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Poor Writing, Race and a Suspect History

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Columnist Richard Cohen Hoist With His Own Petard

"$200 for Every Red-Skin Sent to Purgatory"

Black Press Group Says NFL Neglects Black Businesses

Philippines Knocked Off Some Far East Front Pages

Tanzina Vega Named to New N.Y. Times Race Beat

LatinoVoices Picks 13 "Top Young Latinos" in Newsrooms

AAJA Wants to "Remain Engaged" With Ex-Unity Groups

China Joins Critics of Kimmel Show; Disney Should Worry

Short Takes

The growing spotlight on the family of New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio prompted Washington Post column

Columnist Richard Cohen Hoist With His Own Petard

In the end, it did not seem to matter whether Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist, was a victim of poor wording and poor editing. His past spoke more loudly.

Cohen, 72, has been a columnist at the Post since 1976, more than enough time to have built up a reservoir of comments viewed as anti-black. That overshadowed his protests that he is no racist and that his comments about interracial marriage have been willfully misinterpreted.

"There are four, and only four, Richard Cohen columns," Alex Pareene wrote Tuesday for Salon in an essay headlined, "Richard Cohen: Please fire me."

"1. Boring conventional political column

"2. Inscrutable, unfunny joke column

"3. 'I am scared of black people' column

"4. 'I am shocked and outraged that people called me racist/idiotic/humorless' column."

In a commentary Monday about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Cohen included this paragraph about the ideological perspective of conservative Republicans:

"Today's GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn't look like their country at all."

Richard Cohen (Credit: Goodale/YouTube)

"I don't understand it," Cohen told the Post's Paul Farhi in a story about the furor the column drew, particularly for its characterization of "people with conventional views."

"What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don't have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them. It's a slander" to suggest otherwise. "This is just below the belt. It's a purposeful misreading of what I wrote."

Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, took some of the blame. "Anyone reading Richard's entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage," Farhi quoted Hiatt as saying. "But Hiatt takes some of the heat himself, saying, 'I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted,' " Farhi wrote.

In fact, Hiatt was not the column's only editor. "He is edited first by the Washington Post Writers Group, which then sends his column to subscribing newspapers, including ours," Hiatt told Journal-isms by email. "We then have copy editors who review. But ultimately I am responsible for what appears on our oped page."

Hiatt said that "a couple" of other journalists during the day asked for comment, nowhere near the number of writers who condemned Cohen without asking whether they read what they thought they did.

Nor did the 60 clients who receive Cohen's column from the Washington Post Writers Group, according to Alan Shearer, its chief executive officer and editorial director. "Asked at the staff meeting and we haven't yet heard anything from client editors or readers," Shearer told Journal-isms by email Wednesday. "It might be early because frequently clients publish columns later in the week. No way of knowing how many have published it so far."

It could be that Cohen's self-admitted poorly worded passage got past editors because it seemed consistent with his previous views.

"This latest column isn't his worst transgression," Post reader A'Lelia Bundles, an author and former network news producer , wrote on Facebook. "His column last week about '12 Years a Slave' was just as bad because he sounded so uninformed and perhaps willfully unenlightened.

"Really? Seeing that movie was the first time he understood how horrible slavery was? Hard to believe that a man who has written so much about the Holocaust didn't make at least a little pivot to find some parallels between these two crimes against humanity. And then there are the other columns that reflect a rather retrogressive view of women, young black men, etc. I'd be interested to know what part of the Washington Post readership is clamoring for him to stay. My guess is not many, though he'll get some newfound defenders, not because they really agree with most of his views, but because they resent the accusation of racism."

There have been other dust-ups. Farhi noted in his piece, "Cohen, for example, got a vehemently negative reaction this summer when he touched on George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin by writing: 'I don't like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize.'

"Perhaps his most infamous column was one in the Sunday Magazine in 1986 — Cohen has been writing a column for The Post since 1976 — that suggested that Georgetown store owners were justified in locking out young black customers because they were afraid of being robbed. That column helped inspire a campaign by local radio personality Cathy Hughes in which outraged readers dumped copies of the magazine at The Post's front door."

For Mother Jones, Matt Connolly listed "Richard Cohen's 10 Worst Moments, Counted Down."

Connolly overlooked Cohen's columns linking the New York Times scandal over Jayson Blair's plagiarism and fabrications to Blair's race. "The answer appears to be precisely what the Times denies: favoritism based on race," Cohen wrote in a 2003 column headlined "Blind Spot at N.Y. Times." "Blair is black, and the Times, like other media organizations, is intent on achieving diversity. Sometimes this noble and essential goal comes down to a parody of affirmative action. That seems to be the case with Blair. . . ."

The Cohen column controversy even found its way into Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central Wednesday night, in a skit called "Racist or Not Racist?" -->. It also landed on Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" -->. On Twitter, a hashtag was created, #firerichardcohen.

If any good is to come from the latest brouhaha, perhaps one aspect is a discussion of the acceptability of interracial marriage. "A July poll from Gallup finds that 87 percent of Americans approve — up from 4 percent in 1959," Ezra Klein wrote for the Post. But TaRessa Stovall, a biracial journalist who blogs at, says not to be misled.

