Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Reporters of Color Rise to Occasion on University of Michigan

Send by email
Tuesday, April 1, 2003

NABJ 1995 Report on Affirmative Action Terms

Reporters of Color Rise to Occasion on U-Mich.

While some journalists and talk-show hosts were framing the Supreme Court's affirmative action case with such questions as "can racial discrimination be justified?" a number of reporters of color rose to the occasion to put the Michigan cases in context.

Writing from the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, Stephen Henderson wrote a sidebar about the court's own lack of diversity.

The piece, run in such papers as the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and California?s Contra Costa Times, began:

"WASHINGTON -- It was a discussion about race and opportunity and how this country's most elite educational institutions can fulfill the American promise of equality.

"And it took place in a courtroom whose own lack of diversity reflects the very problem at issue.

"One of the most striking truths in the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the University of Michigan's affirmative action cases is the fact that the court remains one of America's least integrated public forums.

"Much like Michigan or the other premier American colleges and universities, the high court is an elite institution that historically has been out of reach for blacks -- and the current-day reminders of that history have yet to fully dissipate."

On, Joe Davidson's piece included this passage:

"[Justice Clarence] Thomas was following a line that Justice Antonin Scalia had vigorously and bluntly pressed earlier. 'Lower your qualification standards,' Scalia, the court's arch conservative, told John Payton, the university's lawyer. 'If this value of having everybody in a mix with people of other races is so significant to you, just lower your qualification standards. You don't have to be the great college you are. You could be a lesser college, if this value is important enough to you.'

"Payton politely rejected the implicitly racist connotation of Scalia's remarks and a few minutes later told Thomas that diversity doesn't necessarily follow lower standards.

"Scalia's comments, however, mark the crux of the matter for much of America. Many consider affirmative action a tool to cheat more qualified White people out of their due by less qualified Black people. Seldom does White America acknowledge the built-in affirmative action program of White preference. Never, it seems, do White people wonder if they got their positions at least in part because other White people do the hiring, the promoting, the judging."

And Tuesday in the Washington Post, Darryl Fears wrote of the students of color who already attend Michigan:

"While they are eager to attend one of the most prestigious state universities in the nation -- considered the Harvard of the Midwest -- they are also wary of the social environment that awaits them there."

The National Association of Black Journalists issued a report in 1995 to point out the misuse of affirmative action terms. Not much has changed. Text of the 1995 statement is at the end of today's posting.

Newsday Journalists Freed, Thought They'd Die

"Newsday journalists Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman, who had been missing in Iraq for eight days while covering the war, were released yesterday by Iraqi authorities after a harrowing week in a notorious prison and have crossed the Jordanian border to freedom." Newsday reports.

"McAllester telephoned Newsday foreign editor Dele Olojede at 1:06 p.m. New York time from the border to say the two staffers had just left Iraqi territory and were safe and in good health.

"McAllester, 33, a reporter, and Saman, 29, a photographer, had been missing since March 24. The journalists told their editors yesterday that they were detained by Iraqi intelligence agents early that morning in their room at Baghdad's Palestine International Hotel, apparently because the Iraqis thought they were American spies.

"'We thought we were going to be killed at any moment,' McAllester said.

"Newsday editors had worked frantically to win their release, reaching out to everyone from the Vatican to Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations to diplomats in the region and, through an intermediary, to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Some of Saman's relatives who live in the West Bank also appealed to the Palestinian Authority."

Among the editors on the emotional roller coaster was deputy managing editor Les Payne. He was quoted Tuesday in USA Today saying: "At first we didn't panic. "We figured, 'OK, there's a war going on; it'll take some time' " to leave Iraq. But as days passed, "we became very, very, very concerned. The procedure is we maintain contact through the day and night. . . We've exhausted all means to communicate with the Iraqi authorities about what they might know, and we've received no confirmation." Newsday's Web site coverage includes video of Olojede describing McAllester and Saman's captivity, and audio of Olojede on hearing the news.

Geraldo Agrees to Be Sidelined to Kuwait

Fox News Channel agreed to sideline Geraldo Rivera, its senior war correspondent, after U.S. military officials said he compromised the security of troops in Iraq, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"In a statement, the network said that Rivera had 'volunteered to return to Kuwait,' though Pentagon officials had insisted on his departure from Iraq. Rivera had arrived late last week to accompany the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division's push toward Baghdad," the Sun said.

