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Joe Biden, second from left
(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

How serious was Joe Biden's mistake in saying to a black audience in Danville, Va., last week that Republicans are "going to put y'all back in chains?" How about Touré, the writer turned MSNBC commentator, who apologized for his language after saying last week that Mitt Romney's campaign was sending coded racial messages?

"I know it's a heavy thing, I don't say it lightly, but this is 'niggerization,' " Touré said. "You are not one of us, you are like the scary black man who we've been trained to fear."

Or is this outrage over words missing the bigger picture - that policies, actions and misrepresentations of the opponent's positions are what deserve the attention?

Columnists and commentators have been taking all of these positions in the last few days.

". . . imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that," the Boston Globe scolded in an editorial about Biden's remarks on Friday. "Mitt Romney's pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity - and so would Romney. In the fight for civility and substance over pointless hyperbole, Biden may not be the worst offender. But he's an offender nonetheless, and he should apologize."

In the Detroit Free Press, Rochelle Riley, an African American columnist, said Biden was the wrong messenger. "Were it the Rev. Al Sharpton who had turned to a crowd filled with black people in a city that is 48% black and said that Republicans are 'going to put ya'll back in chains,' it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow," Riley wrote.

"The highly toxic attempt to seize the racial high ground has stifled the halting attempts at meaningful dialogue and has marginalized critics of a society still heavily weighted toward whites. It's also misdirected the anger of disaffected whites, who now believe they are the victims of a power structure commanded by the nation's first black president."

Surprisingly, the black conservative John McWhorter challenged Romney on the more specific charge that the former Massachusetts governor had distorted President Obama's position on welfare reform by saying that "Obama is freeing states to let people linger on the dole," in McWhorter's words.

"This is especially egregious in that it's Romney's first major contribution to the culture war aspect of campaigning - something that has been largely absent since we got past the racial insights of Gingrich, Santorum and Cain during the primaries," McWhorter wrote Thursday in the Daily News of New York.

"In this respect, it doesn't even have the tragic deftness of the infamous Willie Horton ad. . . .

"Then there is the glum sociological tackiness. Welfare is a racially coded issue, and Romney's first insight on such a matter is that Obama wants to create a class of (predominantly black) loafers?

"It's one more piece of evidence suggesting that this man simply doesn't have the solidity to be commander-in-chief."

In the Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara posited that one issue at the presidential candidate level is who most effectively expresses his anger.

"Americans are having something of an anger management moment," McNamara wrote. "Tweeters hated on NBC's coverage of the Olympics, campaign crowds heckle both presidential candidates, and viewers lost interest in the last season of 'American Idol' because the judges were too nice.

"Last week, the presidential campaign took its turn, detouring from healthcare and tax cuts to focus on which candidate is the angry one. First, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama and Joe Biden of running an 'angry and desperate' campaign. The Obama folks dutifully replied in kind, calling Romney 'unhinged.'

"The exchange put the spotlight on one of the most exacting measures we use to judge a leader. For men especially, the expression of anger is a crucial test of mettle; it may, in fact, be the ultimate measure of masculinity, even though the cultural

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Republicans had it in for Obama before Day 1

Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York Times: Obama's (Perceived) Transformation

Stanley Crouch, Daily News, New York: 'Moderate' Mitt runs right off the cliff

Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Romney Does Want to Unshackle Wall St.

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Romney's welfare queen

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Obama versus Romney: Meanest campaign ever?

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: The real Medicare question

Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Y'all politicians be careful tryin' to talk like us

John G. Turner, New York Times: Why Race Is Still a Problem for Mormons

Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times: Both sides play 'us' vs. 'them'

Artie Williams III, a photographer at KABC-TV in Los Angeles, died Saturday after having what was described as a "medical emergency" while scuba diving at Catalina Island off the Southern California Coast. He would have been 60 years old on Sunday and was to commemorate 30 years at the station on Tuesday, authorities and friends said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in its report, "two scuba divers surfaced on the Isthmus Reef, a dive site located on the north side of Catalina Island. While swimming on the surface back to their commercial dive boat, one of the divers became unresponsive. The unresponsive diver was a male adult, approximately 60 years old. Nearby boaters assisted the dive partner by pulling the unresponsive diver into their boat. They attempted to administer life-saving measures."

The department withheld the name of the male diving partner. The Los Angeles County coroner's office said it had not determined a cause of death.

