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What Would Robert Kennedy Say?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Few of Color Win for "Disadvantaged" Reporting

It took 25 years — until Bill Clinton's presidency — for a white politician to ignite passions among people of color the way Robert F. Kennedy did. And after the senator, former attorney general and brother of John F. and Ted Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, reporters who covered his presidential campaign founded the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, now "the largest single program honoring outstanding reporting on the problems of the disadvantaged."

Given the history, it was striking that at the ceremony presenting the honors Tuesday in Washington, rare was the journalist of color who stepped up to claim an award, a handsome bust of Kennedy accompanied by a firm and grateful handshake from his widow, Ethel Kennedy.

Journalists of color were sprinkled liberally among the judges, and the stories certainly were about African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans and immigrants: The grand prize went to a five-part investigation of mismanagement at a Los Angeles hospital named after Martin Luther King Jr. and medical pioneer Charles Drew, the African American physician who discovered the benefits of using blood plasma, rather than whole blood, for transfusions. The series also won this year's Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Is it that reporters of color are no longer interested in such stories? That more white reporters are now fired up about doing them? That journalists of color are not given the opportunity? Or is it something else?

The answers were varied when Journal-isms inquired among some of the principals at the event.

Harry Belafonte, the entertainer and activist who is a member of the board of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, which supervises the awards, said the composition of winners is "something we are constantly alerted to when we sit," and that, "certainly, the work we do is deeply rooted in the voices of the people you see absent here."

But he added, "I'm not sure that the commentary on the black community by blacks is really and truly worthy of the embrace of those who grade commentary. I don't see it in the harvest and the abundance that we should be seeing it.

"There are sprinkles; what I don't see is the flood," Belafonte continued. Among the sprinkles, the New York-based Belafonte named columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times as "way out in front,' and broadcast commentator Tavis Smiley.

The awards don't honor commentary, and in a follow-up conversation tonight, Belafonte acknowledged that the organization -- and he -- needed to conduct more outreach to find the work that journalists of color are doing along the lines he discussed. "I'm so delighted in finding white folks who are prepared to be anointed in their commitment to human development," he said. But he added, "Even in ceremonial ways, there ought to be more of a presence" of people of color at such events. He noted that the RFK Memorial is "replete with the names of Africans and people in the Americas" who are honored as human rights activists.

John Seigenthaler, the founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center who left journalism briefly in the 1960s to work with then-Attorney General Kennedy, introduced Tuesday's program and was co-chair of the Book Award Committee.

"The complexion of newsrooms has changed, but not nearly enough," Seigenthaler said. "Too many publishers and editors and news directors don't pay enough attention. It is encouraging that newsrooms are addressing these issues" of disadvantage, he agreed, adding, "and hopefully newsrooms will change with them."

Janet Clayton, assistant managing editor for state and local news at the Los Angeles Times, said that a black reporter, Darren Briscoe, was originally on the team that produced "The Troubles at King/Drew," but left the paper for Newsweek.

As she wrestled aloud with the question, Clayton, who is African American, came at the issue from different directions. "A lot of journalists of color want to be part of large investigative projects, but these sort of projects are not everybody's cup of tea," she said. "It didn't start out being a race-based project, and the stories go where they go. What matters is that the stories be fair, full and accurate . . . you get that mainly with writing, editing and photographs, and the way you tell the story. Anyone who lives in L.A. more than a few years knows what was going on in that [hospital] and who the victims were."

"You assemble the team based on the task that has to be done. That's how you do journalism," she said.

But, she acknowledged, "investigative teams tend to be white and tend to be male," and are "a fairly exclusive group in most newsrooms." Still, "I don't think that means you have to assemble a group based on demographics," she continued. In most newsrooms, "it's a very small group of people you're looking at" as the investigative team, and based on the racial composition of most newsrooms, "it's not terribly surprising that that group is often not very diverse." (Only one member of the King/Drew reporters is formally on the investigative team, she later added; the others were drawn from elsewhere at the paper.)

Clayton also noted that the award is for stories about the disadvantaged.

"Maybe we're getting to a point where our younger reporters don't feel compelled to do stories about the disadvantaged. It's a different cut of journalists now than when we were starting, when you had more of a class mix. That's one of the questions -- how do you get class diversity?

"What really matters," she concluded, "is, let's try to get it right."

RFK Award Winners

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Schlesinger Scores Media on War, Torture Coverage

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., adviser to John F. Kennedy and founder of the RFK Book Awards, got in his own digs at the news media Tuesday night at the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.