Writing in the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley said, "Mr. Rivera delivered many outlandish reports for Fox News when he raced to Afghanistan vowing to personally hunt down Osama bin Laden. One report in particular, however, in which he erroneously claimed to be standing on 'hallowed ground' where American soldiers had been killed by friendly fire, should have given Fox second thoughts about giving him an important assignment in Iraq."

DuBois Barnett, Figueroa in New Time Inc. Roles

Amy DuBois Barnett, who had been editor of Vanguarde Media's Honey since 2000, will succeed Barbara O'Dair as Teen People's managing editor, MediaWeek reports, and Angelo Figueroa, managing editor of People en Espanol, becomes an editor at large for Time magazine.

Barnett was an editor at Essence magazine from 1999 to 2000, where she oversaw fashion, beauty and lifestyle coverage, MediaWeek said.

Figueroa will also work at AOL on developing Hispanic content. Succeeding Figueroa will be Richard Perez-Feria, the editor in chief of 7x7, based in San Francisco, said MediaWeek.

Fellowships Available for Feature Editors Convention

The American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors awards fellowships to talented minority journalists to attend its 57th annual convention, Sept. 17-21, at the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, Fla. Fellowships are awarded to editors, copy editors and writers of color in the United States and Canada who work in features departments, or those interested in pursuing careers in features.

Fellowships cover round-trip transportation to the convention site, hotel accommodations and meals provided at the conference.

To apply, submit three copies each of:

A letter explaining your interest in the fellowship and what you hope to gain from attending the AASFE convention.

A resume. Two professional letters of recommendation Writers must submit five stories demonstrating a versatile writing style.

Editors must submit five samples of sections or pages with comments on how stories were generated and/or edited.

Copy editors must submit five samples of work (three headlines with stories attached; and two stories with editing comments).

Also submit one publishable photo. Photos will not be returned.

Applications must be postmarked by May 1. Selections will be announced in June.

Mail application to Mary C. Curtis, AASFE Diversity Committee Chair, c/o The Charlotte Observer, 600 S. Tryon St., P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, N.C. 28230. For more information call (704) 358-5255 or e-mail

Quinten Barbee Dies at 83; Who Was He?

This notice appeared in the paid death notices of the Honolulu Advertiser:

"QUINTEN BARBEE, 83, of Honolulu, died March 20, 2003. Born in Shannon, Mo. Retired journalist. Survived by nephews, Finn and Rustam; niece, Daphnee Barbee-Whooten. Private service. Donations to National Association of Black Journalists, c/o Phillip Merril College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Arrangements by Ultimate Cremation Services of Hawai'i."

Anyone know more about him?

NABJ 1995 Report on Affirmative Action Terms



For immediate release August 1995 Contact: Dorothy Gilliam, NABJ president . . . Richard Prince, co-chair, NABJ Media Monitoring Committee . . .


The National Association of Black Journalists deplores the trend by many in the news media to use the language of anti-affirmative action forces in news stories and in polls reporting on affirmative action. We urge the media to return to the use of more accurate, and neutral, terms: "race-based remedies," "race-conscious remedies," "policies designed to benefit women and people of color," or simply, "affirmative action programs."

Specifically, many have been using the terms "affirmative action" and "racial preferences" interchangeably. Sometimes "racial preferences" is accompanied by the term "preferential treatment."

These terms are not synonymous with "affirmative action."

Since polls have shown that the public supports affirmative action, but opposes "preferential treatment," using the terms interchangeably, under the guise of objective reporting, unfairly characterizes affirmative action.

The Media Monitoring Committee of NABJ surveyed 15 newspapers across the country that reported on the June 12 Supreme Court decision in the Adarand Constructors v. Pena case involving set-asides in the construction industry. All but two of them, the Baltimore Evening Sun (a story compiled from wire reports) and the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville (an Associated Press story), used the term "preferences" in describing the issue at hand.

They did so even as some of them acknowledged in their reporting that the use of the term "preferences" evokes a more polarizing reaction than the term "affirmative action," and even as it was clear from their own stories that "preferences" was the term of choice for the opponents of affirmative action, not for those who were neutral or who were supporters.

After President Clinton's July 19 statement on affirmative action, the committee surveyed 18 newspapers. It found that all but four -- USA Today, the New York Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Newsday -- used the "preferences" term to describe affirmative action.