"Williams was a beloved colleague and respected competitor," the Black Journalists Association of Southern California said in a statement. "He also mentored countless aspiring broadcasters during his 30-plus year career at KABC. Artie, as he was widely known, quietly gave back to the community in a host of ways including his recent presentation to teen scholars at LA's Urban Media Foundation."

The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists echoed those sentiments in a separate statement.

"I first met Artie Williams in Baltimore," Williams' friend Ron Olsen wrote Sunday in a blog post. "It was in late 1979. I had just gone to work for WMAR-TV. So had Artie. He got started by attending an art school. From there, he transitioned into photography and tv news. He had come in from Richmond at about the same time I came in from Pittsburgh. The World Series was on. The Orioles were up against the Pirates. For the next three years, we worked together, partied together and became friends. I helped Artie study for his first black belt in Karate while on our way to assignments. He eventually became an instructor, but I never once saw him raise a hand against another human being in anger. I did though, see him stop a fight.

"We were on our way to an assignment when Artie spotted two kids fighting in an alley. It was a big kid on top of a little kid. Artie pulled into the Alley, drove up to the fight, rolled down the window and said, 'Hey! If you want to fight somebody, how about fighting me?' The big kid looked up at Artie, got off the little kid, and the fight ended.

"Later, Artie moved west for a job shooting video for KABC-TV. A few months later, I followed in his footsteps, taking a reporting job at the same station. Others moved west as well. Michael Jones and Rawn Hairston. All four of us left WMAR for KABC. A producer, Bob Compton, left WMAR and came to Los Angeles to work for KNBC. It led to jokes about the 'Baltimore Mafia.' "

Jeff Dooley, president of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, of which Williams was a member, said by telephone that they had previously dived together in Catalina and that Williams had been a diver for "more than 10 or 15 years."

A poster identifying himself as Williams' nephew, Tyvelle Williams, of Richmond, Va., wrote under Olsen's essay, ". . . He definitely died doing what he loved."

"One of the Bay Area's most prominent radical activists of the era, Richard Masato Aoki was known as a fierce militant who touted his street-fighting abilities. He was a member of several radical groups before joining and arming the Panthers, whose members received international notoriety for brandishing weapons during patrols of the Oakland police and a protest at the state Legislature.

"Aoki went on to work for 25 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator at the Peralta Community College District, and after his suicide in 2009, he was revered as a fearless radical.

". . . Aoki's work for the FBI, which has never been reported, was uncovered and verified during research for the book, 'Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power.' The book, based on research spanning three decades, will be published tomorrow by Farrar, Straus and Giroux."

Rosenfeld is a former investigative reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle who has won the George Polk Award and other journalism honors.

"The plagiarism scandal connected to a nationally known journalist has hit home," Ann DeMatteo reported Monday for the New Haven (Conn.) Register.

"Fareed Zakaria, an editor-at-large at Time magazine and CNN host, on Monday resigned from the Yale Corporation," where Zakaria, a Yale graduate, was a university trustee. "In a letter to Yale President Richard C. Levin, Zakaria said he needed to shed some responsibilities and focus more 'on the core of my work.' "

Zakaria signaled he would be cutting back in an interview published Monday in the New York Times.

". . . Not that long ago, getting a column in Time would have been the pinnacle of a journalist's career," the Times' Christine Haughney wrote Sunday. "But expectations and opportunities have grown in the last few years. Many writers now market themselves as separate brands, and their journalism works largely as a promotion for more lucrative endeavors like writing books and public speaking."

Zakaria was suspended from Time and CNN last week after bloggers discovered that his column of Aug. 20 for Time magazine had passages lifted almost entirely from an article in the New Yorker by historian Jill Lepore. He was reinstated in less than a week after Time and CNN found the plagiarism to be an isolated incident.

"The problem, as Mr. Zakaria discovered, is that stain from any scandal can spread across platforms, threatening the image he had carefully built," Haughney continued.

". . . In an interview on Friday in his CNN office, Mr. Zakaria again apologized for what he had called 'a terrible mistake.'

" 'This week has been very important because it has made me realize what is at the core of what I want to do,' Mr. Zakaria said. He said he wanted to 'help people to think about this fast-moving world and do this through my work on TV and writing.'

"He added: 'Other things will have to go away. There's got to be some stripping down.'

"Even a stripped-down schedule for Mr. Zakaria seems ambitious. Mr. Zakaria said he works on his column ideas each weekend, reports them on Monday, writes on Tuesday and Wednesday and films his Sunday television program on Thursday.

