Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Whitaker Pledges to Champion NBC Diversity

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mark Whitaker, left, with Tim Russert, the man he succeeded as NBC News Washington bureau chief, last November at a 60th anniversary celebration of 'Meet the Press.'  Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, a commentator on NBC, is at right. The festivities took place at the Newseum in Washington. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC News)

Returning Aug. 8, barring breaking news

New D.C. Chief to Advocate for Those Who "Really Excel"

Mark Whitaker, the newly appointed NBC News Washington bureau chief and the first African American to hold the job, said on Monday, "I certainly hope to be an advocate for smart stories and smart debate about issues involving race, and also to be a champion for hiring and promoting people from diverse backgrounds who really excel."

Whitaker, 50, former editor of Newsweek magazine and then senior vice president of NBC News, the No. 2 job in the news division, has rarely discussed how his race has influenced his decisions. But on National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" he took credit for spotting, at Newsweek, the potential in columnist Fareed Zakaria. And at NBC News, he said he initiated the series "African-American Women: Where They Stand" that generated thousands of e-mails after it aired on the "NBC Nightly News" in November. Zakaria was named editor of Newsweek International in October 2000 and now has a Sunday morning show on CNN.

"What role, do you think, if any, race has played in your life and career?" host Michel Martin asked.

"That's an interesting question. You know, I'm mixed-race. My dad is black. My mother is white," Whitaker replied. "I grew up in both worlds. I think, as a journalist, that's been a plus in terms of my understanding and I think my feel for issues, both in the black community but also in the white world. But I think my success, such as it is, has been the result, you know, that I've gotten to where I've gotten the way most people do, which is just to sort of go to work and work hard.

"You think it's a net plus or a net minus when you put it all together, your race?" Martin continued.

"Well, I think it's a net plus for me, again, as a journalist, just because I think it broadens my field of vision, if you will, in terms of stories and issues, and I think it's been a strength as a manager because I think I've seen potential and strength in people of various backgrounds that perhaps other managers would not have. You know, one of my proudest accomplishments at Newsweek was hiring Fareed Zakaria, who is -- became our foreign affairs columnist and editor of Newsweek International. . . . I'm not sure that somebody else would necessarily have seen his potential in quite the same way at that point in his career."

Martin asked whether Whitaker ever felt "any additional, sort of, pressure to calibrate . . . interest in and concern about issues of concern to African Americans for fear of being seen as biased in perhaps a way that a person of another background might not."

"Well, my feeling at Newsweek always was, and it's also my feeling at NBC, my first priority is to do the best job I can. So, you know, at Newsweek it was to be the best editor I could be. In Washington it will be the best bureau chief, and that -- you know, I don't see that in racial terms. You know, I don't think that Ken Chenault goes to work everyday at American Express and says, you know, how can I help black folks in my job?" Whitaker said. "I think -- I think he thinks that way, but I think his first priority is to be the strongest possible CEO for American Express.

"Having said that, I think anybody in a job of influence has an area where they can champion causes -- well, not necessarily causes if you're a journalist, but issues and stories and coverage and so forth, that is of particular interest. And I have, I think, been a stronger advocate for coverage of issues involving race and what I like to think of as sophisticated coverage and not just knee-jerk coverage, than I think somebody else might have been. One of the things just in the last year, working with 'Nightly,' we did a whole week-long series on black women that I suggested, and that got a tremendous amount of attention and debate. . . . My first priority is going to be to be the best bureau chief I can. But along the way, I certainly hope to be an advocate for smart stories and smart debate about issues involving race, and also to be a champion for hiring and promoting people from diverse backgrounds who really excel."

Whitaker's appointment last week as chief of the Washington bureau fills a vacancy left by the death of Tim Russert in June. "I'm going to be the executive to whom the executive producer at 'Meet the Press' will report," Whitaker said. Tom Brokaw's interim appointment as "Meet the Press moderator through the election is "going to buy us some time to look at all the options" for filling Russert's on-air role hosting that program.

