The President's notched another victory with passage of his financial reform bill, but you couldn't have known from the coverage.
"I've been scratching my head over this for the past year: Does President Obama get credit for the things he does right?" media writer Howard Kurtz wrote for the Washington Post on Friday.
"We all know about the things he does wrong, because the media have made that the dominant narrative to explain his sinking poll numbers. (What president, by the way, wouldn't have lousy poll numbers with a rotten economy and a godawful oil spill?)
"Obama's stop-and-go difficulties with the Hill, his slow public reaction after the BP disaster, his failure to forge coalitions with the Republicans or change Washington's nasty tone, his inability to bring down the jobless rate — all are well known and well documented.
"But with Thursday's Senate vote to approve sweeping new regulation of the banking industry, the president has now delivered on his promise to clean up the Wall Street practices that nearly imploded the economy.
"How much credit will the media give him? Will this be portrayed as a watershed event? Or will it be over by the weekend, with press attention drifting back to the oil well and the midterms?"
Kurtz isn't the only journalist asking. While on vacation, Eugene Kane, columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote Friday on his Facebook page, "In his short time as President, Obama has led major overhaul of both health insurance and [the] financial industry to better aid American citizens. OK, Rush and Glenn; tell us again how he's the worst president in recent history."
In the New York Daily News on Thursday, columnist Errol Louis told readers, "If 'Change We Can Believe In' was the winning slogan during Barack Obama's campaign for the White House, 'Change Hiding in Plain Sight' might be the theme of the Obama presidency.
"In one domestic policy area after another — at a pace that often eludes a press corps addicted to polls and sound bites — Obama's aides are reorganizing federal programs and priorities in ways that won't be fully perceived for years.
"This week, for instance, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan gave a morning speech describing an ambitious plan to revitalize public housing nationwide with billions in public and private dollars."
Even Politico, the object of a recent joke by Obama that its news is always cast in terms of political winners and losers, had praise. "President Obama is 'clearly succeeding' at implementing his policy agenda, despite rising public skepticism about the president," it wrote on Thursday.
Editors "John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write: 'The imminent passage of financial reform, just a couple months after the passage of comprehensive health care, should decisively end the narrative that President Obama represents a Jimmy Carter-style case of naïve hope crushed by the inability to master Washington. ...
" 'You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But especially after Thursday’s vote you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done. To the contrary, he has, as promised, covered the uninsured, tightened regulations, started to wind down the war in Iraq and shifted focus and resources to Afghanistan, injected more competition into the education system and edged closer to a big energy bill.' "
So what's keeping the poll numbers down and the news media stingy with the credit?
The Pew Research Center’s latest News IQ Quiz indicated misinformation could be a factor. "Only about a third of Americans (34%) know that the government’s bailout of banks and financial institutions was enacted under the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly say that the Troubled Asset Relief Program – widely known as TARP – was signed into law by President Obama," the center reported on Thursday.
Others say it's still "the economy, stupid." "For most people not clued into politics, there’s only one issue: the economy," Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, told Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor. “Basically, people are judging Obama by the shape of the economy, which is still very bad.”
Greg Marx wrote Friday in the Columbia Journalism Review, "In short — every news article that seeks to explain some apparent mystery about the president’s political standing should begin by looking at the economy. It’s not that other things don’t affect how the president’s doing, or aren’t interesting or important on their own terms — they do, and they are. But the role of the economy is not secondary to 'the likability factor' in determining how the president’s faring. And it’s not co-equal, either. It’s the most important thing, and journalism that doesn’t make that clear is doing a disservice to its readers."
Does President Obama believe the American media are "fundamentally unserious?"Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter says so in his new book, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One." Alter writes this about the aftermath of Obama's trip to Asia in November: "The trip reinforced his view that the American media was fundamentally unserious. He bowed too deeply to the figurehead emperor of Japan. So what?
"The United States had big challenges ahead in staying competitive, and much of the media, he thought, was clueless about what was truly important. For instance, he noted that President Lee Myong Bak of South Korea, presiding over a 'very competitive' economy, had said that his biggest problem in education was that Korean parents were too demanding and were insisting on importing English teachers so their kids could learn English in first grade instead of having to wait for second grade. This is what complacent America was up against.
"'And then I sit down with U.S. reporters, and the question they have for me, in Asia, is, 'Have I read Sarah Palin's book?' At this point, the president shook his head, incredulous. 'True. True story."
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., whose properties include the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel, was ready to make peace with Barack Obama after Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But Roger Ailes, president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, put a monkey wrench in that idea, according to Jonathan Alter's book, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One."
"After he wrapped up the nomination in June 2008, Obama visited the News Corporation offices in New York with the intention of making peace," Alter wrote. "He chatted amiably with owner Rupert Murdoch, who openly admired Obama, but the conversation turned tense after Roger Ailes joined the group. Obama explained that he hadn't been granting interviews to Fox because the network was buying into bogus stories, like the one about his being schooled in a fundamentalist Muslim madrassa in Indonesia. Ailes responded huffily that Fox was just reporting the news.
