president20obama20likes20bull20sessions20with20reporters11213575lh
President Obama meets with African-American columnists of the Trotter Group in 2010. (Chuck Kennedy/White House)

Obama Likes "Bull Sessions" With Columnists

Even as the Obama administration is being criticized as the "most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered," in the words of David E. Sanger of the New York Times, President Obama himself is increasingly talking at length in off-the-record sessions with small groups of opinion columnists, and a handful of black journalists are benefiting.

"It's always good to know what the president thinks from the president himself," Jonathan Capehart, an editorial writer at the Washington Post, told Journal-isms by email on Friday.

Writing about the sessions Friday in Politico, Dylan Byers said, "these bull sessions give validation to an oft-heard critique: that Obama prefers the law school salon to the bully pulpit — that he would rather be regarded as smart by the people he regards as smart than be feared by the opposition or seen as effective by the people he governs."

Capehart told Journal-isms that he had been to three off-the-record sessions with Obama this year. His Post editorial-page colleague, columnist Eugene Robinson, is also considered a regular.

Charles Blow, New York Times columnist; Zerlina Maxwell of the Grio; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor and blogger at the Atlantic, have also been spotted there, Capehart said. It could not determined which, if any, Latino, Asian or Native American journalists have been in similar sessions.

DeWayne Wickham, columnist at USA Today, along with Robinson, syndicated columnist Roland S. Martin and Derrick Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe were at a session that took place in the first days of the Obama presidency.

"I've been invited to two off-the-record meetings with the president in the past couple years. I attended one and was out of town and couldn't make the other," Wickham told Journal-isms by email. "It was during a budget showdown between the president and congressional Republicans and I got some valuable insights."

But Martin said by email, "I've only participated in two. Both were for Sunday morning show hosts. Both lasted an hour and were a far cry from what was described in this piece" by Byers. "It was more of a q and a instead of a debate of ideas." Martin hosted "Washington Watch With Roland Martin" for TV One, which aired Sundays, until this year.

Byers wrote of the president, "He’s not a schmoozer. He doesn't like meeting with lawmakers, and he doesn't particularly care for talking to reporters, either.

" 'He likes the intellectual sparring element of it,' a source familiar with the president's thinking told POLITICO. 'He likes talking to reasonable adversaries.' 

"He also likes talking to the people he likes to read. The president is a voracious consumer of opinion journalism. Most nights, before going to bed, he'll surf the Internet, reading the columnists whose opinions he values. One of the great privileges of the presidency is that, when so inclined, he can invite these columnists to his home for meetings that can last as long as two-and-a-half hours.

" 'It's not an accident [whom] he invites: He reads the people that he thinks matter, and he really likes engaging those people,' said one reporter with knowledge of the meetings. 'He reads people carefully — he has a columnist mentality — and he wants to win columnists over,' said another.

"The president appreciates the back-and-forth exchanges at the sessions, past participants told POLITICO. He even occasionally asks aides or administration officials what a specific columnist thinks about an issue. Sometimes, the aide will then reach out to the columnist to ask his or her opinion, which has had the unintended effect of spurring the columnist to write a piece expressing his thoughts on that very issue. . . ."

Byers also wrote, "the meetings are very much 'off the record' in the sense that the White House stalwartly refuses to discuss any of the details, including who was in attendance. The answer to such inquiries is almost always the same.

" 'In addition to giving press conferences and interviews, the President meets on occasion with groups of reporters and columnists for off-the-record discussions,' said Eric Schultz, the White House Deputy Press Secretary. 'We don’t provide lists of participants.' . . . "

"The National Review can't seem to shake its racist reputation," Steve Rendall of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting wrote Thursday. "Its latest hire, Jason Richwine, shows why.

"Richwine was fired by the Heritage Foundation earlier this year when the Washington Post revealed (5/8) that his graduate research at Harvard argued that Hispanics are immutably, genetically inferior to whites — 'the low average IQ of Hispanics is effectively permanent' — and that immigration policy should be IQ-based.

"Last year, the National Review fired columnist John Derbyshire for writing a column in another magazine advising white kids to avoid 'concentrations of blacks,' and to fend off charges of prejudice by befriending the rare civilized black person (FAIR Blog, 4/11/12). Editor Rich Lowry announced the firing in a blog post calling the column 'nasty and indefensible,' though he failed to call it racist."

