White journalists have had a variety of reactions to Time magazine analyst Mark Halperin's off-color characterization of President Obama Thursday on MSNBC, but black journalists are taking the insult much more seriously.
In social media, in conversation and among the few who have access to opinion columns, the Halperin remark is seen as nothing less than part of a continuing pattern of disrespect of the nation's first black president and further evidence of an old (white) boys network that controls the plum jobs in the news media.
"Imagine if it had been, oh, never mind," a member of the National Association of Black Journalists wrote to his colleagues, leaving unsaid the words "a black journalist."
"Do the rules of decency not apply with Obama?" read a headline on theGrio.com over a column by Goldie Taylor.
On Thursday, cable news network MSNBC indefinitely suspended Halperin, a senior political analyst and prominent Time magazine columnist, after he called Obama "kind of a dick" on the network’s "Morning Joe" show. According to Webster's New World dictionary, a slang definition of the word is "a man who is regarded as obnoxious, stupid, etc.: mildly vulgar."
"He did so after he’d been assured by co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski that the show had a seven-second delay in effect and that he should 'take a chance,' as Lisa de Moraes reported in the Washington Post.
Time did not suspend Halperin but said, 'We have issued a warning to him that such behavior is unacceptable' and noted that he had 'appropriately' apologized.
Journal-isms asked the three candidates for president of the National Association of Black Journalists for their views about the incident. In these edited comments, each mentioned respect and implied a double standard was at play, if they didn't say so outright.
Deirdre M. Childress, entertainment/film/weekend editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, said:
"Ever since we elected Mr. Obama as our president, there have been people in corners of our country who have failed to discuss him with the level of respect given to others who have served in our country's highest office. I recall that many people failed to address him as 'Mr. President,' calling him by his first name or just 'Obama' right after his election.
"I think this requires a stronger punishment than an indefinite suspension, especially because it did not just slip out. Asking if there is a seven-second delay and then firing away at the president indicates strong premeditation. In that case, when you knew you were about to push the envelope, the apology falls flat."
Childress is the organization's vice president for print.
Charles Robinson III, a reporter for Maryland Public Television, said:
"The Halperin comments are offensive. Opinion is not the denigration of a particular newsmaker, especially the president (no matter who it is). In the course of analyzing what a newsmaker says, I know I make references to inferences and facts, not personal opinions. Is there a double standard at play? The 'oops' defense seems trite and insincere. I'm reminded of the criticism leveled against African-American journalists who cover the president, 'Can they be unbiased?' Of course we can, we are professionals. So can I say the same of my fellow brothers and sisters who report on various newsmakers and mumble the unspeakable under their breaths?
"Yes, this is a tough business. I'm sure this is a lesson all will learn: 'Keep your personal opinions to yourself, or at least don't mutter them on a live television broadcast.' "
Robinson is a board member representing the mid-Atlantic states.
Gregory Lee Jr., senior assistant sports editor at the Boston Globe, said:
"What Mark Halperin said was tasteless, and he exercised poor judgment; I think he’d be the first to acknowledge that. I’m not going to comment on a network’s hiring and firing policies, but we cannot forget last year that Juan Williams was fired from NPR for his anti-Muslim remarks that he made on FOX News, and Helen Thomas's resignation because of her Israel comments. There obviously isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to these on-air slip-ups, but the current atmosphere of this continual disrespect of the office of the President has got to stop and a hard example needs to be made that this cannot and will not be tolerated."
Lee is NABJ's treasurer.
White commentary, by contrast, was more wide-ranging but tended not to discuss the Halperin incident's power and racial dynamics.
Geoffrey Dickens of the conservative Media Resource Center wrote, "On MSNBC you can call a sitting president a 'murderous' 'fascist,' even muse about putting the President on trial for war crimes, so long as that president is a Republican. But if you dare call a Democratic president a 'd–ck,' as MSNBC analyst Mark Halperin did this morning it's grounds for indefinite suspension."
