His Morehouse gradation speech reignited the debate over his posture toward blacks.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed freshly minted African American graduates over the weekend, reopening a debate that has dogged him since he was a candidate. On such occasions, how much emphasis should he give to addressing the "personal responsibility" of African Americans? How much should he focus instead on the responsibility of the government he leads to address African Americans' plight?
Underlying the question is the obvious fact that Obama is the nation's first black president and African Americans are his most loyal voting bloc. What is Obama's own responsibility?
By all accounts, the president was a hit Sunday at Morehouse College in Atlanta, as the first lady was the previous day at Bowie State University in Maryland, another historically black institution.
The first couple separately implored graduates to set examples for those whose achievements they have already surpassed. "Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it," Obama told the Morehouse crowd.
"But that doesn't mean we don't have work -- because if we're honest with ourselves, we know that too few of our brothers have the opportunities that you've had here at Morehouse. In troubled neighborhoods all across this country -- many of them heavily African American -- too few of our citizens have role models to guide them. Communities just a couple miles from my house in Chicago, communities just a couple miles from here -- they're places where jobs are still too scarce and wages are still too low; where schools are underfunded and violence is pervasive; where too many of our men spend their youth not behind a desk in a classroom, but hanging out on the streets or brooding behind a jail cell. . . ."
Many in the media immediately jumped on the "personal responsibility" angle. "Two Excerpts You Should Read From Obama's Morehouse Speech," read a headline over a piece by Eyder Peralta of NPR, pointing to sections on "personal responsibility" and "family." The conservative Washington Times ran this headline: "Obama at Morehouse: Black men cannot use racism as a crutch."
That was just the kind of emphasis that irked Ta-Nehisi Coates, recent winner of a National Magazine Award for a piece about race and the Obama presidency. He wrote in the Atlantic:
"This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the 'president of black America,' but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities.
"Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people -- and particularly black youth -- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that 'there's no longer room for any excuses' -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of 'all America,' but he also is singularly the scold of 'black America.' "
Wayne Bennett, a lawyer who acts as a magistrate for the First Judicial District's Domestic Relations Division, working with families in the Philadelphia court system, disagreed. In his Field Negro blog, he wrote, "Look, without getting too personal, I work in an area of law that unfortunately has to confront a lot of dysfunction when it comes to families, and I can say without question that not having a good father figure at home is a major cause of problems with families here in my city. I suspect that this is the case all over the country. Asking young African American graduates to go out into their communities and be good family men is exactly the type of message that the president should be sending.
"But Field, why didn't he deliver a similar message to the graduates of Ohio State University? Why doesn't he talk about being a responsible parent when he talks to white folks? Why does he only choose to lecture us?
"Because, as a black man, he has a stake in how we progress as a race," Bennett wrote.
Trevor W. Coleman, a former Detroit Free Press editorial writer and gubernatorial speech writer, sided more with Coates. Coleman wrote on Facebook, "those kids are Morehouse graduates and if they weren't aware of the internal challenges facing Black men when they started there, they most certainly are now. Does he always have to play in to that slanderous narrative that we as Black men suffer from some sort of moral deficit and are incapable of being nurturing parents lest we are shamed in to it?
"His commencement address would have been more helpful if he affirmed those young leaders and then challenged them to use their skills to become vigorous and relentless fighters against racism, classism, sexism, economic and political exploitation. The dirty little 'secret' of his very own presidency is that he is the ultimate example of how constrained Black achievement really can be, if it is not accompanied by a vigorous fight against structural and institutional racism. . . ."
Salim Muwakkil, longtime writer for the Chicago-based In These Times, argued on Facebook that the narrative that Obama chose was the only one the media would accept: "The patriarch-in-chief once again patronized his black audience. But condescension is the only public attitude Obama is allowed to express when making explicit racial connections. Were he, by chance, to speak of shared racial grievances with his black male audience or of the structural impediments he faces in a racist Congress, his presidential image would take a severe media battering. This media take-down would feed the (well-nourished conservative) narrative that the first black president is a feckless complainer who plays the race card to excuse his failures."
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African & African American Studies at Duke University, wrote that he saw "a lot of digital space being spent on issues that really don't get us anywhere in terms of policy issues." After all, hadn't Obama already made these points in his Father's Day speech of 2008, back when he was a first-time presidential candidate?
Jarrett L. Carter, founding editor of HBCUDigest.com, came at it from the perspective of historically black colleges. "Some will call the president's speech good medicine for black America to cure the prevalent self-imposition of fear and failure in our culture," Carter wrote on HuffPost BlackVoices. "Some will call it racial contempt and a lack of nuanced awareness or concern about the painful and lasting affects of slavery. But in any interpretation, the most glaring omission from his address was the need for education, and specifically historically black colleges and universities, to be at the center of any cultural reform for Black America. . . ."
Michael H. Cottman of BlackAmericaWeb.com was one of the Obama enthusiasts. "Obama's address to 500 black male graduates was his most direct public speech about the experiences of black men during his second term in the White House and one of his most straight-forward lectures about race since he took office," he wrote. Cottman called it "arguably one of the most significant speeches of Obama's presidency."
Bennett seconded the motion. "Mitt Romney, as America's president, would not have spoken at Morehouse College (or any other HBCU), and Anne Romney would not have been caught dead speaking at Bowie State University in her capacity as First Lady. (Loved how Michelle Obama went there about black kids thinking other black kids are acting white if they are hitting their books.) So rather than rip the man for telling you Negroes what you need to hear, you need to take stock of yourselves and see why there is a need for him to say it in the first place. . . ."
James Fallows blog, the Atlantic: The Impossibility of Being Barack Obama
Keli Goff, the Root: Did Michelle Obama Send Jay-Z a Message?
