Russ Mitchell Anchors on Historic Night
Sunday, May 1, 2011
U.S. Forces Kill Bin Laden After Lengthy Hunt: "Stories Like This Are the Reasons Most of Us Got in This Business"
The historic Sunday night announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces saw Russ Mitchell in the anchor chair for CBS News, a role that was winning him plaudits from colleagues and admirers and made him the highest-profile journalist of color on the story.
"I got home around 8 after anchoring the Evening News and was having dinner with my family when I got a call to come back for a possible special report," Mitchell told Journal-isms via email. "At that point the rumors were growing stronger by the minute but Bin Laden's death had still not been confirmed.
"Obviously, this was an incredible night for this country and the world for a lot of reasons. To have the chance to sit it the seat and be a part of our remarkable team tonight was such an honor. Yeah, stories like this are the reasons most of us got in this business in the first place."
On cable, Geraldo Rivera, leading Fox News Channel coverage, was exuberant.
" 'This is the greatest night of my career. The bum is dead,' a smiling Rivera said after announcing at 10:40 p.m. ET that Fox’s senior Capitol Hill producer, Chad Pergram, had confirmed the al Qaeda leader’s death," Rich Shumate of Cable News Examiner wrote.
Nearly all the news networks broke into their coverage when word leaked that President Obama was about to address the nation. Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo had news teams in place, but Black Entertainment Television, which since Obama's candidacy had aimed to show its flag during such milestone events, continued with its action drama series "The Unit." Three hours later, BET.com sent out a news alert.
TV One, which has no news department, was showing a movie about boxing promoter Don King.
Apart from Mitchell, other black journalists participating in the coverage were Mitchell's CBS colleague Byron Pitts, who reported on reaction from families who lost relatives during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Pierre Thomas, who reported for ABC News.
A conference call after the Obama speech between reporters and senior administration officials included questions from Martin Evans of Newsday, Lalit K Jha of the Press Trust of India and Sandra Sun of China Business News.
Mitchell, 51, was named Sunday anchor of the "CBS Evening News" in 2006. Last year, the veteran reporter was named a national correspondent, and he is also a correspondent for "CBS News Sunday Morning."
As viewers awaited the president's speech, Mitchell commanded the anchor post in ways reminiscent of one of his heroes, former "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather. On Mitchell's Facebook page, viewers wrote, "Fantastic! So proud of you!! Excellent coverage all round!" and "What a pro! You were amazing tonight." Colleagues in the National Association of Black Journalists said they, too, were proud.
Mitchell cited Rather and another hero, Bryant Gumbel, in an interview with Journal-isms after another high-profile breaking news story in 2002.
Then, Mitchell was co-anchoring CBS-TV's "The Saturday Early Show" when, shortly after the show ended at 9 a.m. Eastern, Mitchell got word that Mission Control had lost contact with the space shuttle Columbia. He was told to get back in the chair and stayed until 4 p.m., joined about 10:20 a.m. by Rather, who replaced Mitchell's co-anchor Gretchen Carlson.
"When you see a breaking news story, you get a sense of what kind of broadcaster this is," he said then. "There is no preparation you can have, other than to do it. This sounds sexist, but it separates the men from the boys. People at cable are very good at that stuff — that's what they do. That's why most of us go into this business — to cover breaking news."
The Bin Laden story comes a week after Katie Couric confirmed that she is leaving as anchor of the "CBS Evening News." Her five-year contract ends in June. While Mitchell's name was mentioned in early speculation as a possible successor — he would be the first African American to be a regular weekday network anchor since Max Robinson on ABC in the 1970s — the job is expected to go to Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes." [CBS announced May 3 that "the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley" would begin on June 6.]
The capture and killing of Bin Laden will spawn reams of commentary on its ramifications.
For William Jelani Cobb, author and associate professor of history at Rutgers University, the development must be seen in light of efforts to diminish the nation's first black president by real-estate developer Donald Trump, a potential Republican presidential candidate, and others who questioned whether Obama was born in the United States.
The president and comedian Seth Meyers, head writer on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," mocked Trump Saturday night at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner.
Cobb told Journal-isms by email, "A friend said that she thought it was wrong to discuss this in the context of the comedic dismantling of Trump, this was my reply:
"This is understood completely in the context of a man who did the one thing that virtually every American across race, region and class lines wanted done and in the context of people who [messed] with him every step of the way, down to accusing him of not even being worthy of the right to vote much less be president. By implication they were saying the same thing about all of us. This is a triumph in the same strain as Dorie Miller shooting down those Japanese planes in a cook's uniform. A metaphorical action that refutes a broader narrative about black unworthiness. It's not similar to the triumph over the birthers, it's identical to it."
