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Gates Incident Bares Racial Polarization

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Lucia Whalen said she had been hurt by commentators who thought she called police when she saw Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his driver trying to force open his jammed front door because they were black. (Credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe)

Reporter on Story Sees Too Much "He Said-She Said"

A national poll released Wednesday shows a wide racial split in the perception of who was most at fault in the face-off between Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a Cambridge police officer, the Boston Globe reported, even as commentators argued over how much a role race actually played in the incident.

Adding to the mix, a white Boston police officer was suspended for writing a racially charged e-mail referring to Gates a "jungle monkey." Officer Justin Barrett had sent a message "written in reaction to media coverage of Gates's arrest July 16," Matt Collette wrote in the Globe.

Also on Wednesday, "In her first public statement since the incident, Lucia Whalen said she had been hurt by commentators who thought that she called police when she saw Gates and his driver trying to force open his jammed front door because they were black," as Krissah Thompson wrote for the Washington Post.

"The media reports, based on the Cambridge police report filed after the incident, read that Whalen said she saw 'two black men with backpacks' trying to enter a home on the block where she works.

"In fact, Whalen said that her only face-to-face interaction with the responding officer, Sgt. James Crowley, was brief."

According to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 27 percent of respondents named Gates when asked who they felt was more at fault, while 11 percent named Crowley, Foon Rhee wrote for the Globe.

"The highest number, 29 percent, said both men were equally at fault for the arrest, while 31 percent said they didn't know enough about the incident to say.

"Among African-Americans, only 4 percent said Gates was more at fault versus 30 percent who blamed Crowley. Among whites, in contrast, 32 percent blamed Gates more, while only 7 percent blamed Crowley."

The poll results raise questions about the role media reports have played in public perceptions, particularly if those stories have been based on faulty police reports.

"Why . . . does Crowley's official report say that Whalen told him she had seen 'what appeared to be two black males with backpacks' on the porch of the Gates house? Is it Crowley's position that Whalen is lying? Is Crowley lying? Or did the sergeant, or perhaps his dispatcher, just assume that if a break-in was taking place, the perpetrators had to be black?" asked columnist Eugene Robinson on a Washington Post blog.

"Just asking."

"If there's one thing I know for certain from my years as a reporter," Jack White, former Time magazine columnist, wrote on, "it's that cops lie all the time."

There were other discrepancies between Gates' account and the police report, Tracy Jan wrote July 22 in the Globe, on the story's second day.

"Gates denies raising his voice at Crowley other than to demand his name and badge number, which he said the officer refused to give. Crowley wrote in the police report that he had identified himself. Gates also denies calling Crowley a racist." Gates also said he did not refer to Crowley's mother.

Jan, a Chinese American who is the Globe's main reporter on the story, was interviewed by Angie Chuang for the Poynter Institute. Chuang asked whether the news media could learn anything from the controversy.

"I think we should be responsible for elevating the coverage beyond 'he said, she said' disputes and turn-of-the-screw coverage of unfolding facts to why an incident like this matters," replied Jan.

"I interviewed Gates a year ago when I began covering higher education. At the time I was writing stories about racial tensions between Harvard University's black students/faculty and its predominantly white campus police force.

"Though the Harvard police were not involved in Gates' arrest, the Globe was able to set the Gates incident in a larger context. What he experienced, and his feelings about the way he was treated by police, is not new to the Harvard/Cambridge community."

Some commentators, such as Juan Williams of National Public Radio and Ruben Navarrette of the San Diego Union-Tribune, insisted the incident was not about race.

"You can't have a teaching moment if it's based on a lie. If, in fact, you know, there really wasn't any racial profiling involved," Williams said on NPR's "Morning Edition."

"You could argue this is a town-gown problem between the police in Cambridge and Harvard University. Remember that Professor Gates quickly pulls out his Harvard ID. And the second thing to say is, remember, the governor in Massachusetts is black. The mayor of Cambridge is black. The president of the United States is black. So all of a sudden you have a different kind of racial equation where the power and upper class status attaches to the black man, not to the white man."

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a veteran of the civil rights movement who became a journalist who now covers Africa, said Williams had "said something so loaded I sat up in bed." She told Michael Eric Dyson on his public radio talk show that she was startled by Williams' use of the word "betray" when he went on to say of Obama, "this is the first time that he has slipped in such a way as to betray some kind of loyalty on racial terms."

"All of us in the public arena, whether in the pulpit (or elsewhere) need to be extremely careful about the words we use. They affect perception and reality," Hunter-Gault said, disputing the notion that the United States had become "post-racial."

Her interviewer, Dyson, the cultural critic and academic, dismissed the idea that the confrontation was simply a class issue, saying, "it took the words of the president of the United States and of a Harvard professor to trump an average white policeman." Dyson asked what would have happened had Gates not had the resources of someone of his "class."