Kevin Alexander Gray, Counterpunch: Vilifying Black Men to Win Favor with the Man: Why Does Barack Obama Hate My Family? (2008)
Jason Johnson, Politic365.com: Obama Gives Morehouse Commencement Missed by Too Many Students and He's Responsible
Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Morehouse College Prez Angers Alumni While Protecting Obama (May 10)
Randall Pinkston, who is leaving CBS News after 33 years, signed off Sunday night with the story of an unprecedented appearance on WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., by civil rights leader Medgar Evers one day shy of 50 years ago, at a time when African Americans were not allowed on the air there. Evers would be assassinated a month later.
The appearance helped to pave the way for integration of the station's newsroom and led to the Pinkston's hiring. He was shown in the report anchoring WLBT's 10 o'clock news.
Did Pinkston choose this bit of history as a fitting final piece?
"It was a serendipitous event," Pinkston told Journal-isms by email. "About three months ago, I dropped by the office of Executive Producer Jennifer Siebens. She told me she was working on ideas for 50th Anniversary Civil Rights stories.
"We talked about the March on Washington and the assassination of Medgar Evers. I mentioned that a little known story about Evers was his effort to gain access to media.
"Jennifer said she had never heard about that. I added that I began my career at the station where Medgar made his speech -- that Evers had blazed the trail for diversity. She immediately green lighted the story and told me and producer Phil Hirschkorn to make sure part of my story was in the report.
"At the time, I had forgotten that my retirement coincided with the anniversary of Evers' speech. When I realized the convergence of the date, I was pleased -- that I could reveal a little reported contribution of Medgar Evers and connect his sacrifice to the opportunity that was opened for me and many, many others.
"It's the perfect closing of 'this' chapter of my career. On now, to the next thing..."
Pinkston expanded on Evers' contribution last week as he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Read the script.
As the recent uproar over the Philadelphia magazine cover story "Being White in Philly" demonstrated, regional and city magazines are usually geared toward white people. That's one reason why Rebecca Burns, former editor of Atlanta magazine, secured a spot during the City and Regional Magazine Association's annual conference to discuss diversity.
"One reason [for the discussion] is to see who you're attracting," and who needs to be represented, Burns told Journal-isms by telephone. She is now director of digital strategy for Emmis Publishing, Atlanta magazine's parent company. "Otherwise you're going to go the way of the Republican party" as it stood after the November election, demographically challenged.
It was a "fascinating" discussion, Burns said. Participating were Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation," former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and director of the journalism program at Emory University, and William Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and director of the Institute of African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.
Unfortunately, Burns said, the forum attracted only about 20 people, while sessions about other topics drew 90 to 100.
Those who did show up "said they were inspired." Among the bright moments, she said, was testimony from the publisher of the city magazine of Madison, Wis., about the conscious effort that magazine made to further diversity. "It's a leadership issue," Burns said. "It's the right thing to do, but also the smart thing."
Without diversity, Cobb said, the full story of the community isn't being told, and readers lose. He tweeted on his way to the session, "I'm about to do a panel on diversity in magazine publishing. 88 people here, I'm the only black person. Sigh," and, "It's Malcolm X's birthday and I'm off to do a panel on the absence of black writers in magazine writing. How not-ironic."
Cobb told Journal-isms by email that "even in academia, where the attainment of a PhD is a pretty high barrier to entry, I don't think I've ever been in a gathering that was that white.
"In a nutshell, I said that people had to be intentional, that in the era of blogs it's never been easier to find black voices, that they shouldn't simply seek out one black voice since there's a diversity of opinion among us and they shouldn't necessarily get the black writer whose views on race make them feel most comfortable. Also, that black writers don't necessarily want to write only about black issues.
"Also, there's really no easy way to understand why police forces can diversify and magazines really can't. . . . I also made some common sense suggestions about diversifying where people advertise for interns and gave the example of David Carr during his time at Washington City Paper doing a lot to change that paper's staff by doing this. Hank Klibinoff made a lot of good points about editors having the capacity to change who their reporters talk to or who they write about simply by asking for something different."
Klibanoff said by email that he made these points: "Diversity is an ethical issue. I discussed how I teach diversity each semester in my journalism ethics course at Emory University and that it is part of the quid pro quo that comes with the privilege of the First Amendment. It is also important to any publication that wants to stay relevant with its ever-changing potential readership. It's good business.
"If diversity of coverage, of staff/contributors, in distribution, marketing and advertising can be achieved naturally by example and by leadership, that's wonderful. If it cannot, it should be built into all the standard corporate incentives -- the MBO [management by objective] and other salary and bonus packages, for example.
"I spoke a lot about intentionality -- how an editor should have no qualms about being very intentional in pursuit of diversity. That means building Rolodexes/address book that are purposefully diverse. I cited the story we tell in The Race Beat about how, when the Montgomery bus boycott began and the Montgomery Improvement Association was getting started, no one from the Montgomery Advertiser had the names of black ministers in their address books. Reporters found themselves at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church quoting black ministers without their names -- including Martin Luther King Jr. (As the story goes, he was actually misquoted in a way that made him sound anarchistic, but the quote was attributed to an unnamed black minister. Only later when a tape of his speech became public was it clear it was King speaking and he was misquoted).
"But the point is to have a diverse set of resources, lunch mates, invitees to events sponsored by your publication, etc. I suggested steering away from usual suspects as 'experts' and finding a fresh and diverse set of wise people to seek comment from, to feature, to celebrate. I mentioned that when I was at The Boston Globe, we had the FEAF book, a binder stuffed for many years with after 5 p.m. phone numbers for everyone under the sun. FEAF stood for Find 'Em After Five. Every newsroom needs a similar book for finding a diverse set of explainers/commenters/observers on every issue that might emerge."
Recent film exposes journalists' guilt. Plus: The Root's valued leader resigns.
"The Central Park Five" has been a book, a theatrical movie and a PBS film that aired last month, indicting the news media as well as police and prosecutors in each iteration. But how much difference will it make?
"Filmmakers Sarah and Ken Burns, not to mention the Central Park Five, think it's time for someone to apologize," David Hinckley wrote last month in the Daily News in New York as the film made its PBS debut.