- Associated Press: Huge demand for front pages with Osama bin Laden’s death crashes Web site of D.C.’s Newseum
- Jerry Barmash, FishbowlNY: New York Stations Scramble to Cover Death of Osama Bin Laden
- Bill Carter, New York Times: Bin Laden News Gives CNN a Ratings Victory
- Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute: Front pages capturing bin Laden’s death show power of a single word
- Gregory Clay, McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Across from White House, a time-capsule moment
- Toni Fitzgerald, medialifemagazine.com: Bin Laden's death ignites media frenzy
- Melissa Grego, Broadcasting & Cable: Obama: Osama Bin Laden Dead
- Arsalan Iftikhar, CNN: For Muslims, a reason to rejoice
- International Federation of Journalists: Africa: Shadow of 9/11 Attacks Hangs Over Journalism
- Lauren Kirchner, Columbia Journalism Review: Osama bin Laden, 54, Public Enemy No. 1: A review of the obits
- Deborah Mathis, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Obama Got the Man the Bush Clan Couldn't
- Chris O'Shea, FishbowlNY: The New York Times Adjusts Printing on The Fly
- Pew Research Center: Osama bin Laden Largely Discredited Among Muslim Publics in Recent Years
- Kevin Powell blog: Bin Laden is dead, but now what?
- Richard Rodriguez, New America Media: Bin Laden's Death and the Meaning of American Patriotism
- Corky Siemaszko, New York Daily News: Osama Bin Laden dead: As GOP slammed his leadership, President Obama plotted strike vs. Al Qaeda
- Brian Stelter, New York Times: How the bin Laden Announcement Leaked Out
- South Asian Journalists Association: After Osama: A SAJA Conversation (Podcast)
- Marisa Treviño, Latina Lista blog: One soldier involved in Bin Laden operation is son of Mexican immigrants
- Miki Turner, Jet: Now is not the time for celebration: Osama's death doesn't mean all is well in the world
- Edward Wyckoff Williams, theGrio.com: 'Yes We Did!': Obama's triumph over terrorism trumps doubters
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday telegraphed the State Department's public-relations strategy in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden: "Our goal is to give it meaning and shape a narrative that will convince people he was a murderer and not a martyr," she said, noting that most of his victims were Muslims.
Clinton made the comments in a meeting with 15 members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers from around the country who received a long-scheduled briefing from State Department officials, an annual event. Clinton was not on the agenda, but the Sunday killing of bin Laden led to a somber Clinton delivering a morning statement to network cameras, followed by a surprise visit to the editorial writers.
She also said the department planned to use the U.S. success in dispatching bin Laden in the perennial budget battles that have grown more acute with demands to cut government spending. "We're working to bolster our partnerships even more," Clinton said. "We're going to look for ways to put this in a larger debate we're having here at home on what it takes to stay engaged in the world. Many believe our security apparatus [isn't] affordable any more."
One reason Osama could be caught and killed was that "our tools were so much better and our relationships had evolved in such a way to obtain information that was actionable," the secretary continued.
Administration officials have attributed the location of bin Laden's hideout to intelligence work that involved multiple U.S. agencies.
The removal of bin Laden "opens up opportunities for dealing with the Taliban that did not exist before," Clinton said. Now dead was "the person people pledged loyalty to when they joined the organization. It wasn't to an organization; it was to an individual. Bin Laden was viewed as a military warrior. He wasn't just a talker. He carried with him a quite significant mystique."
The job of the United States will be to "draw distinctions between those who have legitimate aspirations and those who resort to violence. The extremist narrative will have been dealt an even greater blow with his death," she said.
- Paul Choiniere, the Day, New London, Conn.: Clinton: Seize the moment
- Carolyn Lumsden, Hartford (Conn.) Courant: Hillary Clinton on bin Laden: This was a relentless pursuit for justice
- State Department: Hillary Clinton’s Remarks on bin Laden’s Death
It seems to be the rare U.S. diplomat who thinks the American media cover Africa properly, and Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs, is no exception. He diplomatically called coverage "essential, good but insufficient.
"What we would like is probably more, with greater detail and greater differentiation," he told members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers on Monday.
"Making distinctions between Africa as constituting some 53 states, 48 of them sub-Saharan, and not making broad, sweeping generalizations about the continent. Not portraying everything happening in Abidjan and South Sudan" — scenes of recent instability — "as [the same thing] as Tanzania or Namibia.
"There is progress on the continent," Carson said, and the news media should avoid focusing exclusively on states experiencing "death and destruction" or the "authoritarian and ruthlessness of certain leaders."
No one would think of equating the problems of Bosnia with those of Great Britain, or Spain's economic problems as the equivalent of Germany's, he said, or present "Burma and North Korea as what is happening in Asia."
