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"Too Liberal" Paper "Retires" Black Columnist

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Jersey's Bergen Record Ousts Lawrence Aaron

Lawrence AaronThe Record, a suburban New York newspaper in Bergen County, N.J., whose publisher believes readers perceive it as "too liberal," has dismissed its only African American columnist and portrayed it as a "retirement."

"I am definitely not retired in any sense of the word," Lawrence Aaron, a five-year columnist for the paper, told Journal-isms on Wednesday. "My position was eliminated. I'm actively looking for a job and can't think about the 'R' word for at least 15 years.

"I was in fact hoping that The Record's editors, managers and owners would see the wisdom of letting me continue writing for the paper at least until the November election or Barack Obama's inauguration and then perhaps reevaluate their decision for me to leave. But journalism and diversity concerns are taking a back seat to a range of financial problems and philosophical pressures steering that great suburban paper."

Aaron, who had been at the paper since 1998, was also chair of the newsroom's diversity committee, a mentor to younger journalists and a figure of trust in black communities that felt little connection to the newspaper, according to Michael J. Feeney, a 24-year-old black reporter at the paper who grew up in nearby Teaneck and delivered the Record as a child.

"The Record doesn't have the best reputation in terms of covering the African American community. I hear it all the time," Feeney said."Now that Lawrence is gone, people ask, 'why his column?'" He cited a number of stories the Record secured because community members first told Aaron, and said he had made the same point to top management at a diversity committee meeting
this year.

Editor Frank Scandale and Managing Editor Frank Burgos did not respond to requests for comment.

Publisher Stephen Borg asked Scandale "to get involved directly in learning more about perceived bias and developing ways to address it," according to the May 22 issue of Paydirt, the in-house publication of North Jersey Media Group, owner of the newspaper. "Is there a liberal slant to The Record's news coverage? A number of readers who participated in recent telephone interviews with our market research team said they think there is," the in-house publication said.

"I think I fell into the 'a little bit too liberal' category," Aaron said, speculating that became one of the rationales the nonunion paper could use for "opening the door" for him to leave.

Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin told Journal-isms that Aaron had retired. A "retirement" celebration took place at the paper.

The Record is facing financial problems. It is planning to vacate its main headquarters and move staff members to the site of its sister daily, the Herald News of West Paterson, it was reported at the end of June.

Aaron wrote a farewell column on Aug. 3. "Many readers shared the pain, joy and outrage of the people I wrote about," he wrote.

"I never planned to do the column, but once I started to do it, I was pleased, surprised and emotionally blown away by the extent to which people responded to me as a person, as a journalist, to someone putting his thoughts out there," he told Journal-isms.

Although he was told he was losing his job, Aaron said the paper allowed him time to attend the Unity convention at the end of July, which he found "totally profitable." He has adapted some of his columns for multimedia, one of the themes of the conference.

Before joining the Record, Aaron spent nine years with Gannett Co., at the Virgin Island Daily News and the Gannett papers in Westchester and Rockland counties in New York.

The dismissal of Aaron, who said he declined severance pay, is reminiscent of an incident involving the late Lisa Baird, another African American columnist at the Record. In December 1993, Baird wrote about a black gunman who fatally shot a number of white and Asian passengers on a crowded Long Island, N.Y., commuter train, writing, "Lord, please don't let him be black.'

"A tragic response, but one many black people experience whenever a horrendous crime is perpetrated, especially against white victims," she wrote, quoting others on the double standards at play in such cases. "Day in and day out, black-on-black crime gets discussed -- the majority of crime, which is white-on-white, gets cursory attention." A Record editor spiked Baird's column. In a memo, he said that her column "should percolate from the real world, not your intellect."

Baird moved on to the New York Post, and the episode became another example of the perils of writing as a journalist of color for portions of the mainstream press.  Her piece is part of a 1996 anthology, "Thinking Black: Some of the Nation's Best Black Columnists Speak Their Mind."

Aaron can be reached at 212-694-1737 or

Multimedia Aarons columns:

Kilpatrick to Resign,  "Magic Moment" for Accountability

In a case sparked when the Detroit Free Press obtained text messages showing that Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lied under oath in connection with a police whistle-blower case that cost the city $8.4 million to settle, Kilpatrick agreed Thursday morning to resign as mayor and serve 120 days in jail.