The "someone" might be news media members who abandoned their skepticism and went for what they believed the best storyline, helping to ruin lives as they convicted the suspects with their headlines, commentary and television scripts.
" 'The Central Park Five,' a new film by the Burnses and David McMahon about the conviction of five teenagers in the savage 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park . . . argues that we need to acknowledge the innocence of the five men, who were convicted and served prison terms, then had the convictions vacated in 2003 because no DNA on the victim matched any of the defendants."
Hinckley continued, "In 1989, the defendants were routinely labeled a 'wolf pack' and worse. Donald Trump took out newspaper ads calling for restoration of the death penalty." Then-Mayor Ed Koch, recently lionized as lovable in his obituaries, routinely referred to the teenagers as "monsters."
"Clearly there is something wrong with a criminal justice system (that) could permit such a miscarriage of justice," Ken Burns told Kam Williams last month in the Tri-State Defender of Memphis. "And not only did it let that transpire, but when the real rapist came forward to confess, the press didn't apologize for its hyperbolic prose encouraging a rush to judgment, and the prosecutors and police didn't admit to their coercion of the confessions, or to their ignoring of exculpatory evidence. . . ."
"The Central Park Five" ought to be required viewing in journalism schools, and not only for those who aspire to work for tabloids. Five black and brown teenagers were coerced by police into confessing to crimes they did not commit, losing 13 years of their lives. Broadcast media and the establishment broadsheets fanned the frenzy.
LynNell Hancock, who now teaches at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and appears in the film, laid out the media's misconduct in a 2003 piece for Columbia Journalism Review [PDF]:
"In his April 23, 1989, piece in the [New York] Post, A SAVAGE DISEASE, Pete Hamill, the celebrated city columnist, painted a menacing backdrop that would color the coverage to come:
" 'They were coming downtown from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference and ignorance. They were coming from a land with no fathers. . . . They were coming from the anarchic province of the poor.
" 'And driven by a collective fury, brimming with the rippling energies of youth, their minds teeming with the violent images of the streets and the movies, they had only one goal: to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, rape. The enemies were rich. The enemies were white. . . .'
"City editors pitched in and drafted a powerful story line on the order of 'Heroic Woman vs. Feral Beast.' " David Krajicek, who covered the rape as police bureau chief for the Daily News, recalls that reporters were under tremendous pressure to stay true to the top-down narrative.
"And in the competitive frenzy surrounding the story, that narrative took on a life of its own, ultimately slashing the city into two angry parts — white and black, Wall Street and Harlem, law-abiding adults and barbaric youth. There was little room for nuance. Thee image of savage kids rampaging through the city's streets was branded into the national consciousness. The boys, some oversized and awkward, others wiry and defiant, became easy targets to mock, easy to degrade as animals, to dismiss as other people's children. Almost every member of the white-dominated press accepted without much question that mindless black and Latino adolescents could go from wreaking violent havoc in the park that night to carrying out a vicious gang rape.
" 'The story was like a centrifuge,' says Jim Dwyer, a New York Newsday columnist at the time, now a reporter for The New York Times. 'Everyone was pinned into a position — the press, the police, the prosecution — and no one could press the stop button.' . . ."
Lest one think the case has no current relevance, Sarah Burns told Journal-isms by telephone on Friday, "the New York Post continues to write about the Central Park Five as if they were guilty to this day, and without any sense of remorse."
Indeed, the Post wrote in an April 30 editorial, "There is strong evidence to support the city's contention that the five youths were involved in violent attacks in Central Park that night — and zero evidence the prosecutors or police coerced anything."
Three of the freed men have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city, asserting that their admissions were coerced and accusing law enforcement of misconduct. The city continues to fight the lawsuit. The Daily News has called for a rapid hearing for the freed men and opposed an attempt by the city to secure outtakes from Burns' documentary, Arthur Browne, editorial page editor, told Journal-isms. But the News has not commented on the media's conduct in covering the case, he said.
Scott McConnell, a Post editorial writer at the time, wrote this month in the American Conservative, "In the city, in the journalistic community, and certainly at the Post, no one thought much of the fact that there was no matching DNA evidence with the rape victim. Who knew about such things? They had the confessions, didn't they? Moreover, the only people in the city claiming the kids were innocent were the black press and activists who had already discredited themselves by making false charges, and their slogan — 'The Boyfriend Did It' — was hardly likely to appeal to fair-minded people who might have questioned the discrepancies in the prosecution's case. . . ."
It would be a mistake to think of this case as only one of race, when it was also one of class. The journalists piling on the black and brown youth included some African Americans.
Hancock wrote, "In a Daily News column, Bob Herbert, one of the few black reporters covering the case, made fun of both the boys' appearance and their lack of cash during the first trial. Herbert, now a columnist for the Times, caricatured them as 'teenage mutants.' He described sixteen-year-old [Antron] McCray as a 'wimpish pipsqueak' in June of 1990. He pointed out that [Yusef] Salaam wore two pistachio-colored socks and [Raymond] Santana, by then fifteen, apparently could afford neither bail nor a sports jacket. In his December 9, 2002, New York Times column, Herbert called the original jogger case coverage 'racist' and 'way, way over the top.' He cast blame on the authorities, on the violent climate, and on a 'dopey defense strategy,' yet did not detail his personal contribution as a compliant reporter. . . "
"The tabloids were the worst of it, but it was everywhere," Sarah Burns told Journal-isms. The black press — the New York Amsterdam News and the now-defunct City Sun — damaged their credibility by "indulging these conspiracy theories" such as "it was the boyfriend" who raped the jogger. The Village Voice, an alternative weekly, had a special section examining the feminist and racial issues involved, "but nobody really got it right," Sarah Burns said.
She sees echoes of the competition-fueled rush to judgment in the mistakes made in coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
In her CJR piece, Hancock listed subject areas for journalists to heed in learning from this case: false confessions, unprotective parents, racial code words and stubborn stereotypes.
