A death toll that doesn't get compared to the obvious; the Sherrod case and the media, and more.
"The article was largely buried in most newspapers, if run at all," columnist Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote Thursday for the Washington Post Writers Group.
"So many bodies of unauthorized migrants are being found in the Arizona desert this month, the Associated Press reported, that the Pima County Medical Examiner was stacking them like boxes of fish in a refrigerated truck.
"Forty bodies were found in just the first half of the month.
"Last year, 317 Americans died fighting in Afghanistan. Guess how many migrants, mostly Mexicans searching for work, died crossing illegally into America? The Border Patrol collected 422 in the last fiscal year, part of a rising trend.
"And most die in the desert. Here is how Luis Alberto Urrea, in his book, 'The Devil's Highway,' described what happens:
"Dehydration had reduced all your inner streams to sluggish mudholes. . . . Your sweat runs out. . . . Your temperature redlines — you hit 105, 106, 108 degrees. . . . Your muscles, lacking water, feed on themselves. They break down and start to rot. . . . The system closes down in a series. Your kidney, your bladder, your heart.'
"Yet these deaths figure little in the debate over immigration. There is faint sense of scandal, of tragedy or, certainly, of urgency to agree on a solution. The extremists rule, with one side calling for more enforcement and the other saying enforcement doesn't work.
"The former has the louder voice today, making it the bigger culprit, but the latter — humanitarian groups, for one — share in the blame. They seem not to find any enforcement policy they like, abandoning responsibility.
"The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is caught in the middle, a Gulliver tied by Lilliputians and unable to take command of the fight."
Schumacher-Matos is a former editor and reporter with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal with extensive experience in Florida and Latin America. He writes pieces every other Sunday for the Miami Herald, "taking up issues in the news, answering questions from readers and critiquing how The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald handle topics of significance."
The Associated Press piece he referenced, by Amanda Lee Myers, showed up in only a handful of papers, according to a Nexis search. It did not make the comparison with Afghanistan deaths, as Schumacher-Matos did.
- Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Silent Immigration 'Reform'
- Raul Reyes, USA Today: Arizona pols stoke immigration myths
- Albor Ruiz, New York Daily News: Join New York rally against Arizona immigration law and Jan Brewer
- Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Fort Worth rancher changes mind on illegal immigrants
President Obama hoped that his signing of financial-reform legislation Wednesday would dominate White House news, but the Shirley Sherrod affair eclipsed it. (Credit: Lawrence Jackson/White House)
President Obama and his aides made sure to note that the 24-hour news cycle and the failure of the news media to do due diligence was partly to blame for the embarrassing debacle in which black Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod was unjustly fired over an out-of-context tape excerpt that portrayed her as biased against whites.
Many in the news media asked themselves whether they had forgotten basic rules of the profession — and then reiterated them.
Commentators took the occasion to examine how difficult it was for the nation — and the administration headed by the first black president — to talk about race.
Some did anyway. The Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, for example, paired its editorial on the Sherrod affair with another about racist language used by local officials. The mayor of nearby Cobbleskill resigned, "unable to explain why he might have used one of the most racist words imaginable." The editorial recalled that "James Tuffey's downfall as Albany police chief came as he was accused of saying that a white college student murdered in 2008 'wasn't just some spook.' "
The National Association of Black Journalists was trying to secure Sherrod for its convention in San Diego next week.
A longer-than-usual syndicated column by Roland S. Martin, "The Perils of Race in the 21st Century," included this mea culpa: "Was I wrong in assuming that we had the full story of Sherrod at the outset? Yes. Was a snap judgment made based upon that? Yes. Has it happened before? Of course!"
Friday's edition of the subscription-only tip sheet the Frontrunner attempted to summarize the news coverage of the preceding 24 hours:
"For a second day, the Shirley Sherrod story dominated national news coverage, with the President personally calling Sherrod and giving a TV interview in which he faulted USDA chief Tom Vilsack's handling of the controversy. Referring to Vilsack, Obama told ABC World News (7/22, story 2, 2:50, Leamy, 8.2M), 'He jumped the gun partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles. And I told my team, and I told my agencies that we have to make sure we're focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.'
