family."

  • Jerry Bembry, WYPR, Baltimore: Joe Frazier Tribute:

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In Random Poll, Women Say They've Been Harassed at Work

Mary Curtis"The women who have accused GOP contender Herman Cain of sexual harassment have agreed to hold a joint news conference to air their stories, one of their attorneys said Wednesday, a move that could fuel a controversy that has dogged the businessman’s campaign for more than a week," James V. Grimaldi and Perry Bacon Jr. reported Wednesday night for the Washington Post.

"Joel P. Bennett, who represents federal employee Karen Kraushaar, 55, said in an interview that he was planning the news conference with Gloria Allred, who represents Chicago homemaker Sharon Bialek, 50. Details of the joint appearance have not yet been worked out, Bennett said."

With polls showing most Republicans dismissing the harassment allegations that have roiled Cain’s campaign, Melinda Henneberger, former editor-in-chief of AOL's defunct Politics Daily, decided to survey women on the topic in her new role as part of the national political team at the Washington Post.

"Maybe the most telling thing Herman Cain’s accuser, Sharon Bialek, said in front of the TV cameras on Monday was that last sentence: Tell the truth, she implored her fellow Republican, 'so that you and the country can move forward and focus on the real issues at hand,' " Henneberger wrote on Wednesday. "Even a woman willing to step in front of a camera and talk about sexual harassment fell back on language that suggests it’s not a real issue, but one that ought to be hurried past on our way to more important, substantive matters.

". . . I asked half a dozen writers for the women’s blog The Post is soon launching to ask the first few women they happened to run into today — at the gym, on the street or in line for coffee — whether they’d ever been sexually harassed at work. Of 23 women in eight different cities, 16 said yes and seven no.

". . . Several of the women who will be contributing to the blog also described on-the-job experiences ranging from an unwanted kiss at a holiday party to a long coerced affair to attempted rape. Another, Washington radio reporter Jamila Bey, remembers the Saturday morning early in her career, when she asked the only other person in the newsroom that day to look over a script. When he called her over into his office to talk about the changes, she said, 'I realized that his pants were down and he was masturbating. I backed out and locked myself in the studio.'

"Though not a student herself, the station was located on a college campus. 'I lodged a complaint to campus police who took my statement. By Monday, when I went back to campus police, I was blamed for going into his office alone.' The man in question soon quit, she said, but he is now a successful television reporter who 'has never had to account for anything about that day.' "

Another on the blog-writing team, veteran journalist Mary Curtis, "said it bothers her, too, to hear commentators behave as though harassment is just too darned hard to define: 'I might have been young and naive, away from home for the first time, but there was no mistaking the intentions of the professor who promised an A if I delivered my term paper to his apartment and stayed for dinner and drinks. I might have been new to the job, but I knew a supervisor’s groping was more than a clumsy attempt to make me feel welcome. That instance might have qualified as assault.'

"Did she report it? 'No, to my regret, I never did. Each time, I did the calculation and decided I was afraid of the price I might pay. But the anger that has shaken me as I occasionally recall details years later ended up costing me plenty.' "

MSNBC Won't Allow Buchanan to Promote Book on Network

"Pat Buchanan, the longtime conservative pundit, has been making the TV rounds in recent weeks promoting his latest book, 'Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?' " Michael Calderone wrote Tuesday for the Huffington Post. "He's sat down with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs and former Fox News star Glenn Beck, who now hosts a two-hour program on his GBTV online network.

"But one network on which Buchanan hasn't talked up the book is the one that actually employs him, MSNBC. Buchanan, a former Republican presidential speechwriter who later ran for the White House as a fiery populist candidate, hasn't appeared on MSNBC since Oct. 22, a few days after his book hit the shelves. The book, however, wasn't discussed.

". . . Buchanan argues in 'Suicide of a Superpower' that 'ethnonationalism' is tearing the United States apart and that the 'European and Christian core of our country is shrinking.'