Can staff diversity play a role in heading off similar tragic missteps? Farai Chideya brings to mind such a question in a piece for the June 3 edition of the Nation headlined, "How to Fix Journalism's Class and Color Crisis."
"I happen to live in a gentrifying, mostly black Brooklyn neighborhood," Chideya writes. "Living there tunes my journalistic radar: for example, seeing how the police operate in Crown Heights versus the mainly white Manhattan neighborhood where I previously lived. Who I am and how I've lived — from growing up in working-class Baltimore to going to Harvard to visiting dozens of countries — shapes how I view and execute my craft. Why should we think that white reporters, or reporters who grew up privileged, or reporters from Ivy League schools (all of whom are overrepresented at the top publications and outlets), are not shaped by their experiences? . . . Homogeneity of staffing does not doom an outlet to irrelevance, but it often produces a damaging false consensus. . . ."
New Yorker Armond White, an African American film critic, made the point from the view of those on the outside. "To be media-voiceless is to be powerless in this town," he wrote in City Arts.
Freddie Allen, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Blacks are Still Majority of the Wrongfully Convicted
Mea Ashley, Washington Informer: The One: Central Park Five's Korey Wise Featured
Ken Burns, Jim Dwyer, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Korey Wise, New York Times: Times Talks: Ken Burns on Justice and 'The Central Park Five' (video) (April 17)
Esther J. Cepeda, Washington Post Writers Group: Viewing a nightmare
Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: Social Power and the Central Park Five (May 4)
Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: 'Central Park Five' documentary highlights the problem of innocents confessing (April 23)
Jim Dwyer, New York Times: From ‘Central Park Five' Case, a Lesson in Assigning Blame (May 2)
Editorial, Boston Globe: In infamous NY case, lessons for cities, police, media today
Cacy Forgenie, berBice [MRKT]: NO APOLOGIES, SETTLEMENT FOR CENTRAL PARK FIVE (DETAILS) (April 17)
Lou Lumenick, New York Post: 'Central' tale incomplete (Nov. 21, 2012)
Michael Sicinski, Nashville Scene: Central Park Five rips open the high-profile rape case — and the railroading that followed Broken City (Jan. 3)
Brent Staples, New York Times: When Mass Hysteria Convicted 5 Teenagers (Oct. 27, 2012)
George F. Will, Washington Post: 'Central Park Five': Recalling a gross injustice (April 12)
Three years after joining The Root, Sheryl Huggins Salomon is stepping down as managing editor, effective June 1, Salomon told the staff of the African-American-oriented website on Thursday.
"After three wonderful years at my dream job — serving The Root as deputy editor, then managing editor — I'd like to inform you that effective June 1, I am stepping down as managing editor, and will continue to support our mission as a senior editor-at-large, focusing on The Root's offerings about history and heritage," Salomon wrote. "After taking some time off, I will also explore new endeavors in content programming and editorial management.
"The best time to move on is when you leave things in a good place, right? That is certainly true of The Root, which is at a dynamic place in its 5-year history of growth. I'm proud of the stellar editorial team that I leave in place. They are fostering conversations and sharing knowledge you'll find nowhere else in media. I know they will also continue to uphold the standard of excellence that has been set by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and is the hallmark of The Root. . . ."
Gates, the Root's editor-in-chief, co-founded the site with Donald E. Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co., the site's owner. He is also the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, as well as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Gates brought to The Root his fascination with genealogy and DNA analysis, which he has used to produce television specials tracing the backgrounds of highly accomplished African Americans.
Joel Dreyfuss, the site's third day-to-day editorial leader, brought Salomon aboard in 2010, shortly after she was laid off as managing editor of the old AOL Black Voices. AOL trimmed about 100 positions. "Journal-isms" began running on the site under Dreyfuss' tenure and continued there under Salomon.
Publisher Donna Byrd told Journal-isms by email, "Sheryl has done an amazing job for us over the past three years, first as deputy editor, then as managing editor and it will be tough to fill her shoes."
Salomon told Journal-isms by telephone that she was leaving because after three years, "it's just time. I'm ready to explore other things." She added, however, was happy to be working with Gates' reports on genealogy.
"I'm very proud of the political coverage we were doing, covering things up to the 2012 cycle," she added. "I'm very proud of the hires," naming her deputy, Lauren Williams; Jenée Desmond Harris, White House correspondent; and special correspondent Keli Goff.
September figures from comScore Inc., an Internet ratings company, showed The Root with 1,106,000 unique visitors, in company with NBC-owned theGrio.com and with Madame Noire, which calls itself "a sophisticated lifestyle publication that gives African-American women the latest in fashion trends, black entertainment news, parenting tips and beauty secrets that are specifically for black women."
BET.com, the gossip sites MediaTakeOut and Bossip, and HuffPost BlackVoices led the field among African American-oriented sites.
The Washington Post is integrating the RootDC, its Internet-and-print experiment in attracting more African American readers, into its local coverage, editors announced Friday to the Post staff.
"We are happy to announce that Chris Jenkins, after a distinguished year as editor of The RootDC, will join the Local staff as an editor," began a note from the Post's local editors.
However, theRootDC name will remain. Managing Editor Kevin Merida told Journal-isms by email, "We will still maintain the RootDC brand on our signature B2 Friday display. But we're migrating the writers and the coverage into the daily local report, online and in print, which Chris will continue to lead and build."
At a 2011 industry-wide meeting on diversity, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the Post's editor for strategic projects, explained that before the RootDC was created that year, "Our numbers in the black community were horrible." A committee of Post journalists looking for a way to boost them found QCityMetro.com, a website targeting African Americans in Charlotte, N.C., and used that as a model.
Friday's note continued, "Chris will oversee all of Local's freelance reporters, manage several staff bloggers and columnists, and be responsible for expanding and editing a roster of contributors whose work will help strengthen our regional report. He will continue to work with many of the writers who have made The RootDC an online destination for news and commentary of particular interest to African Americans in the Metro area. Under Chris's leadership, The RootDC has been known for its cultural distinctiveness and for such innovative journalism as its three-part video series, 'BrotherSpeak,' which explored the lives of black men through three words: love, fear and dreams.