Caesar Andrews "It's one of those magic moments that really justifies so much of what we try to do," Caesar Andrews, executive editor of the Free Press, told Journal-isms. "This shows what aggressive investigative reporting can yield when done the right way. It shows what can happen when you have highly skilled investigative reporters cut loose to do what they can do."

But, he added, "Make no mistake about it. It is a sad day, at least from my perspective, when a person as deeply talented (as Kilpatrick) is forced to resign," even though Andrews is "very proud" of the quality of work his staff performed.

Pleading guilty to two obstruction of justice counts, Kilpatrick will go on five years' reporting probation and must also leave office within two weeks. He agreed to pay $1 million in restitution, paying $20,000 at the date of sentencing and the rest over the next five years, the Free Press reported.

The proceeding before Wayne County (Mich.) Circuit Judge David Groner was livestreamed on the Web sites of local media outlets such as the Free Press, the Detroit News and the WDIV-TV, and picked up by

Kilpatrick had maintained that the Free Press had illegally obtained the text messages -- a charge denied by the newspaper -- and his supporters had launched an e-mail campaign to encourage Detroiters to "push back" against what they contended was unfair media coverage of the mayor. Financial supporters of his defense included commentator Michael Eric Dyson, who teaches at Georgetown University, and Danny Bakewell, CEO of the Los Angeles Sentinel. But eventually, even such supporters as the Michigan Chronicle, a black weekly, urged him to resign.

The Free Press Thursday morning tracked Kilpatrick coverage from around the nation. [Added Sept. 4]

Dwight Lewis Named Tennessean Editorial Page Editor

LewisDwight Lewis, longtime columnist, occasional editorial writer and a local news editor at the Nashville Tennessean -- and its most prominent black journalist -- has been named the paper's editorial page editor, the newspaper announced on Wednesday.

"Lewis, a lifelong Nashvillian, is well known for his community activities, for his opinion columns and as a strong shirt-sleeves editor," the story said. He will be the first African American editorial page editor at a paper whose legacy includes a role in the early civil rights movement. The paper has been credited with influencing the sit-in movement of the early 1960s simply by covering it extensively, even as its editorial page opposed the demonstrations.

Lewis was hired by legendary Tennessean editor John Seigenthaler, former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, in 1971. He covered politics statewide, has been the Tennessean’s Washington correspondent and was in the inaugural class of the Multicultural Management Program for Journalists at the University of Missouri in 1986.

"For years, Dwight has staked out the high moral ground for the newspaper and for Nashville," editor Mark Silverman said in the story. "With Dwight at the helm, we look forward to building upon the progress that our opinion pages have made under John's leadership."

Silverman was referring to John Gibson, editorial page editor for the past two years, who announced his retirement Tuesday, effective Sept. 12.

Lewis is also a onetime board member of the National Association of Black Journalists and a member of the Trotter Group of African American columnists. He has often served visiting journalists as an ambassador to the city and to its black community. Lewis was on vacation as the announcement was made.

Other African Americans heading editorial boards include Harold Jackson at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Otis Sanford at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Joe Oglesby at the Miami Herald, Cynthia Tucker at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Robin Washington at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, Vanessa Gallman at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, James F. Lawrence at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., and Allen Johnson of the Greensboro (N.C) News & Record. Lovell Beaulieu, who headed the editorial board of the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, returned to his alma mater, St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, to teach.


Charles Leaves for Essence Multimedia Project

Nick CharlesNick Charles, vice president of content for BET Interactive and before that editor-in-chief of AOL Black Voices, is heading for Essence magazine, where he will be managing editor of a project combining the Web site with television production.

The goal is to convert the Essence site to a daily one that will produce stories and make use of video, Charles told Journal-isms.

Time Warner announced in April that the Warner Brothers Television Group would work with Essence, a Time Inc. publication, to redesign its Web site, share content with the syndicated TV show 'Extra' and develop new television programming tied to the magazine brand, as the New York Times reported at the time.

