Valerie Jarrett Works Captive Audience

Journal-isms: Some at the black journalist group's banquet felt that her speech was out of line.

Getty Images
Getty Images

NABJ Protocol Broken With Campaign-Style Speech

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, broke with protocol and delivered a campaign-style speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in New Orleans Saturday night as the association’s annual awards banquet got underway.

Jarrett ticked off what she considered the Obama administration’s accomplishments and said, “We need journalists who will make people think, who will connect the dots, look past the distractions.”

At such occasions, speakers traditionally wish the organization well and speak to an issue of journalism. Veterans said they found the remarks inappropriate.

Some rolled their eyes. “Why not just send a [campaign] video?” one said. “That was out of line,” said another afterward.

NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. and Executive Director Maurice Foster each said they did not know what Jarrett was going to say.

However, Foster added that Jarrett “has been a good supporter of NABJ. . . . She’s always lent herself to project the image of NABJ in a positive light and the good things that we do. Her connection with us and her family connection to the organization is something to be appreciated.” Jarrett is the divorced daughter-in-law of the late Vernon Jarrett, a legendary Chicago journalist and an NABJ founder.

On Saturday afternoon, Jarrett spoke with members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists and with regional reporters, and again outlined what she considered the Obama administration’s successes, among them funding for historically black colleges and universities; health care reform, which she said will disproportionately help African Americans; and reducing disparities between penalties for possession of crack and for powdered cocaine.

Jarrett acknowledged, however, that “the unemployment rate is far too high in the black community” and that it was “fair criticism” to say the administration had not done a good enough job of selling its health care plan.