"Chris will now help integrate the sensibilities — and best features — of The RootDC into our daily local coverage, in print and online. He will continue to manage our popular Friday B2 page that highlights both news and opinion about blacks in this region. Chris will also work closely with our sister online magazine, The Root, to ensure that its most compelling work finds a home on our Web site and in our news pages. . . ."
Some wonder where the outrage was when the NAACP was audited.
"The burgeoning 'scandal' over how the IRS chose for review 75 applicants for tax-exempt status puts on full display an unfortunate tendency in journalism -- to quote people accurately without explaining the underlying context," David Cay Johnston wrote Wednesday for Columbia Journalism Review.
"Yes, it is as wrong for IRS employees to select groups to scrutinize based on their names as it is for police to stop and frisk young people based on the color of their skin. Still, the facts here are not so black-and-white as with racial profiling."
President Obama, saying Wednesday that he was "angry" at IRS officials who inappropriately targeted conservative groups for scrutiny, announced that his administration had sought and accepted Steven Miller's resignation as interim commissioner of the IRS, Michael O'Brien reported for NBC News.
Meanwhile, "Georgetown University professor and MSNBC contributor Michael Eric Dyson revealed on MSNBC's Now on Wednesday that he has been the target of political intimidation by the Internal Revenue Service during the administration of President George W. Bush," Noah Rothman reported for Mediaite. "Dyson claimed that, after criticizing Bush on television for his government's response to Hurricane Katrina, he was audited for five consecutive years by the IRS. . . ."
Also, Joy-Ann Reid wrote for the Grio: "NAACP members and leaders watching the excitement over the IRS' alleged targeting of Tea Party groups might be wondering where the outrage was in 2004, when the IRS, then during the George W. Bush administration, not only targeted the NAACP for extra scrutiny, they hit them with the tool that has made Americans fear the revenue agency most: an audit. . . ."
In his Columbia Journalism Review piece, Johnston, president of Investigative Reporters and Editors and a specialist in tax and regulatory law, continued, "There is a scandal in all of this -- several, actually, and some are more significant than the one that is getting all the attention. As the story unfolds, here are some important points to keep in mind:
"Missing from much coverage is the relevant recent history -- the role of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and how it prompted a deluge of requests from new organizations seeking tax-exempt status under tax code Section 501(c)(4) as 'social welfare' organizations -- despite the fact that many of these are blatantly political operations.
"Congress requires [PDF] the IRS to review every application for tax-exempt status to weed out organizations that are partisan, political, or that generate private gain. Congress has imposed this requirement on the IRS, and its predecessor agencies, since 1913.
"When it comes to 501(c)(4) organizations, what the IRS is supposed to do is draw a distinction between groups that are 'primarily engaged' in politics and groups that really are primarily engaged in 'social welfare' -- somehow 'promoting the common good and social welfare of the community.' It's kind of mushy. Brad Plumer has a good explainer about this on The Washington Post's Wonkblog.
"The first scandal here, meanwhile, is that the social welfare tax exemption is being used by existing 501(c)(4) organizations, including some very large ones, to promote partisan political interests -- the very activity Congress has explicitly prohibited for a century. The New York Times, after a weak political piece on Saturday, had a clear and useful explainer about this on Tuesday.
"Also worth pointing out: None of the organizations that the IRS scrutinized as a result of the ill-considered screening-by-name regime was denied tax exempt status.
"The second -- and widely ignored -- scandal in this unfolding story is that the IRS is drowning. Congress is demanding that the agency do more and more with less and less, as we have reported here and elsewhere . . . . "
Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: The big overreach.
Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Conservative Outlets Reported On IRS Tea Party Targeting In 2012
Editorial, Chicago Tribune: Obama and overreach
Andrew Kirell, Mediaite: IRS Scandal Just Tip Of Iceberg: Agency’s Been Politically Targeting For Decades, Under Both Parties
Sheila Krumholz and Robert Weinberger, New York Times: The Real I.R.S. Scandal
Mark Lacter, LAObserved: Getting the real story on the IRS 'scandal' (it's not what you think)
Mollie Reilly, Huffington Post: Julian Bond, Former NAACP Chair: Tea Party Is 'Taliban Wing Of American Politics'
"Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he plans to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act, the federal shield law bill that twice passed the Congress over the past few years before being stalled in the Senate," John Eggerton reported Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.
"That move was prompted by the Department of Justice's seizure of AP reporter and editor phone records, according to AP, without informing the news operation.
"At a Justice Department oversight hearing with attorney general Eric Holder, Conyers said he was 'troubled by the notion that our government would pursue such a broad array of media phone records over such a long period of time.' . . ."
Media organizations were nearly unanimous in denouncing the Justice Department's action.
Hugo Balta, National Association of Hispanic Journalists: NAHJ questions the motives by the Justice Department
Dylan Byers and Katie Glueck, Politico: Inside the AP: Fear, determination
David Carr, New York Times: Snooping and the News Media: It's a 2-Way Street
Committee to Protect Journalists: CPJ alarmed by US seizure of AP phone records
Editorial Board, Washington Post: Damage to press freedom likely outweighs national security gain
Steven M. Ellis, International Press Institute: IPI expresses concern over U.S. government's seizure of journalists’ records
Paul Farhi, Washington Post: Justice Department subpoena increases tension between White House and news media
Mark Memmott, NPR: Holder Isn't Sure How Often Reporters' Records Are Seized
Newspaper Association of America: Newspaper Association of America welcomes reintroduction of Free Flowof Information Act
Radio Television Digital News Association: RTDNA issues statement on seizure of AP phone records
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: Media organizations call on Justice Department to mitigate damage from broad subpoena of journalists' phone records
Betsy Rothstein, FishbowlDC: NPC Calls on Obama to Explain DOJ Mess
Unity: Journalists for Diversity: UNITY Calls for Transparency on Seizure of AP Journalists’ Records
Erik Wemple, Washington Post: AP subpoena: Journo says he lost sources in 2001 case
MacKenzie Weinger, Politico: 52 media groups protest DOJ's Associated Press action
Who better to know how Al Neuharth would want to be remembered -- and celebrated -- than Al Neuharth?
