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President Obama's surprise remarks Friday on the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, in which Obama declared, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," came after public prodding by some of his supporters, sometimes on op-ed pages.

Mark Landler and Michael D. Shear reported Friday for the New York Times that the speech followed "anguished soul-searching by Mr. Obama" and that "Aides say the president closely monitored the public reaction and talked repeatedly about the case with friends and family."

They also wrote, "The White House's original plan — for Mr. Obama to address the verdict in brief interviews on Tuesday with four Spanish-language television networks — was foiled when none of them asked about it." The story also identified the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who is also an MSNBC host, as among those urging the president to speak out.

In the Washington Post on Tuesday, Janet Langhart Cohen, the actress and wife of former Defense Secretary William Cohen, wrote, "We have waited and watched the president address issues of importance to women, gays and lesbians, Latinos and the security of our allies. . . . But just as one does not have to be black to speak to the issues of race, black people should not have to wait for white leaders to be elected before they feel free to vigorously petition their government to redress their legitimate grievances.

"I say this with respect: To use Dr. [Martin Luther] King's phrase, there is a fierce urgency of now for the president to talk boldly and truthfully about race and racism and why it still matters in the United States. I hope that President Obama will speak not just to black people or just to white people but to the good people in America. We can never have racial reconciliation without discussing the truth.

"The sound of silence is a song that we can no longer sing."

The same day's editions of the Post carried a column by Courtland Milloy saying, "America, and Obama, need to hear, loudly and clearly, that African Americans are angry and alarmed and will not accept any diminution of the freedoms and protections we've fought so hard to achieve. . . ."

And on the front page was an analysis by White House correspondent Scott Wilson recounting the tightrope Obama has walked in dealing with race. "Obama's response to the Zimmerman verdict has satisfied some, but many African Americans would like to hear more from the first African American president," Wilson wrote.

However, Wilson concluded, "As of now, White House officials say, that is unlikely to happen as the Justice Department considers a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman. . . ."

That all changed Friday in the White House press briefing room. Obama "showed his brother card. He talked about being an African American, [about] being racially profiled as a kid," Angelo Henderson, Radio One Detroit host, said on NPR's "All Things Considered. "He connected with so many African American men who have been in those same situations. ... He revealed that, yes, he's part of this community."

Obama's remarks were unusually personal as he sought to explain the historical reasons why African Americans felt pain after Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of the unarmed Florida black teenager. He implicitly rebuked Zimmerman's defenders, who insisted the case was not about race.

He called for discussions about "How do we bolster African American boys?"

Obama said Americans should question whether "stand your ground" laws "are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than [defuse] potential altercations."

He added, "And for those who — who resist that idea, that we should think about something like these stand your ground laws, I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws."

CNN reported that the speech resonated with African Americans. "Washington Post columnist Clinton Yates said the speech was historical.

" 'This is one of the most important, if not the most important thing he's said while he's been in office,' said Yates.

" 'To take the context of race and explain it as the reality that exists for many people of color in America is something a lot of people simply don't want to believe is true. But when the president stands in that room and makes that statement, it is a very forceful comment about the state of affairs so far today,' said Yates."

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, CNN commentator and vice chair of voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, told John Harwood of the New York Times last month that the White House was stuck "in this postracial box" and was determined, in Harwood's words, "to present Obama as a leader who does not reflexively promote the concerns of fellow African-Americans over others."

Unboxed, Obama made it clear Friday that he does not believe the United States is "postracial."

Brazile tweeted this response to her followers, "President Obama statement was strong, powerful & truthful. Let's respect what #POTUS said without any notes. He speaks for the voiceless."

Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the New York Times, tweeted, "It's an amazing moment for the country to have a president who can talk about race like this. Sad that he has to do it."

Amy Alexander, medium.com: Yassuh, Boss. Right Away. (July 15)

 

Gregory Clay, McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Bottom line: the George Zimmerman jury got it right (July 16)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York Times: Raising the Wrong Profile

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: Racism vs. reality (July 15)

Charlene Cooper, Essence: Rachel Jeantel Offered Full College Scholarship (July 16) 

Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post: Would Obama consider Ray Kelly for Homeland Security? (July 18)

Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC: 'Everything will be ok. I love you.' Parenting after Trayvon (July 15)

Shani O. Hilton, BuzzFeed: The Secret Power Of Black Twitter (July 16) 

Rick Horowitz, Huffington Post: "Stand Your Ground"? Whose Ground? (video)

Mark Jurkowitz and Nancy Vogt, Pew Research Center: On Twitter: Anger greets the Zimmerman verdict (July 17)

Tamika D. Mallory, Essence: Trayvon Tragedy: You're Mad... So Now What? (July 16)

 

Barbara Reynolds, Washington Post: Zimmerman Trial: What should we tell our sons, now? (July 14)

Joe Strupp, Media Matters for America: Black Journalists and Commentators Rip Limbaugh's "Nigga" Claims (July 17)

Jake Tapper with Kevin Madden, Anita Dunn and Clinton Yates, "The Lead With Jake Tapper," CNN: Analysis: Will Obama's speech on race 'lower temperatures'?

