Have Black Journalists Overcome?

Some argue that progress has been made, while others say there have been setbacks. 

Participants in March on Washington 2013 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in March on Washington 2013 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Coverage of Latest March Shows Progress, Setbacks

Could African American progress since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom be measured by the roles black journalists assumed in coverage of the march’s commemoration 50 years later?

One Journal-isms reader in Washington was disappointed. “I noticed there were no black bylines on the main story about Obama’s speech in the Post yesterday, the same way it was 50 years ago when [Bob] Kaiser said the post wrote 16 stories about the march but only mentioned king’s speech once,” he wrote in an email. “I was just struck by a black president commemorating the most well known black activist of our time and no black writers on the main story. Real shame. I wonder how many other major papers carried that story yesterday without black reporters representation?”

Others begged to differ. One was Martin Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post.

“A week ago today, the Style section was dominated by a piece on the role of women then and now in the marches that was written by Krissah Thompson,” Baron replied by email.

“On Sunday, the centerpiece march story on the front page included the byline of DeNeen Brown, with a contributor line for Hamil Harris. With that coverage was a column by Courtland Milloy.

“The Monday Style section was dominated by a piece on the march written by Krissah Thompson.

“The Wednesday paper included a front-page story on the march by Michael Fletcher. The Wednesday Style section included a two-page, then-vs.-now photo essay by Michel du Cille.

“A Thursday front-page story on the day’s events, including the president’s speech, included contributor lines from Hamil Harris and DeNeen Brown.”

Another dissenter was ABC News.

“ABC News Chief National Correspondent and Anchor Byron Pitts led the network’s coverage across all broadcasts,” ABC News spokesman David Ford messaged:

“WATCH ‘This Week’ — http://abcn.ws/1dyp5LD

“WATCH ‘GMA’ — http://abcn.ws/15F68Bc

“WATCH ‘World News’ — http://abcn.ws/17rM5Vr

“WATCH ‘Nightline’ — http://abcn.ws/1dtLaKx

“Bryon Pitts, Linsey Davis, and Pierre Thomas all contributed to the network’s special coverage throughout the day. Renowned Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree joined George Stephanopoulos in our New York studio for our special report on the ABC Television Network.”

At NPR, spokeswoman Anna Christopher Bross wrote, “I know that Gene Demby and Hansi Lo Wang of our Code Switch team were both on-site at the March, as was reporter Allison Keyes. We did extensive coverage leading up to the 50th anniversary; here’s our series page, and also a page dedicated to our summer-long Summer of ’63 series:

March on Washington at 50

Summer of ’63

The lead stories on the march in the Washington Post and New York Times were not written by African Americans, yet it would have been unthinkable 50 years ago that the managing editors of those papers — Dean Baquet at the Times and Kevin Merida at the Post — would be black journalists.

Or that the Associated Press would assemble a multiracial team to deliver stories that included sidebars on how the march related to immigration, gays, Latinos, tourism, Nelson Mandela and even the U.S. Postal Service, which issued a commemorative stamp.

“Is black participation important on a story like this? Yes. ALL participation is important,” messaged Sonya Ross, a black journalist who as race and ethnicity editor coordinated the AP’s march coverage. “Many of those involved (myself included) are products of The AP’s longstanding intern program,” created as a legacy of the civil rights movement. “This includes 2013 intern Shaquille Brewster, a student at Howard University.”

Or that on PBS, an biracial team of female journalists, Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, would interview the president on the night of the march.

McClatchy Washington Bureau correspondent William Douglas and two others wrote the lead story on Saturday’s commemoration, then he moved on to write about Syria. Representatives of other leading newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, along with the other networks, did not reply to inquiries Friday, perhaps owing to the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

Still, some journalists found the coverage lacking. “Our involvement was very skimpy at best,” Sidmel Estes, a former executive producer at WAGA-TV in Atlanta and a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said by email. “And most of the coverage happened with ‘ethnic media’. Yes, we’ve come a long way, but I believe we are losing ground. . . .”

Estes posted a blog Friday headlined, “Why The Media Industry is Failing Us.”

“As I watched and read the coverage of several key issues over the summer, it became apparent to me that the majority of today’s so-called journalists don’t have a clue,” she wrote. “They have no institutional memory, don’t do their homework and fail to think deeply enough to explain major topics and their ramifications to their audiences. We are not ‘speaking truth to power’. Here are some of those taboo subjects.