". . . MSNBC declined to comment for this article. However, an MSNBC executive said that the network is taking the concerns [of critics] seriously, while contending there had been a conscious decision — predating any outside criticism — not to have Buchanan on air promoting the book. The issue at hand, the executive said, was the views expressed in the book rather than any policy against promoting books written by on-air talent. Although Buchanan made one appearance since the book was published, it was not discussed on air."

Jackson Estate Wants MSNBC to Drop Conrad Murray Film

"Executors for the estate of Michael Jackson demanded Wednesday that MSNBC drop its plan to air a 'reprehensible' documentary that promises a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the singer's relationship with Dr. Conrad Murray, but which they charged smears the late pop icon," James Rainey and Harriet Ryan wrote Wednesday for the Los Angeles Times.

"In a letter to MSNBC President Phil Griffin and the cable channel's corporate overseers, the Jackson representatives argued that Murray, convicted Monday of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death, uses the documentary 'to shift the blame post-conviction to Michael Jackson, even though a jury considered the evidence and rejected this very argument.'

"MSNBC purchased 'Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship' from a British production company and plans to air it Friday and Monday night, along with an 'exclusive' interview with Murray by NBC News correspondent Savannah Guthrie."

Although there a handful of women of color represented (Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indian) at a photo shoot for Vogue's 17 international edition editors, there are no editors of African descent. (Credit: HuffPost BlackVoices)

Vogue Editors, in Rare Photo Shoot, Reveal Lack of Blacks

"Last week Vogue's 17 international edition editors gathered in Japan to celebrate Tokyo's Fashion's Night Out and sit for a rare photo opportunity," Julee Wilson reported Monday for HuffPost BlackVoices.

"The photo may be an iconic picture for most (it's rare to have all the editors in one room together), but it's also a glaring snapshot of the lack of diversity within the publishing industry.

"Although there a handful of minorities represented (Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indian), there are no editors of African [descent] — which is no surprise.

"It's rare to find the names of black editors on the mastheads of the world's top mainstream publications. In fact, the names can fit in one paragraph.

". . . Constance White, the current editor-in-chief of Essence, once voiced her concerns about the lack of diversity in publishing and fashion at a roundtable:

" 'We can do a better job of integrating the industry. It's suspiciously still very white bread. You can go into a fashion gathering and be one of a handful or the only dark-skinned person in the room. And same can't be said of say the music industry. We're getting used to seeing blacks in powerful roles in music. This is not the case in fashion. As a fashion journalist, you're an arbiter. I think there's still a prejudice and a lack of sophistication about seeing a black person as a gatekeeper of style.' "

Comments Prick Screening Audience for Film on Tech Divide

"At the New York screening of the latest 'Black in America' installment last night, CNN host Soledad O’Brien told the audience that the documentary is a head-on look at a topic that usually 'makes you squirm,' ” Merrill Knox wrote Wednesday for TVNewser. 

"O’Brien wasn’t exaggerating. Advanced screenings of 'The New Promised Land: Inside Silicon Valley,' which follows eight black entrepreneurs . . . as they attempt to launch technology companies in an industry that is overwhelmingly white and male, have set off a recent media firestorm.

"In the middle of it is blogger-turned-investor Michael Arrington, who says in the documentary that he does not know a single black entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. (Arrington claims he was 'ambushed'; O’Brien responded last week, saying their interview was 'pleasant.')

"In a panel discussion after the screening, O’Brien invited Clarence Wooten . . ., a black entrepreneur who launched his company at a TechCrunch event, to respond. In the documentary, Arrington says Wooten 'could have launched a clown show on stage, and I would have put him up there,' a comment that was greeted with jeers from a lively audience at the Tribeca Grill Screening Room.

" 'When I heard the comment, or read the comment, because I didn’t really see it, I heard it initially on CNN Money — I was shocked,' Wooten said. 'Immediately, I called him and I’m like, "WTF?" And Mike told me it was a long interview, and initially he was caught off guard."

CNN debuts the program Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times, repeating on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times on CNN/U.S.

Jason Samuels is lead producer for "The New Promised Land," Cameo George is senior producer, Kimberly Arp-Babbit is producer and Dave Matthews is associate producer. Geraldine Moriba is executive producer for the "In America" unit.

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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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