"Murdoch, who was visibly embarrassed by Ailes's ungraciousness, extravagantly complimented the candidate, and the meeting ended with an informal agreement by Obama to resume relations with Fox. He granted a long interview to Bill O'Reilly, as well as one to the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. But when Murdoch passed the word inside News Corp. that he was planning to endorse Obama, Ailes threatened to quit. Murdoch, knowing that Ailes was a cash cow for his company, gave Ailes a five-year contract, endorsed [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.] early, and let Ailes move News Corp. even further right. Obama placed a courtesy call to Murdoch during the transition but wrote Fox off."
Desiree Rogers Ruled Out as Sempowski Ward Successor
Six weeks after the arrival of former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, and two weeks after the naming of a new editor-in-chief for Ebony, Johnson Publishing Co. Monday announced the resignation of Anne Sempowski Ward, its president and chief operating officer.
Ward was on maternity leave.
Rogers, a longtime friend of Chairman and CEO Linda Johnson Rice and a fellow Chicagoan, started work June 1 as a consultant "assisting with various aspects of corporate strategy as it relates to our core brands, Ebony, Jet and Fashion Fair," spokeswoman Wendy Parks told Journal-isms.
Rogers' presence appeared to underscore Johnson Rice's June declaration that, "I have no plans to sell the company. None," and that she was excited about what her new editor might bring to the table.
Parks told Journal-isms Monday that Rogers' initial contract was for two months and that, "She is not being considered for president and COO."
Ward was president and COO of Fashion Fair Cosmetics when she was named Johnson Publishing Co. COO in October 2008. "She will be responsible for developing the company's financial and operational strategies and implementing diversified initiatives to grow sales and brand equity across all JPC brands including Ebony magazine, Jet magazine and Fashion Fair Cosmetics," Rice said then.
Prior to joining Fashion Fair, Ward was assistant vice president of African-American marketing for the Coca-Cola Co. and spent more than a decade at Procter & Gamble, "where she led several brands and categories, including Pampers, Always, Tampax and hair care. She had a lead role in the launch of significant African-American marketing campaigns and created the 'Total You' beauty platform across P&G's largest beauty brands," a news release said at the time.
The June 2 announcement that Amy DuBois Barnett, deputy editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar magazine and former editor of Honey, would become editor-in-chief was viewed as a favorable step on the editorial side, especially since the slot had been vacant or filled on an interim basis for 14 months.
Ward's portfolio was principally the business and marketing side of the company.
For 2010, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, "Black Enterprise, Ebony, Essence and Jet were down a collective 18 percent in ad pages through the first quarter - about double the industry average," as Jason Fell reported June 17 for Folio. "Ad pages slipped 8.2 percent at Black Enterprise while Johnson Publishing's Ebony and Jet saw dramatic declines of 30.6 percent and 33.1 percent respectively (Johnson points out, however, that Ebony and Jet both published one fewer issue during the quarter compared to last year).
"Time Inc.'s Essence, meanwhile, reported the smallest decline: -0.3 percent."
Johnson Rice said in a statement Monday, "Anne has been a significant asset to our company and led key, corporate-wide initiatives for EBONY, JET and Fashion Fair. During Anne's tenure, we underwent significant restructuring and reorganization of the company. Her contributions have helped to position the company for the future."
For her part, Sempowski Ward said in the release, "It has been a phenomenal privilege to be the first member from outside of the Johnson family to serve as president and COO of both the publishing and cosmetics divisions of Johnson Publishing Company.
"I am grateful for Linda Johnson Rice's confidence in entrusting me with such a significant responsibility. Working with so many dedicated people has been personally and professionally rewarding and I will miss them dearly. At the same time, I am excited about joining my husband, Kevin, in our business-consulting firm. With the birth of our son in May, this is the ideal time for me to chart a new course."
Rogers is one of Chicago's movers and shakers. She has a Harvard MBA and has been an Illinois Lottery director and president of Peoples Energy Corp., as well as president of social networking for Allstate Insurance Co.
She left the White House "under the cloud of the November 2009 Salahis gatecrasher fiasco at the White House state dinner for India's prime minister, and complaints that she kept too-high a profile," as theRoot.com reported when she joined Johnson Publishing.
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A surprising benefit of LeBron James' move to Miami is the diverse press crew that awaits him.
Though Panned, ESPN Production Gets Top Ratings
The decision by LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat made for television with through-the-roof ratings, the Nielsen Co. announced, even if journalists panned as over-the-top the ESPN production during which James made the announcement.
The NBA superstar's move had a less-noticed side benefit: On James' new home turf, he'll be covered by a more diverse press corps.
As reported here last month, the removal of George Thomas of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal from the Cavaliers beat left Ohio's major media outlets with no journalists of color regularly covering James. In Miami, however, the Herald coverage will be led by Sports Editor Jorge Rojas, a past president of the Associated Press Sports Editors who is Hispanic, with beat writer Michael Wallace, a Grambling State University graduate who is African American, and columnist Israel Gutierrez, a regular on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" who is Hispanic, also in the mix.