"Then there are the three books he wrote and one book he edited, the speeches, the Twitter postings, all while trying to spend mornings with his family . . . "

Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, salon.com: America's worst historians: Fareed Zakaria's plagiarism scandal shows the danger of journalists trying to write history

David Carr, New York Times: Journalists Dancing on the Edge of Truth

Tunku Varadarajan, Newsweek:  Schadenfareed

Jason Vincent, the news director for KQDS-TV in Duluth, Minn., who resigned after writing on Facebook, "Add drunk, homeless, Native American man to the list of animals that have wandered into my yard," is moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to become a morning anchor, Robin Washington reported Sunday in the Duluth News Tribune.

". . . Many assumed he'd been fired or resigned under pressure," Washington wrote.

"Not true, Vincent said Friday, and again in a News Tribune interview yesterday.

"I'm moving to (Cedar Rapids) Iowa, KGAN-TV. I'll be a morning anchor down there," he said, explaining he had been looking for a new job for several months and the offer came coincidentally.

Vincent and Washington were among those on a WGZS-FM radio broadcast Friday, ". . . much of it to explain to anyone unaware that it's insulting to call any group of people 'animals' and particularly to perpetuate the stereotype of 'drunken Indians.'

". . . Vincent used the airtime to answer another question: Is he really Native?

" 'It's on my dad's side,' he said. 'My grandfather's grandfather came from a tribe in southern Minnesota' - later identifying it as Mdewakanton Sioux, though he's not enrolled and hasn't lived the experience.

"He may join another Native group, however. While condemning his comment, members of the Native American Journalists Association have invited him to join. Vincent said he is considering it and only just now has become aware of the organization, which advocates for the hiring of Native journalists and sensitivity in covering Native communities."

"Rebooting journalism schools" has been a hot topic this spring and summer, culminating at the recent convention of the American Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in Chicago," Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, wrote Saturday for the Online Journalism Review.

". . . It's about the PUBLIC. This is after all the POINT of journalism. These are the people for whom it all exists. Remembering this can help us focus on the most critical questions: How do we work most effectively with the folks who are now creating the journalism with us? How do we best engage citizens? At the heart of this debate, we must place their needs and wants -- indeed, the ways in which they are actively reinventing journalism even as we discourse about it. The current discussion seems to harbor the notion that the debate is primarily between the academy and the 'industry' -- an idea that is sorely out of date.

". . . Diversity! My final point brings us back to the beginning. This is about the public. And the entire public is not old, white and male (I can say that, since I'm two of those). We can't serve, be partners with, or even begin to understand a diverse population -- if we're not one. And we mostly are not. A remarkable number of discussions on the future of journalism -- the FUTURE of journalism -- are conducted by groups that look like the Kiwanis club of Peoria in 1950. This won't do. When we hire and put into place people who look like the future and are excited about its promise -- that is when rebooting ceases to be a conversation and becomes reality. The biggest change we need in journalism schools is an ever-changing cast of characters."

"Now, a step has been taken to officially recognize his greatness in Richmond, the former Capital of the Confederacy that fought the Union to preserve slavery. Richmond-area residents and visitors to Downtown can view a prominently displayed state historical highway marker that recognizes, among other achievements, his courageous battles against lynching, his triumph against segregated streetcars in Richmond, his election to City Council and his economic justice accomplishments."

". . . The marker stems from efforts of Raymond H. Boone, editor/publisher of the Richmond Free Press, which underwrote the production and erection of the marker."

"He carted around huge bags of cat food in 'Unit 22' - his station-issued, white Ford Crown Victoria - and colleagues knew that between assignments, they could find him doling out kibble to feral felines at Pelican Harbor Park, close to WSVN studios on the 79th Street Causeway.

"Cardenas, a Cuban exile, mentored a generation of young colleagues, many of whom posted poignant remembrances on his Facebook page after Cardenas died Tuesday at 71, at his home in North Miami Beach.

". . . Cardenas made sure that 'young reporters knew to enjoy life. Cuban coffee was a mandatory stop during any assignment, even breaking news,' " Brian Andrews, a former WSVN reporter, said.

"Cardenas died at his North Miami Beach home of respiratory failure following years of bad health that decimated his once robust frame.

"A former smoker, he contracted jaw cancer about 10 years ago. Doctors replaced part of his jaw with a metal plate, which led to complications like trouble swallowing and pneumonia, said close friend and neighbor Evelyn Garrison.

