Yahoo Caption Turns Essay Into Racial Issue
Monday, August 29, 2011
Updated August 30
An essay on the Forbes magazine website about the role of law enforcement and order during a natural disaster was imported to the Yahoo News site Monday. But the headline, "Crime in the Wake of Hurricane Irene," was used as a caption under a photo of a black man navigating a flooded street, heading toward a bicycle.
The juxtaposition caused a blogger for the Daily Kos who writes under the name "Tool" to write, "One thing we can always remember though in the American media is that no matter what the problem we can always count race to play some factor in the way stories are portrayed."
". . . I thought to myself — Self this is surely a series of photos that depict looting or vandalism or something horrid that people need to do to survive one of the worst storms of the century. Apparently black men wading through two feet of water can't be given the benefit of the doubt because that bike is just sooooo tempting. They can't resist going after anything that isn't tied down. Next they will be coming for the women and diapers."
[Tuesday update: Yahoo News has removed the story. Details below.]
The episode was reminiscent of the iconic photos of Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005, when the contrast in photo captions of people who seemed to be looting — one photo showing whites, the other a black man — became emblematic of the racial dimensions of the disaster. One wire service's photo of a black man depicted him "looting," while another's of a white couple showed them "finding." The images were shot by different photographers and issued by different photo services with different standards, but that made little difference to those who indicted the news media for racism.
The author of the Forbes piece, E.D. Kain, told Journal-isms, "My piece was about how little crime there was and about how a good deal of it is dependent on police abuse. That was just a picture of the flooding. Doesn't look like anyone read my actual post though. . . . my original article has nothing to do with whatever Yahoo did to it. I did not caption the picture with the title of my post, for one thing. The way they made it appear was grossly misleading.
"I'm pretty baffled by all of this honestly," he added. Kain pulled the photo from his Forbes posting Monday night.
Dan Bigman, a spokesman for Forbes.com, said authors pick the illustrations for their pieces. In this case, the original caption said clearly, "A resident walks through floodwater on Coney Island after Hurricane Irene hit, in New York, August 28, 2011."
"The feed to Yahoo with regard to this picture and article is broken," Bigman said. ". . . It separated the photograph from its caption, which is clearly intended to show that this was a resident and not a criminal."
By Monday night, the photo on the original Forbes posting was gone. Kain told readers, "I have removed the picture that originally accompanied this post. Apparently because the person in the picture was not white people took it as racist. That was never the intention. It was just a photo of the flooding. My post is obviously not about evil criminals at all. Quite the contrary. I’m saddened to see people react to this by immediately thinking that any image of a non-white person must imply racism."
Later, Kain wrote a new post, "Racism, Crime and Journalistic Ethics at Daily Kos," blasting the blogger Tool for not reading his entire piece before posting. But he conceded, "The image at Yahoo with the title as a caption instead of my original caption makes the picture look, well, frankly it does look racist – especially if you don’t bother to read the post."
A Yahoo News spokeswoman took the information regarding the controversy but had not responded Monday night. The page remained the same.
[The spokeswoman, Bahareh Ramin, told Journal-isms by email on Tuesday evening, "I just received confirmation that Yahoo! News had originally received the image and story from Forbes.com, but due to a technical error, did not receive the update when Forbes updated their post and removed the photo. The story has since been taken down from Yahoo! News."]
The New York Times reported last year that Yahoo News was the most-visited news site on the Web. [Updated Aug. 30]
- David Bauder, Associated Press: Did media go overboard hyping Hurricane Irene?
- John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: Red Cross Seeks Media Help in Call for Blood Donations
- Keli Goff, theLoop21.com: What My Hurricane Irene Evacuation Taught Me About Poverty
- Eliza Kern, University of North Carolina, reesenews.org: Newspapers work through the storm
- Ed Ryan, Radio Ink: So How Did Radio Perform During Storm?
"The Barack Obama administration has flatly rejected a request for a presidential pardon for Jamaica's first national hero, the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey," Karyl Walker reported Sunday for the Jamaica Observer.
"Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud totalling US$25 in June 1923, and after spending two years and nine months in an Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, was deported from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jamaica on a ship."
The pardon drive was undertaken by Jamaican-born lawyer Donovan L. Parker of Hollywood, Fla., who also publicized an online petition. The petition said Garvey "was arrested by the FBI under the Hoover administration and charged with mail fraud for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. Although his sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge, it is now abundantly clear that Garvey did not commit any criminal acts, but as Professor Judith Stein has stated, 'his politics were on trial.' "
The Observer story continued, ". . . In a tersely worded reply to Parker's request, White House Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rodgers said such a move would be a waste of time and resources since Garvey had been dead for ages.