"If you're done pinching yourself, done rewinding the footage to make sure it was the words 'Miami' and 'Heat' and 'Dwyane Wade' that were actually coming out of his mouth, done hyperventilating while checking the Web to see if the Heat individual game tickets are on sale yet, you can allow yourself to think about actual basketball for a minute," Gutierrez wrote in Friday's Herald.
"It's almost hard to even remember what sport LeBron James plays, because all you've known for the past week or so is, 'we want that guy here.'
"But basketball-wise, this is going to be fun. This is going to be jaw-dropping displays of athleticism, record individual performances, record team performances, quickness, versatility, unselfishness, teamwork.
"This is going to be everything you've anticipated and then some, because these players are that level of great."
His colleagues were apparently feeling likewise.
Editor Anders Gyllenhaal told Journal-isms, "This is a great story that will unfold over the coming season, which The Herald will have the pleasure of covering. The fan response has been enormous, helping the Heat almost instantly sell out of season tickets. Our Heat iPhone app was swamped with downloads the past two days, so it's clear that interest, here and around the country, is very high in this team and its remarkable trio," James, Wade and Chris Bosh.
ESPN's hour-long program, for which ESPN allowed James to choose the journalist to whom he revealed his selection, was a ratings hit. ESPN also agreed to donate commercial revenue to charity.
The show "drew a 7.3 overnight household rating, making it the highest rated program of the night on television and the highest rated show on ESPN this year (including NBA playoff games) other than NFL games. Viewership peaked at a 9.6 rating from 9:15 p.m. ET to 9:30 p.m. ET, when the decision was finally revealed," Jon Lafayette reported for Broadcasting & Cable.
But as Louisa Ada Seltzer reported Friday for Medialifemagazine.com, "Media reaction to the departure of LeBron James from Cleveland to Miami was swift, harsh and almost scornful last night, with nearly as much of the vitriol directed at ESPN . . . as at the NBA player himself, who is leaving his home state after seven years of playing for the Cavaliers.
"The newspaper front pages in Cleveland, Miami and cities that James snubbed, including New York, where the Knicks lobbied him hard, made no attempt at objectivity. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer's entire front page showed a picture of James from behind in his Cleveland uniform under the headline 'Gone,' alongside a snarky caption noting the lack of NBA championship rings on James' fingers.
"The Miami Herald ran an all-LeBron front page showing King James with his arms stretched heavenward with the simple headline 'Jackpot!' The New York Post branded James 'LeBum!' and 'Son of a Beach!' But there were just as many jabs at ESPN, which was sharply criticized for covering the James decision as though it was a major world event instead of a basketball player picking a new team. . . ."
The "Gone" cover of the Plain Dealer won praise from graphic designers, however, and Editor Susan Goldberg, speaking of cleveland.com, told Jim Romenesko of the Poynter Institute:
"We had the highest one-day count of unique users, the highest one-day count for page views, more people in our live chat than ever before, more people looking at our live video stream than ever before and, in the last 90 days, the Cavs blog had more than four times as many people looking at it compared to the same 90-day period last year."
There were no columnists of color on the sports pages, but local columnist Phillip Morris, a black journalist, wrote about the virtues of children's sports. His column was headlined, "If you want to root for a committed hometown team, head to a Little League playground."
Comcast Pledges to Add Black, Hispanic Networks
In looking to appeal to legislators to support its planned merger with NBC Universal, "Comcast pledged to add eight independent TV networks — four each controlled by African-American and Hispanic interests — to its cable system, while creating a $20 million fund to assist minority entrepreneurs," David Goetzl reported Thursday for Media Post.
In a summary of diversity commitments unveiled Thursday, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen "said that two networks majority controlled by African-American interests will be added to Comcast's digital tier in the first two years post-transaction. Overall, Comcast will add 10 independent networks in the first eight years.
"Networks such as TV One or BET J could also receive a distribution bump soon after the venture debuts. Comcast pledged to increase carriage on its systems of networks controlled by, and targeting, African-Americans within six months.
"Comcast also promised to establish a new venture-capital fund with a minimum of $20 million to seed ventures by minority entrepreneurs in the new-media arena. Details about the fund to be managed by Comcast Interactive Capital will be released in the fall."
Deported El Diario Spy Hopes to Keep Her Column
In a seeming flashback to the cold war, Russian and American officials traded prisoners in the bright sunlight on the tarmac of Vienna’s international airport on Friday, bringing to a quick end an episode that had threatened to disrupt relations between the countries," Nicholas Kulish, Peter Baker and Ellen Barry reported Friday for the New York Times.
"Planes carrying 10 convicted Russian sleeper agents and 4 men accused by Moscow of spying for the West swooped into the Austrian capital, once a hub of clandestine East-West maneuvering, and the men and women were transferred, the Justice Department said. The planes soon took off again in a coda fitting of an espionage novel."
On Thursday, the 10 appeared in a New York courtroom.
"All appeared unruffled except Vicky Pelaez, an El Diario-La Prensa columnist and the only non-Russian in the group, who was weeping," Kevin Deutsch and Corky Siemaszko reported for the New York Daily News.