This, after it had become clear that the term had become pejorative. In an appearance on National Public Radio that day, Christopher Edley Jr., special counsel to the president, said:

"I'm troubled by . . . the use of the word 'preference.' I think the word means a lot of things to a lot of different people. I know that there are strategy memos that have been written by Republican strategists that say that preferences is a hot buzz word that turns voters off and that if they can tag Democrats as the party of preferences, they'll win big in the presidential election."

On the previous Sunday's "Face the Nation," California Gov. Pete Wilson, who has made his opposition to affirmative action the centerpiece of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, used the terms "unfair preferences," "preferences," "preferential treatment" or "quotas" no fewer than 10 times.

Government "preferences" are extended to veterans, homeowners, the elderly, and other segments of our society to further a governmentally determined good, such as home ownership, or to reward veterans for their service to the country.

But it is misleading to extend that term to affirmative action programs intended to benefit people of color and women. Using the term "preferences" in this context betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the reason behind affirmative action: that it is intended to counter the built-in, systemic "preferences" for white males that still exist.

As the federal Glass Ceiling Commission reported earlier this year, "At the highest levels of business, there is indeed a barrier only rarely penetrated by women or persons of color. Consider: 97 percent of the senior managers of Fortune 500 companies are white; 95 to 97 percent are male. . . . The research also indicates that where there are women and minorities in high places, their compensation is lower. For example, African American men with professional degrees earn 79 percent of the amount earned by white males who hold the same degrees and are in the same job categories."

Race-based remedies are intended to counter "preferences."

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, established in 1957 to appraise federal anti-discrimination laws, put it this way in a November 1981 report, "Affirmative Action in the 1980s: Dismantling the Process of Discrimination:"

"Only if today?s society were operating fairly toward minorities and women would measures that take race, sex and national origin into account be preferential treatment."

"Affirmative action has no meaning outside the context of discrimination, the problem it was created to remedy," the report said.

"All too often, discussions of affirmative action first divorce this remedy from the historic and continuing problem of discrimination against minorities and women." (emphasis added).

Significantly, the commission?s definition of affirmative action does not contain the word "preference" or "preferential treatment."

The Adarand Case

The Adarand case involved a program in which Congress requires (without setting any penalty) that at least 10 percent of federal money spent on highway projects go to businesses owned by "disadvantaged individuals." A contractor was chosen. The contractor chose a Hispanic-owned firm as a subcontractor, making the contractor eligible for a $10,000 federal incentive payment for using a disadvantaged business as a subcontractor.

A white-owned business, Adarand, bid $1,700 lower and sued the federal government when it did not get the job.

The Supreme Court ruled that racial classifications by governments are "constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored measures that further compelling governmental interests."

Here is how some media reports of the court decision read : "The Supreme Court joined the assault on affirmative action," began the Wall Street Journal's account, "attacking the foundations of the vast federal network of programs providing preferential treatment to minorities."

The Los Angeles Times: "The Supreme Court dealt a potentially fatal blow to most federal affirmative action programs Monday, ruling that preferential treatment based on race is almost always unconstitutional, even when it is intended to benefit minority groups who suffered injustices in the past.

The Dallas Morning News: "A sharply divided Supreme Court imperiled federal affirmative-action programs Monday, ruling that racial preferences are inherently suspect and demand strict scrutiny by the courts."

The New York Post: "Quotas Quashed," read the front-page headline. "High Court sinks most affirmative action programs."

Not only does this headline equate "quotas" with "affirmative action," but it inaccurately describes the decision. It did not rule on quotas, and it did not sink most affirmative action programs. The New York Post's inaccuracies continued into the paper. On Page 5, a local piece was headlined, "Apple has already KO'd race preference, claims unruffled Hispanic businessman." Certainly not race "preferences" for white men.

In addition, too few of the stories surveyed mentioned the existence of contemporary discrimination (documented, for example, by the recent Glass Ceiling Commission report). In failing to provide the context for the race-based remedies, they left unchallenged opponents' claims that the remedies are unfair.

Minority-owned businesses constitute 6 percent of the nation's construction firms, for example, but they are awarded only 1.4 percent of all construction contracts. Few of the stories noted this fact or examined whether contemporary discrimination provided any basis for the race-based remedy. One wonders why, if there is "preferential treatment," these numbers are so low.

It is not that there are not examples that the media could cite in providing such context:

-- A 1991 Urban Institute study that found that white job-seekers were more than 50 percent more likely to be hired, compared with identically qualified African Americans.

-- In 1994, Chevy Chase Bank paid $11 million to settle a case on redlining mortgages in minority neighborhoods.