" 'It is the general policy of the Department of Justice that requests for posthumous pardons for federal offences not be processed for adjudication. The policy is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on pardon and commutation requests of living persons.' "
Best known for his back-to-Africa movement and his Universal Negro Improvement Association, Garvey was also a writer, publisher and editor. One weekly, the Negro World, "was more an opinion organ than a newspaper, hitting hard for the nationalistic aims of Garvey's group, harking frequently back to Africa," Roland E. Wolseley wrote in "The Black Press, U.S.A."
"Among the several capable journalists who wrote for it were T. Thomas Fortune and John E. Bruce. The Negro World, in fact, for a time was a rival for the Chicago Defender as a leading black paper."
The Obama administration also refused to issue a pardon for black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, despite a resolution passed by Congress in 2009 that had been introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
Rodgers offered the same "time better spent elsewhere" rationale as in the Garvey case, Zack Burgess wrote in December for theGrio.com. He did not mention that in both cases, racism was said to be behind the convictions.
"Johnson was the victim of the blatantly racist Mann Act. The law made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The act was nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to nail Johnson for cavorting with white women, and for doing the unthinkable and that's wresting the heavyweight boxing crown from a white man in Reno in 1910," columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote.
In another case involving a celebrated but dead black figure, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. decided this year not to open an investigation of the assassination of Malcolm X.
"We have limited resources," he said, "and there is a very small possibility that we were likely to come up with a crime that can be prosecuted in federal court. On the other hand, if information is developed that will change that conclusion, we also have the option" to reconsider," he told the National Association of Black Journalists this month.
The Jamaica Observer story continued, "Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga asked the US President, the late Ronald Reagan to grant a full pardon to Marcus Garvey on the 1923 charge of mail fraud. A resolution was brought to the US House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice from as far back as 1987, but the issue seemed to have been pushed on the back burner."
Parker told Journal-isms he had a response to Rodgers' argument that he included in a letter sent last week.
". . . it is crystal in this case that the African Diaspora on behalf of the African people would be the true benefactors of this posthumous presidential pardon request for the Rt. Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey," Parker's letter said. He expanded on that thought to say that "all Americans are truly benefactors of the posthumous presidential pardon request for the Rt. Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, including the entire humanity."
- Askia Muhammad, Black Journalism Review: Obama and the ‘Garvey Question’ (2008)
"A new Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism study on Hispanic Media concludes that the broadcast television sector continues to grow, not only competing with major English-language networks but in some time slots, beating them," John Eggerton reported Monday for Broadcasting & Cable.
"Broadcasters have argued that the growing audience of Hispanic-language media, which includes new multicast channel services targeted to minorities, is one reason the FCC should be careful how it pushes for reclaiming broadcast spectrum for other uses.
The study, by Emily Guskin and Amy Mitchell of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said:
"Hispanic newspapers overall lost circulation in 2010, but not nearly to the extent of the English-language press. The total number of Spanish-language newspapers remained stable.
"The story in television was even more positive. Univision, the largest Spanish-language network by far, continued to grow, reaching audience sizes that compete with the three major English-language broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). In 2011, it also announced the launch of a 24-hour Spanish-language news station.
"Radio is growing as well. The number of Spanish-language radio stations increased in 2010, and more Spanish-language radio companies began measuring for Arbitron, the standard method of rating radio stations.
"Magazines showed improvement too, with year-over-year growth in ad spending.
"On the digital front, while Hispanic Americans do not access the internet at the same rates as other Americans, there is growth, and bilingual Latinos are already heavily online."
While Sunday's dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial was on hold to avoid Hurricane Irene, the New York Times and the Washington Post competed to offer visions of what King would think of the United States today.
The Times solicited a piece from Obama critic Cornel West, the Princeton philosophy professor, consistent with West's recent pronouncements.
"The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy," West, 58, wrote in an essay headlined, "Dr. King Weeps From His Grave." "Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.
"As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned."
"Yes, we have come a great distance — but we still have a great distance to go," Lewis, 71, wrote under the headline, "What would Martin Luther King Jr. say to President Obama?" "King’s speech was a cogent statement about the need for civil rights, but its deepest purpose was about much more. His dream was about more than racial justice, though racism often represents the greatest moral stain on our society. His dream was about building a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.
"That effort is the true legacy of King’s dream. Were he alive today, it is telling that his message would still be essentially the same. It is troubling that unemployment is so high — indeed, far higher than it was in 1963 — and that we are so caught up in details of deficits and debt ceilings that we question whether government has any moral duty to serve the poor, help feed the hungry and assist the sick. Today, Dr. King would still be asking questions that reveal the moral meaning of our policies. And he would still challenge our leaders to answer those questions — and to act on their beliefs."
