Romney Wins Race for Favorable Coverage
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Coverage of Obama More About Campaign Than Policy
State Department Spotlights Imperiled Journalists
Labbé-DeBose, Mark Gail Take Washington Post Buyout
Pittsburgh Paper Pulls Endorsement After "Racist" Appeal
Unity Co-Founder Says Change of Name Is "Dead Wrong"
Nominate a J-Educator Who Has Helped Diversity
The Washington Post's Metro Seven (NABJ Journal, 2002)
"Mitt Romney needed 15 weeks once the primary contests began to gain a secure hold over his party’s nomination for president," Tom Rosenstiel, Mark Jurkowitz and Tricia Sartor wrote Monday for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. "But he emerged as the conclusive winner in the media narrative about the race six weeks earlier, following a narrow win in his native state, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that examines in detail the media’s coverage of the race.
"After Romney’s tight victory in the Michigan primary on Feb. 28, news coverage about his candidacy became measurably more favorable and the portrayal of his rivals — particularly Rick Santorum — began to become more negative and to shrink in volume.
"One main component of that shift in the narrative is that after Michigan, the news media began to view Romney’s nomination as essentially inevitable. Indeed, a close look at the coverage finds that references to delegate math and the concept of electoral inevitability spiked in the media the week after Michigan, rising twelve fold, for instance, on television news programs. From that point on, the amount of attention in the press to Romney’s candidacy began to overwhelm that of his rivals, and the tone of coverage about him, which had been often mixed or negative before, became solidly positive.
". . . The public has been offered a mixed view of Romney, one that has emphasized his wealth, his record as a private equity executive and focused on the difficulties he has had as a campaigner in persuading conservative primary voters to embrace him. In the case of President Obama, the public has been exposed to a mostly negative portrayal. That, in substantial part, is a function of the fact that for many months he has been the target of multiple Republican candidates attacking his record and his competence as they sought to take his job."
"Of all the presidential candidates studied in this report, only one figure did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage — the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama," Tom Rosenstiel, Mark Jurkowitz and Tricia Sartor wrote Monday for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"While a sitting president may have access to the 'bully pulpit,' that does not mean he has control of the media narrative, particularly during the other party's primary season.
"In Obama’s case, his negative coverage was driven by several factors. One was the consistent criticism leveled at him by each of the Republican contenders during primary season. The other involved news coverage of issues — ranging from the tenuous economic recovery to the continuing challenges to his health care legislation — with which he was inextricably linked. An examination of the themes in Obama's coverage also reveals that the coverage placed him firmly in campaign mode. His coverage that focused on the strategic frame exceeded that relating to policy issues by 3:1.
". . . Several factors drove Obama’s negative coverage in recent weeks. One of them was the continued rise in gas prices, which triggered criticism of the administration's energy policy. Another was the uncertainty surrounding the health care legislation as the Supreme Court held hearings on the law in late March.
"Still another element was the accidental open mic comment when Obama was overheard telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have 'more flexibility' in dealing with the Russian-U.S. relations 'after my election.' That comment quickly became part of the campaign narrative with Romney characterizing it as 'alarming' and 'troubling.'
- Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Richard Grenell, New Mitt Romney Spokesman, Scrubs Online Attacks On Media And Women
Mary C. Curtis, Creative Loafing Charlotte: Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: Protesters and Pushback at Romney's Prebuttal'
- Editorial, Washington Informer: Romney, the Republicans and Black Folks
- Tim Giago, indianz.com: Rocky history of Natives and the Mormon Church
- Jill Hanauer, HuffPost LatinoVoices: Romney's Latino Problem: Not Resolved by Hispanic VP
- Howard Kurtz, Daily Beast: Media Favored Romney Over Obama During GOP Primaries: Study
- Howard Kurtz, Daily Beast: How Mitt Romney Beats the Press, Avoiding Most National Interviews
- Elizabeth Llorente, Fox News Latino: Latinos are Deeply Divided over Marco Rubio
- Myriam Marquez, Miami Herald: Marco Rubio, Dreamers and political calculations
- Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: Romney's Racist Theology?