"I will challenge everyone every chance I get for acting like the sight of an interracial couple or family or their offspring automatically generate a flood of warm-and-fuzzy feelings," she wrote to her Facebook friends. "Puh-leeze! It is still controversial. Still pushes buttons. Still freaks folks out. Many folks. I'm not pointing fingers at individuals; growing numbers of folk don't like it but are reluctantly accepting. Others are truly either neutral or indifferent. But not the majority, and it has nothing to do with party affiliations, tea or otherwise. Just be real, please. These issues are too, too urgent and the consequences far too serious for anything else. Thank you!"

A second takeaway might be the importance of good writing and editing, increasingly — and unfortunately — viewed as optional in the Internet age. The Cohen flap comes a week after CNN anchor Don Lemon was excoriated over a "Tom Joyner Show" radio commentary about New York's stop-and-frisk policy. Lemon said his position was misinterpreted.

Journal-isms asked members of the Association of Opinion Journalists last week if they had advice for Lemon.

"This piece needed an editor," messaged Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor of the Times Union in Albany, N.Y. "If he isn't working with an editor, he should find a colleague he can at least bounce pieces off and trust to give him honest feedback.

"Second (and an editor or colleague might or might not have told him this), sometimes what you think is a great line is not. 'Would you rather be politically correct or safe and alive' is a snappy byte — if you're defending stop and frisk. It is a loaded question that implies that the commentator looks down on political correctness. No wonder he found himself taken to task on social media by people who misinterpreted his opinion.

"I'd add that everyone needs an editor; I'm an editor but I write any number of editorials a week and always have another editor read them, not just for typos and errors but the whole range of critique including clarity of message."

Dallas Goldtooth, Dakota, from Minnesota, posted on Facebook a newspaper clippin

"$200 for Every Red-Skin Sent to Purgatory"

" 'It was only five generations ago that a white man could get money for one of my grandfather's scalps,' writes Dallas Goldtooth on a Facebook post," Rachael Johnson wrote Wednesday for Indian Country Today Media Network. "At this time…it was 'Redskin' that was used to describe us.'

"To the left of Goldtooth's words, a newspaper clipping from 1863 advertises a reward, 'The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.'

" 'The 'Redskins' they were talking about were my ancestors,' Goldtooth said during a phone interview. 'Here in front of me was the evidence.' . . ."

Black Press Group Says NFL Neglects Black Businesses

"The chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers, says the Washington Redskins' team — under fire from a Richmond, Va. publisher — is in sync with the entire National Football League in its apparent oppressive treatment of Black businesses and consumers," Hazel Trice Edney reported for her Trice Edney News Wire.

" 'It's almost a slave mentality. They put us on the field and we entertain the master but we're not reaping any benefits from the business side of it,' [Cloves] Campbell says. 'It's not just the Redskins. If you look around the country, the NFL as a whole pretty much neglects Black businesses and the Black community,' said Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant Newspaper.

"He continued, 'Here in Arizona, our Arizona Cardinals does zero with the Black community. Every now and then they might show up for a token Black event. But, I don't see our African-American newspaper here in Phoenix or in Arizona being supported by the Arizona Cardinals. I believe if you called other newspapers that have [teams] in their markets, I don't believe they're doing much for them either. I believe the NFL as a whole takes the Black community for granted although we are their major product on the field.'

"Campbell was responding to questions pertaining to a conflict between NNPA member Ray Boone, editor/publisher of the award-winning Richmond Free Press, and the Richmond-based Washington Redskins Training Camp, which is partially owned by Bon Secours Health System.

"In a letter to NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock and CC'd to Campbell, Boone states that the team contracted no business with Black-owned or locally owned businesses at its first Richmond training camp between July 25 and August 16. . . ."

Philippines Knocked Off Some Far East Front Pages

Although the Philippines typhoon left thousands dead after striking on Friday and created the need for a massive relief effort, it is no longer the biggest news in the Far East, according to daily newspapers in the region.

"Protests in the city. And a world court decision to give disputed Thai/Cambodian land to Cambodia means Typhoon is no longer a big story even in Asia. Not front page in Bangkok. Wasn't in Korea," columnist Emil Guillermo, who traveled from the San Francisco Bay area to Thailand, messaged Journal-isms on Wednesday.

"Granted these are aftermath stories, but on the Wed 'Nation,' one of the English dailies it was A4.

"In the Tuesday Bangkok Post, another English daily it was A7...on Tuesday.

"But there's big news here, major public demos against amnesty for ousted leader Thaksin, and a world court order giving disputed Thai/Cambodian land to Cambodia.

"I didn't see any papers in Korea, I was only in the airport briefly, but didn't feel much buzz about the storm. . . ."

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the death toll rose to 2,357, according to a national tally kept by the disaster agency. The report said 600,000 people were displaced.

Tanzina Vega Named to New N.Y. Times Race Beat

Tanzina Vega

The New York Times is moving staff reporter Tanzina Vega to its national desk, where she will cover a new beat — race and ethnicity. Vega announced the news on Twitter, Chris O'Shea reported Wednesday for FishbowlNY.

