Blacks Aren’t Backing Obama on Syria

According to two new polls, the president's most loyal voting bloc is not siding with him on his planned assault against Syria. 

African Americans, President Obama’s most loyal voting bloc, nevertheless are breaking with the president over his request for military action against Syria, according to two new surveys. Hispanics likewise join the majority in their opposition to a military response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

A sharply divided Senate committee voted Wednesday to give President Obama limited authority to use force against Syria, the first step in what remains a treacherous path for Mr. Obama to win Congressional approval for a military attack,” Mark Landler, Jonathan Weisman and Michael R. Gordon reported Wednesday for the New York Times.

The 10-to-7 vote showed bipartisan support for a strike, but bipartisan opposition as well.

A national survey conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News found 40 percent of African Americans supporting airstrikes against Syria and 56 percent opposed. For Hispanics, the figure was 31 percent supporting but 63 percent opposed. For whites, it was 38 percent supporting, 58 percent opposed. The survey was conducted by telephone Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 among a random national sample of 1,012 adults.

A survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1 among 1,000 adults, yielded similar results, according to a racial breakdown provided to Journal-isms. The sampling of Asian Americans and Native Americans is usually too small to be included.

Asked, “Would you favor or oppose the U.S. conducting military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons?” only 22 percent of black non-Hispanics said they were in favor, 53 percent said they were opposed and 25 percent said they did not know.

Among non-Hispanic whites, 29 percent were in favor, 47 percent said they were opposed and 24 percent said they did not know. Pew questioned 2,907 whites and 521 blacks.

In the Washington Post Tuesday, Ed O’Keefe listed Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., as one of “12 key voices in Congress for the Syria debate.” A leading anti-war liberal, she convinced more than 60 colleagues to sign a letter to Obama asking him to seek formal authorization for military action, O’Keefe wrote. “Given her vocal stance, she could be especially influential over colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, a bloc of more than 40 votes that the White House will need to ensure passage of a resolution in the closely-divided House.”

Lee has said, “We must learn the lessons of the past. Lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others. We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire.”

Some columnists of color have agreed. In Tuesday’s print edition of USA Today, DeWayne Wickham wrote, “Yes, the 426 children killed by the use of a weapon of mass destruction — which most of the world agrees is an unacceptable means of meting out death — is a chilling reminder of the indiscriminate brutality of war. But in a conflict in which both sides are accused of committing gruesome war crimes, President Obama should not let himself be bamboozled into plunging this nation down another Middle East rabbit hole.”

On the other side, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. of the Washington Post Writers Group wrote, “We don’t have to be the world’s policeman, but — like it or not — we are the world’s moral referee. We haven’t always done that when we should have, as when the United States turned a blind eye to what was happening in Germany in the 1930s. That’s no excuse for refusing to do it now. We defend the powerless and voiceless. This is what America does. It is tough and often thankless work. But it is also indispensable work if we aspire to live in a civilized world. . . .”

Bridget Johnson, Washington editor of PJ Media, a conservative libertarian news and opinion site, made a racial argument on NPR’s “Tell Me More.”

You know, this is nauseating that we’re having this argument that somehow says a Syrian life is worth less than another life. You know, if this was happening in Brussels right now we would be all over it. If it was European intervention, we would not hesitate one minute. If it was Rwanda, that’s another story. . . .”

The Pew survey also asked, “Do you think Barack Obama has explained clearly why the U.S. should launch military airstrikes against Syrian military targets or has he not explained the reasons clearly enough?”

Among non-Hispanic whites, 30 percent said yes and 49 percent said not clearly enough; among non-Hispanic blacks, 51 percent said yes and 35 percent said not clearly enough. The remainder said they did not know.

Asked “Do you think U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to lead to a long term U.S. military commitment there?,” 62 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 60 percent of non-Hispanic blacks said yes; 26 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 25 percent of non-Hispanic blacks said no.

Asked “Do you think U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the U.S. and its allies in the region?,” 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 69 percent of non- Hispanic blacks said yes; 14 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 19 percent of non-Hispanic blacks said no.

Just 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 39 percent of non-Hispanic blacks believed that airstrikes “are likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons.”

Fifty-seven percent of non-Hispanic whites and 61 percent of non-Hispanic blacks agreed that the United States “should first get a United Nations resolution to use force before taking military action against Syria.”

Fifty-six percent of non-Hispanic whites and 51 percent of non-Hispanic blacks said they believed “there is clear evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians.”