- Raul A. Reyes, Los Angeles Times: Marco Rubio's Dream Act: A nightmare for immigrants
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Republican rhetoric over the top
- Janell Ross, HuffPost LatinoVoices: Romney's Election Conundrum: Win Independent and GOP Vote, Risk Making Latino Voters Anti-Romney
The State Department has begun a "Free the Press" campaign spotlighting independent journalists under attack around the world in hopes that journalists will "use it as a resource and a reference for human rights policy statements . . . We'd like to provide the information so that you can ask the hard questions," a State Department official told opinion writers on Monday.
Deborah E. Graze, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told members of the Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers, that the campaign would continue until World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The first journalist highlighted on the State Department's human rights website is Yoani Sanchez, "a blogger and technological innovator. She has attracted an international following for her blog, Generacíon Y, which gives readers unprecedented insight into life in Cuba," the site says.
"She has worked to improve the ability of ordinary Cubans to access and disseminate information, and to expand information flow and free expression throughout Cuba. Ms. Sanchez has been credited as the 'founder' of the independent Cuban blogosphere, and her work has expanded beyond blogging to training and advising dozens of newcomers to the blogosphere, providing a voice for young Cubans and for established civil society leaders."
Graze was one of nine who spoke to the opinion writers on their fields of expertise at an all-day briefing at the department's Foggy Bottom headquarters. The officials were reluctant to articulate differences with the foreign policy of the Bush administration, preferring to characterize their policies as bipartisan. However, they did attempt to point out diplomatic work that did not make headlines.
For example, Ambassador Melanne Verveer of the Office of Global Women's Issues and Roberta Jacobson, ambassador of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, emphasized that the recent hemispheric summit in Colombia, overshadowed by the Secret Service scandal involving patronage of prostitutes, also addressed efforts to aid women-owned businesses.
Differences over Cuba, the Falkland Islands and drug legalization, which also prompted headlines, "really isn't what took up a lot of time in the preparation," Jacobson said. Verveer noted Colombia's years of victimization by drug cartels and said the conference addressed "land rights for victims of strife. Women have borne the brunt of the consequences of the strife."
Overall, the speakers said, diplomats work on an alphabet soup of committees and programs that address trade, infrastructure and empowerment issues. That's especially true in Afghanistan, Verveer said. "Don't look at women only as victims," she urged, pointing out political and economic gains by women in that country. An official with an Asian portfolio noted that Asia has no counterpart to the European Union, another U.S. priority.
Differences with Bush administration policies seemed minor. While Jacobson cited a "strong sense of bipartisanship," she noted that labor and environmental issues were taken into account in trade agreements. The "war on drugs" was called a misnomer because the same conduits for drugs are used for other criminal enterprises. The "war on terror" should really be the "war on Al Qaeda," said Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, a former correspondent for Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal who heads the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. He repeated the Obama administration's argument that terrorism is a means to an end.
Asked what he thought of media coverage of his subject area, Benjamin said, "Media coverage of terrorism is quite good. It reflects society as a whole in its focus on the terrible and the immediate."
But, he added, "I'd love it" if the media also covered the department's efforts to blunt the appeal of radicalism, to "provide alternatives to at-risk youth."
However, he said, "As a former journalist, I know you can't stand on the beach and tell the tides to go somewhere else."
- Committee to Protect Journalists: Three Colombian journalists flee homes in recent months
- Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: If not drug legalization, what, Mr. President?
- Tom Retterbush, censorshipwatch.net: Censorship has a New Name, TPP aka the Trans-Pacific Partnership... of Oppression (March 17)
- Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: Secret Service scandal not new
- David Squires, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Winning the 'war' on drugs
- Nisha Thanki, International Press Institute: Deadly Week for Journalists Across the Globe
Amid concern about the buyout offer's effect on diversity, Monday was the deadline for Washington Post employees to change their minds about accepting it. Reporter Theola Labbé-DeBose and photographer Mark Gail, both black journalists, confirmed they are leaving.
Fredrick Kunkle, co-chair, News, of the Washington Post unit of the Newspaper Guild, wrote in a memo last week that 32 Guild-covered employees had chosen to accept the company's buyout offer and "that a high number of the participants are Asian, African-American or Latino. By our count, more than a dozen of these Guild-covered employees are minorities, most of whom are black."
