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A Touching Image of Obama and a Boy

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Story Gives New Life to Symbolic White House Photo

ProPublica, Radio Show Team on Story of Massacre

Times-Picayune Staffers Updating Resumes

Right Wing Stokes Stories of Black-on-White Crime

Jamal Watson Resigns From College Teaching Job

ABC News Offers Fellowships in Diversity Program

Outsider Status Called Good Journalism Training

Tamron Hall Urges Speaking Out on Negative Hip-Hop

Short Takes

In the photo that has hung in the West Wing for three years, President Obama bow

Story Gives New Life to Symbolic White House Photo

A 2009 photograph of President Obama bending over so a 5-year-old African American boy can touch his hair is enjoying renewed popularity after reporter Jackie Calmes recounted the story behind the image last week in the New York Times.

On the day it ran, Dylan Stableford reported for Yahoo News, it was most-emailed article on the Times' website.

Calmes' piece began, "For decades at the White House, photographs of the president at work and at play have hung throughout the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one picture of President Obama remains after three years.

"In the photo, Mr. Obama looks to be bowing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president's hair — to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and visitors that by popular demand it stays put while others come and go."

Leutisha Stills, writing as "rikyrah" on the Jack & Jill Politics blog, reprinted the Calmes piece and declared, "I consider this to still be THE picture of Barack Obama's Presidency."

Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart wrote, "The first time I saw it was while walking through the West Wing to a meeting three years ago. "The image was so powerful I stopped in my tracks . . .

". . . Thanks to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, we African Americans are sensitive about our heads and our hair. A pat on the head, especially from someone white, would be patronizing at best. 'Don't let anybody touch your head,' my mother told me when we moved from Newark to a predominantly white town in New Jersey. I would learn at school that some would rub the head of someone black for good luck. And there were all sorts of put-downs for black hair — from Brillo to something not appropriate to mention in a family forum such as this. Thus, having your head touched is a rather intimate gesture that only family could get away with."

In the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote on Sunday, "Forget your political affiliation. Never mind your assessment of his time in office so far. If you have any kind of heart, you're struck by it: the photograph of Barack Obama bent down so that a young black boy can touch his head and see if the president's hair is indeed like his own. It moves you. It also speaks to a way in which Obama and Mitt Romney, whose campaigns are picking up the pace just as polls show them neck and neck, are profoundly mismatched."

Jonathan Jones wrote Friday for Britain's Guardian newspaper, "Spontaneous or staged this photograph tells a truth. All over America, all over the world, children are growing up in the simple knowledge of who this president is. It matters. Obama is a great historical fact — touch it, dude," Jones wrote, echoing Obama's command to the young boy.

Pete Souza, a former photographer for the Chicago Tribune as well as the Reagan White House, told Calmes, "As a photographer, you know when you have a unique moment. But I didn't realize the extent to which this one would take on a life of its own. . . ."

"David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's longtime adviser, has a copy framed in his Chicago office," Calmes continued. Axelrod said of the young boy, Jacob Philadelphia, "Really, what he was saying is, 'Gee, you're just like me.' And it doesn't take a big leap to think that child could be thinking, 'Maybe I could be here someday.' This can be such a cynical business, and then there are moments like that that just remind you that it's worth it."

At the back door of his home in Framingham, Mass., Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda holds an album containing photos of Lt. Oscar Ov

ProPublica, Radio Show Team on Story of Massacre

"Thirty years ago, at the height of the civil war in Guatemala, a group of government soldiers led an assault on the northern village of Dos Erres, massacring more than 250 men, women, and children," David Abel reported for the Boston Globe.

"They left just two survivors: two light-skinned, green-eyed young boys.

"Last year, more than a decade after he moved to Framingham to seek work, Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda received a call from his hometown in Guatemala that would change his life.

"The 32-year-old father of four learned that he was one of those two survivors, and that he had been kidnapped and raised by the family of one of the commanders who led the raid on Dos Erres.

"He also learned that there was another survivor who happened to be away from the village on that bloody day in 1982: his father.

"The slaughter in Dos Erres was one of 600 mass killings in a 36-year-long war that left more than 200,000 people dead.

" 'Before, I thought the guerrillas and the army killed each other in the war. But I didn't know that they massacred innocent people,' Ramírez Castañeda told ProPublica, a nonprofit online news site, which on Friday published a long story titled 'Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory, and Justice in Guatemala'. 'I imagine there is a connection between the violence of the past and the present. If you don't catch these people, it keeps spreading. People do whatever they want.'

"The story, a version of which also aired this weekend on the radio program 'This American Life,' recounts how Ramírez Castañeda is coming to terms with his true identity."

"This American Life" noted: "This story was co-reported with Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica, Ana Arana of Fundación MEPI, independent journalist Habiba Nosheen and This American Life producer Brian Reed. Their essay 'Finding Oscar,' which is accompanied by a timeline, slideshow and character guide, can be read at and is also available as an eBook. Annie Correal helped with research and translations."

