Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Race and Gerald M. Boyd, Revisited

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Timesman Was "Crushed" by Actions of "Friends"

A lengthy look at the New York Times career of Gerald M. Boyd, who died a year ago this month, concludes that media writers unfairly tied Boyd to fabricator Jayson Blair because both were black, notes that the Times could have reassigned Boyd to another post after the Blair scandal of 2003, but chose to dismiss him, and suggests that current Executive Editor Bill Keller's commitment to progress for journalists of color "leads minority journalists to despair for their future."




Boyd, the only journalist of color to become managing editor at the Times, "had talent and heart and a fire in his belly, but he broke through only after Max Frankel took his leap of faith," Jeff Coplon writes Monday on the New York magazine Web site. Frankel is the former Times editor who in 1986, Coplon writes, "imposed an 'unofficial little quota system' to shock the paperâ??s racial equilibrium.

"Few at the Times can visualize Keller doing the same. While he declined to be interviewed for this story, Keller sent an e-mail that framed his concept for 'diversity hires' — one that 'includes, importantly, the experience of living as a racial or cultural minority,' but also 'an evangelical Christian or a Marine Corps veteran.' But this take on affirmative action — a dilution of the primacy of race — leads minority journalists to despair for their future."

Boyd, who died last Thanksgiving at age 56 of complications from lung cancer, was forced out of the paper along with then-Executive Editor Howell Raines. At the time, some media writers— and even some co-workers at the Times — suggested that Blair lasted as long as he did because Boyd had protected him.

"But suspicions are not quite facts," Coplon wrote. "Amid the bloodlust that invaded the Times that spring, they might have sprung from a host of agendas, ranging from grudges against Boyd to a readiness to seize any weapon to hasten Rainesâ??s exit. 'They used this diversity thing to get rid of [Raines and Boyd], and that still lingers there,' said a former Timesman. 'Thereâ??s an ugliness to it that nobody really wants to talk about.' "

In 2003, "in his May 19 column for Newsweek, Seth Mnookin wrote, 'Blairâ??s close mentoring relationship with Times managing editor Gerald Boyd, who is also black, was not explored in depth in the paper.' Blair had written Boydâ??s bio-sketch for the Timesâ?? internal newsletter, the columnist disclosed. Blair 'frequently' joined Boyd for cigarette breaks in the smoking room. He bragged about 'his close personal relationships' with Boyd and Raines. A week later, Mnookin elaborated: 'The mentoring relationship made sense, people said — one of Boydâ??s responsibilities was to work with young reporters and Boyd, like Blair, is African-American.' The conceit of a Boyd-Blair cabal was repeated and linked and downloaded until it congealed into conventional wisdom.

"Like the newshound he was, Boyd traced the sources of these attacks — and was crushed to discover some heâ??d considered friends. Heâ??d been dismayed by the racism unleashed by the Blair affair, the fish-eyed scrutiny trained on black reporters coast to coast. But to find that he was still an 'affirmative-action baby' after all heâ??d achieved— that was decimating. Most hurtful of all, Boyd saw no one at the Times standing tall for him in public. He felt disgraced and forsaken.

"I asked more than a dozen current and former Times people about Boydâ??s personal relationship with Blair, and they all agreed: There was none. . . . The portrayal of Gerald Boyd as Blairâ??s godfather, in sum, was a crude case of racial profiling. In its virulence and indignation, it reprised the old fury over Max Frankelâ??s aborted quotaâ??the lurking conviction that black people didnâ??t belong at the Times, and surely not so close to the throne."

The story traces Boyd's rise and fall through the prism of race, quoting a number of black journalists who worked at the Times with him.

The author says Publisher Arthur Sulzberger had other alternatives than to ask for Boyd's resignation. "He might have moved Boyd to the business side or simply granted a leave until the fallout settled. Although some doubt that Boyd would have taken a demotion," his wife, Robin D. Stone, "believes her husband might have stayed on, even outside the newsroom for a time, because he 'loved being a Timesman so much.' But he never had the choice."

Conlon writes that Sulzberger was "sensitive to charges of political correctness. One thesis making the rounds was that Sulzberger 'couldnâ??t kill the white guy and save the black guy.'"

The writer quotes Soma Golden Behr, the national editor whoâ??d been picked by Frankel to be the first woman to head a major news desk at the Times, and who with Boyd, directed the prize-winning "How Race Is Lived In America" series:

"Behr, among many others, has strong sentiments on this point: 'I think we should have had the grace to keep him in some way. Enough people had seen the truth of Gerald, and the sweetness and compassion and vision. He made mistakes, but a lot of people make mistakes, and they do fine afterward.'