He told Journal-isms Monday he had no further information.
Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said then that the Post was monitoring the impact the buyouts would have on newsroom diversity, but Peter Perl, the Post's assistant managing editor for personnel, asked about the buyouts on Monday, told Journal-isms, "We're not putting out anything on it."
Labbé-DeBose, a local reporter covering public safety, was the National Association of Black Journalists' Emerging Journalist of the Year for 2004, awarded after her coverage of the war in Iraq. Of Haitian heritage, she was sent to that country to cover the aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
She started at the Post in 2001. Gail said he had been at the Post 14 years. Asked what he'd like to next, he messaged, "Freelancing and maybe teaching english in Asia."
"Two weeks ago, the Post-Gazette called the race in the Republican Senate primary between businessman D. Raja and state Rep. Mark Mustio ugly," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorialized Saturday. "Turns out, Mr. Mustio was just getting started.
"Since then, he has dragged an already mean-spirited contest into the gutter with a mailing so offensive that the Post-Gazette has no choice but to withdraw its endorsement of Mr. Mustio and recommend Mr. Raja instead.
". . . Mr. Mustio went further when he superimposed an image of the flag of India behind a photo of Mr. Raja in earlier advertisements and fliers. Although born in India, Mr. Raja — like millions of immigrants before him — came to this country as a young man, made it his home by becoming a U.S. citizen and founded a successful business here. He also earned master's degrees at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
"Mr. Mustio followed that up by crossing a line this week with an insidious mailing aimed at stirring up prejudices about Mr. Raja's foreign birth. Even though Mr. Raja is known simply as Raja or D. Raja in his business dealings, personal life and politics, Mr. Mustio displayed prominently his opponent's full given name —Dakshinamurthy — in a campaign flier."
Will Sutton, a co-founder of what became Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., says he is saddened by last week's decision to remove "Journalists of Color" from the name of the coalition, which now includes the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.
The National Association of Black Journalists withdrew last year, leaving the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association.
"As co-founder with Juan Gonzalez of what became UNITY: Journalists of Color I am saddened by the news that UNITY won't have journalists of color as a key and primary focus of the coalition," Sutton told Journal-isms Friday by email.
" 'We never envisioned a coalition of associations focused on anything but journalists of color. Though I am disappointed that NABJ is no longer a part of the group, that still left three associations with journalist members of color, members who I am certain care [about] our issues as journalists of color and covering communities of color.
"I have always been encouraging to and supportive of NLGJA as an organization and its members, but this is dead wrong — and it may have nailed the door shut on NABJ returning to the fold."
Gonzalez did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the conventional history of the Unity alliance, as outlined in "Building Unity," [PDF] a booklet prepared for the 2008 Unity convention, Unity has this starting point:
"1986. UNITY’s unofficial beginnings starts with the meeting of Juan González, an active member of the NAHJ, and Will Sutton Jr., an active member of NABJ, as they started comparing notes about their experiences as journalists of color. . . . "
The second milestone took place in 1988, with the first joint meeting of boards of the NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA.
DeWayne Wickham, who convened that meeting, said of the change to "Unity Journalists," "I think it amounts to a final divorce decree. UNITY was a head without a body. It had no membership beyond that which it claimed from the ranks of the groups that spawned it. NABJ correctly severed its relationship with UNITY last year. Now we should use direct contacts with NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA to pursue common interests."
However, Mark Trahant, who was NAJA president at the time of the Baltimore meeting, said by email, "The name change came after my service with Unity — so I don't have strong feelings about it. I liked the simple 'Unity' all along as a statement of where we want to end up. Personally I wasn't keen on adding the journalists of color tag."
Evelyn Hernandez, who was then NAHJ president, and Lloyd LaCuesta, then AAJA's president, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
[Update: Hernandez replied Wednesday: "I like Unity Journalists. It's lean and efficient for the 21st Century. We know who we are."] [April 25.]
The Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers, annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level.
Nominations, which are now being accepted for the 2012 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving.
The final selection will be made by the NCEW Foundation board and announced in time for the Sept. 20-22 convention in Orlando, when the presentation will be made.
Since 2000, an honorarium of $1,000 has been awarded the recipient, to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."