In a memo to the staff, Times National Editor Alison Mitchell and Deputy National Editor Ethan Bronner said, "Tanzina covered the controversy over whether the actress Zoe Saldana, who is light skinned, should be playing the darker skinned Nina Simone. She told of the difficulties the broadcast networks are having drawing American Hispanics away from Spanish-language networks. And she wrote a profile of Eva Longoria who was positioning herself as the Hollywood power player on Latino issues at the same time that she was drawing some criticism for producing a show about Latina maids.

"In a country experiencing profound change in its racial and ethnic fabric, these kinds of stories seem like fertile ground for the national desk. So we are delighted to announce that Tanzina is joining us to pioneer exploring America's new diversity and its tension points . . . ."

From left: Adrian Carrasquillo, Alejandra Oraa, Arelis Hernandez, Francisco Cortes

LatinoVoices Picks 13 "Top Young Latinos" in Newsrooms

"So much is changing so fast in Latino media," Pablo Manriquez wrote Tuesday for HuffPost LatinoVoices. "What began with the launch of FOX News Latino in 2011 created a booming new ethnic media market, as Huffington Post, NBC, CNN, ESPN, and others quickly followed suit. Late last month, Univision joined ABC News to launch the most significant investment in Latino media to-date: Fusion, a 24-hour cable news channel with a target audience of English-speaking Hispanic millennials.

"During the early years of this decade young Latinos have been arriving motivated and succeeding quickly in American newsrooms. It is now up to the rising class of young newsroom Latinos to keep moving in and moving up as mentors and facilitators for others. While there is still a lot of work to do, below are 13 top young Latinos in American newsrooms (listed alphabetically by first name) who are leading the way. . . ."

Listed were Adrian Carrasquillo, BuzzFeed; Alejandra Oraa, CNN en Español; Alicia Menendez, Fusion; Arelis Hernandez, Orlando Sentinel; Bryan Llenas, Fox News; Francisco Cortes, Fox News Latino; Julio Varela, Al Jazeera; Enrique Acevedo, Univision; Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle; Nick Valencia, CNN; Roque Planas, Huffington Post; Russ Contreras, Associated Press; and Sandra Garcia, New York Times.

Manriquez concluded with, "Surely this list is not all-inclusive. Who is missing? Let me know in the comments or tweet them at @vato."

AAJA Wants to "Remain Engaged" With Ex-Unity Groups

Board members of the Asian American Journalists Association, the largest group remaining in the Unity: Journalists for Diversity coalition, met with Unity President David Steinberg and Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, during the first weekend of November, AAJA National President Paul Cheung wrote to members Tuesday.

"The board spoke about UNITY's strategic direction, its relevance in the industry and UNITY's value for the remaining alliance partners," the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. "Of course, we also spoke about the need to remain engaged with NAHJ, NABJ and the industry at large. We also discussed financial expectations of the existing relationship." The National Association of Hispanic Journalists pulled out of the Unity alliance last month. NABJ left in 2011.

Cheung also said, "On a related note, over the weekend the UNITY board adopted a resolution directing the UNITY president to work with the organization's attorney to end efforts to collect convention proceeds from AAJA."

Steinberg told Journal-isms that the amount at issue is "in the neighborhood of $10,000.

"There were several issues," Steinberg explained. "Some distributions were made based on estimated registrations and expenses, registration numbers weren't finalized until quite late, and there were mistakes in the distribution formula. All the numbers have been confirmed in the regularly scheduled audit, which was completed this summer."

An earlier release explained, "UNITY began to make convention payouts to the associations as the registration money came in, starting in December 2011. UNITY made it clear to the associations that convention payouts were based on estimated expenses and revenue. As the expenses and revenue were adjusted, more payments were made.

"The payouts were based on estimated income/expenses because each association reported it had critical financial needs. If UNITY had waited to complete an audit then made a single payment to the associations, the alliance organizations would have been in dire financial straits, according to their UNITY board representatives. The early payments were made in good faith, at the request of associations."

In a children's segment on ABC's late-night "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" show, a little

China Joins Critics of Kimmel Show; Disney Should Worry

"With big plans for China, the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) can't afford a long fight over the now-infamous segment on Disney-owned ABC last month in which a little blond-haired boy told Jimmy Kimmel that the U.S. should fix its financial problems by killing all the people in China," Bruce Einhorn reported Tuesday for Bloomberg Businessweek.

"Gee, don't kids say the darndest things? The comedian didn't help matters by following up the tot's comment by asking the other children on the panel, 'Should we allow the Chinese to live?' Chinese-Americans are understandably upset and have demanded apologies from Kimmel and ABC.

"Now the Chinese government is getting in on the umbrage action, with a spokesman yesterday calling on the network to 'respond to the Chinese community's demand in a sincere way,' the official Xinhua news agency reported. According to Xinhua, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang added that 'spreading racism and hatred goes against the media's social responsibility.'

"In a worrisome sign for Disney, the call for an apology came after ABC had indeed apologized. . . ."

Short Takes

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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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