"Her lawyer said she had no idea her husband of 18-years, Juan Lazaro, was a spook named Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasenkov. And she had never been to Russia.
"Judge Kimba Wood sentenced them all to time served — 11 days and sent them packing."
The Associated Press said Pelaez's lawyer, John Rodriguez, "said Pelaez plans to go back to Peru, where her family has a ranch, and where she hoped to continue writing for El Diario La Prensa."
The AP story, by Jocelyn Noveck and Jim Fitzgerald, asked, "Was Pelaez, deported Thursday in a spy swap along with her husband, an enthusiastic secret agent — who like him, was willing to put her loyalty to Moscow over that of her children? Or was she a wife betrayed?
"One thing was clear on Friday, hours after Pelaez, 55, and Vasenkov, 66, arrived in Vienna, en route to Moscow: A family was in tatters."
A son "acknowledged the family would lose their home, since it was paid for by the Russians,
"He said he didn't know where he and his brother would end up living, though he said the teenager wanted to stay in the United States."
Migel Alvaro Sarmiento, managing editor of El Diario, did not return telephone calls.
More Blacks, Latinos Use Cellphones for Internet Access
"African Americans and Hispanics continue to be among the most avid users of the Internet over their cellphones, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center," Cecilia Kang reported Wednesday for the Washington Post.
"And low-income groups are the fastest adopters of the mobile Web, showing an opportunity that wireless technology could play in helping to bridge a digital divide that has brought the Web disproportionately to wealthier communities over the past two decades."
"Furthermore, 18 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of English-speaking Hispanics and 10 percent of whites are 'cell-only wireless users' — which means their sole access to the internet, e-mail or instant messaging is via their phones," CNN reported.
"Drilling down, Hispanics were the biggest users of data applications on their cellphones and laptops. About 83 percent of Hispanics send or receive text messages, compared with 79 percent of Americans and 68 percent of whites. And 47 percent of Hispanics said they send or receive an e-mail, compared with 41 percent of blacks and 30 percent of whites surveyed," Kang wrote.
In a First, U.S. Denies Visa to Nieman Fellow
"The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University," Frank Bajak reported Friday for the Associated Press.
"Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called 'Contravia,' has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Al varo Uribe, Washington's closest ally in Latin America.
"The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has [been] offering the mid-career fellowships to U.S. and international journalists since 1938, said Thursday that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the 'Terrorist activities' section of the USA Patriot Act.
"U.S. Embassy and State Department officials refused to confirm the visa denial, citing privacy laws.
" 'We were very surprised. This has never happened before,' said the Nieman curator, Bob Giles. 'And Hollman has traveled previously in the United States to give speeches and receive awards.' He said he had written the State Department to ask it to reconsider the decision."
Lesson for Oakland: De-Escalate, Editorial Says
"Destroying property and injuring others will not bring back Oscar Grant," the MediaNews newspapers editorialized Thursday night.
"But Grant's death must not be forgotten. We all must learn from this."
The editorial followed a jury decision finding white former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing Oscar Grant III early Jan. 1, 2009, while the 22-year-old Grant, an African American, lay face down on a train platform. Mehserle testified that he thought he was using his electric Taser weapon during a strruggle.
"Police agencies must review their procedures to make sure that such a tragedy never happens again," the editorial continued. "And all of us must keep in mind that horrible things can happen when chaos breaks out. Police can make mistakes. After the fact, we can try to determine whether an action was premeditated, without regard for life, in the heat of passion or merely negligent. But, after the fact, it's too late. It's better to de-escalate before violence breaks out."
The Oakland Tribune later reported, "Along with several other law enforcement agencies, California Highway Patrol officers from as far away as Sacramento and the Central Valley were out in force on the streets of Oakland Thursday night, backing up Oakland police as violent protests emerged downtown, CHP Sgt. Trent Cross said this morning. . . .
"Police said they made 83 arrests throughout the night for violations that included failure to disperse, vandalism and assaulting a police officer."
To some, that was a relief.
. "The city was prepared for thousands of black and brown people to explode in rage. But it didn't happen. The question today is where was the big riot?" Daisy Hernandez wrote for ColorLines, an online magazine that "has been building a home for journalism in service to racial justice since 1998."
Arab Americans Protest CNN Firing Over Hezbollah Remark
"CNN’s firing of Senior Middle East News Editor Octavia Nasr has prompted an outcry from Arab-Americans, angry about what they see as a double standard when it comes to coverage of the Middle East in the American media," Keach Hagey wrote Thursday for Politico.
"Nasr’s 20-year career at CNN ended Wednesday after a tweet mourning the death of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese Shiite cleric whom she called 'one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.' Facing a rash of criticism, she explained her tweet in a blog post, saying her respect was based on Fadlallah’s advocacy for women’s rights. But by then, it was too late. CNN put out a statement a few hours later, saying her 'credibility' had been 'compromised.' "
The firing prompted a chorus of applause from conservatives on the Internet and the the Anti-Defamation League commended CNN for the decision. But "the firing provoked perhaps the strongest reaction from Arab-Americans," Hagey wrote.