Past winners include James Hawkins, Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa, Howard University (1992); Ben Holman, University of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt University, Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, University of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith, San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden, Penn State (2001); Cheryl Smith, Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003); Leara D. Rhodes, University of Georgia (2004); Denny McAuliffe, University of Montana (2005); Pearl Stewart, Black College Wire (2006); Valerie White, Florida A&M University (2007); Phillip Dixon, Howard University (2008); Bruce DePyssler, North Carolina Central University (2009); Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University (2010); and Yvonne Latty, New York University, 2011.
Nominations may be emailed to Richard Prince, AOJ Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) hotmail.com. The deadline is May 18.
- Washington Post's "Metro Seven" Hold 30-Year Reunion (Aug. 19, 2002)
- Steven Gray, The Washington Post's Metro Seven (NABJ Journal, September 2002)
- Additional photos
- "Today MALDEF filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel Sheriff Lee Baca to release public records relating to the death of Ruben Salazar," the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund announced Monday in Los Angeles. "Sheriff Baca has refused to release the complete files despite waiving exemption rights when he made the records available for public inspection in March 2011. Salazar was a Mexican American journalist killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy during the national Chicano Moratorium in August 1970." The petition was filed on behalf of documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez, who said unresolved issues remain about Salazar's killing.
- "Betty Liu, an anchor on Bloomberg Television, will have her own radio show beginning next week," TalkingBizNews reported on Saturday. "This coming Monday, Bloomberg Radio will [launch] 'In the Loop At the Half' with host Liu. It's a new radio show airing at 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET featuring a look at market activity and what investors can expect in the afternoon as they head to the close."
- "A local TV station has come up with a provocative way to mark the 20th anniversary of the calamitous events sparked by the announcement of a not-guilty verdict for four LAPD officers involved in the beating of Rodney King," Richard Horgan reported Monday for FishbowlLA. "NBC Southern California, driven by the question of how social media might have factored into the 1992 LA riots, has launched a Twitter account that is replicating the events of 20 years ago."
- ". . . The paper has started a new site, Homicide KC at Homicide.KansasCity.com," Derek Donovan, public editor at the Kansas City Star, wrote on Sunday. "Its slogan is 'Tracking every Kansas City homicide. Remembering every victim,' with the goal of creating an entry for each individual. The site lists information such as the victims' age, place and cause of death, and suspects in the crimes. So far, most of the reader feedback I’ve heard about it has been positive" but some dissented.
- "I'm racking my brain trying to come up with creative ways to eat three square meals on $35 a week," Annette John-Hall wrote Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Will $5 a day fill me up? Provide the occasional fruit or vegetable? Can I even stretch $35 over seven days before my money gets funny and my stomach starts to growl? Well, starting Monday, I'll find out by taking the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge."
- "Michael Carr has been promoted to news director at KFSN, the ABC O&O in Fresno," Calif., Merrill Knox reported Friday for TVSpy. "Carr, an executive producer at the station, has served as acting news director since Tracey Watkowski left KFSN for KGO last month. He joined KFSN in 1999 as a weekend assignment editor."
- "Sula Kim is joining WDSU, the NBC-affiliate in New Orleans, as a morning anchor," Merrill Knox reported Friday for TVSpy. "She will be paired with Randi Rousseau, who currently anchors solo in the mornings. Kim will join the station after the May ratings period. . . . Kim has worked at WVEC, the ABC-affiliate in Norfolk, VA, since 2005. She is currently the station’s weekend evening anchor."
- Tributes to the late Gil Noble from Gary Byrd, Bob Law, Bill McCreary and Les Payne, who all appeared on Noble's "Like It Is" public affairs show on New York's WABC-TV, are available on YouTube [video]. Noble died April 5 at age 80. The wake took place April 12 at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church. Payne's tribute is available separately [video].
- April 15 marked the 25th anniversary of tha landmark jury trial that found the New York Daily News guilty of discrimination. Surviving plaintiff Causewell Vaughan recapped the case in the April 18 edition of Daily Challenge in New York, which is not online. The other plaintiffs were David Hardy, who died in 2010; Steven Duncan, 2002; and Joan Shepard, 1992.
