Obama Skips Black Media Outlets on Syria

Black-oriented TV networks didn't get interviews with the president -- and neither did Univision or Al-Jazeera. 

President Barack Obama (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Obama is preparing to address the nation on Syria Tuesday night after granting seven-minute interviews Monday to six network news programs — but not Univision, Al Jazeera or black-oriented television networks — in which he left open the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the crisis over reports of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

Obama said a proposal allowing Syria to give up those weapons was a “potentially positive development,” Eyder Peralta reported for NPR.

In addition, “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Charlie Rose on Sunday that he is preparing for a U.S. strike, and that Syria and some of their allies would retaliate if one occurs,” Hari Sreenivasan reported for the “PBS NewsHour.” “I spoke with Rose, host of the PBS program that bears his name, as he was boarding his flight back to the United States after interviewing Assad in Damascus, Syria, Sunday morning. It is the first interview the Syrian president has given to an American network in nearly two years. . . .”

Peralta wrote, “In interviews with six television network anchors, Obama said his administration would ‘run to ground’ a Russian proposal that would avoid an international military confrontation by putting Syria’s chemical weapons in international hands.

He continued, “Secretary of State John Kerry first floated the possibility during a press conference in England this morning. The proposal was then picked up by the Russians and Syria’s foreign minister said the country welcomed the overture.”

The story said, “Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

“In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making.”

Peralta added, “In fact, as those interviews were airing, the AP reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, announced he was delaying a test vote on a measure authorizing military force in Syria.”

The six network interviews were scheduled back-to-back beginning at 3:55pm ET on Monday, Chris Ariens reported for TVNewser. “Each network gets 7 minutes. And the interviews are embargoed for air until 6 PM ET. Drawing from a hat, the order had been determined as this: NBC, CNN, CBS, Fox News, ABC and PBS.” It was the first time a president has done so many network interviews in a single day, Paul Farhi reported in the Washington Post.

Under the headline, “The eight important quotes from Obama’s Syria interviews,” Aaron Blake wrote Monday for the Post:

“For those that didn’t get to (or want to) watch all six, we’ve distilled the eight most news-worthy things he said.

“On Russia’s proposal for Syria to turn over chemical weapons to international monitors (Fox News):

” ‘This is something that is not new. I’ve been discussing this with President Putin for some time now.’

“On whether military strikes would be on hold if Syria surrendered its chemical weapons (ABC):

” ‘Absolutely — if in fact that happened. … If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.’

“On whether that would be the end of it (CNN):

‘It does not solve the broader political situation. I would say to Mr. Assad, we need a political settlement so that you’re not slaughtering your own people, uh, and, by the way, encouraging some elements of the opposition to engage in some terrible behavior, as well.’

“On the vote in Congress (NBC):

” ‘I wouldn’t say I’m confident. I’m confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously and — and they’re doing their homework and I appreciate that.’

“On whether he would act without Congress (NBC):

” ‘I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t decided.’

“On why Congress matters (ABC):

” ‘Strikes may be less effective if I don’t have congressional support and if the American people don’t recognize why we’re doing this. … My hope would be that I can persuade Congress (and) the American people.’

“On Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that military action would be ‘unbelievably small’ (NBC):

” ‘The U.S. does not do pinpricks. Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.’

“On his family’s feelings about Syria (PBS):

” ‘If you talk to my own family members — or Michelle’s — you know, they’re very wary and suspicious of any action.’ “

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos took exception to the absence of his network in the lineup.

“150,000+ Latinos are serving in the U.S. military. But none of the 6 interviews given today by Obama include Univision #LessonsNOTlearned,” Ramos tweeted Monday. Another tweet read, “Pres. Obama gives 6 interviews today. None of those to Univision. Why? Hispanics also care about Syria. Same mistake as presidential debates.”

Katherine A. Vargas, White House director of Hispanic media, did not respond to a request from Journal-isms for comment. White House spokesman Jay Carney was likewise silent on the question, Farhi reported. The largest black-oriented television networks, Black Entertainment Television and TV One, do not have daily newscasts (although the new but smaller Soul of the South does).

MSNBC and Al Jazeera America were also left off the interview list, though MSNBC’s sister station NBC was invited and Al Jazeera America might just be too new and too little-watched to make the cut,” Sara Morrison reported for the Wrap. “Al Jazeera English, while much more established internationally, no longer airs in the United States as its American cousin tries to gain a foothold in the crowded cable news market.