And so Neuharth, who led the Gannett Co., founded USA Today and became the CEO of both the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, planned his own memorial celebration. The second installment took place Wednesday at the Newseum -- "the house that Al built," in the words of his colleague Charles Overby, who succeeded him as chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum, for an audience of about 500.
It was dubbed the "Celebration-capade" by Overby and the "Funeral-capade" by another compadre, John Siegenthaler, former editor of the Tennessean in Nashville and USA Today's first editorial page editor. They were references to the "buscapade," "jetcapade" and other "-capades" that Neuharth took around the world, filing reports for USA Today readers as he traveled.
The service opened with a high-definition video in which Neuharth recounted some highlights of his life, including a "-capade" interview with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, whom he called "the toughest, meanest and perhaps the smartest foreign leader I've known."
Castro asked Neuharth whether it was true that USA Today had lost money, and if so, where he got the money to pay its bills. When Neuharth replied that it was with the profits from other Gannett properties, Castro proclaimed that they had something else in common: socialism. Neuharth diplomatically exclaimed "touché!" and was rewarded with a lengthy conversation.
Allen H. Neuharth led the newspaper industry in championing diversity and made it possible for Robert C. Maynard to become the first African American publisher of a mainstream newspaper. He died April 19 at his home in Cocoa Beach, Fla., at 89.
His insistence on diversity and his belief in following one's dreams despite the naysayers were never far from the list of attributes his devotees recalled for the audience.
Madelyn Jennings, retired senior vice president of personnel at the Gannett Co. and co-chair of the Executive Committee of the Freedom Forum, referred to the recent "42" film about Jackie Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball. "Al was our Branch Rickey, but better looking," Jennings said, referring to the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who guided Robinson into history.
"Long before Sheryl Sandberg, he was championing women," said Judy Woodruff of PBS, a Freedom Forum board member who secured Neuharth's support in creating the International Women's Media Foundation in 1990. Sandberg is the author of the current best-selling "Lean In," about women and mentoring. "For you guys, I'm glad there was affirmative action," Woodruff joked.
Six graduates of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Scholars program, displaying multiple ethnicities, expressed gratitude for the professional boost Neuharth's program had given them. "He taught me that words are only as useful as they are easy to understand," one said.
Neuharth appeared again at the end of the 90-minute service. "I'm still around," he said from the screen. "Does that make you wonder whether you'll ever be rid of me?" He imparted more of the lessons life taught him.
They were neatly packaged into a 50-page, pocket-sized book of aphorisms printed on the pumpkin-colored paper used for his infamous notes to staffers. "See the glass half-full, not half empty," page 41 read. "Honk your own horn," it said on page 42.
The "celebration-capade" began Tuesday at the Florida Today building in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and continues Friday at his alma mater, the University of South Dakota.
Melanie Eversley and David Colton, USA Today: D.C. mourners remember USA TODAY founder
Peter Hart, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Dead Journalists and the Newseum Scandal
When Lydia Esparra got the interview call, she seized the opportunity.
"I Told Them on the Air . . . Got to Go"
Lydia Esparra, a weekend anchor at Cleveland's WOIO-TV, became the only journalist to talk with freed kidnapping victim Gina DeJesus Thursday when DeJesus' family interrupted Esparra on the air and said DeJesus wanted to see her.
Meanwhile, news outlets differed over the propriety of reporting on prior convictions of Charles Ramsey, the Internet sensation credited with helping to free DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, who were imprisoned for a decade.
WEWS-TV apologized for its report on Ramsey's domestic violence convictions, and Mark Naymik, writing in the Plain Dealer, said his newspaper "learned Tuesday night about some aspects of Ramsey's troubled past. The paper left it out of its news stories.
"Ramsey's action to help Berry stood alone. His past, even if it contained bad deeds, had nothing to do with his act of heroism Monday."
Esparra described her meeting with DeJesus, a fellow Puerto Rican, on her own station [video] and with CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin Thursday on that network.
From the CNN transcript:
BALDWIN: And I talked with a family friend and a journalist here in the Cleveland area. She's a weekend anchor at WOIO. Her name is Lydia Esparra. She visited Gina today and she told me about that visit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYDIA ESPARRA, WOIO ANCHOR: They have waited nine long years. And, of course, I have been covering the story.
BALDWIN: From the beginning.
ESPARRA: From the beginning, from the very beginning.
And Nancy and her husband, Felix, never gave up hope, never gave up hope. They said, my daughter's alive. Even when I doubted her, she said, Lydia, my daughter's alive. So...
BALDWIN: You were on the air, and they said get off the air.
ESPARRA: I was on the air.
Yes, once they came through — and that was Gina's sister in orange. That was her sister Mayra protecting her.
BALDWIN: With her arm.
ESPARRA: Right. They are very protective of her because they haven't had her for nine years.
So, yes, so I'm live on the air, and then one of her relatives comes over and says, Nancy wants you to come to the house.
ESPARRA: So, I said, OK, and I told them on the air, said, got to go, Nancy's calling.
So, I go inside the house and I have my moment with Nancy and we're crying and — with Felix and we're crying, because I haven't spent any time with them, and I'm friends besides being a journalist. It's just such a tough line trying to be a friend and do your job.
ESPARRA: But first I'm a human being, so that's the attitude I took.
ESPARRA: So, I went and I cried with them, because that's what I do, and I cried.
And then I was like, am I going to be able to see Gina? And she — the niece says, yes. And Gina wants to see you.
ESPARRA: And I said, really? And she — yes, mom asked her. And she goes, Lydia's out there. Do you want to see Lydia?