"On TV, the story led ABC News and ran third and fourth respectively on the line-ups of NBC [Nightly] News and the CBS Evening News. The networks also ran follow-up pieces, and devoted a combined total of 12 minutes to the story, up from 11 minutes and 40 seconds the night before. National print outlets, meanwhile, continue to devote headlines (though not on their front pages) to recounting and analyzing the facts. Both on TV and print, the President's call to Sherrod is being generally described in positive terms, but analysts are still calling the story a political loser for the White House, as it distracts public attention from the President's signing of legislation to shore up the economy and instead places the spotlight on the divisive issue of race. . . .
"The AP (7/23, Jalonick) reports that Sherrod has not shied 'away from telling her story on television. She hopped from network to network' and let 'CNN film part of her call with Obama as she traveled the streets of New York City in a car.' . . .
"The New York Times (7/23, Stolberg, 1.09M) reports that in the aftermath of the Sherrod flap, Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Charles J. Ogletree Jr., 'a Harvard law professor who represented [Henry Louis] Gates, suggested the president should now convene a national conference on race relations. Ward Connerly, a black conservative who leads an institute devoted to fighting racial preferences, endorsed the idea.' Axelrod, however, 'threw cold water on the notion, saying Mr. Obama has 'pressing matters that are significant to all Americans,' like the economy."
"The CBS Evening News (7/22, story 4, 2:15, Couric, 6.1M) reported that 'the Sherrod case has put a spotlight on the USDA's long history of discrimination against black farmers.' . . .
"Politico (7/23, Vogel, 25K) reports, 'An unrepentant Andrew Breitbart told POLITICO on Thursday that the Obama administration and its allies have manufactured a controversy over the video he posted of...Sherrod's speech to the NAACP as part of an orchestrated effort to take him down.'"
- ABC News: 'GMA' Transcript: President Obama on Financial Reform, Elizabeth Warren and Shirley Sherrod
- Will Bunch, Huffington Post: The Story Behind the 1965 Killing of Sherrod's Dad
- Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Shirley Sherrod: 'Where are we headed?'
- Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: On Lacking All Conviction
- Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News: Learning to appreciate that which unites us
- Merlene Davis, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: It's time to move past Obama's skin color
- Paul Delaney on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," WAMU-FM, Washington: Media and Racism (audio)
- Stephane Dunn, New Black Man: The Sherrod Effect
- Editorial, Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union: A casualty of hate talk ...
- Editorial, Los Angeles Times: Shirley Sherrod and a 'post-racial' America
- Editorial, Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal: Lessons from the USDA-Shirley Sherrod debacle: Take time to learn the facts before judging others
- Editorial, Savannah (Ga.) Morning News: Sherrod firing: Drive-by shooting
- Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times: Bill O'Reilly apologizes to Shirley Sherrod for 'not doing my homework'
- Rick Horowitz, Huffington Post: The Shirley Sherrod Story: Breitbart Plays the Media Card
- Clyde Hughes blog, The Media: Why we suck! Shirley Sherrod and fairness
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson, syndicated: Black farmers are the real victims of USDA discrimination
- Institute for Southern Studies: The real story of racism at the USDA
- Bill Krueger, Poynter Institute: Bloggers Just As Squeamish Covering Race as Traditional Media
- Errol Louis, New York Daily News: Breitbart & Co. trash the truth: USDA official Shirley Sherrod was just the most recent casualty
- Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times: White House fails to stand up to GOP pundits
- Steve Myers, Poynter Institute: Shirley Sherrod Story Shows Waves and Undercurrents in a Media Tsunami
- Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Right words on race get harder to hear
- Michael O'Brien, the Hill: Black Caucus head: Government ‘held hostage’ by Fox and other media
- Richard Prince discusses Wednesday's column with Keith Murphy on XM Satellite/Sirius Radio: The Urban Journal (7/23 pt. 1)
- Richard Prince and Andy Carvin with Michel Martin on "Tell Me More," NPR: The Tricky Ethics Of Video In A YouTube Era