“That didn’t stop Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English’s senior political analyst, from giving his opinion on the network’s website on Sunday.

” ‘There’s only one major network that reaches the majority of Arabs and Muslims and others in the greater Middle East,’ he wrote. ‘If President Obama reckons it’s important to speak to six US networks, then talking to Al Jazeera — Arabic and English channels — is paramount for any future action in Syria.’ “

Meanwhile, public opinion was hardening against Obama’s bid for congressional approval for a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government over reports that it had used chemical weapons against its own people.

Over just the past week, the share of Americans who oppose U.S. airstrikes in Syria has surged 15 points, from 48% to 63%,” the Pew Research Center said on Monday, “as many who were undecided about the issue have turned against military action. By contrast, the share of Americans who support airstrikes remains virtually unchanged: Just 28% favor U.S. military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that its government used chemical weapons. . . .”

The Associated Press agreed. “Only 1 in 5 Americans believe that failing to respond to chemical weapons attacks in Syria would embolden other rogue governments, rejecting the heart of a weeks-long White House campaign for U.S. military strikes, an Associated Press poll concluded Monday,” Lara Jakes and Jennifer Agiesta reported for the AP.

Reports on the two surveys did not provide racial breakdowns. However, polls last week showed that African Americans, Obama’s most loyal voting bloc, nevertheless are breaking with the president over his request for military action.

Obama’s favorability ratings have also declined, according to the two organizations, but Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, said on the “PBS NewsHour” that “African Americans, minorities” were among the groups still with the president.

Conflict in Syria Becoming a “Freelancer’s War”

News organizations are desperate for Damascus-based reporters, so they are calling on freelancers, stretching their own rules against doing so,” Richard Pendry reported Monday for Columbia Journalism Review.

” ‘It’s the freelancer hypocrisy — they ignore us until they realize they’re desperate,’ says one freelancer whose work appears in major news outlets. Like many sources I spoke to, he did not want to be named. In the British news industry, a reputation for awkwardness virtually guarantees unemployment.

“In the July/August issue of CJR, Francesca Borri, who freelances from Syria for Italian news outlets, described conditions where she is sometimes too poorly paid to afford the driver, flak jacket, or insurance that would help mitigate the dangers of reporting there. The risks of reporting from Syria were already daunting. But now, to add to the peril of the gangs of kidnappers — for whom Western journalists have become a prize target — there is also the danger of getting caught in potential American airstrikes and further gas attacks.

“Today’s news editors rely on freelancers more than ever because they have too few staff reporters, and those that are still employed may be reluctant to risk their lives. For these reasons, Syria is sometimes called the ‘freelancer’s war.’ Figures for the numbers of journalists killed there bears this out. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly half of the 56 journalists killed in Syria since the conflict began have been freelance. . . .”

Syrian Journalists Ask Western Help on Press Freedom

Before a room of fresh-faced Columbia Journalism School students on Friday, four Syrian journalists asked the budding professionals, and indeed the Western World itself: ‘Why now? Why are you just now paying attention?’,” Cecilia D’Anastasio reported Monday for Columbia Journalism Review.

“The Syrian delegation, online and radio reporters who asked to remain anonymous in print, has been touring the US with the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. In New York, the journalists’ last stop, they addressed about 200 Columbia j-school students at an event hosted by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The students and professors alike, toting brown bags and munching on prepackaged sandwiches, were all drinking in the seriousness, and the extraordinary timeliness, of the visitors’ presence.

“One firm message emerged from the discussion: A professional and powerful press is the easiest way to change public opinion. Journalism matters, and these Syrians have risked their lives proving it. ‘We face a major challenge,’ one journalist said boldly, ‘of changing the definition of media fundamentally in Syria.’ Western involvement and media coverage, they explained, would drastically improve the state of Syrian journalism. In turn, improvement in Syrian media will allow Syrians to better convey information to both international media outlets and to Western policymakers who would potentially send aid. . . .”

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: Remembering All the Children

Farai Chideya blog: The Act of Killing: Syria, and Our Moral Dilemma

Stanley Crouch, Daily News, New York: No easy wars, just ugly ones

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: As U.S. considers striking Syria, which military actions would you support

Deirdre Edgar, Los Angeles Times: Bodies of Syrian children: Different views of a difficult image (Aug. 22)

Peter Galbraith, Los Angeles Times: A dilemma for Syria’s minorities

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: President Barack Obama: Just like those other guys?

Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Why the focus on chemical weapons?