Charles joined only in September, succeeding Retha Hill, who left in June to join the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University.

"I'm getting a reputation of a guy who can run dot-coms or help them get off the ground," he told Journal-isms. "No one's going to be around for 20 years anymore," Charles said. "There are no more gold watches."

Diana Clark-Baty, general manager of BET Digital, wrote staffers about Charles on Tuesday:

"Most notably, Nick has created a news culture among our team. The passion he brings to news is infectious. I do hope that the spirit he brought to news continues to live on."

Republican consultant Mike Murphy and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan were caught on a live mike ridiculing the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate.

Palin Pushes Back at "Reporters and Commentators"

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin used her remarks to the Republican National Convention to warn "reporters and commentators" that she's "not going to Washington to seek their good opinion," Mike Allen reported Wednesday for

"In prepared remarks, Palin pushes back wittily but aggressively about the barrage of skeptical coverage she's been subjected to since being chosen as running mate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"'I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment,' Palin says in the text. 'And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country.'"

It was part of a counterattack against the news media that heightened Tuesday when the McCain campaign canceled an interview with the Republican presidential candidate scheduled for Tuesday on CNN's "Larry King Live." CNN's Campbell Brown had grilled a McCain spokesman over the qualifications of the first-term governor of Alaska. As Republican speakers did on Wednesday, the spokesman tried to turn the issue into one of Obama's qualifications.

A group of leading Republican women accused the media Wednesday of sexist "smears" against Palin.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee put his own twist to the media bashing Wednesday night at the convention: "The reporting of the past few days has been tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert," he said.

Not everyone bought their arguments.

"The press is merely doing on short notice what the McCain campaign's vetting team should have done between March — when he clinched the nomination — and now: properly vetting his vice-presidential candidate," Jack Shafer wrote in Slate. "Does Palin have what it takes to serve as president? Do any Tom Eagleton- or Spiro Agnew-type skeletons lounge in her closet? Will Joe Biden eat her alive in their vice-presidential debate? Can she subordinate herself to McCain?"

"The McCain campaign springs a complete unknown onto the national stage and then asks the media not to vet her any more thoroughly than the campaign did itself," Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler wrote in New York magazine's "Daily Intel"column.

"It's a macabre point to raise on the night when Palin will speak to the convention here — but a look at the actuarial tables insurance companies use to evaluate customers shows that it's not an irrelevant one. According to these statistics, there is a roughly 1 in 3 chance that a 72-year-old man will not reach the age of 80, which is how old McCain would be at the end of a second presidential term. And that doesn't factor in individual medical history, such as McCain's battles with potentially lethal skin cancer," wrote Alexander Burns on

Meanwhile, "after a segment with NBC's Chuck Todd ended today, Republican consultant Mike Murphy and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan were caught on a live mike ridiculing the choice of Sarah Palin," Ben Smith reported on his blog.

"'It's over,' said Noonan, who then responded to a question of whether Palin is the most qualified Republican woman McCain could have chosen.

"'The most qualified? No. I think they went for this — excuse me — political bullshit about narratives,' she said. 'Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.'

"Murphy chimed in:

"'The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.'"

Blacks Only 1.5 Percent of GOP Delegates

If you're wondering why there seems to be so little diversity at the Republican National Convention, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies issued this news release on Friday:

"After seating a record number of African American delegates in 2004, next week's Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul will have the lowest black representation in 40 years, according to a convention guide that will be distributed next week to delegates at the Republican National Convention by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies . . .

"'Blacks and the 2008 Republican Convention,' released today by the nonpartisan research institution that focuses on minority issues, notes that African Americans will comprise only 1.5 percent of the total number of GOP delegates, substantially below the record setting 6.7 percent in 2004.

"The 36 black delegates in 2008 represent a 78.4 percent decline from the 167 black delegates at the 2004 GOP convention."

The center noted Aug. 22 that "African American participation at this year's Democratic National Convention will be at an all-time high, with 1,079 African American delegates representing 24.3 percent of the total."

Video of Journalists' Arrest Draws 508,000 Views

"Another media group -- the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) -- has denounced the Monday arrest of four journalists at the Republican National Convention," Dave Astor reported Wednesday in Editor & Publisher.