“ 'This is unbelievable what is happening in the United States of America,' said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News. 'You can say anything you want — except when it comes to Israel.' ”
Jeremy Green Leaves ESPN After Child Porn Arrest
"Jeremy Green, a contributing writer for ESPN Scouts Inc., was arrested Thursday in Connecticut on several charges, including possession of child pornography, possession of narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia, police said," ESPN reported Friday on its website.
"Green, 38, was arrested at an area hotel about 5 p.m., police said, and was being held on a $750,000 bond. Police are not releasing details and say the warrant is sealed.
"ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said Green, who joined ESPN in 2006, is no longer employed by the company.
"Green is the son of former NFL coach Dennis Green, who also provided NFL analysis for ESPN."
The Bleacher Report, which calls itself "the world’s leading publisher of original and entertaining sports editorial content," wrote, "Green's arrest and scandal is nothing new for the mothership. ESPN has made itself famous for its sports coverage, but also infamous for its behind-the-scenes scandals that have turned the network into a punchline at times. Jeremy Green, the son of former NFL head coach Dennis Green, is just the latest."
It then went on to name some of the scandals.
ESPN is getting the exclusive LeBron interview tonight. Is the deal equivalent to paying King James for the scoop?
"Did ESPN just get 'mediajacked'?" Brian Steinberg asked Wednesday on AdAge.com.
"Normally, an event as important and interesting as basketball wunderkind LeBron James announcing what team he has chosen to play for would be a national, even global, event — with coverage supplied by hundreds of different media outlets.
"Come Thursday, in prime time no less, ESPN gets the exclusive. But to do it, the Disney sports network appears to have sacrificed revenue — and even some journalistic control by letting Mr. James choose one of his interviewers — in exchange for the ratings and buzz the event is likely to provide.
"Commercial revenue from the special program — which is being called 'The Decision' — will be donated to Boys & Girls [Clubs] of America, a charity that ESPN and Disney also support. The ESPN show will be 'co-presented' by the University of Phoenix and Microsoft's Bing search engine, with Coca-Cola's VitaminWater and McDonald's also lending a sponsorship hand. Nike and Coca-Cola's Sprite are also making contributions, a fact one might theorize could come to light during the airing of Mr. James' special.
"The only commercial time in the hour-long special not featuring Mr. James's sponsors is the local time designated to cable and satellite operators, said Norby Williamson, ESPN's exec VP-production. Mr. James' representatives approached the network with the idea, he said.
"ESPN said the deal was not equivalent to paying the athlete for the scoop.
" 'Times change and needs change and people's desires change and other parameters are put on things,' said Mr. Williamson, but ESPN seems to think the 'unique' arrangement works both from a business and editorial standpoint. 'We ultimately had a decision to make. This event could have ended up on the internet. It could have ended up on another network. This event was going to end up somewhere, so we had a decision to make as a corporation and a news entity. Are we comfortable with the parameters that have been laid out?' "
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: LeBron's Television Special
ESPN.com: LeBron's announcement coming soon
Milton Kent, NBA Fanhouse: ESPN Defends LeBron James Special
How Relevant Is a Suspect's Race?
Tiffany Goldman, a 21-year-old woman in Des Moines, Iowa, was brutally raped and her boyfriend pistol-whipped last month by three men who also stole their belongings.
Gilbert Cranberg, a longtime editorial page editor at the Des Moines Register who retired in the early 1980s, criticized his former paper for not mentioning that the men were black. "When fugitives are at large, it’s undeniably useful to know a person’s color in narrowing the field of suspects," he wrote June 22 on the Nieman Watchdog site.
A Des Moines Register video of the victimized couple does show the fiance, Brad Evans, eventually describing his tormenters as "African American."
More important: A spokeswoman for the Des Moines Police Department says police actually have more detail than the description of "three black males" that Cranberg said should be published — but that even the added detail is "way too broad" to be helpful.
That real-world assessment from Sgt. Lori Lavorato flies in the face of some viewers, readers and even journalists who maintain that publishing racial descriptions of suspects, however vague, helps in their apprehension.
"We don't identify someone's race unless we have other identifying information as well," Register Editor Carolyn Washburn told Journal-isms on Wednesday. "In this case, we only knew at the beginning that the suspects were black men. That vague description would only serve to make all black men suspects and would not help narrow the search. We waited until we had slightly more detail a few days later, but even then there wasn't much description.
"I thought that approach was still pretty typical across news organizations. Has that changed?"
It depends. One can still hear suspects racially identified in the broadcast media and in smaller-circulation print publications. It's a perennial topic for public editors who hear from readers accusing their news organizations of being "politically correct" by omitting race. It was only five years ago that Michael Getler, ombudsman for the Washington Post — now at PBS — wrote, "There is something about withholding information that the police make public that is troubling in a case such as this. It seems to me that the chance that it may be helpful is what's important and that people will understand that."
Here are the police descriptions of the Des Moines suspects, all "black males, about 20 to 23," Lavorato said.