In a separate question about interest in recent news developments, whites and blacks differed markedly on how close they followed the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Fourteen percent of non-Hispanic whites said they followed “very closely,” but 59 percent of non-Hispanic blacks did. Fifty-six percent of non-Hispanic whites said “not too closely,” but only 30 percent of blacks did.

Simon Maloy, Media Matters for America: Syria And The Conservative Anti-Obama Reflex 

Evan McMurry, Mediaite: Romney Advisor: Conservatives Didn’t Oppose Red Line When Obama Drew It

Greg Mitchell, the Nation: Media Question Kerry’s Mysterious 1,429 Death Toll in Syria — and Why It Matters (Sept. 5)

 Joby Warrick, Washington Post: As Syria deteriorates, neighbors fear bioweapons threat

Stories on Low-Income Groups Said to Miss the Big Picture

Over the past three months, major print outlets throughout the country largely failed to discuss rising structural inequality and poverty in the United States while reporting on policies and programs that affect low-income groups,” Media Matters for America reported on Wednesday.

In May, Media Matters wrote, “According to Congressional Budget Office data, from 1979 to 2007 the top one percent of income earners have seen their after-tax share of total income rise by more than 120 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen that share decline by almost 30 percent.”

Wednesday’s report said, “From June 1 to August 31, the major print outlets analyzed for this report published 456 articles that provided substantial discussion of policies and programs that have disproportionate effects on lower income groups. Of the total number of articles, only 88 –roughly 19 percent — mentioned rising inequality or poverty in the United States,” Craig Harrington and Albert Kleine reported.

“Of the 12 print outlets analyzed, only two — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Boston Globe — mentioned structural inequality or poverty at a rate greater than the group average of 19 percent. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution mentioned inequality in 24.4 percent of its coverage on policies and programs affecting low-income groups, and The Boston Globe mentioned inequality in 28.6 percent. The Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post mentioned structural inequality the least, accounting for only 6.4 and 4 percent, respectively, of each paper’s total coverage on policies and programs that have disproportionate effects on lower income groups. . . .”

Bezos Meets Washington Post Staff; Diversity Not a Topic

The Washington Post’s new owner, Jeffrey P. Bezos, long wary of journalists, courted the paper’s editors and reporters in a series of meetings Wednesday, saying that he is optimistic about the future of journalism and wants to create a ‘daily ritual bundle’ that would appeal to a variety of readers,” Steven Mufson reported Wednesday for the Post.

None of the accounts of Bezos’ meetings, which took place over two days, mentioned that diversity issues were raised. Still, some Post journalists of color said they were pleased.

“I think he’s smart without being condescending, a quality I admire,” local Post blogger Clinton Yates told Journal-isms by email. “I also feel that he has a very realistic grasp of what the mistakes are that the news industry has made on the whole, not just The Post, which is refreshing beyond just any potential innovations that may come in the future.”

Yates was one of several Post staffers who tweeted during the visit. “To me, this tweet said it all,” Yates told Journal-isms. His tweet quoted Bezos: “The deathknell of any enterprise is to glorify the past. No matter how good it was.”

Kevin Merida, the paper’s managing editor and a black journalist, told Journal-isms by email, “The meetings were invigorating. Lots of creative energy and ambition for the future. Jeff sees the value of what we do, and the journalists in our room already believe in themselves. So it’s exciting to think about what a great news organization like ours can be in the next phase of our life. As Jeff himself said, put readers first. And stay forever young.”

Mufson’s story continued, “The founder and chief executive, who has agreed to purchase The Post for $250 million, said he plans to invest in the paper and rejected the idea that news organizations could cut their way to profitability or stability, or attract advertisers without adding readers. . . .”

When news of the sale broke last month, stunning the news industry, Bob Butler, who had become president of the National Association of Black Journalists only a day before, told Journal-isms that he would seek a meeting with Bezos, whose company is based in Seattle. “We do not know whether this will have any negative impact on our employees, especially our members,” Butler said then.

On Aug. 6, journalist Farai Chideya, who teaches at New York University, wrote an “open letter” to Bezos quoting a 2010 column by former Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander.

All told, journalists of color comprise about 24 percent of the newsroom, comfortably above the ASNE [American Society of News Editors] census average of roughly 13 percent in recent years. But here’s the problem: Minorities are 43 percent of The Post’s circulation area, and a large part of the region is edging toward ‘majority minority’ status. For The Post, being ‘good on diversity’ isn’t enough. . . . “