Martin also asked Whitaker about a report last week from Media Matters for America that showed that MSNBC had the greatest gender imbalance among guests on cable news networks and was "the worst of the three networks on the score of offering up Latino guests," in Martin's words.

"I'm not here to speak for MSNBC," Whitaker said. "I will say, however, that I -- one of the things I've done in the last year here in New York has been to be part of the NBC News Diversity Council, which looks at all of those issues. We take them very seriously. We recognize that we have work to do. I think we've made progress in a number of areas but I intend to use my influence in Washington to continue that progress."

"Nightline's" Bashir Apologizes for AAJA Remarks

ABC's Martin Bashir apologized for 'my moment of stupidity' before Asian American journalists.  (Joe Manio/AAJA)The Asian American Journalists Association, reacting to numerous inquiries about a self-acknowledged "tasteless" remark by ABC-TV "Nightline" co-anchor Martin Bashir at the AAJA banquet in Chicago on July 25 during the Unity: Journalists of Color convention, posted a video of Bashir's appearance Monday on its Web site.

"We had been affectionately warned by his colleague Juju Chang in her introduction that Martin loved dirty jokes. The fact that he loved dirty jokes in inappropriate places did not come up," Neal Justin, a former AAJA board member, wrote July 30 in his blog for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
"Shortly after he began, Bashir remarked how exciting it was for him to be in a room full of great looking 'Asian babes' and then added that he was glad he was standing behind a podium so [no one] could see how excited he really was.


"It took me about five seconds for the comment to sink in and then I did something I rarely do in public: I started booing. Shockingly, I wasn't joined by too many people."

The Gawker Web site rendered what took place this way on Friday: "'I'm happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes,' he said onstage, with his '20/20' colleague Juju Chang nearby. 'In fact, I'm happy that the podium covers me from the waist down.' He then noted that a speech should be 'like a dress on a beautiful woman -- long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to keep your interest -- like my colleague Juju's.' ('See what I have to put up with?' she responded.)"

Juju Chang, Bashir's foilBay Area columnist Emil Guillermo, who was also present, told Journal-isms that there was actually more than one tasteless remark. They included comments about the American media's perceived difficulty with Barack Obama. "People have had problems with his name. So far we've had it described as Barack Osama. We've had baby father Obama. We've had Barack Saddam Hussein Obama . . . "We should go a bit further. . . I was wondering about a hip-hop reference and connect him to the ‚ Wu Tang Clan. And we can call him Old Dirty Bastard Barack. "Or why not the Great White Fear of the Dark Phallus . . . Big Black Barack!"

"It was particularly risque and just not delivered well," Guillermo said. "The joke's premise might have worked with a comedian's touch. It might have been seen as edgy. But from Bashir it was neither edgy, clever, witty or entertaining. It was just strange, like watching someone like Imus break dance and flash gang signs to gain street cred," he said referring to radio host Don Imus. Guillermo then decided to blog about it.

ABC News was ready with three comments when Journal-isms inquired on Monday.

Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, said, "This kind of remark has no place in any setting and Martin knows that and is truly sorry for his serious error in judgment."

Chang said, "When I first heard Martin's ridiculous joke, I thought 'oh, man, what an inappropriate thing to say'. . . But I've known Martin for a long time. He's a good man who said a dumb thing. He has since apologized to me for his boorishness and I know he deeply regrets it."

Bashir, who is British but of Pakistani background, wrote AAJA President Jeanne Mariani-Belding: "I wanted to write and apologize for an inappropriate comment that I made at the AAJA dinner last Friday and for the offence that it caused to those present.

"Upon reflection, it was a tasteless remark that I now bitterly regret.

"I am grateful to you for the opportunity to address those present and hope that the continuing work of the organization will not by harmed or undermined by my moment of stupidity."

Mariani-Belding said, "We don't censor our speakers or tell them what they should say, particularly as a journalism organization. I appreciate the point he was trying to make. But could his speech have been in better taste? I would say so."