- ". . . The hardest part about working for a Hispanic news outlet is overcoming the stereotype that she’s only trying to report one side of an issue," Griselda Nevárez said in an April 10 Washington Post story by Heather Caygle about Hispanic Link News Service, a national Hispanic newswire based in Washington. ". . . Nevárez, 22, was named a 2012 Chips Quinn Scholar, a program that places . . . journalists in news organizations across the country to help improve newsroom diversity."
- "HLN’s Richelle Carey has recently launched RichelleCarey.com to provide a place where women and their supporters can have a genuine conversation about the challenges and triumphs of women and girls," Carey announced last week. "RichelleCarey.com highlights critical issues facing women and girls including domestic violence, the sexualization of girls in the media, sexism, victim blaming and much more."
- Ted Diadiun, reader representative at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, wrote on Sunday that, ". . . The local newspaper has two critical things going for it that no other information source can match: Its reputation. The paper has been there day after day for as long as any reader has been alive, and readers have learned they can trust the information they find in it. (2) Its newsroom. Smaller though most newsrooms have become, the newspaper still has the largest group of professional journalists you will find in any city or town, and the only one with the firepower capable of keeping watch on how government spends our money and enforces our laws, and reporting the news in our far-flung region."
- "Brian Carter and his sidekick, Dave Sanborn, thrilled morning radio in Philly as entertaining yakkers and disc jockeys on Power 99 from 1987 to 1999, and later on WDAS," John F. Morrison wrote Monday for the Philadelphia Daily News. "Carter, the brasher and funnier of the mixed-race duo, died Sunday of a heart attack at home in his native Baltimore. He was 54."
Thirty years ago, they fought for a fair chance. Today, there's still work to be done.
By Steven Gray, NABJ Journal
National Association of Black Journalists
September 2002 (edited version)
In August, six former Washington Post reporters met at a colleague's home for a commemoration. Not to mark the 30th anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, but of a landmark Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint charging the newspaper with discrimination against its black employees.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind against a major American newspaper, unarguably accelerated the hiring and promotion of scores of journalists of color. More important, it helped solidify the role of black journalists in the interpretation of contemporary American history. Yet, it seems the complaint and its significance has been largely ignored. There was no formal recognition of it scheduled at this year's NABJ convention in Milwaukee, where we relished in the ascension of more blacks to top newspaper posts.
African Americans head bureaus in Mexico City, Paris and Johannesburg, while black columnists write on topics ranging from the African AIDS crisis to personal finance. Sure, at first glance, there is much to celebrate.
To the Metro Seven — as the group of black Post reporters came to be known — the struggle for equality in the nation's newsrooms is hardly over, as some wish to believe. Within the complaint's allegations lie stark parallels to scores of issues that still linger. Yet, some of the Metro Seven survived at the Post, in journalism, partly on their own resilience, in the days before there was a deputy managing editor, or even an executive editor, to turn to for counsel. They had nothing but themselves.
Constant challenges for Dash
In 1966, a Howard University student named Leon Dash was working as a copy aide at the Washington Post when then-city editor Stephen D. Isaacs offered him a spot in that summer's intern class. Dash quickly accepted, and was eventually hired as a full-time reporter assigned to cover the District's Metropolitan Police Department. From the beginning, he faced constant challenges from Southern-bred police officers fresh from the Vietnam War, as well as from his own Post colleagues, whom he learned could be "some of your stiffest competition."
Two years later, he left to serve in the Peace Corps, in Kenya — soon after, riots erupted in Washington and dozens of other American cities in the wake of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Editors looked around their newsrooms and realized, perhaps for the first time, the consequences of the absence of people who could penetrate communities of color and authoritatively explain just what was ticking inside Black America's head. And so they plucked reporters from the ranks of black-owned newspapers, then they even recruited police officers, teachers and government officials. Then in March 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded that "along with the country as a whole, the press has long basked in a world, looking out of it, if at all, with the white man's eyes and perspective."