Suspect One: Wearing braids, in possession of a .32 semi-automatic, a black shirt, red bandana, 6'3", 150 pounds, black hair, unknown eye color. Second suspect: Approximately 23 years old, black shirt, black do-rag, black bandana, .22 caliber rifle with a pistol grip; 6'1", unknown hair color and eye color. Third: Wore all black clothes, a black bandana, carrying a handgun, about 23 years old, 6 feet, 180 pounds, unknown hair and eye color.
"We haven't had any good information" from the public since those descriptions were released, Lavorato said. "In general, this is way too broad. . . . This information isn't going to help."
Many news organizations have policies such as this, at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"We do not identify an individual by race unless the information is clearly relevant. In crime stories in which authorities seek a fugitive, a racial designation is included as part of a very detailed description that provides enough information to aid in the capture of a suspect. We should take the position that designating a person as white or black, or some other racial classification, does not provide information, necessarily, on what the person looks like. A person's complexion, facial features, distinguishing marks may all be part of a detailed description. The same theory holds for unidentified bodies in a police investigation. We do not identify them as black or white, or any other racial classification, unless it is part of a detailed description."
Some factors to consider:
- How specific is the police description?
Bill Ketter, who was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1995-96 and later edited the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune, told his staff, "Reporters should always press police for details that distinguish suspects from other persons of the same racial or ethnic group."
What does a "black male" or a Latino look like?
Eleven years ago, Keith Woods, then of the Poynter Institute, wrote an essay, "The Language of Race," in which he said:
"All racial and ethnic groups do share some common physical characteristics. Still, we don't see the phrase 'Irish-looking man' in the newspaper, though red hair and pale skin are common Irish characteristics. Would a picture come to mind if a TV anchor said, 'The suspect appeared to be Italian'? Couldn't many of us conjure an image if the police said they were looking for a middle-aged man described as 'Jewish-looking'?
"There are good reasons those descriptions never see the light of day. They generalize. They stereotype. And they require that everyone who hears the description has the same idea of what those folks look like. All Irish-Americans don't look alike. Why, then, accept a description that says a suspect was African-American?'"
What are the chances that the constant repetition of suspect descriptions as "black male" or "Hispanic male" will lead readers and viewers to view all members of that group in that way?
Who can forget the cases of whites who performed crimes and, to deflect suspicion, lied and said a black or Hispanic person did the deed?
How good are eyewitness identifications, anyway?
"Over 175 people have been wrongfully convicted based, in part, on eyewitness misidentification and later proven innocent through DNA testing," the Innocence Project reported last year. "The total number of wrongful convictions involving eyewitness misidentifications exceeds this figure, given the widespread use of eyewitness testimony and the limited number of cases in which DNA evidence is available for post-conviction testing."
As the psychiatrist Steve Rubenezer wrote on the subject of wrongful identifications, "Expectations influence what people see — or think they see."
Tom Alex, Des Moines Register: Couple move from home after June 15 invasion
Stephen A. Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer leaves his post, Comcast pledges more Hispanic programming and Kagan welcomes cameras into the courtroom. Plus, other happenings in journalism and the publising industry.
End of Strained Relationship Means "Sky's the Limit"
"I'm as happy as I've been for a long time," Smith told Journal-isms on Wednesday. "I get to do what I really want to do. Anything's possible. The sky's the limit."
Bill Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, said in his own statement, "Stephen made a major contribution to The Inquirer during his 15½ years at the newspaper, and we wish him well in his future work." He did not return a call seeking further comment.
Marimow fired Smith, the highest paid employee in the Inquirer newsroom, in 2007, precipitating a two-year tug of war involving The Newspaper Guild, arbitrations and high-powered lawyers at the ready. Marimow testified at an arbitration hearing that he thought Smith was making too much money given the layoffs taking place at the paper.
So Marimow demoted Smith, who had branched into radio and television, from columnist to general assignment reporter. When Smith refused the new assignment, he was fired. Smith and the guild took the demotion to arbitration and won, but the Inquirer still did not take him back.
The columnist returned to the paper in February only after agreeing to the Inquirer's demand that he remove political opinions from his website and agree to stop espousing them on cable news shows. Smith and the guild decided to leave the fairness of that restriction to arbitrators.
Did he and Marimow finally come to terms? "Yes, we have," Smith told Journal-isms. "He's happy; I'm happy. We're moving upward and forward."
Smith has continued his broadcast appearances, guesting recently on ABC's "The View" and hosting the morning drive-time show he began in January on Fox Sports Radio.
As reported last week, Smith is in preliminary talks with the Showtime cable network to host a late-night program.
"I'd sincerely like to take a moment to thank the Philadelphia Inquirer for 15½ mostly wonderful years," Smith said in a statement. "I can honestly say I would not be where I am today, nor would I have been able to achieve the things I achieved, had it not been for the wonderful opportunity granted to me back in 1994.
"But all things must come to an end. At some point, it's necessary to move on and explore new, adventurous opportunities, which is precisely what I'm doing and I'm incredibly excited about.
"Still, I'd like to acknowledge the tremendous level of gratitude I feel for the opportunity afforded to me. I wish the paper well for the future, as I'm certain they will do for me."