In his speech, "Bashir talked about cultural identity and how for many journalists, especially those who are just starting in their careers, it could be considered as an obstacle instead of an asset," AAJA said.

Knocking Tribune, 2 Columnists Leave Baltimore Sun

Gregory Kane: to the Examiner Two black columnists at the Baltimore Sun, Gregory Kane and Milton Kent, left the newspaper on Friday under a buyout offer, and both said they were unhappy with the paper's direction under Sam Zell, new owner of the parent Tribune Co.

"Never before have I seen management treat its employees as contemptuously as Tribune Co. managers have treated those at the Sun," Kane told Journal-isms. He left for the Baltimore Examiner, a free newspaper that has sister papers in San Francisco and Washington, and his first column there appeared on Sunday. Kane, one of the few on-staff black conservatives with a regular column in a mainstream daily, said he would appear twice weekly in the Examiner and continue writing for

Kane, 56, had been at the Sun for 15 years. He said the Newspaper Guild had asked management to give employees longer than two weeks to consider the buyout offer, but management refused.

Milton Kent Kent, a 23-year veteran of the paper, was a high-school sports columnist who was the second beneficiary of the Sun's minority journalism scholarship, a program started under the ownership of the A.S. Abell family. Students received a four-year scholarship to the University of Maryland and then were hired at the Sun, where Kent, 45, began in 1985.

Of Tribune Co., he said, "they treat everybody badly. What happened to me had nothing to do with the color of my skin. I was going to lose my column," he said, and one of his beats, women's basketball, was going to be deemphasized. "I said, I could take the money and be miserable at home." Kent said he had a book idea and was available for full-time work. He previously covered sports media and the NBA. He has also started a blog, whose first entry comments on his situation.

As reported three weeks ago, Mike Adams, an assistant city editor, also took the buyout. The Baltimore Sun Media Group, which publishes The Sun and community newspapers, planned to eliminate 100 jobs by early August to cut costs and stay competitive, Publisher Timothy E. Ryan told employees.

4 More Confirm Taking Atlanta Buyout

Rob Douthit, left, and Curtis BunnFour more journalists of color have confirmed they are taking a buyout from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: features and entertainment reporter Adrianne M. Murchinson, sportswriter Curtis Bunn, page flow manager Craig J. Johnson and Rob Douthit, Northside/Northwest and automotive editor.

As reported on Friday, Editor Julia Wallace told staffers the newspaper will accept 73 applicants for buyouts in its newsroom, and "As a result, there will not be any involuntary separations."

Yemi Toure, a copy editor, and Stephanie A. Reid, a reporter, both black journalists, previously told Journal-isms they would take the buyout.

Bunn, 46, told Journal-isms, "I'm focusing on my literary organization, the National Book Club Conference. My annual event ended just yesterday; it was extraordinary with Tavis Smiley, Terry McMillan, Iyanla Vanzant, Walter Mosley, Walter Dean Myers, Omar Tyree, Eric Jerome Dickey, Terrie Williams, Pearl Cleage, etc. There were 570 readers from around the country with about 40 authors. Beautiful weekend of book club meetings, panel discussions, keynote speakers, receptions, Red Carpet event, etc. So, I'm revamping my website to generate visitors and finances through advertisers; publishers and authors are excited about reaching my vast audience of book clubs.

"Also, I'm writing a third novel.

"And I'm teaching Sports Reporting at Morehouse, starting this semester." He said he had been at the newspaper for a dozen years.

Douthit, 42, and Johnson, 37, said they were not sure what their next moves would be. "I'm seeking work in the communications profession, however broadly that can be defined, but don't have any firm leads as of yet," Douthit said.  

Douthit said he had been at the newspaper almost six years, having served as business editor before his current position.

Johnson said he had been at the paper 9 1/2 years.

Said Murchison: "I plan to pursue a few job leads that I have in the works. I'd love to stay in media. I've been at the AJC 4 1/2 years and it's been a great experience. I just grew uncomfortable with the ongoing transition."