â??'We really whacked him,' Behr said. 'We did, we whacked him.'â??

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Columnists Pan Message in "American Gangster"

"American Gangster's" $43.6 million opening marked career highs for stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington and set a weekend record for the true-crime genre, Entertainment Weekly reported on Monday. But African American columnists were not so welcoming of its message.

Frank Lucas "and fellow Harlem drug lord Nicky Barnes, too old and weak to continue capitalizing on the devastation of their people, are being lionized in competing neighborhood-boy-makes-good sagas," Elmer Smith wrote Friday in the Philadelphia Daily News.

"The problem with humanizing these unrepentant sociopaths is that they are subhuman. Between them they may be responsible for the deaths and near-deaths of thousands of their own people. They were a plague that swept though Harlem like a wind-borne virus.

"But they live on in infamy, lifting lowlife to new heights for a generation that doesn't remember or even care who they really were."

In the Louisville Courier-Journal on Thursday, Betty Bayé wrote, "People who live, or have lived, in communities infested with drugs and violence may see 'American Gangster' differently than other moviegoers. They may notice more of the 'bit players' in the drama: actors portraying the junkies who, in fact, may remind them of their own destroyed and dead children or friends.

"My childhood friend Barbara still lives in New York, where she taught in the public schools. Now a consultant to teachers, Barbara's so livid about the glorification of evil that she could barely talk the other day. 'Frank Lucas is the devil,' she said, 'and some knuckleheads are going to go out and see that movie and think that they want to be just like him.

"'Somebody should sit Denzel Washington down and say to the brother, "Maybe at this point in your career, you want to pick and choose roles that begin to elevate our community."'

In the New York Daily News, Stanley Crouch compared the Hollywood film with a documentary on Lucas showing on Black Entertainment Television, praising the BET version.

"Here's the rub," Crouch wrote of the Hollywood rendition. "Frank Lucas has been given qualities that he simply did not have. We see him played as a soft-spoken and sophisticated man who closely studies the written word and only explodes into violence every now and then.

"In actuality, as the BET documentary reveals, Lucas was illiterate and could not count. He helped keep his books by learning that 22 pounds of $100 bills amounted to $1 million. He not only killed people to impress his ruthlessness on the underworld, but even put out a murder contract on one of his own brothers, whom he had brought from North Carolina to work in the drug trade with him. Lucas squashed the contract only because another brother had been killed and the druglord did not want his mother to have to mourn for two dead sons at the same time. Always a family man.

"That such icy qualities are not in the movie makes it a highly crafted piece of poisonous eye candy."

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Bill Hosokawa, Denver Editor, Internee, Dies at 92



"Bill Hosokawa, a former Denver Post editor and author who was held by the American government in an internment camp during World War II, died Friday," Tom McGhee reported Sunday in the Denver Post.

"Hosokawa, 92, was active in the Japanese-American community and a recipient of the American Civil Liberties Union's Whitehead award for lifetime service on behalf of those who suffer inequality.

"During a 38-year career at The Post, Hosokawa held several positions, including war correspondent in Korea and Vietnam; columnist; editor of Empire, the newspaper's Sunday magazine; and editorial page editor.

"Hosokawa was profoundly affected by his time behind barbed wire in the Heart Mountain Camp in Cody, Wyo., his daughter, Susan Boatright, said Saturday.

"It was a humiliating experience," she said. "He came away from it not as a bitter man but as someone who wanted to educate the world about that experience and make sure it never happened again."

Among the books he wrote were "Nisei: The Quiet Americans," about the prejudice Japanese immigrants and their children faced in the United States, and "Thunder in the Rockies: The Incredible Denver Post," a history of the newspaper.

After retiring from the Post, he worked at the Rocky Mountain News as the paper's reader representative.

The Maynard Institute published a q-and-a with Hosokawa in 2001. In 2003, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Asian American Journalists Association.

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Norman Mailer Earned Admiration of James Baldwin

When he wasn't in the news for his literary accomplishments, Norman Mailer commanded attention with a combative personality both verbally and with his fists, Herb Boyd wrote on Monday on the Web site The Black World Today.




"He zoomed into the conscience of most Black Americans with publication of his 1957 essay 'The White Negro.'"

As the Los Angeles Times' Elaine Woo wrote Sunday in her obituary of Mailer, who died Saturday at age 84 of acute renal failure, "Along with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, Mailer became one of the Eisenhower era's premier avatars of hip. He earned the distinction in 1957 when Dissent magazine published 'The White Negro,' his most celebrated essay.