- Rem Rieder, American Journalism Review: The lessons of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco
- Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Shirley Sherrod, Fox, NAACP, USDA and Obama
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Obama needs to stand up to 'reverse racism' ploy
- Tony Rogers, About.com: Lessons Journalists Can Learn From the Shirley Sherrod Video Fiasco
- Greg Sargent, Washington Post: Calling out news media in Sherrod flap
- Craig Silverman, Regret the Error: Breitbart’s Shirley Sherrod correction leaves much to be desired
- David Squires, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Amos & Andy without black face
- Elmer Smith, Philadelphia Daily News: Breitbart's a hack who doesn't know right-wing from wrong
- Mark Streeter cartoon, Savannah (Ga.) Morning News: Teachable Moments and Lessons Unlearned
- Jim Naureckas, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: In USA Today, Breitbart's Old Lies Live On
- E.R. Shipp, theRoot.com: Rangel Defiant
- Alex Weprin, TVNewser: Charles Rangel Apologizes to Luke Russert Following Heated Exchange
- Wayne Dawkins, Politicsincolor.com: Vacation over; pressure Obama, docile African-American voters
Veteran newsman Daniel Schorr, a pioneer of broadcast journalism who was part of Edward R. Murrow’s legendary CBS team, died peacefully Friday after a short illness at age 93, his family informed NPR, the public radio network announced on Friday.
Journalists of color remembered Schorr in the context of his times and for the friendship he offered.
Schorr "was part of the generation of white reporters that gave credence to the movement by covering it fairly, meaning, shining light on the horrors of jim crow, voting denial & lynching, forcing white americans to finally confront those realities," Paul Delaney, a retired senior editor at the New York Times who was among the first generation of black reporters at the outset of the civil rights movement, said by e-mail. "Dan, along with Gene Roberts, Claude Sitton, John Herbers, Karl Fleming, Reese Cleghorn, Sandy Vanocur, Johnny Popham, Herb Kaplow, Fred Powledge & Jack Nelson, put rights issues on front pages of major papers & on the evening news, w/o much of the racist slant of most southern media," Delaney continued.
"I have soooo many stories of working with Dan Schorr but the main thing I got from him was that no matter who is on the other side of the table or microphone, they are to be treated with dignity," Doug Mitchell, chair of the Media Institute of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote to the NABJ e-mail list. Sometime between 1989 and 1992, when he was Schorr's producer at NPR, Mitchell went with Schorr to meet former president Richard M. Nixon, whose administration had placed him on its "enemies list."
Schorr's manners were on display. "My parents taught me that. Dan's actions simply reinforced it," Mitchell said. "It was an honor to be his producer for the short time I was in that role."
Another former NPR colleague, Eugene Holley, told Journal-isms in a Facebook message, "I never told this to anyone. When I was an Intern at NPR on M St. my boss, Thurston Briscoe, gave me my first assignment: A Morning Edition arts feature on jazz pianist Kirk Lightsey, scheduled for airing on Jan. 1, 1987. I was in the editing booth the day before the air date — crashing, depressed, and angry because it wasn't coming together. I was near tears, and I was getting ready to quit, when Mr. Schorr appeared out of nowhere, and without saying a word, he put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a warm smile and gave me the confidence to go on... Thank you Mr. Schorr!
"A House ethics panel’s ruling that Charlie Rangel violated congressional rules is big news all around today, as it should be," Holly Yeager wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review. "But it’s worth noting that The New York Times got this ball rolling with some pretty good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism, and disappointing that other media organizations aren’t acknowledging that in their coverage.
"The hard work from the Times on the Rangel beat started a little more than two years ago. . . .
"The NYT did a lot of hard work on this story. Giving the paper credit isn’t just about good manners, or about making it easy for readers to understand exactly how all this got started and what’s an original bit of reporting and what isn’t — though we’re definitely in favor of all of that.
"It’s about supporting other organizations when they take on difficult, and risky, projects, and the hard work of good journalism. After all, with risk should come some reward."