Carson, a 47-year foreign service veteran, said such distinctions are important because businesses make decisions based on what they see in the media.
In 2008, Jendayi E. Frazer, then assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the Trotter Group of African American columnists that the "very negative" portrayal of Africa, especially in major media outlets, was costing nations in southern Africa 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product because they were in the same neighborhood as the extremely troubled Zimbabwe.
Latin America has more in common with the United States than many Americans think, yet "because things are going fairly well in Latin America," there is less interest in the region among the U.S. media, according to Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
The United States has become the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico, Valenzuela, a U.S.-Chilean citizen, told members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers on Monday. "There is no other continent in the world where the countries are as similar to the United States" as with Latin America, home to the oldest republics in the world.
Those nations are celebrating their 200th anniversary, founded like the United States with the ideals of the Enlightenment. "There is no other place where you don't have ethnic, religious and separatist movements. [They] are pretty much absent now in the Western Hemisphere," Valenzuela said. One reason for the amount of immigration to the United States is that the Western Hemisphere nations have similar values, he said.
Moreover, there are 1 million legal border crossings daily between the United States and Mexico. NAFTA is the largest free-trade agreement in the world.
Still, Valenzuela said that when President Obama and his family left in March for a five-day trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, the trip was heavily covered in Latin America but in the United States, not so much. Reporters on the trip from U.S. outlets instead asked questions about the uprising in Libya, he said.
Topics deserving more attention, Valenzuela said, include the effect of climate change, particularly in countries touched by the Amazon River, such as Brazil and Peru.
In that, he echoed diplomat Johnnie Carson, who in discussing Africa said the snow at the top of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet the highest mountain in Africa, would melt by the end of the decade.
The next Knight Fellowship class at Stanford University will include three journalists of color — two Latinos and a journalist of Indian decent — but for the second year in a row, no African Americans, James Bettinger, director of the program, told Journal-isms on Monday.
Among the class of 12 are Claudia Nuñez, a reporter for La Opinión in Los Angeles, who plans to create an online platform that connects statisticians with ethnic media journalists to develop custom reports; Wilson Liévano, editions coordinator-multimedia for the Wall Street Journal Americas, who hopes to develop "a multimedia and contextual wire service" for Spanish-language publications; and Deepa Fernandes, a journalist and executive director of People's Production House in New York, who wants to "investigate technologically innovative infrastructure, enabling collaboration between citizen journalists and traditional newsrooms."
During their stay at Stanford, the Knight Fellows pursue independent courses of study and participate in special seminars. The 2011-12 program marks the 46th year that Stanford has offered journalism fellowships.
"We are indeed concerned that there are no African Americans among our U.S. Fellows," Bettinger said. "Diversity remains a core value of the Knight Fellowships program, and we will be expanding our recruiting for African Americans beyond the sources that have traditionally provided most of our fellows of color."
Bettinger provided this breakdown of the applicant pool: African American, 10; Asian American, 9; Latino, 7; Native American, 1; white, 77. For 2010-11, the current year's class: African American, 9; Asian American, 20; Latino, 16, white, 88.
"Overall, we dropped from 133 U.S. applicants to 104. We're not really sure why that drop occurred, but we are giving top priority to expanding and rethinking our recruiting and marketing strategy and efforts," Bettinger said by email.
"Things have fluctuated wildly the last few years. The total # of applicants for 2009-10 was 166, the year before that was 88 and the year before that was 83. We know that a lot of that fluctuation is due to the economy and the disruption in the news business. We think that some of it is also due to the changes we have made in our program, which we are refining and modifying as we go along."
The next class will be the third whose selection was guided by the program's new focus on journalism innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.
"Dorothy Parvaz left Doha, Qatar, for Syria on Friday to help cover events currently taking place in the country. However, there has been no contact with the 39-year-old since she disembarked from a Qatar Airways flight in Damascus.
"Parvaz is an American, Canadian and Iranian citizen. She joined Al Jazeera in 2010 and recently reported on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami for the network.
"She graduated from the University of British Columbia, obtained a masters from Arizona University, and held journalism fellowships at both Harvard and Cambridge. She previously worked as a columnist and feature writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the US."
Sanjay Bhatt, a Seattle Times reporter who is president of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, added, "I’m in touch with the Committee to Protect Journalists and monitoring this to see how AAJA Seattle might offer constructive support. . . .
"On Twitter, some AAJA members already have begun to call on the Syrian government to release Dorothy. Hashtag is #FreeDorothy.
"Former colleague Larry Johnson advises: 'She’s been missing since Friday. Everyone should contact the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C. Calls are best, emails help. We need to do this now!' he wrote to P-I Help Google group."
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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