BALDWIN: And you never met Gina before?
ESPARRA: I have never met — never.
BALDWIN: You got to know her through missing posters and talking to the family.
ESPARRA: Everything, missing posters, talking to the family.
I used to keep her pictures on my desk. Any time I covered a vigil, I would keep everything on my desk of her to remind me that she was missing. I would talk to Nancy. She would tell me stories. She was shy. She'd never get in a car with anybody, a stranger.
BALDWIN: How is she? How was Gina?
ESPARRA: She's doing fabulous. It was unbelievable.
My hands were sweating because here's someone I never imagined would come back to us. And so when I went inside, I embraced her and she embraced me reluctantly, because she's, obviously, been locked in a basement for nine years, and we talked.
And the first thing I said is, you look nothing like your composite. She's a tiny little thing. She's very small, short hair. She had longer hair when she disappeared. And her skin's a little pale from the lack of vitamin D from being outside. But she was just so kind and so happy.
And a relative came up to her and said — was talking in Spanish and she looks at her mom and says, mom, I don't remember my Spanish anymore.
BALDWIN: She can't speak Spanish anymore?
ESPARRA: No. And then we had a couple of other words. I asked her about the house, and then I left. The family told me to stay, have food. We're Hispanic. We're very open with one another. Lydia, stay and have food. But I did not want to make her feel uncomfortable. I left. . . .
In other developments, Angel Cordero, who speaks only Spanish, told ABC affiliate WEWS-TV that he arrived at the scene first and he was the one to kick the door down, freeing Berry, who had been trapped inside for nearly 10 years. Also, the Call & Post, Cleveland's black weekly owned and published by boxing promoter Don King, had no coverage of the rescue events on its Web page, but reported on the saga in its print edition, a staffer told Journal-isms.
David Bauder, Associated Press: Charles Ramsey's turbulent 15 minutes of fame
James Carr, the Shadow League: Charles Ramsey Is The Gregory Brothers' Latest Muse For Psuedo-Blaxploitation
Henry J. Gomez, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: The rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight: 30 minutes that ended a decade of nightmares (video, slideshow)
Latino Rebels: The Other Cleveland Kidnapping Hero: Ángel Cordero
Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times: Heinous crimes could happen next door and most people wouldn't have a clue
Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Michelle Knight released from hospital; thanks community but asks for privacy
Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.: Some understanding for the Cleveland kidnapping victims
Jay Smooth, Ill Doctrine: T-Paining Too Much: The meme-ification of Charles Ramsey (video)
Daily News columnist Clem Richardson was among the dozen or so journalists laid off from the New York tabloid, Richardson disclosed, telling Journal-isms that Friday was his last day.
Richardson, 58, has worked at the News since 1993. His disclosure came as the New York Post offered voluntary buyouts to newsroom employees, the top two editors at the New York-based Village Voice said they were leaving the weekly newspaper over staff cuts, and the editor of Columbia Journalism Review, Cyndi Stivers, also based in New York, left to become editor-in-chief of AOL.com. CJR's longtime executive editor, Mike Hoyt, was in the process of being laid off, according to Joe Pompeo of capitalnewyork.com.
Richardson explained Friday by email, "I have been a columnist since shortly after returning from a six month International Center for Journalists fellowship teaching newspaper writing for the Independent Newspaper group in South Africa. When I officially left the company today I was writing the weekly Great People, City Beat, and Uptown Talks columns, the titles of each explain what they covered.
"What's next? Several friends in the business have graciously offered writing opportunities, and college teaching is a possibility should a position come up. All this time will allow me to finish the rewrite on my first novel, a Brooklyn-based fantasy, sometime this month, which a brilliant Brooklyn artist, Leokadia Cermakova has graciously consented to create the cover art and illustrate several scenes inside.
"Other than that I'm sitting here screaming at the ridiculous and unending one-on-one play that passes for the NBA playoffs nowadays and reflecting on how wonderful a life I have been blessed to live. I have heard from friends, colleagues and dozens of people I profiled, so I guess I got a few names right. . . ."
[On Saturday, reporter Tanyanika Samuels, who is expecting a baby, told her Facebook followers that she, too, was laid off:
"As some of you may know, I was among those laid off from the Daily News on Friday. I consider myself in good company. Thank you to those who reached out. Looking forward to the future, most notably on the imminent arrival of baby #2. Just three weeks to go...eeek!" Samuels previously worked at the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Inquirer, according to her LinkedIn profile.]
Joe Pompeo, capitalnewyork.com: Daily News chief Colin Myler tells staff layoffs were inevitable; announces new digitial initiative in boroughs
Joe Pompeo, capitalnewyork.com: 'New York Post' offers buyouts; seeks 10-percent staff reduction in attempt to avoid layoffs
The media circus will turn next to Gina DeJesus, who returns home this week.
"The Cleveland kidnapping case has all the elements of an unforgettable news story, including a bizarre crime, innocent victims, heroes and a happy, at least for the most part, ending," Michael Malone wrote Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.
"As such, it's nothing short of a circus on site in Cleveland, as the local TV reporters trade elbows with news crews from as far away as Australia, Japan and Argentina to follow the story of the three women, Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, who were freed earlier in the week.
" 'It's a sea of reporters at the scene of both homes,' says Dan Salamone, news director at Raycom's WOIO. 'It presents a challenge for the police, and also for us as we continue to try and bring the story home for local viewers. It's a mad scene.'
"The next big get will be with the victims. One victim's relative attempted to speak to the media Wednesday, but gave up when she was not able to be heard. 'It's going to take some time,' says Brooke Spectorsky, president and general manager of Gannett's WKYC. 'They've been locked up for ten years, and it's a circus out there.' . . . "
Meanwhile, Charles Ramsey, who was lauded as a folk hero this week, remained in the spotlight -- but not always in a good way.
Some debated whether viewers were laughing with him or at him, and the Smoking Gun reported, "The Cleveland man credited with helping free female captives from a house of horrors is a convicted felon whose rap sheet includes three separate domestic violence convictions that resulted in prison terms, court records show.