"An explication of 'American existentialism,' it laid out Mailer's definition of the 'hipster' as a man who responds to the possibility of atomic annihilation by deciding to 'live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.' This new breed of urban adventurer 'absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes,' Mailer wrote, 'could be considered a White Negro.'

"The essay seemed to glorify hoodlum violence with its blurring of machismo and criminality. Among the critics who were repelled by it was writer James Baldwin, who objected to Mailer's portrayal of the black man as 'a kind of walking phallic symbol.' The essay's preoccupation with violence and masculinity previewed a theme" that critic Morris Dickstein said, "would haunt Mailer's life and work for the next 30 years."

However, Boyd wrote, "Even so, Baldwin continued to express an abiding admiration for Mailer, placing him among America's most talented writers. In summing up Mailer's odyssey, Baldwin said: 'His work, after all, is all that will be left when the newspapers are yellowed, all the gossip columnists silenced, and all the cocktail parties over, and when Norman and you and I are dead. I know that this point of view is not terribly fashionable these days, but I think we do have a responsibility, not only to ourselves and to our time, but to those who are coming after us.'"

Baldwin believed that Mailer possessed a special insight into Black America, Boyd said: "'He has a real vision of ourselves as we are, and it cannot be too often repeated in this country now, that, where there is no vision, the people perish.'"

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Black Texas Weekly Admits Plagiarizing 4 Stories

The San Antonio Observer, a black community weekly, has admitted it plagiarized four stories that were first published in the the city's major daily, the San Antonio Express-News, according to the Express-News.

The Express-News first reported on the plagiarism on Oct. 26 and raised the issue again on Sunday in a column by public editor Bob Richter, "Plagiarism cases a wake-up call for journalists in all media."

"Plagiarism, a cardinal sin in the journalism trade, is defined as taking the writings or ideas of another person and passing them off as your own," the Oct. 26 story said.

It quoted Yvonne Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the Observer, saying "We sincerely apologize. The situation was caused by an inexperienced person. That problem has been remedied." She did not say how.

Armstrong added then that the Observer planned to print a story in the edition scheduled for circulation Oct. 30, acknowledging the plagiarism, citing the stories and apologizing to readers of both publications, according to the Express-News.

The four stories were published in the Oct. 24-Oct. 30 edition of the Observer, with three of them carrying identical headlines to those that appeared over the original Express-News stories.

The Observer did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

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Michel Marriott Leaves N.Y. Times After 19 Years



After nearly 20 years at the New York Times, Michel Marriott has left the newspaper to teach journalism as an assistant professor at New York's Baruch College. He said he found it "increasingly difficult" to do the kind of work he wanted "while fully employed in the largely traditional medium of the New York Times."

Marriott, 53, started at the Times in 1987 and spent a year away at Newsweek. He explained his decision this way to Journal-isms:

"There is an old saying in Shona, the dominant indigenous language of Zimbabwe, which basically translates to 'Learning never ends.' Long before I heard those words there decades ago, I understood its meaning and fashioned my life to pursue a journey of endless learning.

"My 30-year career as a journalist has been profoundly shaped by my unquenchable thirst to know, know so that I may share that knowledge in news column inches, on magazine pages, on blogs, in radio and television interviews and in film and photography — and in the classroom.

"After more than a dozen years of teaching journalism as an adjunct professor at various universities, including Columbia University and City College, and writing workshops, I accepted, this fall, a full-time teaching position at Baruch College in New York. That meant resigning my staff position at The New York Times, which has been my home, practically literally, for almost the last 20 years.

"It was not an easy decision. These sorts of decisions never are.

"While I plan to continue to write for The Times as a favored freelance writer, I fully intend to help prepare a new generation of journalists and writers to grapple and thrive in a rapidly evolving media landscape. At the same time I hope to further explore the expanding outer edges of this enticing, yet disruptive cross-media environment.

"In that spirit, my first novel, 'The Skull Cage Key,' is scheduled for publication by Agate Press, in the spring of 2008. Set in a Harlem of the near future, the book is an attempt to employ journalistic sensibilities to the search and analysis of cultural, class and racial truths within a fictional world. My hope is to shed more light on all too real issues that are too often relegated to shadowy corners of the commercial press.

"I also want to use the novel and its sequel as a platform for cross-media discussion and consideration of these themes.

"I found it increasingly difficult to do this kind of work while fully employed in the largely traditional medium of The New York Times, even as it is the throes of redefining itself for the 21st century."