[There will be no "goodbye" column, Michael Klein reported on the Inquirer website.]
Surprise at Spy Charge Against El Diario Columnist
"Vicky Pelaez was not one to pull punches," Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Shawn Cohen and Jonathan Bandler wrote for the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., on Wednesday.
"The fiery activist and columnist for the Spanish-language El Diario newspaper railed against Arizona's controversial immigration law and U.S. human rights abuses, and once likened the nation's jail system to slavery.
"The Yonkers resident was a featured speaker at a May Day rally at Union Square Park in New York City, and was as politically passionate with friends as she was in print.
"Nothing, however, prepared friends and colleagues for the federal complaint filed this week against Pelaez and her husband, Juan Lazaro, who taught political science at Baruch College, in New York City.
"The Yonkers couple were among 10 people charged as part of an alleged spy ring that investigators said had been selling information to Russia.
"'I can't believe it,' said freelance journalist Lilliana Bringa, a close friend of Pelaez's. 'When I heard, I went right to El Diario to hear from the editor if it was true."
In the New York Daily News, columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote, "Of the accused Russian spies the FBI nabbed this week, none surprised more people than Spanish-language journalist Vicky Pelaez.
"The others, after all, even Pelaez's husband, Juan Lazaro, were obscure figures."
Mary Zerafa, a spokeswoman for ImpreMedia, the Spanish-language media company that owns El Diaro, told Journal-isms that the company had no statements to make about Pelaez and that El Diario was covering the story as it covers others.
"Gerson Borrero, a columnist and former editor-in-chief of the paper, wrote (in Spanish) that Pelaez was fearless and outspoken but never wrote about Russia or the former Soviet bloc," Ben Smith reported in Politico.
" 'I am as surprised and perplexed by the [charges] of Russian espionage as everyone else. But I confess that when I learned of them, I laughed aloud,' he writes, going on to attack the FBI as 'discredited' since the days of J. Edgar Hoover."
On New York's WNYC Radio, a host asked reporter Marianne McCune what people who know Pelaez were saying.
"Many are in total disbelief. A court reporter there, Candida Portugues, says she's been working with Pelaez for seven years, and admires her work, admires that she speaks frankly about what she believes. And you could hear in our phone conversation how blown away she is by this arrest. . . .
"Portugues said she agreed to talk to me because she's afraid no one will take it upon themselves to stand up for Pelaez. She says she is a serious journalist, a lover of painting — she takes painting classes two or three nights a week — and a very involved mother. Her younger son is a pianist."
- Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio: Alleged Russian Spy Saga Fuels Intrigue
N.Y. Times Wants "Newsroom That Knows America"
In light of Monday's report in this space that this year's New York Times summer interns include no African Americans, Abbe Serphos, director of public relations for the New York Times Co., forwarded these remarks about diversity delivered by Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to his newsroom in staff meetings on June 3:
"Our preoccupation with the business of journalism in recent years has meant that some important subjects have been crowded to the periphery of these meetings. One of them is diversity.
"There was some worry, based on the experience of other news organizations, that the two rounds of staff cuts and a virtual hiring freeze might represent a setback for diversity. Thankfully that was not the case if you look at the big picture. In overall numbers, our minority representation — a little over 18 percent — is as high as it has ever been. But that number disguises a serious problem: The representation of African-Americans in American journalism — and especially in the upper ranks — continues to be a serious rebuke to the industry's professed commitment to diversity. While the numbers of Asian-Americans and Latinos at The Times have grown, the number of African-Americans has declined — a trend that holds true across the industry, according to the tracking of the ASNE and NABJ.
"I’ve said in the past that diversity is not simply about addressing legal and historical imbalances, or assuaging liberal guilt, or juggling numbers. It is not mainly about being morally right or politically correct. The point is not, as Bill Clinton once said of his cabinet, that we want a newsroom that looks like America. The point is, we want a newsroom that knows America, in all of its variety, from firsthand experience. In other words, The Times needs a staff diverse enough to speak not only to the Washington foreign policy establishment and the political leadership in Albany, but fluent in the cultures of all of America's communities, Latino and Asian, black and white, rural and urban, military and civilian, devout believer and skeptic, so that we can reproduce those voices with as much fidelity as possible. That imperative — that journalistic imperative — has only grown as the country itself has become more diverse.
"We have to do better.
"There are some factors that make it harder.
"When the newsroom normally hired 50 or 60 people a year, we could actually make a recruiting and hiring plan, and move the needle on diversity. Now we hire only very rarely, generally for jobs we can’t fill from within or because we have a chance to poach an extraordinary talent from a competitor. The outside hiring is ad hoc, and it’s harder to develop a strategy. Moreover, a good deal of our hiring is for technical specialties, especially in new media, where African-Americans are grossly under-represented. Among the handful of people we have hired since the first of the year, we have added no minorities to our staff.
"Again, we have to do better.
