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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baring the Emotions They Felt the Night Obama Won

'I brought my kids in to watch the moment,' said CNN's Soledad O'Brien. (Credit: CNN)

Four veteran black journalists, most of them trained to be dispassionate in their professional roles, gave listeners a peek into the emotions they felt on the night Barack Obama won the presidency in a discussion on Michel Martin's "Tell Me More" on National Public Radio.

Martin herself was asked Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources," "How did you feel on election night? And can you, should you separate that from the way you report on Obama winning the presidency?

"No," she told host Howard Kurtz, "because your mother gave birth to a human being and not a journalist. And I think that's part of the story. The emotion is part of the story.

"One of the things I think that some of the critics are forgetting is that this campaign was a cultural phenomenon, not just a presidential campaign. And to fail to cover that is not doing your job."

Michel MartinWith Martin on Monday's "Tell Me More," as she made the introductions: "CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien, NPR News analyst and Fox News commentator Juan Williams, Eugene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post and a frequent contributor to MSNBC, and Jim Vance, anchor at NBC4 in Washington, D.C., and the dean, if I may say, of Washington, D.C., anchors."

"I certainly did feel a special obligation to try to keep my enthusiasm about Barack Obama's candidacy at bay," Vance said. "My first election was in 1968, and I have never, ever in my life been so personally involved and so emotionally engaged in an election as I was in this one. And so, yeah, there was some work to be done to try to keep that off the airwaves."

Robinson said, "I'm lucky among this group. I'm a columnist. I'm an opinion columnist, so I felt I didn't have to work as hard as, perhaps, everybody else in going straight down the middle on the one hand or on the other hand. I threw away the other hand when I became an opinion columnist.

"On the other hand, I'm a journalist. So you want to look at things critically, you want to look at things analytically. And I'll tell you, getting through election night was really tough. There were moments that - quarter to 11 I was on the MSNBC set. It was announced internally that we're going to call the election at 11. And I just about lost it. First thing I did was call my mom and dad in South Carolina and kind of talk to them and whisper, you know, he won. I was like a kid. I was excited."

O'Brien said, "For me, it's always been really easy to not get emotionally involved in things that I'm actually actively covering. So when you have a job of getting in the latest figures and sort of working this board that may or may not agree with you as far as, you know, launching when you need it to launch, things like that, you kind of have work to do. And so I find that I get much more thoughtful and emotional after the fact."

"It didn't push your buttons at all?" Martin asked.

"Oh, you know, absolutely," O'Brien said. "You know . . . I brought my kids in to watch the moment, and I brought a bunch of fourth-graders in earlier in the day. So from a historical perspective, absolutely, but during the doing-of-the-job part, not at all."

Williams, who had been one of Obama's sharpest critics, said, "for me, it was like a watershed. I think lots of things had been building up over time. I remember seeing Michelle Obama onstage with the little girls and her mom in the audience and thinking to myself, oh, my God. Can you imagine the first lady - you know, if you think of the Jackie Kennedy image - but now the first lady will be Michelle Obama, and there's her mom and those little girls. And what a positive, loving sight. And I remember feeling really emotional just watching that.

"But when this moment came, you know, as Eugene was describing earlier, for me it was - you know, they announced it, and they went to me, and it was like, oh, I'm supposed to explain what this means, this moment in American history on Fox News.

"And you know, I realized right then that for me, this was all about the shouting is over. There is something here so special that, you know, my mom, my dad - Eugene talked about calling his parents. I understand that 100 percent, you know, because when I voted, I also had that sense of so much history. When I saw the people in Lafayette Square, it reminded me of what happened after emancipation. I just thought, there's something bigger than politics at play here. This is something greater than me and my generation, you know, bigger. This is a big story, and I just had the sense of wanting people to understand how much had been overcome in this moment of American history."

A few white journalists were asked similar quesitons on "Reliable Sources."

"Look, this wasn't just a moment for African Americans," said Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. "It was a moment for the whole country. You had white conservative pundits like Bill Bennett on CNN, Peggy Noonan, even Karl Rove saying this is a historic moment.

"Look, as soon as Barack Obama starts making decisions as president, starts being a politician who has to tangle with Republicans and Congress, with his own Democratic majority in Congress, guess what? He's not going to be the African American phenomenon anymore, he's going to be just the plain old president of the United States. He's going to have to contend with all of that."