The career of syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. took off after Sept. 11, 2001, when he wrote a column on the terrorist attacks that drew more than 26,000 e-mails and was posted on the Internet, chain-letter style. "You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard," Pitts wrote, addressing the terrorists. He went on to win a 2004 Pulitzer Prize.
"Yes, putting that building in that place might be painful and provocative," Pitts wrote on Wednesday, "but it would also be a reminder of the very values the terrorists sought to kill. And we seem to need that reminder more everyday."
Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, participated last weekend in the Harlem Book Fair. He plans to retire in 2011. (Video) (Credit: C-Span)
Increasingly each February, African American columnists have taken to debating the idea of Black History Month, especially since the 2008 election of President Obama and the supposedly "postracial" era that ushered in. Howard Dodson plans to retire next year as director of New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. On his radio talk show Wednesday, Michael Eric Dyson, the Georgetown University professor, asked Dodson, "What do you think about this move to get rid of black history?"
"What we think we know about American history, a significant percentage of it is false. Not only [does] the black community need to be, if you will, interrogating its past, and bringing its voice to the definition of what is American history, but many of the other groups, including many of the white ethnic groups, are actually voiceless in the contemporary writing of American history.
"There's this magical thing that happens in these two major periods in most of the textbooks, where you have whites coming in from Europe as Irish, Italian, etc., and during the Colonial period and during the late 19th century, they arrive and they are recognized for the people that they are. And then they mysteriously become 'white,' and somehow or another they cease to be Irish, Italian and all of the rest of that. And anybody in their right mind knows that economic and political and social power in America is organized on the basis of race and ethnicity, and so any American history that doesn't tell that story is not telling the truth.
"The same thing is true about the black experience. If we understand the truth about the black experience, what people claim to be the interpretation of American history has to in fact be rewritten and rethought, and contextualized.
"I'll say this for your audience. One of those basic demographic facts that insists that we do some rewriting: Between 1492 and 1776 and (for) roughly the first 300 years of what we call the European colonization of America, 6½ million people crossed the Atlantic, and settled in the Americas — North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
"Of those original pioneering 6½ million people, only 1 million of them were European. The other 5½ million were African. And the history that we have of, not just of the United States but of the Americas, does not reflect that demographic fact. And until the truth is told about those, if you will, pioneer people — those pioneer African people, and their role in shaping, defining the culture and character of the Americas, we're living a bunch of lies.
"And I just feel that not only should black history continue, there needs to be more of it. And quite frankly, black history should be called a defining element in determining the character of American history if we are going to have what we call a true history. It's time that we redouble the effort."
The firing of Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod — over racial remarks that were taken out of context — raises judgment questions not only about the Obama administration and the NAACP, whose president is a former journalist, but about the news media.
The firing of Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod — over racial remarks that were taken out of context — raises judgment questions not only about the Obama administration and the NAACP, whose president is a former journalist, but about the news media.
"This whole saga confirms, as if it needed confirmation," veteran journalist Paul Delaney told Journal-isms by e-mail on Wednesday, "sloppy 'journalism' is the thing this year & it can be toxic, sometimes [irreparably] so. what are we going to do about it???"
Delaney, a retired senior editor at the New York Times, picks up a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists next week.
The need for unsloppy journalism couldn't be clearer in an era when right-wingers with an agenda have set their targets on the news media and come back with victories obtained by questionable means — from edited video sound bites of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the 2008 presidential race to the successful campaign to discredit ACORN, the agency designed to help low-income people.
"Despite long-standing charges from conservatives that the news media are determinedly liberal and ignore conservative ideas, the news media agenda is easily permeated by a persistent media campaign, even when there is little or no truth to the story," two professors warned after studying the 2008 race.
"In the instance of the 2008 presidential election, the conservative echo chamber’s allegations about ACORN, mostly unfounded, became one of the news media’s major stories of the campaign."
