New Black Panthers, Old-School Battleground 

It's not every day that commentators Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, Juan Williams of Fox News and NPR, Errol Louis of the New York Daily News, Roland Martin of CNN and TV One, and the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are in agreement.

And that such agreement stands in contrast to the views expressed by Fox News Channel and its commentators Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, and by Armstrong Williams, the Washington Times, the National Review and others in the conservative blogosphere.

Such is the case in the controversy over whether a fringe group called the New Black Panther Party is the beneficiary of racial solidarity from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the group allegedly sought to escape responsibility for supposedly intimidating black voters in Philadelphia nearly two years ago.

The first group of commentators says the allegation is absurd at best, and at the very least, blown out of proportion. The latter group says the charges are valid and demand more media attention.

The second group is winning.

Attention in the mainstream media, which in conventional wisdom was all but consigned to irrelevancy with the age of the Internet, is again a coveted prize, seemingly to be won by any means necessary.

Who gets to decide what is news? Who gets to drive the agenda?

On Sunday, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander noted that the Post had written only one story late in the game on the controversy. "Why the silence from The Post on Black Panther Party story?" the headline on his column asked.

"The Post should never base coverage decisions on ideology, nor should it feel obligated to order stories simply because of blogosphere chatter from the right or the left," he wrote.

"But in this case, coverage is justified because it's a controversy that screams for clarity that The Post should provide. If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his department are not colorblind in enforcing civil rights laws, they should be nailed. If the Commission on Civil Rights' investigation is purely partisan, that should be revealed. If Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed," he said in a reference to Justice Department "whistleblower" J. Christian Adams.

"National Editor Kevin Merida, who termed the controversy 'significant,' said he wished The Post had written about it sooner. The delay was a result of limited staffing and a heavy volume of other news on the Justice Department beat, he said." Merida is a graduate of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Monday on "Tapped," the group blog of the progressive American Prospect, Paul Waldman asked a different set of questions:

"Just how significant is the Black Panther case? How does it compare to other voting-rights cases? Is this really the Greatest Crime Against Democracy in History, as Fox News would have us believe, or is it about conservatives' 'fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the administration,' as Abigail Thernstrom, the American Enterprise Institute scholar and conservative member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has said?

"If it's so important, why are there no actual voters who say their rights were compromised? Why did even George W. Bush's Justice Department basically think this case was a nothingburger? Should that fact that this is the first time in memory that conservative activists and media have expressed concern about the possibility of someone being prevented from voting (they're nearly always concerned about people, particularly minorities, voting when they allegedly don't have the right to) make reporters skeptical about the case?

"What role does race play in the aggressiveness with which Fox and other conservative outlets are pushing this story? Do journalists have an obligation to cover something for no reason other than that activists and ideological media are making noise about it? Shouldn't there be some criterion of newsworthiness that is met, beyond the fact that it's being discussed on 'Fox and Friends'? Don't reporters have a responsibility to assess the fundamental substantive questions before they give publicity to a plainly drummed-up issue?"

Stay tuned. The gatekeeping function of the mainstream media still has more value than detractors have led us to believe. And that means the decisions about who get to be the gatekeepers are as important as ever. 

Kidnapped Nigerian Journalists Freed; Slept in Chains

Four Nigerian journalists kidnapped for ransom last week reached safety on Sunday, the Nigerian newspaper This Day reported on Monday.

One was the Lagos State chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Alhaji Wahab Oba.

"Oba, apparently overjoyed coming out of the valley of death, praised the efforts of the Nigeria Police," according to the story by Godwin Haruna and Gboyega Akinsanmi.

"He said that but for the constant chase of the kidnappers by men of the Nigeria Police, the entire frightful experience would not have ended by now.

" 'Until 2.00am today (yesterday), it appeared as if the next minute would be the last. We were being moved from one part of the bush to the other because the police was closing in on them. The Nigeria police deserve to be commended for their dexterity while the whole saga lasted.

"'They were also very disturbed about how the media was on top of the situation and that made them to complain to us openly that it is money they wanted. At a point they tied something round my neck and I had written my will because it was me, Chairman, chairman, they were mentioning. I told Sola that he should tell my wife that God will take care of her. We slept in chains and they never allowed us to rest especially when they heard the police were coming." The reference was to fellow kidnapped journalist Sola Oyeyipo.

“We must appreciate the Nigeria police again. They tried to rescue us, but the kidnappers confronted the police with sophisticated weapons. When the police officers heard the sound of their guns, they retreated. When the bush became hot for them, the kidnappers had to let us go. At a time, the kidnappers started saying these people are powerful people with the manner the police are pursuing us and the way the media are airing the incident. The police mounted pressure, but they had some informants in the community. This made it difficult for the police to capture them.

“ 'We declared fasting and prayers last Friday. At a point, Adolphus who appeared bold, started weeping profusely while Sola confessed that he would start going to Church if ever he regained his freedom. We were tied in chains and rarely slept all the nights. When we want to sleep, the kidnappers would ask us to move because police were coming. The police constantly kept them on their toes," he said, referring to journalist Adolphus Okonkwo.

". . . Before he left, Oba said the kidnappers handed over a sheet of paper to them containing a litany of complaints regarding unemployment, non-payment of workers salaries for months by the Abia State government, lukewarm attitude of the Federal Government to the amnesty programme and bad governance, which has subjugated the Ngwa people. He added that they had no control over all these complaints, adding that the kidnappers vowed to continue until the government addressed all their concerns."

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.