Times-Picayune Staffers Updating Resumes

"Individual meetings with Times-Picayune employees, at which they will learn whether they have lost their jobs or will be offered new positions with the new NOLA Media Group, are set to begin in about a week — probably starting Monday, June 4 or Tuesday, June 5, according to sources with knowledge of Advance Publications' plans," Kevin Allman reported Sunday for Gambit, an alternative newspaper in New Orleans.

"Many newsroom employees spent their Memorial Day weekend updating resumes, obtaining copies of their clips, networking by telephone and social media and following job leads in New Orleans and elsewhere.

"At the meetings, Advance, which owns The Times-Picayune, will reportedly offer severance packages to some employees, while tendering job offers to others. Job descriptions will likely be revised, and those who receive offers to stay will likely have to reapply for the new positions within the newly created NOLA Media Group."

Right Wing Stokes Stories of Black-on-White Crime

". . . If you've spent much time consuming conservative media lately, you've probably learned about a slow-burning 'race war' going on in America today," McKay Coppins reported last week for BuzzFeed. "Sewing together disparate data points and compelling anecdotes . . . conservative bloggers and opinion-makers are driving the narrative with increasing frequency. Their message: Black-on-white violence is spiking — and the mainstream media is trying to cover it up.

"This notion isn't necessarily new to the right, which has long complained about stifling political correctness in the media and the rising tide of 'reverse racism.' But the race war narrative has gained renewed traction during the Obama years, as various factors — from liberals' efforts to paint the Tea Party as racist, to the widely-covered Trayvon Martin shooting — have left conservatives feeling unfairly maligned, and combative.

". . . The conservative media's in-your-face reporting of black-on-white crime is a sort of demonstration project — a rebellious response to decades of fielding charges of racism from the cultural elites who run the mainstream press. . . ."

Jamal Watson Resigns From College Teaching Job

Jamal Eric Watson, a former executive editor of the New York Amsterdam News, has resigned as an assistant professor of English at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, the college president told Journal-isms on Friday.

The Mercer County prosecutor's office had taken over an inquiry related to Watson, the Times of Trenton, N.J., reported in March. But the Times also reported then, "Neither the college nor law enforcement officials will say exactly what allegations have been levied against Watson."

Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, the college president, said in a statement to Journal-isms, "Mr. Eric Watson has resigned from Mercer County Community College as of May 18, 2012. The investigation has ended."

Watson told Journal-isms by telephone that he did not consider that he had resigned. "I did not have tenure. I was on a year by year" contract. "You serve at the pleasure of the college. My contract ended in May." Asked what he planned to do next, Watson said, "The same thing I've been doing for the last seven years," apparently a reference to his freelance work.

In 2006, Watson pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree grand larceny after being accused of cashing checks made out to Amsterdam News summer interns.

ABC News Offers Fellowships in Diversity Program

ABC News has announced a new fellowship program "to attract and develop aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds for a rigorous and rewarding year-long opportunity," Michelle Levi wrote Thursday for ABC News.

"Starting this July, future news leaders will rotate through several ABC News departments and broadcasts while mastering editorial, production, and newsgathering skills. Participants from a variety of racial, ethnic, socio-economic and geographic backgrounds will work closely with an experienced ABC News mentor."

ABC News is accepting applications for a July 2 start date.

Outsider Status Called Good Journalism Training

As a question for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Les Suzukamo, a business reporter covering technology, energy and local media for the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn., was asked, "What do you love most about being Asian American?"

Suzukamo told Paul Cheung of the Asian American Journalists Les SuzukamoAssociation:

"As an Asian far from the coasts, I have often felt conspicuous here in Minnesota. You can't hide, but that was a good thing for a shy person like me. It forced me to grow and establish myself and to help define the idea of what is 'Asian.' The outsider status that Asians have long held on the mainland actually helped prepare me for journalism, where we journalists are usually outsiders looking in."

A Q-and-A with Suzukamo was the May 17 entry among AAJA's profiles for the heritage month. Suzukamo was a founding member of AAJA's Minnesota chapter.

Tamron Hall Urges Speaking Out on Negative Hip-Hop

MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall told that she is among journalists who have a responsibility to educate younger black women about the negative aspects of hip-hop.

Tamron HallHall said to Kristin Braswell, "I do believe more women in positions of spreading information such as journalists have to find a way to connect with younger Black women and say 'look, I have TI on my iPhone and I love Jay Z and even Young Jeezy, but some of these messages the music sends has got to be balanced in your head, because this is not a way of life.'

"This notion that you can have everything you want if you can drop it low enough and the objectification that we're seeing I believe adds to low self-esteem in women which can sometimes contribute to domestic abuse. Then some women find themselves in situations where they are too afraid to leave or unable to find support.

"We are presented with a unique situation in the Black community in that we have embraced the beauty of hip hop, the real rawness of it, the real fun of it, but we also have to address the damage it has done. We have to look at what it's done to our black girls, especially when it comes to domestic violence."

Short Takes

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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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Offensive and backward era photo

I found nothing of value in the 'touching' photo it disturbed me that a Black child is tragically socialized by his environment that requires him to believe and act out a backward ritual involving the texture of hair. It is also silly observing Black media figures give credibility to such regressive nonsense. There is nothing moving about acts of irrevelant symbolism even in the Obama era.

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