Jake Tapper, senior political correspondent for ABC News was next. "As Michel said, we're all human beings," Tapper said. "My daughter is 14 months old. She will never know an America where an African American cannot be elected president. That will not be a reality, unlike for all of us, that she grows up in."

Kurtz volunteered, "I found myself thinking about when I was growing up there were no black characters on TV shows until Bill Cosby was on 'I Spy' in 1965." He amended that to mean black "role models, leading men and women."

Later, he turned to Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page: "Is there an assumption that you will defend Barack Obama, no matter what, because he's African American and you're African American and there's some sort of bonding?" he asked.

"Yes, there's that presumption," Page replied, "and it cuts both ways. There are some folks who view that negatively. There are others - there are black folks who presume I'm going to be the great defender of anything that the black candidate or the black officeholder does.

"Both sides are in for disappointment, and I think it takes you a couple of years in this business to get used to the vitriol that gets thrown at you. But I figured out early on that the people who hate my commentary today may love me next week, become the best thing since slice bread, simply because they agree with that one and didn't agree with the earlier one. So, I mean, our job is to take the brickbats from both sides, but also to help provoke people to think."

Who's First? Ebony, CBS Both Interview President-Elect

Ebony magazine and CBS News are both said to have secured the first interview with Barack Obama since he won the popular vote for president on Nov. 4.

"This afternoon, Ebony magazine conducted the first interview and photo shoot with President-elect Barack Obama since his victory on Nov. 4," an Ebony news release said on Thursday.

"The exclusive interview and cover shoot, held at the headquarters of Johnson Publishing Co. in Chicago, will be the centerpiece of Ebony magazine's January 2009 commemorative issue, which goes on sale nationwide Tuesday, December 9.

"President-elect Obama spoke to Ebony magazine editorial director Bryan Monroe on a wide range of issues, including his historic election and international reaction, the future of America and how he hopes to tap the enthusiasm of the millions of supporters who have been mobilized by his election.

"'I'm very humbled by the fact that I stand on the shoulders of all the people who made these incredible contributions to lift this country up,' Obama told Ebony on Thursday."

Dudley Brooks took the photographs. Ebony did not say whether Obama made any news.

Variety and the New York Times both reported that CBS News would be out first with its interview, even though it is taking place a day later than Ebony's.

"And the first post-election interview with the incoming president goes to . . . CBS' '60 Minutes," William Triplett reported for Variety.

"Longtime correspondent Steve Kroft will sit down with President-elect Barack Obama and future first lady Michelle Obama on Friday in Chicago, the Eye said Thursday. The segment will air Sunday." 

NPR Announces Obama Team; BBC Rues Lack of Color

Audie Cornish National Public Radio has assigned Scott Horsley, presidential political reporter and a business reporter, to become White House correspondent, according to a memo from Ron Elving, senior Washington editor, posted on the FishBowl DC Web site.

"Scott will join veteran White House correspondent Don Gonyea in covering the transition and early going for the Obama team. In the same spirit, we are also assigning Mara Liasson to help with coverage of the White House in the months to come. Mara will remain the national political correspondent and focus on the biggest story in national politics: the rise of a new regime in Washington."

None of those assigned is a person of color. However, "Audie Cornish, who from Nashville has been part of our six-person coverage team throughout the presidential campaign and played a featured role in the coverage of the Democratic nominating convention in Denver . . .  will be the swing reporter covering issues and power in both House and Senate."

The New York Times, Washington Post and politico.com have said that black journalists will now be part of their White House teams.

London's newspaper the Independent reported Monday, "The head of the BBC newsroom has admitted his disappointment at the lack of black people participating in the corporation's coverage of Barack Obama's historic presidential victory.

"Peter Horrocks, who watched the BBC's election night output from his home in south-west London, said he was 'struck' by the paucity of black contributors to panel discussions and by the lack of black journalists on a night when political history was made.

"He said Obama's victory had thrown into sharp relief the levels of political interest among the BBC's young ethnic minority audiences, with young listeners to the BBC's Asian Network saying the election was the 'first historic event of their lives'."

At a meeting Tuesday with the Trotter Group of African American columnists, Marcus Brauchli, the new executive editor of the Washington Post, said Obama's election should bring more black journalists into the White House press corps. "Everybody who hasn't been focused on this issue is putting focus on it now," he said.