Ahmir Questlove Thompson, New York: Questlove: Trayvon Martin and I Ain't Shit (July 16)

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang blog: Justice for Trayvon, Justice for all our children (July 15)

Roger Witherspoon blog: Daddy, Me, Trayvon, and "The Talk" (July 17)

Among President Obama's biggest critics are Cornel West, the author and academic now at Union Theological Seminary, and Tavis Smiley, the activist and broadcaster. The two are friends and jointly appear on the public radio show "Smiley & West."

According to theGrio.com, a tweeting Smiley was quick to dismiss the president's Friday speech.

"The backlash to Smiley's broadside was just as swift, with numerous Twitter users calling him out for being 'pathetic,' " the Grio reported.

" 'I'm sending you the transcript as you clearly missed the speech, brother,' wrote MSNBC contributor Angel Rye.

"Others told Smiley it's 'time to move on' and mocked him for having his 'panties in a bunch' because the president 'hasn't kissed the ring.' "

Meanwhile, a new book on the 2012 presidential campaign by Jonathan Alter, a columnist for Bloomberg View and an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, recounts Obama's now-famous confrontation with West at a National Urban League event in 2010.

"Among the dissenters was Professor Cornel West, who had campaigned for Obama in 2008 but grew upset when Obama stopped returning his phone calls," Alter writes in "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies." "After the election, West learned that Obama's top economic adviser would be Larry Summers, who as president of Harvard had pushed West out of the university in 2002 in a dispute over whether a professor should record hip-hop songs. West gave speeches around the country saying that Obama wasn't a true progressive and that he couldn't 'in good conscience' tell people to vote for him, though he admitted that his failure to secure special inauguration tickets for his mother and brother contributed to his hard feelings.

"In July 2010 the president spotted West in the front row of the audience for his speech to the National Urban League. Afterward he came down to West's seat and grew angry. 'I'm not progressive? What kind of shit is this?' the president hissed, his face contorted. West said later that a brassy African American woman standing behind him told the president to his face, 'How dare you speak to Dr. West like that!' and argued after Obama left that the obscenity would have justified removal by the Secret Service had it come from anyone else.

"In the months following the confrontation West stepped up his attacks, calling Obama a 'black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.' He added, 'I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It's understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he's always had to fear being a white man with black skin.' "

Federal policy in the 1950s dictated that all Native Americans in the United States were eventually to be "terminated," meaning no longer wards of the federal government, in a quest to make them blend into America's melting pot, according to the years-later words of the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

President Richard M. Nixon withdrew the termination act in 1971, but by then 490 members of Utah's Ute tribe had been stripped of their identity, land and mineral rights because their blood quantum was less than 50 percent Ute Indian. Of the 490, 260 were children. They still consider themselves Ute and are still fighting for their rights, according to Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, a veteran American Indian journalist and NAJA's founding president.

When the terminations began, "the mainstream press had N.I.: no interest," Giago said Friday at the Native American Journalists Association convention in Tempe, Ariz. "They didn't care because they didn't understand. They took the word of Congress. . . . We couldn't depend on the mainstream media to tell our story."

And that, Giago said in remarks aimed at the next generation of Native journalists, is why Native Americans need their own media.

Giago and other veterans of the Native American press were honored Friday as NAJA celebrated its 30th anniversary at the National Native Media Conference, a collaboration with Native Public Media, which is described as "a lifeline to the Native Radio network and tribal communities."

Created as the Native American Press Association, expecting to emulate the Associated Press and United Press International in sharing stories among each other, NAJA was founded in 1983 by 30 Native American journalists who met at Penn State University. It was a print-oriented organization; there were no Native-owned broadcast stations then.

The current gathering attracted 205 registrants, according to Rebecca Landsberry, Muskogee (Creek), NAJA membership and communications manager. That is double the number at NAJA's last stand-alone convention, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2011. The mix of participants, coming in a diversity of complexions and relationships with their tribes, included Lorena Walker and Mikaela Simpson, two Australian aborigines from the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

In the day's first plenary session, Deborah Parker Tsi-Cy-Altsa, Tulalip/Yaqui, described her successful fight to restore coverage of Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act, which gives tribal authorities the power to prosecute non-Indians for abuse committed on tribal lands. Parker said that members of the Senate felt the bill did not have a "face" and that many did not believe the figures showing non-Indians to be committing the vast majority of the assaults.

