Awash in the March on Washington

Cable, print and online media are preparing extensive coverage as the nation's capital gets ready for the 50th anniversary.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

In the opening line of his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. predicted that the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would ‘go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,’ ” Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar and editor-in-chief of The Root, wrote this month.

“Fifty years on, we know he was prophetic.

“But at the time, it was a bold statement, for there had been many examples in our country’s history when Americans had screwed their courage and protested for a noble cause.”

Gates went on, “But because of what radio and television were able to transmit in late August 1963, the March on Washington was witnessed by far more Americans than any previous demonstration, and from the deep vaults of American history, now flung open with a few taps on a touchscreen, images and sounds from that day are easily sampled as part of the stream of signal events that define our nation’s memory. . . . .”

The media will be present again over the next two weeks as Washington is awash in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In fact, the stage-setters began at least a month ago, in print, on the Web and in broadcast. Gates’ piece, posted Aug. 14, was announcing two weeks of articles “highlighting the facts, faces, figures and far-reaching effects of ‘that greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.’ “

On Monday, Black Entertainment Television, which has always emphasized that “Entertainment” is its middle name, announced that it would cover Saturday’s commemoration live.

The cable news networks already had planned special coverage, as Alex Weprin reported Saturday for TVNewser.

C-SPAN plans another weekend of march-related programming on its C-SPAN3 American History channel, including a roundtable filmed by the U.S. Information Agency on August 28, 1963, with march participants Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte and a roundtable that includes this columnist (3:30 p.m. Sunday). More here

The African-American Public Radio Consortium had offered public and community radio stations “We March On” — “a set of 23 vignettes (each 1:42 in length) in which some of the heroes who stood with Dr. King on that historic day reflect on the profundity of the event, and what it meant to be there.”

On Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, The Root plans a digital forum called the “#MarchON Twitter.” The sessions are to feature experts, activists and celebrities leading conversations on such issues as criminal justice, education and immigration in a series of hour-long segments leading up to President Obama’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial. They will use the hashtag #MarchON.

Time magazine, which still has no black correspondents, nevertheless published a special commemorative issue on the march.

Even the Saturday Evening Post reached into its archives for a series it calls “The Long March on Washington,” with references that start in the 1940s.

To some reporters, the commemorations amount to a nostalgia trip

For the next 10 days Washington will be transported a half-century back in time to relive one of the most powerful and defining moments in American history,” Mike Magner wrote in the National Journal.

For others, including Obama, the here and now commands attention. “As the president addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, current and former advisers say, he will want to impress upon listeners how progress toward racial equality will require progress toward economic equality,” Zachary A. Goldfarb wrote Saturday in the Washington Post.

Gates is in the latter camp. “We are living through challenging times with a mix of pride at what we have accomplished and despair at the facts that tell us that despite the formal smashing of ‘the manacles of segregation,’ as King called them, too many black men, women and children 50 years on from the march still dwell ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,’ while others are ‘still languishing in the corners of American society,’ feeling like ‘exile[s] in [their] own land,’ ” he continued in his essay.

“As of last month, the unemployment rate among African Americans was more than 13 percent and almost double the national average.

“The same is true of the poverty rate: More than 27 percent of black Americans dwell in poverty, compared with the nation’s average, 15.

“The poverty rate among African-American children is especially alarming, as it was in 1968, the year of the King assassination — both at more than 30 percent.

“The black male prison population remains the highest of any demographic — 38 percent of all inmates, state and federal — despite the fact that blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

“These are hard numbers, numbers that the March on Washington explicitly sought to change, along with eradicating de jure segregation, and while we have come so far, and crossed many more rivers since then, we have so much more work to do to realize the ‘dream’ that King so beautifully and so memorably articulated at the culmination of his speech. . . .”

Danielle Cadet and Jermaine Spradley, HuffPost BlackVoices: 50 Years After The March On Washington, Is Black America Free? (July 28)

James E. Causey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: The March on Washington should ignite new leaders

James E. Causey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Seeds of nonviolence need to be planted in the home (Aug. 10)

George Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Focus on Poverty, Not the Middle Class (Aug. 7)

George Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Jobs Still a Key Issue 50 Years After Historic D.C. March

Merlene Davis, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: Bus trip planned to celebrate 50th anniversary of March on Washington (Aug. 7)

Drew DeSilver, Pew Research Center: Tepid U.S. jobs data conceal modest momentum for blacks and Hispanics (Aug. 2)

Sam Fulwood III, Center for American Progress: Remembering the Many Voices at the March on Washington (July 23)

Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: Why Asian Americans should be there marching, dreaming

William Jones with Gwen Ifill, “PBS NewsHour”: 50 Years Ago, March on Washington Had More Radical Roots Than Remembered Today

Philip Klinkner, USA Today: King’s speech impact less than remembered: Column

Jeff Nilsson, Saturday Evening Post: ‘It’s Our Country, Too’ (First of a series from Saturday Evening Post archives)