Last week, it was the New Black Panther Party, a fringe group alleged by conservatives to be the beneficiary of racial solidarity from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The group allegedly sought to escape responsibility for supposedly intimidating black voters in Philadelphia nearly two years ago. The detractors won an acknowledgment from Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander that the Post should have been faster on the story. Wednesday's report on the Sherrod case went on the front page.
The White House formally apologized Wednesday to Sherrod, who until Tuesday was the rural development director for the Agriculture Department’s state office in Georgia. "The apology capped what had been a humiliating and fast-paced turn of events for the White House, the national media and the N.A.A.C.P., all of whom, Mr. Gibbs said, overreacted to a video that appeared to show Ms. Sherrod saying that she had discriminated against a white farmer.
"The remarks were taken out of context," as Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Sarah Wheaton reported for the New York Times. Their reference was to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who fielded questions about the debacle at his media briefing. Benjamin Jealous, a former journalist who heads the NAACP, apologized earlier for denouncing Sherrod without having seen the full video.
"Snippets of that speech — a heavily edited version — made their way through the Internet and were played by Fox News on Tuesday, which used them in the context of reporting about the N.A.A.C.P. last week accusing parts of the Tea Party movement of being racist."
[There was disagreement over Fox News' role. In the Washington Post on Thursday, Howard Kurtz wrote, "But for all the chatter — some of it from Sherrod herself — that she was done in by Fox News, the network didn't touch the story until her forced resignation was made public Monday evening, with the exception of brief comments by [Bill] O'Reilly."
[But Fox's own website story Tuesday said, "The Agriculture Department announced Monday, shortly after FoxNews.com published its initial report on the video, that Sherrod had resigned.]
To Sherrod at least, Fox News is clear in its agenda.
"They were looking for the result they got yesterday," she told Joe Strupp of Media Matters for America, referring to her firing. "I am just a pawn. I was just here. They are after a bigger thing, they would love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person."
Meanwhile, instead of deploying more gatekeepers to keep such influences — real or perceived — in check, the migration of news to the Internet has meant the mainstream media are giving us fewer.
In Washington, for example, the deep-pocketed Robert Allbritton, whose company funds Politico as well as the local ABC affiliate and an all-news cable outlet, is preparing to launch a hyperlocal website, TBD, led by General Manager James M. Brady, formerly executive editor of washingtonpost.com, and Erik Wemple, former editor of the Washington City Paper.
"TBD at its inception will employ no editors whose sole function is copy editing," Wemple told Journal-isms by e-mail on Wednesday, speaking of those once called "the last line of defense."
"We screened our editors for copy skills by administering a copy-editing test to each one. Those whom we hired did quite well on it. We'll rely heavily on those skills from the start, but as with any web-first or web-only operation, we'll need our reporters to deliver clean copy in every blog post and article. Would we prefer to have a squadron of copy editors? No doubt. Faced with a choice between hiring copy editors or reporters, though, we went with the latter. We'll leave it to you and others to judge how smart an idea that was."
Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, wrote on Wednesday, "Sherrod's case shows exactly why fair-minded news outlets should be careful — taking time to make sure these stories trumpeted by media outlets with clear political agendas are examined carefully.
"It's time to put the brakes on a runaway media culture open to manipulation and subversion; outlets moving slowly on stories shouldn't necessarily be penalized.
"Reporting on Sherrod's case without looking closely at media's role in amplifying it misses the biggest aspect of the story, moving the incident into the more comfortable confines of politics rather than news [outlets'] own conflicted values and compromised news judgments."
Later in the day, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza agreed: Referring to Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the misleading video, Cillizza wrote, "The story being played out in the press is now entirely focused on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the White House — a process story about who knew what when — rather than on where Breitbart got the video and whether he knew it was edited in such a way as to make Sherrod look bad. (For his part, Breitbart isn't revealing where the video came from and insists that he does not have the full-length video of Sherrod's full remarks.)
In his new book, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One," Jonathan Alter told how media mogul Rupert Murdoch wanted to endorse Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign. But Roger Ailes, who heads Murdoch's Fox News Channel, insisted that such an endorsement would be bad for business. Murdoch capitulated and endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican.