He went on to list "a collection of quotes from MSNBC employees past (Keith Olbermann) and present (Chris Matthews, Ron Reagan Jr.) who had some particularly distasteful things to say about a then sitting President George W. Bush."
In the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg said media companies have been too quick to fire people over speech issues.
"This is not to say that Halperin . . . should be fired; he shouldn’t, at least not over this. The word 'dick' didn’t just slip out of his mouth accidentally — indeed, he waited a beat or two, eyes sparkling with a self-satisfied sense of his own naughtiness, before he said it. But he did apparently think someone was going to cut his microphone. Besides, we have to get beyond constantly banishing people over small public slips, whether we’re talking about Nir Rosen, Octavia Nasr, or Rick Sanchez. The more we live in public, and the more news is replaced with facile banter, the more opportunities journalists and politicians have to inadvertently reveal sides of themselves that should remain hidden. We have to find a way to deal with this without destroying careers over inevitable momentary lapses."
Others thought too much was made of Halperin's slip. "I’m sorry, but this is crazy," wrote Greg Sargent for the Washington Post. "Halperin’s crack was crude and dumb, but it doesn’t deserve indefinite suspension. Halperin’s use of an expletive is trivial when compared with the degradation of our political discourse we witness on a regular basis from Halperin and many others — degradation that is seen as perfectly acceptable because no curse words are employed.
"Suspending Halperin only reinforces a phony definition of 'civility' in our discourse, in which it’s unacceptable to use foul language and be 'uncivil,' but it’s perfectly acceptable for reporters and commentators to allow outright falsehoods to pass unrebutted; to traffic endlessly in false equivalences in the name of some bogus notion of objectivity; and to make confident assertions about public opinion without referring to polls which show them to be completely wrong."
By and large, blacks — journalists and others — were seeing it differently.
"Black men aren't allowed to lecture white men about getting their homework done," wrote one tweeter, referring to the president urging Congress to act on the debt-ceiling issue, the subject of Halperin's analysis.
Retired ABC News anchor Carole Simpson wrote on Facebook, "Some people get [too] big for their britches. I remember him when."
An NABJ member posted an unflattering piece on Halperin from Salon — "The Drudge-loving political analyst who gets everything wrong" by Alex Pareene — and added, "Turns out, he's just another political hack posing as a journalist who usually gets it wrong. So why does he have all these big-time jobs?"
Another black journalist noted the whiteness of Time's politics team, where Halperin is a star. Time's Swampland site features four white men offering "Viewpoints."
As media websites were exploding Thursday with news of the Mark Halperin suspension, media critic Amy Alexander, a black journalist, posted this note on her Facebook page:
She "finds it a wee bit strange that Romenesko has nothing on the Halperin situation. Dude mouthed off just after 7am EST, got suspended by MSNBC around 9am, a sordid turn of affairs that has been burning up the blogosphere ever since. Here it is 2:30pm EST and there is nothing in the leading news biz blog? Hmmmm…"
Others were asking that question at the same time other white male journalists were defending Halperin. "And of course, there also is this: The APOLOGIA emanating from some other journalists," Alexander added. "It is probably too early to call it, but I am getting the idea that Halperin will soon enough be encircled by the same kind of White Guy Journo wagons that came out for Imus and for Barnicle," references to radio shock jock Don Imus and former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle.
"We got a few comments yesterday about why the Mark Halperin news was missing from 'the website of record for journalists,' as one writer called it," Julie Moos, director of Poynter online & publications, confirmed for Journal-isms Friday by email. The Poynter Institute hosts the Romenesko blog.
"So, here's why. As the Romenesko blog integrates more reporting by Jim and a few select contributors, we're striking a new balance between the obligatory and the original — ideally finding the original in the obligatory — and as we do that, we may make decisions that surprise people, including this one.