Questioned by book award winners Jim Wooten, the ABC News correspondent who wrote ?We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy?s Courage and a Mother?s Love,? and Geoffrey Stone, author of ?Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism,? Schlesinger said President Bush was underrated. ?He transformed the basis of American foreign policy, replacing containment and deterrence with preventative war as the basis for foreign policy, and did it without national debate.? He also transformed domestic policy, becoming ?the most aggressively religious president we?ve ever had. The presidency has always been regarded as a secular office,? said Schlesinger, who is 87.

Asked by Wooten why those sharp policy turns took place without national debate, Schlesinger said, ?because the media did not give equal time to those who warned about the Iraq war.? Vice President Cheney?s comments before the war made the front pages, but when Sen. Robert Byrd, D.-W.Va., former senator Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., spoke out in opposition, ?they were buried on page 38.

?The media were afraid. They suffered an inferiority complex? and were afraid of being considered unpatriotic if they gave equal time, he said.

?The torture ? we now know there was quite a flow of documents between the White House, the Defense Department and the Department of Justice reducing the restrictions against torture, but the press never followed that up. We now know that the pattern of torture in Guantánamo was established two or three years ago. Where the hell was the press??

To which Wooten replied, ?I resent that argument,? but continued with the program.

Gitmo Guards Accused of Mistreating Koran (Dan Eggen,

McClellan Backs Away from Claims that 'Newsweek' Story Cost Afghan Lives (Editor & Publisher)

Other News About Newsweek (George E. Curry, NNPA News Service)

Using the Media For a Magic Trick (Eugene Robinson, Washington Post)

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Earl Graves Urges Blacks to Skip Mexican Vacations

Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine (who coincidentally was an aide to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy) has urged that African Americans cancel any vacation plans for Mexico in light of Mexican President Vicente Fox?s comments that Mexican migrants do work that ''not even blacks want to do.''

?I?m sure you?ve read or heard that the President of Mexico ? one Mr. Vi-sent-eh Fox ? recently made the comment that emigrants from his country in the United States do work that ? quote ? 'even black people won?t do' ? unquote,? Graves wrote in his prepared remarks as he opened the 10th annual Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference Thursday in Dallas.

?The State Department described President Fox?s comment as ?insensitive.? I describe it as racist ? pure and simple. The words were spoken in contempt. We earn billions of dollars in revenues, employ tens of thousand[s], and bring leading innovations to market, yet here?s a leader who perceives our people as being ?at the bottom — powerless and of no consequence.

?If we exercised the clout [we] possess . . . no head of state or CEO would dare denigrate us so openly. They would be courting OUR favor to attract OUR business!

?Well, insults aren?t my idea of a courtship. I?d suggest to you that incidents like this are ideal opportunities for African Americans to put our economic clout to the test. If you were planning to go on vacation in Mexico ? cancel — go to Barbados, St Lucia, pick any Caribbean island. Just withdraw your hard-earned vacation dollars and direct them into our communities so that we reap the rewards.?

Black Enterprise spokesman Andrew Wadium told Journal-isms today that Graves was merely putting the idea of canceling vacations ?on the table,? though ?I don?t think he?s going to Mexico anytime soon.? The underlying message was that ?money talks, that change can be affected by the pocketbook ? it?s a very powerful force,? Wadium said.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Fox accepted an invitation to meet with blacks in Harlem after meeting in Mexico City with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Who will take the worst U.S. jobs? (Ruben Navarrette, San Diego Union-Tribune)

AfroMexico Web site

Fox's foot in mouth could kick off better race relations (Gery Chico, Chicago Sun-Times)

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Choice for El Diario Editor Shows Hispanic Diversity

?When El Diario, the nation's oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper, merged with La Prensa in the early 1960s, there was no question who its readers were: Puerto Ricans,? Daniela Gerson wrote Monday in the New York Sun.

?That's no longer the case. El Diario/La Prensa has a diversified audience, mirroring the Hispanic population of the city, where there is an increasingly broad spectrum of Latino immigrants. Today it will name as its editor a Mexican-born journalist with a Guatemalan-Greek background, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush.

?A Brooklyn resident, Mr. Vourvoulias-Bush is a former editor at Time magazine who until Friday was managing editor of ARTNews.?

A news release on the appointment asserts that, ?The paper is the number one Spanish-language newspaper in New York with a daily readership of 243,000 and a circulation of more than 50,000.?