“Why are there no open, honest and effective discussions about the state of race in America? This trend started during the civil rights movement and continues to today. We face sometimes painful realities about how we, as a country, have failed to correct many of the injustices of the past. We have created new injustices and we have remained silent. . . .”

Veteran journalist Jack White wrote for The Root, “As an exercise in further deifying Martin Luther King Jr. and further solidifying an oversimplified version of his legacy, yesterday’s 50th-anniversary celebration of the historic March on Washington was a huge success.

“But as a means of kindling a new and badly needed social movement that could meaningfully address the unfinished business of persistent and worsening patterns of racial inequality … well, not so much. . . .”

On Tuesday, Ifill and Dorothy Gilliam, the Washington Post’s first black female reporter, discussed the 1963 march at the National Press Club.

Gilliam spoke of WaPo’s coverage of the march, saying the newspaper focused on the violence,” Betsy Rothstein reported for FishbowlDC.

“She explained she was on maternity leave at the time and imagined how things might have been different had there been a black editor at the table making coverage decisions. ‘The whole focus was on violence and there was no violence,’ she said. ‘I believe if there had been more racial diversity, if there had been a black editor among the people making the decisions…there were three black people on the whole staff, none of them decision makers.’

“Ifill agreed, but stressed that today’s newsrooms still possess a serious lack of diversity. ‘Newsrooms are not that much more diverse now, especially when it comes to decision makers,’ she said. Gilliam added, ‘As our country gets browner, the media gets whiter. …We’re actually losing diversity within media.’ “

. . . O’Reilly Apologizes for Not Doing His Reporting

Bill O’Reilly ate a rare slice of humble pie on Thursday when he apologized for mistakenly reporting that Republicans were not invited to speak at Wednesday’s MLK ‘I Have a Dream’ speech anniversary event,” Sara Morrison reported Friday for the Wrap.

” ‘Wrong, that’s wrong,’ O’Reilly admitted, pointing out that other mistakes were made as well — Republicans should not have declined the chance to speak.

“O’Reilly explained that his error was due to a lack of reporting: ‘I simply assumed that since all the speakers were liberal Democrats, Republicans were excluded.’ . . .”

Dreamers Remember Journalist Salazar in L.A. Tribute

The end of August in Los Angeles has historically been a time of sad recollections for Latinos, especially activists who remember a triumphant civil rights march that turned murderous,” Tony Castro wrote Friday for VOXII.

“On Aug. 29, 1970, some 25,000 activists gathered in East Los Angeles to take part in what was billed as the National Chicano Moratorium march, and protest against the Vietnam War.

“They were protesting the disproportionately large number of Latino soldiers who were being killed in Vietnam. It never occurred to any of them that one of three people who would be killed that day as a result o march would be perhaps the most important Hispanic who would die in the age of civil rights protests.

“Journalist Ruben Salazar, a crusader for Latino rights — especially against law enforcement — was slain when Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies fired a tear gas projectile that struck him in the head, killing him instantly.

“No one was ever arrested — then or since — in connection with Salazar’s violent death.

“In the years since, activists have commemorated Salazar’s death and the march each late August. But this year, the reflection has taken on deeper meaning, and some suggest this is because of the civil rights fervor created by the 50th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

“Indeed, among those participating in last Sunday’s commemoration of the Chicano Moratorium march were dozens of so-called Dreamers — young immigrants seeking eventual [citizenship] through immigration reform — who were quick studies about an event that took place more than two decades before any of them were born. . . .”  

Raul A. Reyes wrote of Salazar Thursday in an opinion piece for NBCLatino, “it is important to remember him because the issues that he cared about continue to resonate with Latinos today.

Joe Atkins, Facing South: Old-fashioned American hypocrisy: The NAACP partners with Nissan, and Walmart pushes ‘Made in America’

Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute: MSNBC licensed ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from King family

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: 50 YEARS LATER.

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Conspicuous by their absence.