"Cosby Show" Comparison Sparks Discussion of Class

"Bill Cosby has long bristled at ''The Cosby Show' ran from 1984 to 1992suggestions that his pioneering NBC comedy, 'The Cosby Show,' was somehow unrealistic in its portrayal of a black upper-middle-class family," Greg Braxton reported Monday in the Los Angeles Times.

"So with the Obama family set to take up residence in the White House, Cosby reflected on those statements last week with a chuckle. 'For all those people who said they didn't know any black people like the Huxtables,' quipped Cosby in a phone interview, 'all I can say is, "Will you watch the show now?" '"

A New York Times piece on Saturday also compared Cosby's TV family to Obama's.

Brent Cunningham wrote of that article on Wednesday for the Columbia Journalism Review, "The piece makes the case that The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, was the central cultural phenomenon that laid the groundwork for a successful Obama candidacy — the idea being that, as the first TV show to depict a black family in a way that white America could identify with, it created a comfort zone around the notion of a stable black family headed by professionals.

"That's fine as far as it goes, but what the Times piece ignores is that the Huxtables represented 'normal' life only by the standards of the white middle and upper middle class. . . .

"In all coverage that discussed Obama's candidacy as 'post-racial,' that noted how he transcended the race-based politics of the civil rights-era black leaders, it was rarely stated overtly that in most every way save skin color, the Obama who appeared on the national stage fit neatly into the perception in middle-class America — journalists included — of who its leaders should be. He went to Columbia and Harvard. He is affluent. He speaks like we do. No matter the uniqueness of his story, he is familiar to us. He is the embodiment of the truth that white, middle-class America — thanks in part to The Cosby Show — has attained a level of comfort with the now-substantial black middle class. But what about poor and working-class blacks? There the story gets a whole lot more complicated."

In Poll, 55% of Blacks Say They're Saving Historic Paper

More than half of African Americans say they are saving a newspaper with election headlines, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center, which also found that blacks were more engaged than were whites in following news of the presidential election, the economy, the rising unemployment rate and news of congressional elections.

"As the Pew Research Center's Weekly News Interest Index has shown, the public followed news about the 2008 presidential campaign more closely than any presidential election in the past 20 years. Americans relied primarily on television news for information about the campaign, and cable TV was the dominant medium," the Pew Center reported on Wednesday.

"When asked to name their favorite and least favorite campaign journalist or commentator, Bill O'Reilly was named most frequently as the favorite — and as the least favorite. O'Reilly was named by 5% as their favorite journalist or commentator, while 3% each named Tom Brokaw and Sean Hannity. However, fully half could not name anyone as their favorite."

In a racial breakdown provided for Journal-isms, blacks were twice as likely to name Fox News' O'Reilly as their least favorite and three times as likely to cite conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh. Of 25 names on the list of favorite or least favorite, none was a journalist or commentator of color. Some 88 blacks were in the sample, according to chief researcher Kim Parker.

"As expected, the election was the dominant news story last week, with 60% following news about the election very closely and 39% citing it as their top story of the week," the Pew Center said. "Nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) followed news about the congressional elections very closely, with 2% saying they followed it more closely than other any other story."

When respondents were asked if they followed certain stories very closely, fairly closely, not too closely, or not at all closely, 66 percent of blacks said they were following the economy very closely, compared with 53 percent of whites; news of the presidential election, 76 percent of blacks said very closely compared with 57 percent of whites; reports about the rising unemployment rate, 61 percent of blacks, very closely, but just 36 percent of whites; news of the elections in Congress, 39 percent of blacks and 22 percent of whites.

Asked, "Are you saving a newspaper with headlines about Barack Obama's victory to keep for the future, or not?" 55 percent of blacks said yes, compared with 18 percent of whites.

There is no breakout for Hispanics, Parker said. "Interviews for this weekly survey are not conducted in Spanish, and therefore, the findings from English-speaking respondents only may not be reflective of the entire Hispanic community. "

 

The sample size for Asian Americans and Native Americans was too small.

Africa Coverage Said to Scare Away Investment

Jendayi E. Frazer (credit: Askia Muhammad)The "very negative" portrayal of Africa, especially in major media outlets, is costing nations in southern Africa 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product "just by being in the same neighborhood," Jendayi E. Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told journalists on Wednesday.

The gross domestic product is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.

Frazer was speaking to members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists.