Rendall also wrote, "When the liberal website Think Progress noted Monday (10/28) that Richwine's byline was appearing on the magazine's website, they wrote to editor Lowry, who responded briefly, acknowledging that Richwine was doing occasional blogging for the site. . . ."

An inquiry from Journal-isms was directed to National Review Publisher Jack Fowler, who did not respond.

Dylan Matthews, Washington Post: Jason Richwine doesn’t understand why people are mad at him (Aug. 9)

Charles Murray, National Review: In Defense of Jason Richwine (May 15)

Jason Richwine, Politico: Why can't we talk about IQ? (Aug. 9)

"Giarrusso, chief of bureau for The Associated Press for Arizona and New Mexico for the past three years, will oversee AP's sports operations and manage more than 100 journalists covering events around the world, including the Olympics, World Cup and Super Bowl. He will be based in New York.

"Giarrusso succeeds Terry Taylor, who retired this month after leading the sports department for 21 years. The appointment was announced Tuesday by Lou Ferrara, the AP managing editor overseeing sports, business and entertainment coverage."

The news release also noted that Giarrusso is a graduate of the AP's internship program, which began in the early 1980s as the Minority Internship Program:

"Giarrusso, 43, began his AP career in 1992 as an intern in the Atlanta bureau. He worked as a reporter in Atlanta and then became correspondent in State College, Pa., where he covered Penn State sports and the Little League World Series. He later served as an editor on the AP's national editing desk in New York and was news editor for Georgia. He worked as an editor at the 2002 Winter Olympics and helped with coverage of sports events in Georgia, including the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the MLB All-Star game. . . ."

"Deborah Cavallaro is a hard-working real estate agent in the Westchester suburb of Los Angeles who has been featured prominently on a round of news shows lately, talking about how badly Obamacare is going to cost her when her existing plan gets canceled and she has to find a replacement," Michael Hiltzik, business columnist at the Los Angeles Times, wrote on Wednesday.

"She says she's angry at President Obama for having promised that people who like their health plans could keep them, when hers is getting canceled for not meeting Obamacare's standards.

" 'Please explain to me,' she told Maria Bartiromo on CNBC Wednesday, 'how my plan is a "substandard" plan when ... I'd be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying by a wide margin.'

"Bartiromo didn't take her up on her request. So I will.

"The bottom line is that Cavallaro's assertion that 'there's nothing affordable about the Affordable Care Act,' as she put it Tuesday on NBC Channel 4, is the product of her own misunderstandings, abetted by a passel of uninformed and incurious news reporters.

"I talked with Cavallaro, 60, after her CNBC appearance. . . ."

Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America: Called On To Explain Big Story, Media Botches Obamacare

Steven Brill, Columbia Journalism Review: Stories I'd like to see

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: 'Obamacare' or Affordable Care Act, it still belongs to the president

Trudy Lieberman, Columbia Journalism Review: An Obamacare reality check from reporters on the ground

Brendan Nyhan, Columbia Journalism Review: The failure to factcheck 'You can keep it' 

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Competence matters then and now (Oct. 26)

"Time Inc. announced a sweeping reorg as it prepares to spin off from Time Warner, bringing back Norman Pearlstine, its onetime editor in chief, as evp, chief content officer and having editors now reporting directly to the business side," Lucia Moses wrote Thursday for adweek.com.

"Martha Nelson, a longtime Time Inc. editor who became Time Inc.'s first woman editor in chief in December 2012, is leaving the company after less than a year in the position."

In March, Constance C.R. White disclosed that her departure as editor-in-chief of Time Inc.-owned Essence magazine was involuntary and the result of repeated clashes with Nelson, who White said sought to limit the way black women were portrayed. Others have defended Nelson.

It was under Pearlstine that Time Inc. launched People en Español, which the company calls the largest-selling Spanish-language magazine in America. That publication began on a test basis in 1997, a result of the March 31, 1995, killing of the Tejano singer Selena in Corpus Christi, Texas, by the former head of her fan club.

Most Time Inc. employees didn't know who Selena was, much less the extent of her following, but Latino employees suggested that she be put on the cover of the Southwest and Texas editions of People. The issue "sold spectacularly," Pearlstine told Journal-isms in 2005. More important, he said, was the role of Latino employees in expanding Time Inc.'s horizons.