Writing on New America Media, Raj Jayadev answered, "In all likelihood, someone less well known and well connected than Mr. Gates would be represented by the Public Defender's office, which represents over 90 percent of all defendants in California. His attorney, over-worked, with an over-whelming caseload, would read the police report and speak with Dr. Gates, likely on the day of his first court appearance. He or she would tell Dr. Gates of his maximum exposure - what he would receive if convicted on all charges - which may be a year, given the felony. The attorney would tell Dr. Gates 'it doesn't look good' since it is his word versus the police officer, and juries trust police officers."

Among the many pieces on the Gates controversy was one by the Daily Beast on its effect on, of which Gates is editor in chief.

"According to Donna Byrd, The Root's publisher, traffic increased on the site, although she would not tell The Daily Beast how much," Samuel P. Jacobs wrote. "Searches for 'The Root' through Google increased tenfold during the course of last week. What also increased for The Root was the difficulty of covering the week's news.

''The Root was not going to be the Skip Gates message room,' said the magazine's deputy editor," Terence Samuel.

''Certainly, it's been a week that has been uncomfortable for us quite honestly,' Byrd said."

Gates, Crowley and Obama are scheduled to have a beer at the White House on Thursday.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will be drinking Bud Light, CBS News reported. "Gibbs suggested that there will be other beers on offer as well. 

"'[I've read] that Professor Gates said he liked Red Stripe, and I believe Sergeant Crowley mentioned to the President that he liked Blue Moon. So we'll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon,' he said."

100 at Associated Press Take Voluntary Buyout

"About 100 Associated Press employees in news, technology and business units have accepted a voluntary buyout, according to the news cooperative, which said the deadline for taking the offer was Monday," Joe Strupp reported Tuesday in Editor & Publisher.

Journalists of color who took the buyout included Samuel Maull, a reporter who covered courts in New York; Nestor Ikeda, a Washington-based correspondent for the AP's Spanish-language service; John Shurr, who was bureau chief in Columbia, S.C., for 23 years and had been on leave; and Mario Szichman, an editor on the World Spanish Desk in New York, AP staffers told Journal-isms.

"The offer included a lump sum payment of $500 for each year of service, along with a pension increase. The company's offer was extended to all 2,500 AP employees based in the United States. AP has 4,000 employees worldwide," Strupp wrote. 

When Shurr was replaced as bureau chief in 2007, the AP wrote: 

"Shurr, who spent 35 years in the AP, became bureau chief in South Carolina in 1984. He joined the AP in Oklahoma City in 1972 and worked in Indianapolis and Providence, R.I., before becoming Chicago assistant chief of bureau in 1979. He became bureau chief in Oklahoma City in 1981.

"Shurr serves on the editorial board of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and has served as chairman of the South Carolina Press Association Freedom of Information committee since 1987. He negotiated rules to allow cameras in South Carolina courts and edited and compiled the 'Freedom of Information Guide for Public Officials' in South Carolina.

"He served 10 years on the steering committee for the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, a national clearinghouse for First Amendment and FOI information in Washington. He was a vice president of the First Amendment Congress, a national coalition of media groups dedicated to preserving free speech and press rights."

David Hawpe Retires From Louisville Courier-Journal

David Hawpe"David Hawpe, an unrepentant liberal who spent much of his professional life railing against what he considered to be the coal industry's excesses and as an advocate for the underprivileged, especially in his beloved Appalachia, is retiring after 40 years with The Courier-Journal," R. G. Dunlop wrote Tuesday in the Louisville, Ky., newspaper.

“'This is the right time,' the 66-year-old Hawpe said during an interview in his office Tuesday. 'What a privilege this has been. I couldn't have asked for anything more in a career.' He has served as the newspaper's editorial director since 1996, writing editorials and a twice-weekly column that routinely irritated — among others — Republicans, conservatives and coal companies.

"Hawpe, whose retirement is effective Aug. 14 and whose successor will be named later, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and served as president of the Associated Press Managing Editors' Association. He was also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and in 1994 was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.'

Newsweek D.C. Bureau Loses Last Full-Timer of Color

Daren Briscoe, a correspondent in Newsweek's Washington bureau who was embedded with Barack Obama for a Newsweek book on the 2008 presidential campaign, has joined the Obama administration as a public affairs officer in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The move by Briscoe, 39, leaves the magazine with no full-time journalists of color among the 19 news employees remaining, bureau chief Jeff Bartholet told Journal-isms. The 19 include those on contract and columnists. Aku Ammah-Tagoe, an African American, is a summer intern.

Briscoe came to Newsweek five years ago from the Los Angeles Times and was a general assignment reporter who also covered immigration.

"Despite his multiple basketball games with our commander-in-chief, he always brought a skeptical eye to his work and in conversations about the candidate," Time reporter and fellow Columbia Graduate School of Journalism  grad Jay Newton-Small wrote in an e-mail, according to the American Spectator.

"It's a career decision and a life decision that I made not lightly, but one that I'm entirely comfortable with," Briscoe told Journal-isms. He said he could not say whether he would return to journalism. He was approached about the job after the election by "someone in the administration" after Election Day, Briscoe  said. A year ago, he had no idea he would be working in government. He started Monday as the office's deputy associate director of public affairs.