James A. Mallory, senior managing editor and vice president-news, said on Friday, "After the buyout, the diversity percentage will remain about the same. This means we should still be among the top for newspapers our size."

(Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)"Race Card" Issue Plays on Sunday Talk Shows

On CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" on Sunday, the segment opened with a video clip of Sen. Barack Obama:

"John McCain and the Republicans -- they don't have any new ideas. That's why they're spending all their time talking about me. They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, well, you know, he's got a funny name, and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills."

"All right," Blitzer said. "Rick Davis, the campaign manager for Senator McCain issued a statement Thursday, tough one, saying 'Barack Obama has played the race card and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.'

"And then on Friday, Senator McCain also weighed in with this.


MCCAIN: "His comments were clearly -- were clearly the race card, because of what he said. Everybody can read his remarks. And, in fact, his campaign retracted these remarks. So I think it's very clear, and I was very disappointed.


BLITZER: "All right. Go ahead, Mayor, and tell us what you think about this uproar. Because it's obviously a serious matter."

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, an Obama supporter, replied, "Well, I don't know that it is that serious. I think it's probably more reflective of the fact that the McCain campaign has had a bad several weeks, in terms of the schizophrenic nature of their attacks on Senator -- Senator Obama, everything from the Paris Hilton ad and the foolishness of that and the fact that the economy is still the dominant issue in this campaign."

Kirk was pitted against Ken Blackwell, a black, Republican McCain supporter who was Ohio's secretary of state. And so it went on the Sunday talk shows.

Most African American columnists found other things to write about. In the Nashville Tennessean, Dwight Lewis quoted an expert who follows black politics:

"'It's flaky,' David A. Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank, told me over the telephone Thursday. 'Playing the race card to whom?'" Lewis wrote on Sunday.

"'Obviously, he's not playing it to black voters. I don't think so. He's going to get practically all of those votes. To get moderate white voters who are sensitive to the race issue? For what benefit? I can't answer the question.''

"And then Bositis told me that he thinks the McCain campaign is desperate and 'they're throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Obama.'"

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz wrote on Monday, "The popular image of the campaign -- McCain bantering with national journalists in the back of his bus -- has, in reality, all but vanished. The traveling press is now routinely stiffed in favor of five-minute sit-downs with local reporters.

"At the same time, the Arizona senator is having trouble making news, or at least news that advances his campaign's goals, and when he does it is often reacting to the media hurricane that surrounds Barack Obama."

Tallahassee Reporter Asked to Leave McCain Media Area

Stephen Price "Tallahassee Democrat senior writer Stephen Price on Friday was singled out and asked to leave a media area at the Panama City rally of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain," Paul Flemming reported Saturday in the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Price was among at least three other reporters, and the only black reporter, surrounding McCain's campaign bus — Gov. Charlie Crist and his fiancee, Carole Rome, were already aboard — when a member of the Arizona senator's security detail asked the reporter to identify himself. Price had shown his media credentials to enter the area."

"When another reporter asked why Price was being removed, she too was led out of the area. Other state reporters remained.

"Jonathan Block does advance work for McCain's campaign. He was in Panama City on Friday but was not present when reporter Stephen Price was asked to move from a restricted area.

"'Access to the senator is tightly controlled,' Block said. "I would first express regret that your reporter was moved, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that race had nothing to do with it."

"Tallahassee Democrat Executive Editor Bob Gabordi said the incident was unwarranted."

"Block said the area where Price was standing was restricted to members of the traveling national press corps that accompanies McCain on the campaign trail."

Underlying Apology Is Acknowledgment of Privilege

"Can I just tell you?" Michel Martin began on her "Tell Me More" show Monday on National Public Radio, discussing the House of Representatives' July 29 apology to black Americans for slavery and Jim Crow.

 "What I think this debate is really about is acknowledging privilege. In this country, we hate to acknowledge that any of us gets any sort of leg up at all. In fact, the more privileged you are, it seems the less likely you are to admit it. At tax time we complain about having to pay up, but those of us who benefit rarely acknowledge the breaks we get as homeowners that renters don't get, or that married heterosexuals get that singles and same-sex couples do not.