Mark Casey, vice president and news director of Phoenix's KPNX-TV, known as 12 News, said the station plans a scholarship in Harvey's name at Northern Arizona University by fall 2015, "to make sure there are more Native journalists in Arizona and around the country for a long time to come."

NAJA announced two initiatives Friday. In a partnership with the Native Health News Alliance, funded by a $157,537 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, "www.NativeHealthNews.com will serve as a health information cooperative for American Indian media. Any journalist covering Native health can create a username to login, contribute and share their stories."

The association also announced a free member hotline on legal and ethical issues affecting Native media.

"By contacting the hotline, NAJA members without current legal representation seeking assistance with pre-publication issues or freedom of information requests can receive free legal advice from attorneys like Matthew E. Kelley of the media law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, located in Washington, D.C. Other media attorneys around the country are also being recruited to assist," a news release said.

Kelley is a former news reporter and NAJA representative to Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., now Unity: Journalists for Diversity. Kevin R. Kemper, assistant professor and diversity coordinator for the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is NAJA's legal hotline intake liaison. NAJA members may email legalhotline (at) naja.com or call 520-903-4461 day or night, the organization said.

At a news conference announcing the initiatives, Lori Edmo-Suppah, Shoshone Bannock, editor of the Sho-Ban News in Fort Hall, Idaho, said she was pleased with the hotline. "At least people will know there is a resource once you go up against your tribal council," she told Journal-isms. To the council, "You're the bad guy."

"Johnson Publishing Company is announcing the first cover-to-cover redesign of JET magazine in the history of the publication along with the re-launch of the JETmag.com website," the company said Friday.

"Led by Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller, readers can expect an overall modern and engaging feel that makes each section easy to read." The redesign takes effect with the Aug. 12 issue.

The announcement added, "The cover of the new issue features Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and NBC's Friday Night Lights actor Michael B. Jordan, who both star in the critically acclaimed film Fruitvale Station. Spencer and Jordan gave JET the details on preparing for the roles and their emotions that were sparked while reenacting the tragic story of Oscar Grant, a young Black man who was killed by a police officer in 2009. . . . "

The pocket-sized Jet faces increased competition from the Internet for readers seeking entertainment and celebrity news, increasingly the magazine's staple.

Jet reduced its frequency to once every three weeks effective Jan. 1. It published nine issues from January to June, according to the Public Information Bureau, compared with 13 the previous year. Its ad pages declined by 25.8 percent. Desiree Rogers, CEO of the Johnson Publishing Co., which publishes Ebony and Jet, told Journal-isms in April, "The revenues from a magazine as you know are made up of subscriptions, ad revenue and newsstand. Jet is trending positive over last year in newsstand and subs," referring to subscriptions.

The print publication no longer supplies all of many magazines' ad revenue. Some have launched editions for tablet devices and smartphones and sell advertising there.

"Henri Cauvin is leaving The Post to become an assistant metro editor at The New York Times. His last day is July 24. It's best to just say it, and get it over with, because his departure is a real loss," according to a note Tuesday to the staff of the Washington Post.

Cauvin's wife, Rachel L. Swarns of the New York Times Washington bureau, is returning to New York as well, she wrote to her Facebook friends. She did not disclose what her job would be. Swarns has been a correspondent for the Times since 1995 and is the author of "American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama."

Cauvin, a native New Yorker who is the Post's development and transportation editor, previously covered the social services beat, federal court in suburban Greenbelt, Md., and D.C. Superior Court at the Post, and was a foreign correspondent in Johannesburg for the Times. He also worked at the Daily News in New York and at the Miami Herald.

"Henri brought his A game to work every day, and he always spoke up when he felt the need. Usually, that was when he didn't think we were doing enough to cover neighborhoods where working class people and poor people live," the staff note said.

"The New York Times is one of the world's leading news organizations. But there's room for improvement — especially when it comes to diversity," Alexi Layton and Alicia Shepard reported Tuesday for the Poynter Institute.

"In an analysis of 352 front-page stories from the Times in January and February 2013, we found that Times reporters quoted 3.4 times as many male sources as female sources."

They continued, "We reached out to Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, for her reaction to the analysis. She referred us to Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett.