Baltimore?s free bilingual biweekly Latin Opinión fills void (Blanca Torres, Baltimore Sun)

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Detroit Mayor Sanctions TV Attack on Reporter

?The chairman of the Detroit Cable Commission says the city is broadcasting an attack on a local TV reporter over the chairman's objections, and despite his concern that the program could cause trouble with the Federal Communications Commission,? Jim Schaeffer reported today in the Detroit Free Press.

"?They can come in and shut us down or fine us,? Chairman Jeffrey Hunt said Tuesday of the city-produced 12-minute report on WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) reporter Steve Wilson. ?Ultimately, that's my concern.?

?Hunt told the Free Press he ordered that the show, which is airing periodically, be yanked from the commission's government access channel lineup, but Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick overruled him.

?. . . Public officials attacking a reporter in such a public manner is highly unusual, and officials in Detroit and Warren said it is justified because Wilson, in their view, stages confrontations and shows bias. Wilson maintains that his techniques are warranted and in the public's best interest.?

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Station ?Still Working? on Emery King Contract

It was March 11 that Detroit anchor Emery King was bounced from WDIV-TV in Detroit, resulting in a public outcry. His lawyer and the station resumed contract negotiations about nine weeks ago.

?We?re still working, and it?s not unusual? to take this amount of time to agree on a contract, said Joe Berwanger, vice president and general manager of the station. Traveling by both parties has periodically interrupted the talks, he told Journal-isms.

As for King, the anchor said, ?I?ve been very, very busy at home, doing what my wife tells me to do, and doing what my lawyer tells me to do,? he told Journal-isms. He said he was working on various projects with his Kingberry Productions, which produces documentaries. ?This has afforded me the luxury of the time to focus on that,? King said.

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Howard U. Looking Into Plagiarism Charge

Howard University is investigating the accusation that one of its faculty members engaged in plagiarism when he wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor, School of Communications Dean Jannette Dates said today.

The Boston Herald reported May 5 that, ?The Christian Science Monitor has `banished' a regular contributor for two years in a flap over alleged plagiarism.?

The contributor, Jonathan P. Decker, is based in Washington and has written for the Monitor for 10 years. He is also an associate professor at Howard teaching broadcast journalism, Dates said.

?It was on April 18 that the paper published the article, 'Can mutual funds that hedge give you an edge?' by freelance writer Jonathan P. Decker,? Brett Arends wrote in the Herald.

?Days later editors got calls from financial journal, noting that four paragraphs in the Monitor piece were remarkably similar to those in a similar article by its own writer, Gregg Greenberg.

?Decker, according to [Managing Editor Marshall] Ingwerson, confessed that he had used Greenberg's piece as a source and had come too close to the original. The editors concluded the article didn't meet the paper's editing standards and published a note for readers.

?The Hub paper also published an editor's note, explaining that the article bore too many similarities to one in an online journal, and pulled it from its own Web site.?

?We are looking into this matter. We?re looking at the facts,? Dates told Journal-isms, saying she could not comment further. She said Decker was not scheduled to teach this summer.

Decker did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

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Short takes

  • The New York Times Co. announced today that it ?plans to undertake a targeted staff reduction program that will include approximately 190 employees at The New York Times and the New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe. . . . Approximately two thirds of the total reduction will occur at The New York Times newspaper, with fewer than two dozen of that number coming from The Times's newsroom, where a voluntary reduction program will be in effect.?


  • "Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson became part owner of the Washington Mystics yesterday after joining an ownership group that purchased the team from Washington Sports and Entertainment chairman Abe Pollin," Ivan Carter reported in the Washington Post.
  • ?After four years of providing his twisted brand of air sickness, Sid (Sidiot) Rosenberg has been fired from WFAN's ?Imus In The Morning Show,?? Bob Raissman wrote today in the New York Daily News. ?However, Rosenberg will remain at FAN as co-host of the mid-day sports talk show with Joe Benigno.? Rosenberg had become known for his offensive insults to everyone from a singer battling breast cancer to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
  • Betty Bayé, columnist for Kentucky?s Louisville Courier-Journal, waxed lyrical today on National Public Radio?s ?News and Notes? with Ed Gordon with ?An Ode to My Companion, the Radio.?
  • The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., aired new allegations of misconduct Tuesday against Mayor James West, who has rejected demands for his resignation amid allegations he offered city jobs to men he met in gay online chat rooms, the Associated Press reported.
  • ?Seven female reporters at the Philadelphia Inquirer sued the newspaper's parent company alleging that they were passed over for promotions because of their age and gender,? the Associated Press reported. ?The women, all over age 40, write for a weekly section of the newspaper containing community news about Philadelphia's suburbs. Writers for the section, called ?Neighbors,? are paid less than other journalists at the paper.?

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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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