In today's environment, more media outfits are willing to tailor the news to appeal to what they consider the most profitable political demographic. Perhaps as cynically, more Internet news startups seem to be more about achieving business objectives than journalistic ones.
News consumers must demand better, but will they? Will news media feel any heat over their roles in the Sherrod debacle?
Chris Ariens, TVNewser: The Shirley Sherrod News Cycle
Brent Baker, NewsBusters: Nets Which Promoted NAACP’s Attack on Tea Party Treat Sherrod as Victim; NBC First to Voter Intimidation
Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro blog: The Reverse Race Card
Todd Steven Burroughs, NewsOne: Shirley Sherrod: When Racists Brandish Videos, Not White Robes
Charlie Cobb Jr., theRoot.com: A friend takes a look at the real Shirley Sherrod
Bruce Crawley, Philadelphia Tribune: Black is the New Black in the Media
Mary C. Curtis, Politics Daily: Shirley Sherrod Wasn't a Coward -- and She Paid the Price
Eric Easter, ebonyjet.com: The NAACP: “Snookered”, Hoodwinked, & Bamboozled
Sam Fulwood III, Center for American Progress: Oldsters Mix It Up over Race
Frances Martel, mediaite: Andrew Breitbart To CNN’s John King: "I Did Not Fire Shirley Sherrod"
Huffington Post: Bill O'Reilly: Fox News Better, More Influential Than Network News (VIDEO)
Journal-isms: Helen Thomas' Sisters: Media Got It Wrong [June 9]
Audrey Kuo, AAJA Voices, Asian American Journalists Association: Copy editors are essential – even online (2009)
Joel Meares, Columbia Journalism Review: Et Tu, WaPo? The Post’s weightless weigh-in on the Black Panthers coverage
Terence Samuel, theRoot.com: Shirley Sherrod and the Politics of Overreaction
Otis L. Sanford, Memphis Commercial Appeal: A rush to judge felled Sherrod [July 22]
Zachary Tomanelli, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Sherrod Story Raises Question: How Many Breitbart Frauds Will Media Fall For?
Marisa Treviño, Latina Lista blog: USDA Sec. Vilsack still owes an apology and swift action to discriminated Hispanic farmers
Jesse Washington, Associated Press: Black racism: a real problem, or pure politics?
Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Shirley Sherrod: The New Face of Courage
Blogger Richard Prince questions whether mainstream media outlets like Fox News Channel are accurately addressing the voter intimidation controversy. Plus, the recent release of kidnapped Nigerian journalists.
New Black Panthers, Old-School Battleground
It's not every day that commentators Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, Juan Williams of Fox News and NPR, Errol Louis of the New York Daily News, Roland Martin of CNN and TV One, and the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are in agreement.
And that such agreement stands in contrast to the views expressed by Fox News Channel and its commentators Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, and by Armstrong Williams, the Washington Times, the National Review and others in the conservative blogosphere.
Such is the case in the controversy over whether a fringe group called the New Black Panther Party is the beneficiary of racial solidarity from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the group allegedly sought to escape responsibility for supposedly intimidating black voters in Philadelphia nearly two years ago.
The first group of commentators says the allegation is absurd at best, and at the very least, blown out of proportion. The latter group says the charges are valid and demand more media attention.
The second group is winning.
Attention in the mainstream media, which in conventional wisdom was all but consigned to irrelevancy with the age of the Internet, is again a coveted prize, seemingly to be won by any means necessary.
Who gets to decide what is news? Who gets to drive the agenda?
On Sunday, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander noted that the Post had written only one story late in the game on the controversy. "Why the silence from The Post on Black Panther Party story?" the headline on his column asked.
"The Post should never base coverage decisions on ideology, nor should it feel obligated to order stories simply because of blogosphere chatter from the right or the left," he wrote.
"But in this case, coverage is justified because it's a controversy that screams for clarity that The Post should provide. If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his department are not colorblind in enforcing civil rights laws, they should be nailed. If the Commission on Civil Rights' investigation is purely partisan, that should be revealed. If Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed," he said in a reference to Justice Department "whistleblower" J. Christian Adams.