-- A study of Chicago area auto dealers by Ian Ayres/Stanford University that found black men given an average price with more than double the markup offered white men.

-- A Chicago Federal Reserve Bank report that black applicants for home loans are more than twice as likely to be denied credit as white applicants with the same qualifications.

Broadcast language

In one of the more obvious examples of misleading language from the broadcast media, on the June 12 edition of ABC-TV's "Nightline," host Chris Wallace asked D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, former head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: "Thirty years after the passage of major civil rights legislation, why isn't it time to end racial preferences?

Norton replied: " 'Racial preferences,' as you call them . . . ."

On the same program, ABC reporter Tim O'Brien demonstrated how the mixing of the terms has led to an inaccurate portrayal of the public mood. He said the country had turned against affirmative action, but polling data show that the public is against "preferential treatment," not affirmative action.

Writing three years ago in the Columbia Journalism Review, pollster Louis Harris warned that major print media had introduced the terms "preference" or "racial preference" as a substitute for "affirmative action," and cautioned that the terms were not interchangeable. "Using 'racial preference' in news accounts as a substitute for 'affirmative action' can only suggest to readers, not that an attempt is being made to right past wrongs, but that an injustice is taking place," he wrote in the January/February 1992 issue.

His warning went largely unheeded.

Polling questions

Last March 24, the Washington Post published the results of a Post/ABC News poll that asked: "Do you think blacks and other minorities should receive preference in hiring, promotions and college admissions to make up for past discrimination?" Not surprisingly, 75 percent said no; including 46 percent of blacks. Here again, the question ignores the existence of present discrimination, and seems to imply that the only qualification those receiving "preference" have is their race.

By contrast, on the same day USA Today published a Gallup poll that asked, "Do you favor or oppose favoring a well-qualified minority applicant over an equally qualified white applicant when filling a job in a business that has few minority workers?" The results were 48 percent in favor, 44 percent opposed.

The managing editor of the Gallup organization, Frank Newport, states the obvious: "How you specify what affirmative action is can affect how people respond. That's Polling 101." His polls use a battery of questions to get at people's attitudes.

Individual stories within the publications studied indicated that some authors had greater familiarity with the subject of affirmative action than their colleagues. These writers were more careful to attribute terms such as "preferences" to their news sources, and refrained from using it themselves. We applaud them.

Split personalities

The lead editorial of The New York Times (June 20) applauded President Clinton? for "not getting tangled up in buzzwords like 'quotas' and 'preferences'", even as its front page news story used the buzzword phrase "federal preference programs" in its first sentence.

USA Today writers have been more careful than most to avoid using these buzzwords, only to have their caution sabotaged by page 1 headline writers. In two cases, affirmative action remedies were labeled "bias": "Clinton backs bias benefits" (June 20) on Clinton's speech, and "Racial districting biased, on the Supreme Court?s decision on the Georgia redistricting case. (June 30-July 2 edition).

Similarly, while the Baltimore Evening Sun avoided the word`"preference" in its June 13 story on the Adarand case, the morning Sun mischaracterized the University of California regents' decision to end race-based admissions. The front-page headline June 21 was "California universities end racial hiring quotas," even though the word "quotas" was nowhere in the story and even though the Supreme Court had outlawed quotas in 1978, ironically, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

"Mend it" or "Amend it"?

Reporters from the Hispanic Link news organization who attended the NABJ's Aug. 2 news conference presenting this report pointed out that most of the news media misquoted President Clinton in the foremost "catch phrase" from his speech. Although Clinton was widely reported as saying of affirmative action, "mend it, but don't end it," he actually said, according to the White House transcript and a tape of the speech, "amend it, but don't end it" -- a subtle but important difference in analogy.

Newspapers studied

The newspapers studied on June 13 were: the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, the St. Paul Pioneer Press; the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, the Baltimore Evening Sun, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

The newspapers studied on July 20 were: USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe, Newsday, the New York Times, the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The national edition of the New York Daily News had no story at all about the Clinton speech, and so it was excluded from the study.

Copies of the 1981 U.S. Civil Rights Commission report, with its rationale for affirmative action, are being provided, as are copies of the 1992 Columbia Journalism Review article by Lou Harris.

NABJ Media Monitoring Committee: Gregory Moore and Richard Prince, co-chairs. Janine Jackson and Farai Chidyea contributed to this report, which was written by Richard Prince. -

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.

Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.

To be notified of new columns, contact and tell us who you are.

About Richard Prince

View previous columns.



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.