''Dana Canedy now chairs a group, including Jill, John, Bill Schmidt and Susan Edgerley, that is focusing on several aspects of diversity. One is tracking some of our more talented editors and reporters of color to ensure their career development. I will not get into specific names, but there will be several announcements in the coming days and weeks that, I hope, will show you this effort is bearing fruit. [The references are to Senior Editor Canedy; Jill Abramson and John M. Geddes, who are managing editors; Deputy Managing Editor William E. Schmidt and Assistant Managing Editor Edgerley.]
"Second, since we have not been doing much hiring in the last year or so, our recruiting and hiring pipeline has gone pretty dry. So Dana is now involved in a project, with the full support of senior management, to entirely rethink and rebuild that structure to ensure, among other things, that when we DO have the opportunity to hire, we will be hiring from the most talented and most diverse pool of candidates possible. Given the state of the industry, there is a lot of talent out there, looking for a new home. If people on our staff are aware of great candidates — particularly candidates of color — they should share their names with us, and make sure we have them on our radar.
"It’s important that The Times continues to be an industry leader, as far as reaching out to communities of color in an effort to develop journalistic talent, and not just for The Times. At the end of May, we wrapped up our eighth institute in New Orleans for young African-American journalists, a program that brings in college students from across the nation, including a cohort from the historically black colleges mostly in the South, for a two-week long hands-on session, producing a two-section newspaper and a daily website. Don Hecker, who runs the program, tells me that since it began in 2003, more than 305 young people [have] been trained by a group of faculty drawn from our staff, and the staffs of The [Boston] Globe and the regional newspapers as well. Many of them now work at websites and newspapers across the country, including more than a dozen who have been employed within The Times family. And in January, we also do a similar program for Latino college students, alternating each year between Miami and Tucson.
"I thank the many of you who have participated in these training sessions, and I solicit your ideas for how we do better."
NBC, Comcast Pledge More Hispanic Programming, Hiring
"Comcast and NBC Universal are agreeing to step up Hispanic programming and hiring as part of an agreement to help win Hispanic groups OK of their $30 billion deal," Ira Teinowitz reported Wednesday for theWrap.com.
"Comcast has come in for criticism for underrepresentation of Hispanics on its board, while NBCU has drawn criticism for not having enough Hispanic execs.
"The agreement was announced Wednesday with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Some of the groups have previously questioned the deal."
Among the additions to previously announced concessions:
- "NBCU is committed to increasing news and information choices for Hispanic viewers, including a plan to work with an independent producer on a weekly business news program.
- "Comcast will add a Hispanic to its corporate board within two years."
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposes the merger. "Companies like Comcast and NBC may try to sell us on why consolidation will benefit our community. But we know better. It never happens once the deal is done. Instead, Latino journalists are laid off and our community continues to be marginalized in news coverage," Ivan Roman, NAHJ's executive director, said in April.
Kagan Reiterates Support for Cameras at Supreme Court
"You want forthcoming? Well, the Kagan hearings so far haven’t mimicked the confessional tone of MTV’s 'The Hills,' but they’ve revealed a bit more than did last year’s hearings involving Sonia Sotomayor," Nathan Koppel wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
"For starters, Kagan Tuesday morning didn’t hedge when asked her opinion of cameras in the courtroom. 'I think it would be a great thing for the institution and for the American people' to have cameras, she said, adding 'I’m open to being persuaded I’m wrong.' Wow. A far cry from David Souter’s cameras 'over my dead body' proclamation."
In a C-SPAN poll on the Supreme Court [PDF], 63 percent of voters said they support television camera coverage of the court’s oral arguments.
- Adrienne T. Washington, Afro-American Newspapers: Giving Kagan a Second Thought
- Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Trashing an Icon? No Big Deal
Clarence Thomas Gives Voice to Black Gun-Rights Backers
In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that her black minister father "and his friends armed themselves to defended the black community in Birmingham, Ala., against the White Knight Riders in 1962 and 1963. She said if local authorities had had lists of registered weapons, she did not think her father and other blacks would have been able to defend themselves," Barry Schweid of the Associated Press reported then.
Some African Americans have long been in favor of gun rights, but it was not until Monday's Supreme Court decision about gun rights in Chicago, in which a 5-to-4 vote gave Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old black man the right to buy a handgun, that African Americans who oppose gun control received much media attention.
"He hardly ever speaks during oral arguments, often appearing asleep on the bench. But in his written opinion Monday supporting the right to bear arms, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas roared to life.
"Referring to the disarming of blacks during the post-Reconstruction era, Thomas wrote: 'It was the "duty" of white citizen patrols to search negro houses and other suspected places for firearms.' If they found any firearms, the patrols were to take the offending slave or free black 'to the nearest justice of the peace' whereupon he would be 'severely punished.' " Never again, Thomas says.
"In a scorcher of an opinion that reads like a mix of black history lesson and Black Panther Party manifesto, he goes on to say, 'Militias such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces and the '76 Association spread terror among blacks. . . . The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.'
"This was no muttering from an Uncle Tom, as many black people have accused him of being. His advocacy for black self-defense "is straight from the heart of Malcolm X. He even cites the slave revolts led by Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner -- implying that white America has long wanted to take guns away from black people out of fear that they would seek revenge for centuries of racial oppression."