" 'I'm not surprised that there is a significant discrepancy between male and female sources,' Corbett said by email. 'But I am disappointed to see just how big the gap is, and how pervasive it is across various types of stories."

"Corbett recognizes the Times and other news outlets can look within to help solve this problem.

" 'This situation illustrates the importance of pushing for a more diverse newsroom — in gender, race and ethnicity, background, religion and other factors — which remains a priority for us,' Corbett said. . . ."

In 1990, the Women, Men and Media Project, based at the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California, under the direction of feminist Betty Friedan, produced a study on the number of female bylines and sources appearing on the front pages of 10 major American newspapers. When told that the New York Times ranked last in sources, Executive Editor Max Frankel was angered, calling the report "unfair and bizarre," the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

"Noting that different newspapers have different missions, he added: 'By that I mean, if you are covering local teas, you've got more women (on the front page) than if you're the Wall Street Journal.' "

This so outraged the New York Times women that they wore tea bags in their lapels the next day, Friedan later wrote.

Although he said he still believed he was right, Frankel later conceded that his comments about tea parties were "defensive" and "stupid."

Late-breaking: Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who covered every president from Eisenhower to Obama, has died at age 92, according to The Gridiron Club & Foundation, NPR reported on Saturday. "NPR's David Folkenflik reports that the sometimes controversial journalist 'broke barriers that prevented women from rising in the Washington Press Corps,' Scott Neuman reported. "Thomas was born to Lebanese immigrants of little means and grew up in Michigan, attending Wayne State University before heading to the nation's capital as a copygirl for now-defunct Washington Daily News. . . ." Her legacy was tarnished in 2010 after remarks she made about Israel, which her sisters told Journal-isms were widely misinterpreted. [Added July 20.]

"In a switch from its previously litigious talk, Asiana Airlines says it will not sue KTVU Oakland after the station reported bogus, and offensive, names linked to the San Francisco plane crash July 6," Michael Malone wrote Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.

"We are excited to announce that we are currently developing a relationship with Real Times Media, a company that owns some of the most respected Black newspapers in the country, including The Chicago Defender, The Michigan Chronicle and The New Pittsburgh Courier," Tom Newman, president of Interactive One, wrote Wednesday for NewsOne. "We hope that this will be a model for other Black papers so more news will be accessible in the digital world. . . ." He did not elaborate on the arrangement.

Jeff Ballou has been promoted from deputy news editor to news editor for Al Jazeera English, based in Washington, Fox Deatry, an Al Jazeera English spokesman, confirmed on Thursday. Ballou is the only African American male editorial manager at the English channel.

Tina Griego, who left as a Denver Post columnist last year when her husband took a job at Virginia Commonwealth University, is news editor of Style Weekly, an alternative publication in Richmond, Va. "I'm proud to be part of the team! Good journalism. Good fun. Full steam ahead," she said in a tweet.

Jason Samuels, a producer with CNN's documentary unit and an associate professor of journalism at New York University, says he is joining HBO's "Real Sports" as a senior producer. "the mission of our cnn doc unit changed," Samuels told Journal-isms by email. "my move was unrelated to soledad's," a reference to the departure of Soledad O'Brien from the CNN staff, forming a production company that would supply documentaries to networks that include CNN. O'Brien also joined "Real Sports." In July 2010, Samuels joined CNN as lead producer for "In America," CNN's long-form documentary unit. Samuels told Journal-isms, "I am proud to have produced the successful CNN documentaries "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" (2011), "Black in America: The New Promise Land — Silicon Valley" (2011) and "Obama Revealed" (2012) . . . I hope CNN continues to produce content that yields social impact — and ratings success."

"Authorities in Zambia last week arrested two journalists with alleged ties to a controversial government watchdog website and charged them with sedition, local media reported," Sasu Siegelbaum reported Friday for the International Press Institute. "Thomas Zyambo, a journalist who was allegedly working for the online news source, the Zambian Watchdog, was arrested on July 9 along with another journalist and academic, Clayson Hamasaka, in connection with documents about President Michael Sata found at Zyambo's home during a police raid. . . ."

"Nearly two years after being sentenced to prison for insulting a local politician in a newspaper column, Colombian journalist Luis Agustín González was acquitted last week of all charges by the country's Supreme Court," Scott Griffen reported Wednesday for the International Press Institute.

"In Burkina Faso, tens of journalists from state media today held a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Communications in the capital Ouagadougou to protest what they deem to be excessive government censorship of news coverage," Mohamed Keita reported Tuesday for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "It was the first time that journalists from state-run media have publicly broken their collective silence over what the public has long believed to be entrenched practices of editorial direction and control by official censors. . . ."

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