Indeed, The Post realized this, too, and by Dash's return in 1971 had hired several more Black reporters. Among them was Penny Mickelbury, a child of the Civil Rights Movement who just a few years earlier had become the first black reporter at the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald. To Mickelbury, then in her early 20s, the jump to the Post's "large, noisy" downtown Washington newsroom was at first glance daunting, but surmountable. "There were these people who were ephemeral, who floated around in sort of a rarified world," recalls Mickelbury, who was quickly promoted from night police reporter to the District government beat, largely because, she is convinced, editors realized that many emerging black bureaucrats were reluctant to talk to white reporters.
Still, Dash did not see strengthened coverage of black culture in the Post's pages, or significant improvement in the status of the newsroom's blacks, for that matter. White editors, he believed, "didn't see anything extraordinary in that. They thought our development was consistent with our entry into the industry." Dash flatly rejected that notion, and believed black reporters were stifled primarily because of their race. In his own intern class, for instance, he watched silently as a white male Harvard University intern was quickly assigned a story that was destined for page one.
"I didn't see any kind of consideration of that sort given to black reporters. There was a lopsidedness of the trajectory toward becoming a journeyman reporter. . . Blacks were kept at a low level of personal and professional development, and not given any chance to rise above it," says Dash, who received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism and left the Post three years later to become a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois at Champaign.
Talk of the disparate assignments dominated casual conversations between black reporters. Recalls Richard Prince, then a young Metro reporter, "Black reporters kept asking, 'why did this or that happen? How come Shirley Chisholm's campaign wasn't covered? Why did they close the Africa bureau? Why, on major breaking news stories, were black reporters only assigned to do legwork?'"
Soon, the keen observations turned to formal meetings, and strategizing.
Received unsatisfactory response
In the first week of February 1972, the nine black Metro reporters sent a three-page memo to then-executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee asking, essentially, why there had never been more than a single black reporter assigned to the national desk. Why there were no originating black editors on the foreign, national, sports, financial and style desks. And, among other issues, why were there no Black reporters in sports, and only two in Style?
Why, after Leon Dash obtained information in an unreleased report on halfway houses in the city, was the assignment given to a white reporter?
Within a week, Bradlee issued a memo acknowledging difficulty striking a balance between the newspaper's "commitment to hire, assign and promote the very best journalists we can find" with its "commitment to hire, assign and promote blacks." In addition, he noted The Post "now employs more black editors, reporters and photographers than any newspaper in America." Indeed, of 396 Washington Post newsroom employees, 37, or 9.3 percent, were black; black reporters comprised 17.5 percent of the 51-member Metro staff. Blacks accounted for 2 percent of the staffs of newspapers with circulation of more than 10,000, and 149 newspapers had none.
What is more, Bradlee promised the newspaper would amplify its recruitment efforts, and hire two more black reporter-interns into its fiercely competitive program within a month. And he said the paper had twice offered the District editor job to blacks who declined. The Africa bureau was closed because of financial constraints incurred by the Indo-Pakistani war, he said.
However, Bradlee's five-page response failed to appease the Metro reporters, who'd begun generating support from white colleagues. Later that month, the black Metro reporters demanded that the Post implement a stronger affirmative action program to bolster the number of blacks in virtually every job category to at least 35 percent. Within six months, the reporters requested that blacks account for between 15 and 25 percent of national and foreign, financial, sports and editorial desk staffers. Black copy editors also should be hired in virtually every other section, as should assignment editors, the Metro reporters argued.
"The city of Washington was overwhelmingly black, and I'd guess 35 to 45 percent of the stories in the paper had blacks in them or were about civil rights," says Mickelbury, who left the paper one year later and is now a Los Angeles-based novelist. "So, I don't think it was an unreasonable request. It was an effort to get the Post where it needed to be."
In turn, Bradlee offered to hire even more black reporter-interns, and in the following month appointed Robert E.L. Baker as the newsroom's equal opportunity officer, charged with overseeing the affirmative action plan. In addition, he promised to hire an additional African American reporter to the national staff, a black editor to the Metro desk, and initiate a formal coaching system that would pair senior staffers with cub reporters.
To the Metro 8 (one person dropped out), Bradlee's response was "an insult to our commitment, vague and totally unacceptable." A round of contentious meetings between the Metro reporters and editors followed, ending in an impasse.
"No alternative" to EEOC complaint
Penny Mickelbury had had enough. "I wasn't in the mood for racism. I was disappointed and tired, and I really hadn't come to Washington to put up with the same kind of crap I put up with in Athens," she says. "My tolerance level had peaked."