Gene Policinski, Carole Blair, Frank Bond, Richard Prince, Catherine Squires, Kirt Wilson: Media, Memory, and the March on Washington: How We Teach and What We Learn about the Speech that Changed America (video) (July 29)

Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star: Let’s remember the March on Washington for what it was (Aug. 12)

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: 50 years after March on Washington, voting rights not secure for all (July 30)

Dru Sefton, PBS to mark anniversary of historic civil rights March on Washington (July 17)

Michelle Singletary, Washington Post: King’s unfinished work

Jamal Watson, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: 50 Years Later, Focus on Jobs Minimized in Memories of March on Washington (July 29)

Gary Younge, the Guardian, Britain: Martin Luther King: the story behind his ‘I have a dream’ speech (Aug. 9) 

NPR CEO Gary Knell Leaving for National Geographic

When Gary E. Knell was appointed in 2011 to become the new CEO of NPR, he said, “I made diversity a key part of my pitch to the NPR board” to get the job and “this is a big part of my agenda.”

On Monday, Knell stunned NPR employees by announcing that he’s leaving the organization after less than two years to become president and CEO at the National Geographic Society.

Diversity was not mentioned in the reports of his impending departure, even at NPR, although Knell further diversified its senior leadership by appointing Emma Carrasco as chief marketing officer, making her the network’s highest-ranking Latino. Moreover, Knell spoke about diversity wherever he went, and launched a “major journalism initiative to deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture” with a $1.5 million, two-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. ” The project became known as “Code Switch.”

Announcing the grant at the Unity ’12 convention in Las Vegas, Knell said he was “delivering on our promise for NPR to look and sound like America.” On Monday, the Code Switch team aired a piece by Hansi Lo Wang on the bond between Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American, and Malcolm X, the black nationalist hero. Laurel Morales delivered a story about items sacred to the Hopi tribe.

Michele Norris, an African American NPR host, was one of Knell’s fans. “I hate to have to speak of Gary Knell in the past tense at NPR,” Norris said by email. “He was a wonderful leader for the organization. He had vision and energy. He was devoted to diversity and was unafraid to explore new ground. He had a great sense of humor and strong sense of how radio can evolve to meet audiences where they are. National Geographic is fortunate to have him. Very sad to see him go.”

Yet even Knell would admit that the job of diversity at NPR remains a work in progress. When Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, arrives as NPR television critic, the number of African American male on-air voices will rise only to three.

And although Knell said he wanted to reach even low-income ears, NPR has a long way to go to become a working-class favorite.

Still, there is something to be said for creating an atmosphere for change.

Knell came to NPR from Sesame Workshop in December 2011 the wake of considerable upheaval,” as Mark Memmott wrote Monday on his NPR blog. “Vivian Schiller had resigned as CEO and president earlier that year, after two high-profile controversies — the mishandled firing of NPR analyst Juan Williams and video of a NPR fundraising executive slamming conservatives. NPR’s board of directors concluded that she could no longer effectively lead the organization.

“Once Knell arrived on the scene, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik says, the turmoil seemed to ease as the sense grew that NPR was being ‘led by grownups who were working constructively in a shared direction’ — even as the organization continued to face significant budget pressures. . . .”

[NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher Bruss said by email Tuesday, “Gary feels very strongly about the work we’ve done in recent years to strengthen diversity — both in terms of content and journalism, and inside the organization. NPR has expanded its commitment to diversity and promoted this work throughout the public radio system. Diversity isn’t something that’s just talked about; it’s part of the fabric of NPR. We can point to the work of (to name a few): Tell Me More; Michele Norris and the Race Card Project, now in partnership with NPR; and Code Switch, leading conversations about race, ethnicity and culture.”]

Egyptian Military Lashes Out at Foreign News Media

Amid an international outcry over a bloody crackdown, the new government installed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi is putting concerted pressure on the only remaining news outlets in Egypt covering criticism of the violence: the foreign news media,” David D. Kirkpatrick reported Sunday for the New York Times.

“The military had already shut down all the Egyptian television networks that supported President Mohamed Morsi on the night the general ousted him. Now, in the last four days, the new authorities have raided and shut down the offices of the pan-Arab Al Jazeera network, taken steps to deny its Egyptian license and, on Sunday, arrested its correspondent Abdullah El-Shamy on charges of inciting murder and sectarian violence. Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, was the only big Arabic-language network considered sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Senior government officials, meanwhile, publicly scolded Western correspondents in two news conferences and a public statement for failing to portray the crackdown in the government’s terms: as a war against violent terrorists. On Sunday, even General Sisi joined the chorus, criticizing foreign news media for failing to appreciate his mandate to fight terrorism. The criticisms echoed incessantly through the state and private media, and, in an apparent response, vigilante supporters of General Sisi have attacked or detained at least a dozen foreign journalists, a vast majority on the same day that an adviser to the president delivered the first diatribe against Western news coverage. . . .”

International Press Institute: Foreign media targeted in Egypt

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: Public Backs Cutoff of Military Aid to Egypt

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: A lack of spine on Egypt

DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Aid cutoff to Egypt would do nothing