"Meanwhile, a 49-second YouTube video showing the arrest of one of the four -- 'Democracy Now!' host/King Features Syndicate columnist Amy Goodman -- has received more than 508,000 views.

"In a statement released this afternoon, the NAHJ called on 'police and local and federal officials to respect the First Amendment right to free speech and free press of journalists doing their job, especially as it relates to coverage of recent political conventions and the surrounding public protests. Reporters have a duty and a constitutional right to be present at sometimes volatile events and situations, and to inform the public.'"


Obama Met With Fox; Will Go on O'Reilly

"At a secret meeting with Barack Obama three months ago, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes says, he tried to clear the air with the Democratic Mad magazine's September issue includes special posters 
of both John
McCain and Barack Obama, with 'Obama' on the cover.senator by saying that his organization was determined to be fair but would not be 'in the tank' for Obama's campaign," Howard Kurtz reported Wednesday in the Washington Post.

"During the sit-down in a Waldorf-Astoria hotel suite in Manhattan that included Rupert Murdoch, the network's owner, Obama expressed concern about the way Fox was covering him. 'I just wanted to know if I'm going to get a fair shake from Fox News Channel,' Ailes recalled him saying."

". . After resisting invitations for months, Obama now plans to appear on Bill O'Reilly's prime-time Fox program on Thursday, the night that John McCain delivers his acceptance speech at the Republican convention here."

PBS, the only broadcast network to devote more than an hour to the Democratic convention each night last week, drew an estimated 3.5 million viewers on Thursday night, the night of Obama's speech.

"I too, applaud PBS's decision to give its viewers a nightly full dose of the event that marks the start of the final leg of the most important thing we do, as a nation, every four years," PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote, discussing reaction from viewers.

"After the pats on the back come groups of critical letters: too many white guys, in general, discussing blacks, no women included in the analysis, and too much yakking by analysts generally."

Brokaw, Koppel Agree Debates Need More Diversity

Michel Martin of National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" received support from veteran broadcaster Ted Koppel, the longtime "Nightline" host, and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw in challenging the lack of diversity among those chosen to moderate the presidential debates this fall.

"My good friend Michel Martin over at NPR is livid and I think correctly so," Koppel said Thursday on MSNBC in a conversation with Brokaw. "Because the three debates that are going to be held this fall are going to be anchored by my good friend Tom Brokaw, here; my good friend Jim Lehrer; who's the third one? Another --

BROKAW: Bob Schieffer.

KOPPEL: Bob Schieffer.

So, we've got these three aging white males who are doing the only three debates -- presidential debates that are going to happen. And I think quite legitimately she makes the point, why don't we have an African American, why don't we have a woman, why don't we have someone you know, who's not five years past retirement age?

BROKAW: Well, I've suggested to Schieffer and to Lehrer that we open each of our debates by putting on the screen our Social Security accounts and ask the candidates to review them and make sure that they'll still be in place 10 years from now.

KOPPEL: Exactly, exactly.

BROKAW: I think that's a very, very good point. Gwen Ifill, by the way, will be doing the vice presidential debate.

KOPPEL: I'm delighted to hear this.

BROKAW: Not the presidential debate.

As reported last week, Schieffer told Carol Jenkins, president of the Women's Media Center, that he'd be happy if she would submit questions to him.

Post-Gustav, New Orleans Media Soldier On

"The Times-Picayune of New Orleans has not delivered a print newspaper since Saturday, and has been without power since Monday morning, according to Dan Shea, managing editor/news. But despite those limits the staff remains in the paper's main building, working with a generator and essentially producing a full edition for its Web site," Joe Strupp reported Tuesday in Editor & Publisher.

In broadcasting, "Television stations in New Orleans learned a lot from Katrina three years ago, when some stations were forced off the air and out of town by the hurricane that flooded the Crescent City," Michele Greppi wrote Tuesday in TV Week.

"Some of what the stations had implemented since Katrina came in handy Sunday and Monday as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast and moved inland."

Greppi then listed some of the stories that emerged Tuesday, after Gustav had moved on.

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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