James Carr, the Shadow League: Talking ‘Bout A Revolution: Millennials Must Embody The March On Washington

Jelani Cobb, the New Yorker: Obama, Surveillance, and the Legacy of the March on Washington (Aug. 22)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic: On The Death Of Dreams

Alison Flowers, Truthout: 50 Years After “I Have a Dream” for a Chicago Man Exonerated of Murder

Emil Guillermo blog, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Asian Americans not forgotten by Obama 50 years after March on Washington, Dr. King’s Speech

Meg Heckman, Columbia Journalism Review: On civil rights coverage, a look back

Jack Mirkinson, Huffington Post: What The Media Got Wrong (And Right) In Its March On Washington Coverage

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Freedom rings, for a moment

Barbara Reynolds, Washington Post: After ‘March’, feeling hopeful about the ‘Dream’

Sandip Roy, New America Media: I Have a Dream: An Export Mightier Than McTikka

Steve Russell, Indian Country Today Media Network: ‘I Have a Dream’ for the Cherokee Nation

Josh Schiller, Washington Post: Why you won’t see or hear the ‘I have a dream’ speech

Christie Thompson, ProPublica: March on Washington Anniversary: Great Reads on Racial Justice

Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Black Youths and the March on Washington: Fighting a New Breed of Racism (Aug. 21)

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: MSNBC compliments King family’s approach to ‘I have a dream’ speech

Alex Weprin, TVNewser: March On Washington Anniversary Speech A Mild Cable News Ratings Draw

WTTG-TV, Washington: “View: Afro American Newspaper Commemorates 1963 March on Washington” (video)

Murdoch’s U.S. Papers Beat War Drums on Syria

Back in 2003 I wrote about the fact that all of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers supported the invasion of Iraq. In ‘Their master’s voice’ I remarked on his ‘unerring ability to choose editors across the world who think just like him,’ ” Roy Greenslade wrote Friday for Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“Ten years on, he may well have chosen his editors wisely again, but the situation for him is now very different. There was, and still is, hacking. His great empire has been split in two.

“It is therefore difficult for the News Corp conductor to convince his British editors to sing so loudly and obediently from the Murdoch hymn book. In the US, however, the KRM chorus is warbling in unison.

“The New York Post’s poster-style front page yesterday carried the headline: ‘Stop dithering, Obama! If we’re serious, we must… TARGET ASSAD’.

“Two days before, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, in an article headlined ‘Target Assad’, urged Obama to assassinate Bashar al-Assad and his brother.

“Fox News then conducted an interview with Stephens and carried the Post’s article on its website, headlined ‘Stop dithering, Mr Obama, if US is serious about Syria we must target Assad.’ . . . “

Katherine Fung, Huffington Post: Networks Go Wall-To-Wall For Obama’s Syria Remarks

Rick Horowitz, Huffington Post: Red Lines & Deadlines: Syria (Seriously) (video)

Huffington Post: White House Reporters Get Briefed On Syria

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: The U.S. must act against Assad

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: What can U.S. accomplish by intervening in Syrian conflict?

Margaret Sullivan, New York Times: In News Coverage and Editorials on Syria, How Much Skepticism in The Times?

Black Reporter Calls on White Nationalist — Mind Game?

A postscript to my interview with white nationalist, Paul Craig Cobb. . . .,” New York Times reporter John Eligon, a black journalist, wrote on his Facebook page.

“I had knocked on doors in high-crime neighborhoods, spent time interviewing people on drug-infested streets late at night and tried to elicit comments from grieving family members, but this was admittedly about as nervous as I had been in my journalism career.

“I was in tiny Leith, N.D., (population 24), approaching the rickety house of a white supremacist. Would the sight of me, a black man, at his door startle him so much that he would shoot first and ask questions later? Would he see me through the peephole and curse me away? Would I have traveled all this way just to get turned away? I was not necessarily concerned that he would hurt me, but there was definitely fear of the unknown.

“But after my journalistic instinct and knack for excitement kicked in, I strode up to the door, with a white female photographer by my side. I stood a bit off center, figuring that if he fired through the door, I would have a better chance of avoiding getting hit. I calmly knocked.

” ‘Who is it,’ a scruffy voice behind the red door yelled.

” ‘It’s The New York Times,’ I replied.

“He then rattled off something about trying to fix his cell phone and asked me to wait on the sidewalk. He’d be right out, he said.

“Moments later, he emerged. Paul Craig Cobb, a 61-year-old who looks more hippie than Nazi, came to this small town a year ago to try to turn it into a white supremacist colony.”

Eligon also wrote, “Cobb was quick to offer up shameful insults of Jews, gays and to The New York Times.

“He said The Times was trying to play mind games by sending a black reporter and a blond-haired, blue-eyed female photographer to interview him. (After I refuted that, he did allow that it could have been a coincidence.) . . .”

John Eligon, New York Times: New Neighbor’s Agenda: White Power Takeover