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Short Takes

  • Steven A. Smith, editor of the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review, outlined his paper's newsroom diversity efforts in a blog on Sunday, citing efforts at the elementary and high school levels, as well as its support of an Urban Journalism Workshop. "For those who think this is reverse racism —well, I'm with Brookbank on this," Smith wrote, referring to David Brookbank, a regular poster to the paper's Web site. "To accept the concept of reverse racism, you have to reject the notion of white privilege. I don't."
  • A Washington Metrobus driver has been charged after a dramatic crash



  • that injured WTTG-TV weather anchor Gwen Tolbart on Saturday night, Washington's WUSA-TV reported on Monday. "A Metro spokeswoman confirms that a Metrobus running the H-4 route was travelling south on Wisconsin Avenue when it made a sudden left turn, struck a car that was travelling in the opposite direction and crashed through a Jersey barrier around 11:40 p.m. The bus came to rest by the Mission of Taiwan building at Van Ness Street NW." Tolbart was released from the hospital. She wrote to colleagues, "Today I am resting and just thanking God for protecting me. I could have been dead, paralyzed, disfigured . . . anything. . . . Please take the time to say a prayer and thank God for saving my life."
  • The trial of a visiting African American photographer who says he was assaulted by Toronto police, and then was arrested on charges of assaulting the police, is scheduled for Nov. 21, the photographer's fiancee, Ann Brown, who was with Tonye Allen during the Oct. 16, 2006, incident, told Journal-isms. The episode was reported in this space in January. The couple have a Web site with information about a petition and donations. Allen is a photographer of hip-hop celebrities.
  • "Nine months ago, '20/20' visited Camden, N.J., a poor, drug-ridden and crime-infested city. We introduced you to three young citizens who were attempting to thrive and survive in an impoverished community with a murder rate seven times the national average, and climbing," Joseph Diaz wrote in a mostly upbeat update on the ABC News Web site. But Diaz said, "Camden is still a city in need of saving. For every child you met in our first report, there are thousands of others with just as much promise and just as much need. Children . . . who hear gunshots at night and want nothing more than to make their neighborhood safe. These children dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, police officers and firefighters — careers derived from their own experiences in Camden."




  • Patricia Smith, who resigned from the Boston Globe in 1998 after admitting she had fabricated parts of four columns, has become successful as a performance poet, winning the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award for "Teahouse of the Almighty," Bob Thompson reported Nov. 3 in the Washington Post.
  • Washington Post classical music critic Tim Page said he has been disciplined after referring to Marion Barry, the District of Columbia councilman and former mayor, as a "crack head" and "useless" in a company e-mail, Bruce Johnson reported Sunday for Washington's WUSA-TV. "After contacting the Executive Editor of the Post Len [Downie], an angry Barry says he got an apology by phone and a promise from Washington Post management to take some action against their reporter. Barry in a letter to Post management is demanding more. 'He should be fired' said Barry," Johnson reported. [The Post wrote about the incident on Tuesday.]
  • "Reporters Without Borders regrets that Iran continues to snub appeals from the international community on human rights, as one journalist was imprisoned and two publications suspended," the organization said on Monday. "Less than a week after the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Iran to respect its 'obligations in line with international norms and instruments on human rights,' Yaghoub Salaki Nia was imprisoned at Evin jail in Tehran. His arrest on 31 October 2007 brought to ten the number of journalists imprisoned in the country," the organization said.
  • "With the exception of Iraq, no country has been more deadly for journalists this year than Somalia, which has been engulfed by violence since December, when invading Ethiopian troops ousted an Islamic movement and installed a U.S.-backed transitional government," Stephanie McCrummen reported on Monday in the Washington Post. Her story examined the plight of Somali journalists, who have been targeted for assassination. Meanwhile, Mogadishu's embattled Radio Shabelle was closed by security forces on Monday, Reporters Without Borders reported.
  • "Reporters Without Borders today released the report of a fact-finding visit to Guinea-Bissau to investigate the precarious situation of its journalists. They live under permanent threat from Colombian drug traffickers and their local accomplices, whose criminal activities have been eating away at the country for several years," the organization reported on Monday about the African nation.
  • In Bolivia, "Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns physical attacks on five journalists on 9 November by opponents of a constituent assembly sitting in Sucre," the organization said on Monday. "Claims by President Evo Morales in the past few days that 'the media' are systematically opposing his government are all the more regrettable as the victims of the violence are employed by both state and privately-owned media."
  • "To win, you must understand the world you're in," Roger Cohen wrote Monday in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. "Comparative courses in how Al Jazeera, CNN, the BBC and U.S. networks portray the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be taught in all U.S. high schools and colleges. Al Jazeera English should be widely available."

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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