Time Inc.'s four employee "affinity groups" were also created under Pearlstine's tenure, in 1998: Black Employees at Time (BEAT), a Hispanic group known as HOLA@Time Inc., the Asian American Association (A3) and Out@Time Inc., comprising gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender employees.

However, Time magazine has no African American correspondents, which helped it earn the Thumbs Down Award in 2012 from the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Pearlstine served as Time Inc.'s editor in chief from 1994 to 2005," Moses' story continued. "For the past five years, he has been chief content officer of Bloomberg LP. Prior to Bloomberg, he served as a senior advisor to p-e firm Carlyle Group. At Time Inc., editors will now report to the group presidents of their respective groups (lifestyle, news and style/entertainment), but Pearlstine will have 'dotted-line' responsibility for them. In an interview, Pearlstine said he would be focusing on developing new line extensions and consumer-focused products and would be available to editors if they had problems, but that 'I don't expect to be signing off on covers.' 

"The shakeup represents a sea change at Time Inc., with its longstanding tradition of editorial independence. It's bound to stir questions internally about how the editorial side will be protected from business-side interference going forward—perhaps mitigated by Pearlstine's stellar editorial reputation—but it also brings Time Inc. in line with the way other media companies operate. . . ."

Leslie Kaufman, New York Times: Reshuffling at Time Inc. to Set Table for Spinoff 

Joe Nocera, New York Times: The Fall of the Wall?

Michael Sebastian,adage.com: Understanding Time Inc.'s New Editorial Order

"Are Chief Wahoo's days as the Cleveland Indians' primary method of branding over?" Chris Creamer asked Wednesday for SportsLogos.net. "It certainly feels that way.

"After years and years of *very slowly* removing the Chief bit-by-bit, the controversial logo has very suddenly been almost completely eliminated for all things Cleveland Indians over the last few months.

"We got our first hint that something may be on the way when coming into 2013 the Indians stopped wearing 'Wahoo' on their batting helmets altogether. The Chief had previously been worn on the batting helmet every game, home-and-away, up until 2009 when it was suddenly erased from road games. In 2013 it was taken off helmets for home games as well, replaced with the simple block, red 'C' logo. . . ."

Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center: Media take sides on 'Redskins' name

Roxanne Jones, CNN: Obama is right about 'Redskins' (Oct. 8)

Amy Moore & Mike Taylor, Indian Country Today Media Network: Our Forgotten Allies: African Americans

"On Wednesday afternoon in their offices in downtown Brooklyn, there was a special staff meeting at New York's Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa at which they announced the retirement of Rossana Rosado as its publisher, a post she has held for 14 years," Angelo Falcón wrote Thursday for the National Institute for Latino Policy.

"She will be serving with the new title of 'Publisher Emeritus' starting November 1 to help with the transition, including community relations. The announcement comes days after the culmination of the paper's 100th anniversary last Friday at Grand Central Station."

Falcon, president of the institute, noted that last year he wrote a commentary asking if it was "The End of El Diario-La Prensa?" Now, he writes, "this question becomes even more salient, with the paper 'now firmly in the hands of Francisco Seghezzo, impreMedia's COO, who was the former corporate planning director of La Nación, the current Argentinian owners of impreMedia.

" 'With Rosado out and a new crew in charge with little connection to the Latino community,' Falcón asks, 'does this spell the end of El Diario as we know it, or simply its very end. Will Seghezzo be acting like an Argentinian Gordon Gekko or will he be turning El Diario around after its long-term decline? A new beginning, or the beginning of the end?' "

Veronica Villafañe, Media Moves: Rossana Rosado leaves El Diario

Are African American photographers still considered a rarity?

Brent Lewis, a photojournalist based in Chicago, says in some places, yes.

"There are two stories I think that says a lot about the time we are in," Lewis told Suchitra Vijayan, who interviewed him for the Huffington Post.

"First, I was working for the Redeye, a new bar was opening in Chicago and I was sent to do some details shot. I walk in and introduce myself. The manager comes in, takes a nice long look at me and says, 'Oh I thought they were sending Brent.' I had to clarify and confirm that I was indeed Brent. These situations happen a lot. Even here, in Southern Ohio, lot of the time people are shocked when they see a African American Photographer.