Business Columnist Johnson-Elie Exits in Milwaukee

"After 19 years with the Journal Sentinel, a decade of which was spent as a minority business columnist, I have opted to take a buyout package from the company," Tannette Johnson-Elie told readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in her columnTannette Johnson-Elie on Tuesday.

"I will be using the advice I've learned about networking while writing my Connections column for the past year as I prepare to pursue a new chapter in my career. You can continue to follow me on Twitter, where my username is @telie, and on Facebook and LinkedIn."

An estimated 30 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom staffers have taken the latest buyout proposed by the newspaper, Rich Kirchen wrote Tuesday in the Business Journal of Milwaukee.

"This will be the fourth round of buyouts since fall 2007 at the daily newspaper owned by Journal Communications Inc., Milwaukee. The newsroom staff has already shrunk from 300 to 240 from previous buyouts," by estimate of Greg Pearson, president of the newsroom employees union, Kirchen wrote.

Johnson-Elie is one of the few African American business columnists at a daily newspaper.

"The hardest part of a career is knowing when it's time to leave," she wrote to colleagues. "Well this is my time. I am looking forward to entering a new chapter in my career. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do next. But I figure, I'll sit back on my patio in Gurnee, and look out onto my wooded lot and between me and God, we'll figure it out."

Italian Vogue Dedicates Supplement to Black Barbies

Italian Vogue's black Barbie supplement "Last July, Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani put out an issue featuring only black models, to make a statement about the lack of diversity in the fashion industry," Amy Odell wrote last week for New York magazine.

"This year, the July magazine isn't dedicated entirely to black models (42-year-old model Kristen McMenamy appears on the cover). But in commemoration of last year's groundbreaking issue, a special July supplement is dedicated not to black models, but black Barbie dolls. Barbie first came out with a black doll, called 'Francie,' in 1967, and in 1980 the first black Barbie doll launched. The new Italian Vogue supplement sounds like a cleverly orchestrated promotion for Barbie's next line of black dolls, called the 'So In Style' dolls. British Vogue reports:

"[T]he So In Style dolls . . . have been designed with more authentic-looking black features, including a new facial sculpt that has fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair.

"Those come out early next year. British Vogue has a preview of Italian Vogue's new Barbie-doll supplement. We would rather have seen another all-black issue with actual people. But maybe it's harder to find sponsorship for that." 

Writers Impressed by Farrakhan View of Jackson

IIn Chicago: George Curry, left, William Reed, Herb Boyd and the Final Call's Askia Muhammad. (Credit: The Final Call)n a two-hour lecture, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam compared the late Michael Jackson to Jesus, disclosed that the late entertainer donated $100,000 to the Million Man March in 1995, and prompted at least three black commentators to also praise the "King of Pop," Richard Muhammad wrote in the Nation of Islam's newspaper, the Final Call.

The three journalists were Herb Boyd of the New York Amsterdam News and OurWorldTodayTV.Net, columnist and veteran journalist George E. Curry, who spoke at the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, and William Reed, a Washington-based black-press business columnist.

Curry wrote in his column for the National Newspaper Publishers Association:

"While praising the musical talent of Michael Jackson, I have been critical of him both in life and in death, especially his efforts to alter his physical appearance. As my friend Thomas N. Todd has insightfully observed, Michael says it doesn't matter whether you're Black or White, but he's not taking any chances.

"I still stand by my words. But after listening to Minister Louis Farrakhan at Maryam Mosque in Chicago on Sunday, I learned that Michael had been more racially sensitive than I had known."

In conjunction with Farrakhan's speech, Boyd wrote, the Final Call celebrated its 30th anniversary with a two-day conference at which "such Black journalists and broadcasters as George Curry, Bill Reed, and Warren Ballentine were invited to share their experience on ways in which the Final Call can continue its national presence and expand its readership." 

A Battle Royalty: Black Caucus vs. Station Owners

"A battle over music royalties has pitted members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) against the owners of black radio stations, sparking a rare public fight between African-American powerbrokers that could work against lawmakers used to easy reelection," Alexander Bolton wrote Monday for the Capitol Hill newspaper the Hill.

Cathy Hughes"The debate has become so intense that the NAACP, the civil rights group that has spent nearly a century advocating for black Americans, has stepped in to call for a truce.

"Leading the charge against the lawmakers is Cathy Hughes, the founder and chairwoman of Radio One, the nation’s largest black-owned broadcast company.

"She has aired a series of radio ads targeting black lawmakers, with the most recent round questioning the ethical integrity of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the chief sponsor of the legislation calling for radio stations to pay royalties to musical performers, and seeking to connect him to federal bribery-related charges to which his wife recently pleaded guilty.

"The fight has divided the liberal civil rights community, with the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) supporting Conyers while black leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson line up with Hughes, Radio One and other black-owned stations."

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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