"They go to crises," she said of the news media. "I don't think it's getting better sufficiently." The way the continent is covered, she said, "you don't get a more diverse picture of the continent. It scares away investors. They see a problem in Zimbabwe, they think the problem" exists in nearby countries as well.

Frazer plans to return to academia when the Bush administration ends. She said it had been little reported that debt had been canceled for 34 countries on the continent. The question, she said, is whether the countries will assume new debt, particularly with an increase in trade with China. She also cited the Bush administration's widely praised anti-AIDS initiatives.

Remaining challenges include Somalia, a failed state that is breeding terrorism; warfare in the eastern Congo; the continuing Darfur crisis; and activity by a terrorist group in Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army.

But countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, which underwent wrenching civil wars, "have made the transition to post-conflict" existence, she said.

Asked about U.S. support for imprisoned journalists, Frazer pointed to the State Department's protest last week of the Burundian government's arrest of Alexis Sinduhije, an aspiring presidential candidate and former journalist who was named one of the world's 100 most influential people this year by Time magazine.

"An ethnic Tutsi reporter who adopted a Hutu war orphan, Sinduhije has become a national celebrity in Burundi, a small central African country that has been plagued for more than 15 years by violence between the two ethnic groups," Colum Lynch reported Saturday for the Washington Post.

"In 2001 Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine, an independent radio station that promoted reconciliation between the groups.

"His reporting has drawn international praise. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists honored Sinduhije in 2004 with its International Press Freedom Award. He has also appeared as a guest on PBS's 'Charlie Rose' show."

Veteran Police Reporter Shot to Death in Mexico

Armando Rodriguez"A veteran police reporter in the border city of Ciudad Ju?°rez ‚Äî the current epicenter of drug cartel turf wars ‚Äî was shot to death outside his home early Thursday, sparking new calls for the government to halt a series of attacks against journalists covering the drug war," Laurence Iliff reported from Mexico City Thursday for the Dallas Morning News.

"Crime reporter Armando Rodr??guez was shot several times while sitting in his car outside his home by gunmen who apparently lay in wait and sped off following the fatal attack, according to the newspaper he worked for, El Diario. He was preparing to drive one of his daughters to school, the newspaper said on its Web site.

"The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling for the end to attacks on journalists in Mexico, where more than a dozen have been killed over the last decade. Mexican non-governmental groups say that 99 percent of all crimes go unpunished."

In a statement from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Elizabeth Zavala, vice president for print, who is deputy city editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said, "Armando Rodriguez was a hard-working journalist and a family man. His tragic loss serves as a reminder to those journalists who embrace seeking the truth and reporting it accurately and fairly that our jobs are not easy and many times are dangerous. Journalists of Rodriguez's caliber will not shy away from reporting the truth; this only makes our mission even stronger."

Institute to Study New Media and People of Color

Supported by some of the last decade's leading figures in new media, Washington's Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Thursday announced a new institute to study how the media industry and emerging communications technologies affect African Americans and other people of color.

The first senior fellow at the new Joint Center Media and Technology Institute is Larry Irving, who coined the term "digital divide" while administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during the Clinton administration. The term referred to the gap between blacks and whites in getting online.

Joining Irving at a news conference were William E. Kennard, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under Bill Clinton; Retha Hill, the former leader of BET.com who is now director of the New Media Innovation Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University; representatives of Microsoft, Comcast and Verizon and of the trade group CTIA, which represents the wireless industry.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, chairs the Institute's National Advisory Committee. In a letter, Powell noted that the Institute's launch "comes after a historic election, with the winning candidate using both media and technology as the foundation for a highly successful fundraising, public outreach and voter turnout operation" that exemplifies how the new media are being used to involve more people in the political process.

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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Comments

NPR Announces Obama Team; BBC lacks color

In light of President-Elect Obama's ascent into the White House, it seems to me that NPR has openly failed to confront their own racist attitudes when it comes to covering national politics. Selecting an all-white reporting team to cover an African-American President represents how disconnected NPR is from other mainstream journalism operations. Whereas, the BBC, in contrast; has acknowledged their own racial shortcomings among its newsgathering staff when covering Obama's victory. It is a very sad commentary that the head of BBC News had to figure this racial disparity when he was watching coverage of the American Presidential election from his own home. However, I will give him credit for rectifying this racial problem by bringing more journalists of color into the BBC.

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