Julianne Malveaux, syndicated: Obama selling ‘Wolf Tickets’ on Syria

Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: There Is No Right or Wrong Vote When It Comes to Syria

Zerlina Maxwell, the Grio: Should critics of Syria intervention be reminded of Rwanda?

Evan McMurry, Mediaite: CBS’ Bob Schieffer: Obama’s Red Line ‘Only Good Reason Left’ To Strike Syria

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Does Obama want to attack Syria or not?

Farah Stockman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A short history of chemical weapons

Gary Younge, the Guardian, Britain: The US has little credibility left: Syria won’t change that

Miami Herald’s New Spanish Tabloid Features “Largest Hips”

“On Friday, Miami Herald publisher David Landsberg sent out an email to the newsroom announcing that the paper had come up with a new publication that will pander to the Herald’s most neglected and overlooked demographic: Hispanics,” Bill Cooke reported Sunday on his Miami-based Random Pixels blog, featured Monday on Jim Romenesko‘s media blog.

“It’s a natural. After all, the Herald already has a magazine for rich, white people…so why not Hispanics?

“What’s next? A magazine called ‘The ‘Hood?’ “

An email from Landsberg to the staff said, “Caliente is fun and makes perfect business sense for us: it targets Spanish preferred readers who currently do not consume our products. The 40-page tabloid features weird local stories (no shortage), loud headlines, celebrity gossip, horoscopes, a relationship column, recipes, immigration information, sports — especially futbol y beisbol — and a bikini model.”

One feature invites readers to “Meet the woman with the world’s largest hips.”

Asked if he wanted to elaborate or clarify, Landsberg referred Journal-isms to Lourdes M. Alvarez, marketing manager of Miami Herald Media Co.

“The comments on the site that you reference are unfortunately not correct. While we do not respond to sites of this nature, we appreciate that you reached out to us to get the correct information,” Alvarez said by email.

“At the Miami Herald Media Company, we understand that South Florida Hispanics are a widely diverse group, and not all Hispanics read the same publications.

“We constantly use research to help us broaden our array of publications to reach the greatest number of readers in South Florida.

“Our new Caliente weekly tabloid is an exciting product that mirrors tabloid publications that are commonly produced by mainstream newspapers in Latin America and the Caribbean to capture a different audience.

“Caliente is hyper-local, light and very interactive. Features will include headlines from Latin America, celebrity gossip, movie reviews, dining trends, health and recipes, advice columns, horoscopes, sports and telenovelas (Spanish soap operas). It will also profile our Chica Caliente, a bikini model who will heat up the pages of Caliente with fashionable swimwear. This product is exciting for us. It is new and unlike any other currently in the market, and will serve a segment of our diverse South Florida community. . . .”

Some Mexican-Americans Said to Spurn Census Category

A debate is raging about whether the U.S. Census Bureau should offer Hispanics the option of identifying themselves as a separate race in the 2020 count. But let’s instead ponder how accurately they’ll be defined,” Esther J. Cepeda wrote in her column for the Washington Post Writers Group.

“According to a new study by Duke University professor Jen’nan Ghazal Read, policymakers should be working hard to ensure that demographic subgroups are portrayed as accurately as the data allow.”

Cepeda also wrote, “In her study published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review, Read used two distinct subgroups, Mexicans and Arabs, to tease out very different stories about the nature of their circumstances compared to how the census usually describes them.

“She found that if the census broadened its standard definition to include people who don’t identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino — but who were nonetheless born in Mexico or report Mexican ancestry — in the ‘Mexican’ Hispanic origin question, the number of Mexican-Americans known to be legally in the U.S. would increase nearly 10 percent. . . .”

Cepeda added, ” ‘Absolutely people will choose not to identify as Mexican,’ Read said, noting that many U.S.-born Mexicans consider the term ‘Mexican’ synonymous with ‘immigrant,’ and others with Mexican ancestry seek to differentiate themselves from newer immigrants. In both cases, they reject the term ‘Mexican’ in order to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes associated with foreign-born migrant workers. . . .”

Meanwhile, Mark Hugo Lopez and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera reported Thursday for the Pew Research Center, “As the share of Hispanics who speak Spanish falls, the share that speaks only English at home is expected to rise. About a third (34%) of Hispanics will speak only English at home by 2020, up from 25% in 2010,” citing U.S. Census Bureau demographers Jennifer Ortman and Hyon B. Shin.

Douglas Hanks, Miami Herald: Univision CEO sees profits in English-language news