- Melanie Eversley, USA Today: Witnessing the Dream
- John W. Fountain, Chicago Sun-Times: Searching for signs of King’s dream
- Sam Fulwood III blog: A monumental moment for Dr. King – and me
- Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: I have a dream King's work will continue
- Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: MLK Is Worthy of a National Monument
- Colbert I. King, Washington Post: MLK memorial is a testament to King’s victory over the defiant
- Dwight Lewis, the Tennessean, Nashville: King will be memorialized in perfect place, time
- Julianne Malveaux, National Newspaper Publishers Association: A Dream Both Realized and Deferred
- Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Give King memorial a chance
- Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: King fought for the poor and labor unions — today many Americans scorn both
- Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: King knew we weren't ready to celebrate
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: A dream still out of reach
- Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: What would King think of today's America?
- Marvin Weeks, theGrio.com: Have artists been good stewards of MLK boulevards?
"There has been a huge increase in the number of different media outlets in Libya since the fight against Gaddafi," Jannie Schipper wrote Saturday for Radio Netherlands, referring to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi.
"The country used to have eleven daily newspapers, but there are now around 120, in addition to new radio stations, TV channels and countless websites. But experts warn that 40 years of censorship is a bad recipe for independent journalism.
"Leon Willems, Director of Free Press Unlimited, a Dutch organisation with projects in over forty countries that suffer from repression and conflict, sees three challenges for journalists in the 'new' Libya:
" 'The existing reporters are often corrupted by working for so long under a dictator. You also often make infrastructural problems — including things like electricity. And you have to deal with new legislation to ensure that more is possible in the future.'
"Gaddafi's Libya hung for years at the bottom of the journalistic freedom indexes of organisations such as the US Freedom House and the French-based Reporters without Borders. 'Libya has by far the worst starting position of those Arab countries where the regime has fallen,' says Courtney Radsch from Freedom House. "After such a long time under a dictator, journalists no longer know what it's like to be independent,' says Mr Willems."
Meanwhile, the chairman of the African Union said Monday that Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries, Luc Van Kemenade of the Associated Press reported, citing the fears as one reason the African Union has not recognized opposition forces as Libya's interim government.
" 'NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries,' said AU chairman Jean Ping, referring to the rebels' National Transitional Council. 'All blacks are mercenaries. If you do that it means (that the) one-third of the population of Libya which is black is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, mistreating them.' "
President Obama visits the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA headquarters on Saturday as Hurricane Irene struck. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)
"Employees at Comcast, the nation's largest Internet provider and the parent company to NBC Universal, donated more money to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fund-raising committee for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, than employees at any other organization, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics," Chris Moody wrote Friday for the Ticket, a Yahoo News blog.
"Comcast workers donated almost $200,000 this year to the fund, which raised nearly $40 million through the end of June, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
"Obama has held two fundraisers hosted by Comcast's top brass in recent months, the first at the home of the company's vice president David Cohen in Philadelphia, and another at Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts' summer home in Martha's Vineyard. In the 2010 congressional election cycle, Comcast employees donated about $1.7 million to Democrats and $1.1 million to Republicans."
- Charles M. Blow, New York Times: Obama in the Valley
- Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: The New Yorker Revisits 'Leading From Behind': Evolution Of A Blind Quote
- Rebecca Carroll, HuffPost BlackVoices: Despite Sagging Poll Numbers, Many African Americans Say They're Still Proud Of President Obama
- Jonathan P. Hicks, New York Amsterdam News: Obama’s misguided 'friends' in high places
- Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: Obama Image Takes a Hit, GOP Ratings Decline
- Mychal Denzel Smith, theGrio.com: How Obama has subtly reached out on race
- Peter Wallsten and Krissah Thompson, Washington Post: Obama faces uncomfortable questions from black community, lawmakers
"An Ecuadorean journalist accused of libeling President Rafael Correa has fled the country because he says he fears for his safety," FoxNewsLatino.com reported Monday, based on material from the Associated Press.
"Emilio Palacio issued a letter from Miami on Sunday explaining that he fled because of new pressures from what he called 'the dictatorship.'
"In July, a court sentenced [Palacio] and three executives of the newspaper Universo to three years in prison and $42 million in fines for libeling the president. They are appealing."
Palacio's escape "comes weeks after he published a Youtube video . . . in August that appears to show the President of Ecuador stating to his officers to take control of a protest by striking police officers and that those responsible should get 'a shot in the chest for treason! Those who are we doing this are traitors to the Fatherland.' "
Gil Noble's long-running black public affairs show will continue despite his illness, with original programming produced at some point, Dave Davis, general manager of New York's WABC-TV, told Journal-isms on Tuesday.
"The show will continue, We're not sure what form it will take," Davis said. The show has continued with reruns since Noble, 79, suffered a stroke in late July. "At some point we'll have to generate original shows. We just want to see what happens with Gil," he said.
Davis spoke after "false reports of legendary Gil Noble's death first triggered waves of grief throughout metropolitan New York this weekend, then consternation among the thousands who watch his show, 'Like It Is,' America's longest running weekly public affairs broadcast hosted by an African-American," as F. Finley McRae wrote Monday for BlackAmericaWeb.com.