As it had for black Metro reporters, whose coalition had dwindled to seven.
On March 23, 1972, the Metro Seven — as they came to be known — gathered before a throng of reporters and photographers at Metropolitan AME Church, literally behind The Post's building, and announced they had filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint charging the newspaper with "denying Black employees an equal opportunity with respect to job assignments, promotional opportunities, including promotions to management positions and other terms and conditions of employment."
The group said during the news conference that "the complaint to the EEOC represents our belief that this discrimination cannot continue to exist at a publication in a city that is 71.1 percent Black." They added that the discrimination complaint — the first filed against any American newspaper — "came after very much thought, very much consideration. We're very sorry we had to take this step. There is no alternative."
Post attorney Joseph A. Califano told the New York Times that, "The Post feels it is as good or better than any other publication in this country" in the employment of blacks, and that the newspaper had already established an affirmative action program. For the young reporters, all that mattered was ensuring that African Americans had a significant role in interpreting contemporary events in American history, and so any feelings of nervousness were minute — although the risk was great.
Ron Taylor, for instance, had been at the newspaper only four months, and was still on probation when he signed onto the complaint. "I thought it was important. I wasn't going to worry about my career. I could compete with anyone, so I didn't have any real concern about whether I'd be blackballed."
News of the filing triggered a series of columns. They followed one by the Post's ombudsman Ben H. Bagdikian, the first public notice of the negotiations. He wrote that "if The Post is the best, it is still inadequate."
Eventually, as the Post reported, the EEOC commissioners voted against pursuing a staff finding of "reasonable cause to believe" that discrimination existed at the paper. But they gave the plaintiffs a letter entitling them to sue in federal court. The suit was not pursued for financial reasons.
However, it inspired a group of female Post staffers to file a discrimination suit, which the newspaper settled in 1980 with five-year hiring goals. The New York Times settled a discrimination suit by women in 1978, and black staffers in 1980. Newspapers and, indeed, other corporations, implemented affirmative action programs in part to thwart the risk of lawsuits.
In 1978, the American Society of Newspaper Editors adopted an ambitious goal of achieving racial parity in the nation's newsrooms by 2000, pledging that at least 17 percent of newspaper journalists would be of color. Twenty years later, only 12.07 percent of newspaper journalists were of color, though people of color comprised more than one-quarter of the U.S. population.
The Washington Post changed, too. In a region that is more than 42 percent of color — and is projected to be majority-minority by decade's end — 20.6 percent of the newspaper's 640 reporters, editors, photographers, copy editors and information technology professionals are racial or ethnic minorities. In the last five years, there has been increased diversity on the newspaper's foreign, financial and news desks. However, some departments, such as investigative and outlook, remain all white, and there are sharp declines on its sports and metro desk — the traditional entry point for the vast majority of reporters. This decline has enormous short- and long-term implications, acknowledged Milton Coleman, who as deputy managing editor, is the newspaper's highest-ranking African American.
"Given the role that Metro plays in the ultimate staffing of the newspaper, if editors of sections can't turn to Metro to find journalists who've been developed in The Washington Post tradition, it makes it harder for other staffs to diversify," he said.
Still work to do
The Metro Seven remained in contact sporadically over the years, more frequently, lately, through e-mail. Now, they say, it is a joy watching a new generation of black journalists climb to new heights. Ron Taylor, now a copy editor at the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, pointed to DeNeen L. Brown, who as te Post's Toronto bureau chief has reported from the North Pole.
"I think she does what I'd like to do," he said, "stuff that, frankly, goes where Black people have never been."
Yet, there is still much work to do. Earlier this year, Richard Prince, who returned to The Post part time as a foreign desk copy editor, noticed the newspaper briefed a story about President Bush's appointment of Gerald A. Reynolds, a black lawyer who is a critic of preferences for racial and ethnic minorities, to head the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. The New York Times ran a full story. "It's those kinds of things that just go past the radar, and shows there's still work to be done."
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 BugMeNot.com 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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- Fishbowl Interview With the Fresh Prince of D.C. (Oct. 26, 2012)
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