"National Editor Kevin Merida, who termed the controversy 'significant,' said he wished The Post had written about it sooner. The delay was a result of limited staffing and a heavy volume of other news on the Justice Department beat, he said." Merida is a graduate of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Monday on "Tapped," the group blog of the progressive American Prospect, Paul Waldman asked a different set of questions:
"Just how significant is the Black Panther case? How does it compare to other voting-rights cases? Is this really the Greatest Crime Against Democracy in History, as Fox News would have us believe, or is it about conservatives' 'fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the administration,' as Abigail Thernstrom, the American Enterprise Institute scholar and conservative member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has said?
"If it's so important, why are there no actual voters who say their rights were compromised? Why did even George W. Bush's Justice Department basically think this case was a nothingburger? Should that fact that this is the first time in memory that conservative activists and media have expressed concern about the possibility of someone being prevented from voting (they're nearly always concerned about people, particularly minorities, voting when they allegedly don't have the right to) make reporters skeptical about the case?
"What role does race play in the aggressiveness with which Fox and other conservative outlets are pushing this story? Do journalists have an obligation to cover something for no reason other than that activists and ideological media are making noise about it? Shouldn't there be some criterion of newsworthiness that is met, beyond the fact that it's being discussed on 'Fox and Friends'? Don't reporters have a responsibility to assess the fundamental substantive questions before they give publicity to a plainly drummed-up issue?"
Stay tuned. The gatekeeping function of the mainstream media still has more value than detractors have led us to believe. And that means the decisions about who get to be the gatekeepers are as important as ever.
Kidnapped Nigerian Journalists Freed; Slept in Chains
Four Nigerian journalists kidnapped for ransom last week reached safety on Sunday, the Nigerian newspaper This Day reported on Monday.
One was the Lagos State chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Alhaji Wahab Oba.
"Oba, apparently overjoyed coming out of the valley of death, praised the efforts of the Nigeria Police," according to the story by Godwin Haruna and Gboyega Akinsanmi.
"He said that but for the constant chase of the kidnappers by men of the Nigeria Police, the entire frightful experience would not have ended by now.
" 'Until 2.00am today (yesterday), it appeared as if the next minute would be the last. We were being moved from one part of the bush to the other because the police was closing in on them. The Nigeria police deserve to be commended for their dexterity while the whole saga lasted.
"'They were also very disturbed about how the media was on top of the situation and that made them to complain to us openly that it is money they wanted. At a point they tied something round my neck and I had written my will because it was me, Chairman, chairman, they were mentioning. I told Sola that he should tell my wife that God will take care of her. We slept in chains and they never allowed us to rest especially when they heard the police were coming." The reference was to fellow kidnapped journalist Sola Oyeyipo.
“We must appreciate the Nigeria police again. They tried to rescue us, but the kidnappers confronted the police with sophisticated weapons. When the police officers heard the sound of their guns, they retreated. When the bush became hot for them, the kidnappers had to let us go. At a time, the kidnappers started saying these people are powerful people with the manner the police are pursuing us and the way the media are airing the incident. The police mounted pressure, but they had some informants in the community. This made it difficult for the police to capture them.
“ 'We declared fasting and prayers last Friday. At a point, Adolphus who appeared bold, started weeping profusely while Sola confessed that he would start going to Church if ever he regained his freedom. We were tied in chains and rarely slept all the nights. When we want to sleep, the kidnappers would ask us to move because police were coming. The police constantly kept them on their toes," he said, referring to journalist Adolphus Okonkwo.
". . . Before he left, Oba said the kidnappers handed over a sheet of paper to them containing a litany of complaints regarding unemployment, non-payment of workers salaries for months by the Abia State government, lukewarm attitude of the Federal Government to the amnesty programme and bad governance, which has subjugated the Ngwa people. He added that they had no control over all these complaints, adding that the kidnappers vowed to continue until the government addressed all their concerns."
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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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