"Charles Ramsey, whose 911 call and subsequent TV interviews have made him a microcelebrity, was once a repeat spousal abuser whose marriage ended in divorce following a 2003 felony conviction for battering his wife. . . ."
Ramsey himself rejected the "hero" label. "I don't even want it," Ramsey told Russ Mitchell and Erin Kennedy of WKYC-TV in Cleveland in one of several media appearances. "They keep saying I'm a hero. Let me tell you something, I’m an American, and I'm a human being. I'm just like you. I work for a living. There was a woman in distress, so why turn your back on that? My father would have whupped the hell out of me if he found out that I had coward-ed out."
Cleveland police announced Wednesday that they had charged Ariel Castro with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape in connection with holding Berry, DeJesus and Knight captive for the last decade, the Plain Dealer reported, conveniently listing the day's developments on its website under the headline, "8 things we learned today about the Decade of Captivity for Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight."
"And we must continue to collaborate, educate and hold law enforcement officials accountable to better protect young people from sexual exploitation. That means re-evaluating, again, how Cleveland police handle missing-persons cases. They need to keep looking and working every lead until the missing are found. . . ."
Rebecca Aguilar, News Treadmill blog: Cleveland case sheds light on 800,000 children reported missing in the U.S.
Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Kidnap hero's colorful interview leads to 2013 kind of tribute
Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: ""Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms."
Margaret Bernstein, Plain Dealer: Freed women give missing-persons activist Judy Martin a reason to be joyful
Michael H. Cottman, Black America Web: Charles Ramsey: American Hero or Racial Healer?
Mark Dawidziak, Plain Dealer: For missing-women story, national news outlets quickly shift focus to Cleveland
Kevin Eck, TVSpy: Kidnap Hero's Interview Gets Taiwan Animation Treatment
Pat Galbincea, Plain Dealer: Cleveland will investigate 9-1-1 call from Amanda Berry
Arturo R. García, Racialicious: Open Thread 2: The Rush To Memeify Charles Ramsey
Doug Gross, CNN: Why the Web loves Cleveland hero Charles Ramsey
Aisha Harris, Slate: The Troubling Viral Trend of the "Hilarious" Black Neighbor
Demetria Irwin, the Grio: Charles Ramsey is an American hero, not a 'hilarious' meme
David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times: McDonald's shamelessly exploits Cleveland rescue
Tara McKelvey, BBC News Magazine: Cleveland abductions: Do white victims get more attention? (May 9)
Phillip Morris, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Cleveland must do a better job of protecting and finding its missing women
Sara Morrison, Columbia Journalism Review: The Plain Dealer columnist who knew Amanda Berry’s mother
Erin McClam and Jeff Black, NBC News: Who's who in the Cleveland kidnapping case?
Mark Naymik, Plain Dealer: Charles Ramsey breaks stereotypes by helping Amanda Berry escape but will the Internet notice? (video)
Michael O'Malley, Plain Dealer: Castro family among first Hispanics to settle in Cleveland, coming from Puerto Rico just after World War II
Cliff Pinckard, Plain Dealer: Discovery of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight a worldwide phenomenon (video)
Connor Simpson, the Atlantic: Charles Ramsey Is an Internet Hero for All the Wrong Reasons
Debbi Snook, Plain Dealer: Charles Ramsey is hero for rescuing Amanda Berry, chef employer says
Alex Weprin, TVNewser: Anderson Cooper Chats With Cleveland Hero Charles Ramsey
The Daily News in New York Wednesday laid off columnist Tim Smith, the last African American in its sports department, and Albor Ruiz, a columnist who often wrote about Hispanic issues. Joe Pompeo, reporter for capitalnewyork.com, wrote, "Several sources put the total number of pink slips at around 15."
The news of Joanna Molloy's termination was particularly shocking," Pompeo wrote. "She's arguably the most famous writer still at the paper, having helmed its gossip pages for 15 years with her husband, George Rush, who took a buyout in 2010. . . ."
Smith, 53, known primarily as a boxing writer, told Journal-isms by telephone that he'd covered a range of sports events over 30 years and that "I would like to do anything that comes my way. I'm open to any and everything."
Smith said he was told that he was selected for the layoff because the News had identified categories of employees who would be eliminated and one of the three sports columnists' positions was on the list. There are 33 writers in the News sports department, he said.
Smith wrote about boxing while at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Evander Holyfield, later a five-time heavyweight champion, left the Olympics in 1984. Smith also wrote about boxing for the Cincinnati Enquirer and the New York Times, where he was also an NFL writer. In Cincinnati, he covered the Bengals NFL team, and at the Times, the New York Jets.
Smith won the Nat Fleischer Memorial Award from the Boxing Writers' Association of New York for excellence in boxing journalism in 2005.
Ruiz, 71, has been a columnist since July 1993, according to his LinkedIn profile. In 2003, he was inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame. "Next? I am not really sure, but I have no plans to disappear from the face of the Earth," Ruiz messaged Journal-isms. "I'll be around."
Ruiz, a Cuban-American, came to the United States in 1961. When he returned from a trip to Cuba in 2006, Ruiz told Journal-isms he had a Cuban passport, "as all Cubans do." Cuban immigration authorities held him for two hours at the airport in Havana, but they allowed him to enter "because I have family in Cuba. I would not be granted a permit to work as a journalist," he said. Nevertheless, Ruiz said he went to work anyway and interviewed a dissident.
Ruiz's most recent columns carry such headlines as "New York City’s public libraries need their patrons to stand up against mayoral budget cuts," "The Gang of Eight's proposed immigration reform bill must be inclusive and not punitive," "Childcare workers' union leaders blast Bloomberg administration's EarlyLearn NYC program," "Once again, May Day is a time for workers to stand up and speak out in defense of their rights," and "The city’s hunger crisis stands to worsen as funding cuts to the food stamp program loom".