" 'Even when he was so sick that he lost the ability to talk, he gave 100 percent,' added Kirk Wade, WSVN's chief photographer. 'He'd come to work and stand out in the heat.' "

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, 57, has died from a sudden infection while recovering from an undisclosed illness at a hospital abroad, state-run television said on Tuesday, Aaron Maasho reported for Reuters. ". . . Rights groups criticized him for cracking down hard on dissent but the West . . . . [was] reluctant to pick a fight with a partner in the fight against al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa. . . . He rounded up numerous opposition leaders after the disputed 2005 polls and several opponents and journalists have been arrested under a 2009 anti-terrorism law. Reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders provide background on Meles and the press.

Univision News has appointed Keith Summa as vice president of news partnerships, the Spanish-language network announced on Monday. "Effectively immediately, Summa will be based in New York and report to Isaac Lee, president, Univision News. In his new position, Summa will work with journalists in both Univision News and within the Univision/ABC joint venture to support and expand the culture of investigative and enterprise reporting in both organizations. Summa will also serve as Univision News' liaison with ABC News in the joint venture, and work with and develop other journalism partnerships. . . . Prior to joining Univision, Summa was head of the CBS News Investigative Unit since 2007."

"A federal appellate court ruled that a Spanish-language gossip magazine violated the copyrights of a celebrity couple by publishing private photographs of their secret wedding in a case that according to the court 'reads like a telenovela,'" Amanda Simmons reported Friday for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Diego (9th Cir.) ruled this week against the Florida-based Maya Magazines, which publishes TVNotas, for printing photos of a secret wedding ceremony in Las Vegas between pop singer Noelia Lorenzo Monge and her producer-husband Jorge Reynoso without their permission."

"The 'Today' show says Al Roker and Matt Lauer have jokingly bantered about throwing someone 'under the bus' at least 27 times over the past two years," the Associated Press reported on Monday. "Why does that matter? Because the most recent time Roker said it, on Thursday, it was widely interpreted as a dig against his own show for the way it removed co-host Ann Curry less than two months ago."

"Tahlequah and Pawhuska, Okla., are 120 miles apart and are homes to very different American Indian tribes," Rebecca Tallent reported Aug. 8 for the Quill. "The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is based in Tahlequah, and the Osage Nation is headquartered in Pawhuska. Both tribal communities, acting independently, have recently passed shield laws, creating the first such reporter's privilege laws for native journalists."

"Robin Roberts returned to 'Good Morning America' on Monday," WXYZ in Detroit reported. "GMA posted on its Facebook page in advance that Roberts would return to the show Aug. 20." Roberts said her bone marrow transplant is "Still slated for the end of the month or early September. That's when my lengthy medical leave will begin."

". . . On Aug. 24 the Nieman Watchdog website will end its eight-year run as a separate entity; past articles will remain accessible online at niemanwatchdog.org," the Nieman Foundation announced on Monday. "Going forward, we will integrate new articles about watchdog journalism into Nieman Reports, which publishes as a print quarterly as well as online and serves an influential international audience of journalists." The site has been edited by Barry Sussman, a former editor at the Washington Post.

"This morning marked the last broadcast of KPCC's the Madeleine Brand Show," Tessa Stuart wrote Friday for LAWeekly. "Don't fret, your favorite Babe of NPR will still be heard weekday mornings on Southern California Public Radio - she'll just be bantering with a swarthy new co-host. Brand, who has hosted the eponymous hour-long show since 2010, announced this morning that starting Monday she will share billing with A. Martinez from ESPN Radio. Henceforth, the Madeleine Brand Show will be known as Brand and Martinez."

The V3 Digital Media Conference (V3con), sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association-Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday, "will highlight and expand multi-platform Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communications by gathering thought-provoking AAPI online journalists, creative social media communicators, seasoned bloggers and those interested in engaging on digital platforms."

"Time Warner Cable Deportes has begun lining up its on-air talent roster, hiring a quintet of veteran sports personalities ahead of the upcoming launch of the nation's first dedicated Spanish-language regional sports network," Multichannel News reported on Sunday. Ricardo Celis joins as a sports anchor; Martin Zúñiga is to be the network's primary soccer analyst; Elmur Souza will serve as a studio host alongside Zúñiga; Enrique Gutierrez will work as senior producer/special correspondent; and Hipolita Gamboa is the new executive editor of content and will also have an on-camera role as a sports analyst.

"Burma has abolished censorship of the country's media, the information ministry has announced," the BBC reported on Monday. "The Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) said that as of Monday, reporters would no longer have to submit their work to state censors before publication."

For those who've asked, an update from FishbowlDC on the "Sexiest Journo in Washington" contest: So far, this columnist is in third place behind two good-looking women, but ahead of the other guys. Thanks for voting!

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