"They see a black kid, then they see a black kid with a camera and finally they realize it is a black kid, with a camera working for a newspaper. When they see all three together they are shocked. 'You work for the (Chillicothe) Gazette' and then it is followed by 'oh, umm' and a surprised awkward 'yeah ! . . . "

The late entertainers Michael Jackson and Rick James made return visits to Planet Earth — specifically to media workplaces — for Halloween.

Gregory H. Lee Jr., executive sports editor at the South Florida SunSentinel and immediate past president of the National Association of Black Journalists, dressed up as Jackson.

"The newsroom enjoyed it... there were jokes....but they just thought it was cool even management can have fun," Lee told Journal-isms by email.

Michael Jack, president and general manager of WNBC-TV in New York, impersonated James. According to the New York Post, "some people didn’t recognize him as Rick James and thought he was a pimp,' an insider said. 'Some women in the office were upset.' "

But Dawn Rowan, a spokeswoman for the station who was at the office party, told Journal-isms, "To my knowledge, everybody had a good time."

In September, five alumni of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation's Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop and a professional photographer mentor traveled to Haiti to report on post-earthquake recovery and stabilization efforts in the country. Deborah Todd, Sonya Toler, Lisa Kay Davis, Anthony Cave, Richena Brockinson and Ken Neely plan to speak about the trip, made possible as part of the Heinz Endowments funding support to the Bolden workshop, at the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania on Nov. 14, the press club announced on Wednesday.

"The Federal Communications Commission, seeking to revive the sagging fortunes of AM radio, has proposed removing or updating regulations that station owners believe have left many AM channels on the precipice of death," Edward Wyatt reported Friday for the New York Times. "The commission is seeking public comment on numerous changes, required before it adopts its final rules. . . ." 

"The Morehouse Maroon Tiger newspaper that I advise successfully took a bold step Thursday by publishing 'The Body Issue,'  a special 12-page edition," according to Ron Thomas, director of the Journalism and Sports Program at Morehouse. "It's a take-off on ESPN’s annual Body Issue, except instead of promoting 'The Bodies We Want,' the Maroon Tiger's theme was 'The Bodies We Have' as it explored a variety of body image issues that students have. The edgy part was that the articles, many of them recounting students' personal struggles, were complemented by tastefully nude photos of the students. Morehouse administrators were all supportive as they helped the MT staff negotiate several touchy aspects of the edition." Maroon Tiger news release.

Keith Reed, a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine, is "EBONY.com's newest columnist," the site announced on Thursday. Reed, who is also treasurer of the National Association of Black Journalists, "sets the stage for our powerful new weekly exploration of Black male life."

"CNN columnist Ruben Navarrette says he's reconsidering his take on the Dreamers," the Huffington Post reported Wednesday. "Navarrette offered a backhanded compliment on Wednesday to undocumented youth brought to this country illegally as children who protest for the right to citizenship. Reiterating his past stance that many Dreamers 'feel entitled' and 'think the world revolves around them because they're spoiled by the attention they get,' Navarrette then praised the group in a Wednesday column for holding Democrats as well as Republicans responsible for the failure of immigration reform. . . ."

"Andrew Phillips resigned last month as interim p.d. of Pacifica's WBAI in New York, a post he accepted less than three months ago in an effort to rebuild the audience of the financially troubled station," Mike Janssen reported Thursday for Current.org. "Phillips cited a disagreement over fundraising programs airing on the station, including shows featuring products pitched by alternative-medicine promoter Gary Null, as the reason for his decision. . . ."

In Washington, "Veteran TV newsman Bruce Johnson became part of the story he was covering Wednesday when a woman punched him and his camerawoman as they were seeking information about a home invasion in Southeast Washington," Paul Farhi reported Thursday for the Washington Post. "Johnson's station, WUSA, Channel 9, played the incident big, with Johnson introducing and narrating shaky footage of his own assault." But, Farhi asked, "Should the story have aired at all?"

"Haitian-American journalist Leo Joseph reached a settlement in the defamation case against him brought by Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe," Latara Appleby wrote Thursday for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. " 'He went toe to toe with the prime minister of Haiti, and the prime minister blinked,' said Scott Ponce, Joseph's attorney. Lamothe wanted a retraction of the story and an apology. In the end, he did not get either. . . ." Previous story.

Saudi authorities should immediately release columnist Tariq al-Mubarak, who wrote in support of women's right to drive and has been held without charge since Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

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