"At college admissions time people grouse about race preferences and conveniently forget all about legacies. And how about those SAT prep courses, private tutoring, or the simple leg up that a stable, functional household gives you? The more you have of it, the more invisible privilege becomes, and then that becomes the entitlement of forgetting, as if it never happened at all."

Short Takes

  • Terry Mackin is out as president of the Univision Communications' TV station group after just five months on the job, Harry A. Jessell reported Monday for TV Newsday. "Just last February, Univision announced that it had hired Mackin away from Hearst-Argyle Television, where he had managed the station group's Web and DTV initiatives. Prior to that role, he had managed 14 of the Hearst-Argyle stations. At Univision, Mackin was responsible for the company's 64 Spanish-language Univision and TeleFutura stations."
  • "Jim Hummel, an ABC6 news reporter for the past 13 years who is known for the 'You Paid for It' investigative segments, resigned yesterday morning, saying he was disturbed by the sensational direction the station has been taking," Amanda Milkovits reported Thursday in the Providence (R.I.) Journal. "The former Providence Journal reporter's departure comes 10 months after ABC6 was bought by Global Broadcasting of Southern New England. Hummel said there was pressure to sensationalize news and use slang ‚Äì‚Äì such as 'lowlife' and 'thug' to describe defendants ‚Äì‚Äì in an effort to increase ratings for the third-place local news station."
  • Charles Schulz "It happened on a beach on July 31, 1968. The white boy's little sister threw his beach ball into the water," columnist Cary Clack reminded readers Thursday in the San Antonio Express-News. "The black boy who was swimming retrieved the ball and took it back to him. The white boy thanked the black boy, and that was how Charlie Brown met Franklin in 'Peanuts.' With that appearance, Franklin became the first black person in Charles Schulz's magnificent comic strip. HAPPY 40TH FRANKLIN!"
  • "Spanish-speaking news outlets all across the country have grown to become major players in their markets and all trends indicate that growth is only going to continue," David Bauder wrote for the Associated Press. "One startling change has been the TV-watching habits of Hispanic viewers. In 1995, most Hispanic viewers in New York primarily watched English-language television (62 percent) over Spanish-language stations (38 percent), according to Nielsen Media Research. Last year, viewers favored the Spanish stations 71 to 29 percent. Similar trends are happening elsewhere. That might be alarming to people who believe these new citizens aren't assimilating into their new country, but Univision executives say the majority of their viewers' homes are bilingual."
  • "Hilary Hurd, an eight-year veteran of Diverse ‚Äî the twice-monthly pub focusing on 'issues in higher education' ‚Äî will leave her editor position on August 22 to relocate to Chicago. A new editor has not been named, but in an email sent to colleagues Hurd said she will continue to contribute to the magazine for the time being. She did not mention other plans. Her last issue will hit stands on September," Noah Davis wrote for MediaBistro's FishBowl NY.
  • "Those wishing to donate to a charity in memory of beloved NBC 10 broadcaster Edie Huggins may contribute to the Edie Huggins Nursing Scholarship Fund, c/o Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th St., Philadelphia, PA 19122," Dan Gross wrote Monday in the Philadelphia Daily News. "Before she got into television, Huggins -- who died Tuesday at age 72, after a long battle with cancer -- was a nurse at two New York City hospitals. She started a nursing scholarship for young women some years ago at Bright Hope, where she was a devoted congregant. Huggins' memorial will be held at Bright Hope at 7 p.m." on Tuesday.
  • "Ethiopian journalists tell us that police in Addis Ababa have finally released 10,000 copies of Enku magazine that were impounded on May 2 because of a cover story about the jailed pop music icon and government critic Teddy Afro. The May edition is expected to finally go on sale on Saturday. CPJ had protested the seizure with Ethiopian officials," Mohamed Keita wrote Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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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