". . . The false reports, which began Friday, also led to an errant posting by The Amsterdam News, which, on Sunday, forced New York's oldest African-American weekly to place a one-sentence apology on its web site."
Elinor Tatum, Amsterdam News publisher, told Journal-isms Monday that the story of Noble's illness "is one of the most difficult to try to pinpoint. You can talk to somebody one minute" who is presumed to be reliable, but in the next someone else credible will have a different story. The stories "change all the time."
McRae quoted Eduardo Standard, a popular 1960s activist who helped create 10,000 jobs through the Neighborhood Youth Corps anti-poverty program, saying that black leaders and citizens should form a coalition to negotiate with WABC-TV so that Noble and his show will live on, even if he's unable to return. Black people, Standard said, "must not accept anything less."
- The Bay Area News Group's decision that the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune and four smaller daily newspapers will operate under a single flag, the East Bay Tribune, "is a nod that Oakland is no longer the straw the stirs the drink in these parts and reflects the departure of residents, jobs and resources out of central cities and into the suburban enclaves that have sprung up all around them," Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle columnist, wrote on Friday. ". . . Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente complained that the Tribune has not been a hometown newspaper since the death of former publisher Robert Maynard in 1993. It was sold to MediaNews Group, the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher, late in 1992. MediaNews owns the Bay Area News Group."
- "PBS’s Friday newsmagazine 'Need to Know' is losing Alison Stewart, the second of its original co-anchors to depart, when it switches to a half-hour format on Sept. 16," Elizabeth Jensen reported Monday for the New York Times. Stewart, a former MSNBC and ABC News anchor, said that in addition to a book, she would probably do freelance work in the commercial news world.
- Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee told staffers Monday, "With the 2012 campaign building steam, we will open our political editing desk beginning the week of Sept. 12. Michele Salcedo will anchor the desk Monday-Friday from midday to early evening — working closely with political editor Liz Sidoti to edit and file spot and enterprise stories from WDC political reporters and state-based reporters," Betsy Rothstein reported for FishbowlDC. Salcedo is president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
- Bob Der, managing editor and publisher of Sports Illustrated Kids and publisher of Time For Kids, has been chosen co-director of the Asian American Journalists Association's Executive Leadership Program, "which looks at how Asian American and Pacific Islander values relate to high-level decision-making and leadership development," AAJA announced on Friday. Der, an ELP graduate, "will lead the search for a second ELP co-director, and together, the two volunteer co-directors will help guide ELP," the announcement said.
- At an international conference on gender and media in Rwanda last week, James Munyaneza wrote in the Kigali New Times, he was disappointed by the level of ignorance about his country by fellow journalists, which he attributed to Western news coverage. "Yet the African media, too, continues to disappoint. I have said it before and I will keep doing it, time and again. It’s incomprehensible that, in this day and age, the African media entirely relies on western outlets to tell the African story. The African media have failed to capitalise on the internet to feed each other with news coming out of their own countries. In the end, they have allowed the western media to shape the world’s opinion about Africa."
Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" on Facebook.
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.
Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.
To be notified of new columns, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us who you are.
Special thanks to The McCormick Foundation for its generous support of the Journal-isms column.
- Journo-diversity advocate turns attention to Ezra Klein project
(Erik Wemple, Washington Post, March 5, 2014)
- "Love, Peace and Soul!" And More
- Book Notes: Soothing the Senses, Shocking the Conscience
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2013
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2012
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2011
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2010
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2009
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2008
- Books to Ring In the New Year
- In-Your-Face Holiday Reads
- Fishbowl Interview With the Fresh Prince of D.C. (Oct. 26, 2012)
- NABJ to Honor Columnist Richard Prince With Ida B. Wells Award (Oct. 11, 2012)
- So What Do You Do, Richard Prince, Columnist for the Maynard Institute? (Richard Horgan, FishbowlLA Aug. 22, 2012)
- Who Am I? What's Race Got to Do With It?: Journalists Explore Identity
- Catching Up With Books for the Fall
- Richard Prince Helps Journalists Set High Bar (Jackie Jones, BlackAmericaWeb.com, 2011)
- 10 Ways to Turn Pages This Summer
- 7 for Serious Spring Reading
- 7 Candidates for the Journalist's Library
- 9 That Add Heft to the Bookshelf
- Five Minutes With Richard Prince (Newspaper Association of America, 2005)
- 'Journal-isms' That Engage and Inform Diverse Audiences (Q&A with Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter Institute, 2008)
Work We <3 | FDP
Find us on Facebook
Richard Prince Journal-isms Archive
Dori Maynard tweets on Diversity, Media & More
@JamilSmith The distorted #media depiction of African American men & boys has real life consequences, again. #mediadiversity #Tremaine