"When something is big — as in 'everyone already knows about it' — we aim to find a new way to bring it to readers, rather than ignoring it. When we're unable to find a new angle, we may just tweet the information (a good reason to follow us on Twitter). That's what we did with the Halperin suspension.
"It helps us to hear from readers when they think we fall short, because it lets us know their expectations and whether we're striking a balance that works for them."
Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com: MSNBC Should Fire Mark Halperin Today
Eric Deggans blog, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times: MSNBC suspends analyst Mark Halperin after he calls President Obama a four-letter word on air
James Fallows, the Atlantic: The Real Dickishness Problem
Huffington Post: Time's Halperin Apologizes For Saying Edwards "Thinks Obama Is Kind Of A Pussy" (2008)
Joshua Keating, Foreign Policy: Countries where you could go to jail for calling the president a dick
Shelley Ross, Huffington Post: Time for a Real Game Change: Is Halperin's Name Calling Arrogance, Immaturity or Something Else?
David Weigel, Slate: The Halperin Backlash Backlash
"Fox News Channel will launch a weekday ensemble opinion program on July 11 at 5 p.m. to replace Glenn Beck . . . through the summer," Andrea Morabito wrote Thursday for Broadcasting and Cable.
"Titled The Five, the new show will feature a roundtable of five rotating Fox News personalities who will discuss, debate and at times debunk the hot news stories, controversies and issues of the day,' according to the FNC statement. Juan Williams, Dana Perino and Geraldo Rivera are among those who will be included in the weekly ensemble."
Chris Ariens of TVNewser wrote Friday that Beck's final show drew 2.175 million total viewers and 542,000 viewers ages 25 to 54.
That’s up from his year-to-date average of 1.855 million total viewers and 438,000 in the 25-54 demographic, but down when compared with the 2010 year-to-date average of 2.416 million total viewers and 643,000 in the demographic, Ariens said.
Meanwhile, "Color of Change, an Internet-based civil rights organization, took aim Wednesday at the leaders of Fox and its parent company, News Corporation, calling into question the language of another host with a full page ad in the New York Daily News," Denise Stewart wrote Thursday for blackamericaweb.com.
"The ad was an open letter addressed to News Corporation Chairman Rupert [Murdoch] and Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News and Fox Business.
"On Friday, June 10, Eric Bolling, host of 'Follow the Money' on the Fox Business Network, teased a story about the White House hosting President Ali Bongo of Gabon by saying, 'It’s not the first time he’s had a hoodlum in the hizzouse.'
"A few days later, Color of Change launched a petition calling for Ailes to fire Bolling because of those comments and because of another segment where he said, President Obama was too busy 'chugging 40s' in Ireland to respond quickly to the tornadoes in Missouri."
Brian Stelter, New York Times: Beck Uses Last Show on Fox to Allude to His New Venture
"A month ago, the disappearance of mariachi bands in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles could have gone unreported," Caitlin Fuller reported Tuesday for New America Media. "Boyle Heights has been known for its Mariachi Plaza, where bands show off their talents in hopes that passers-by will hire them for parties and other events.
"But the bands have fallen victim to the economic downturn, reports Karissa Reynoso, youth reporter for the Boyle Heights Beat/El Pulso de Boyle Heights, the brand new local newspaper for the little-covered neighborhood.
"The bilingual quarterly publication is a collaborative venture of the Spanish-language daily, La Opinión, and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School [for Journalism &] Communication. Reported and written by youth from the neighborhood, the first issue of Boyle Heights Beat, a 20-page tabloid, was released in early June.
"Pedro Rojas, executive editor of La Opinión, cofounded the new publication with USC’s Michelle Levander, founding director of Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships. The endowment funds the new paper.
"La Opinión has been a resource for first-generation Spanish speakers in the United States. The daily reaches a half million readers a day, 87 percent of whom are Spanish-speaking Latinos.
"Boyle Heights Beat differs from La Opinión in that the paper is staffed by youth, is highly localized and is bilingual."
"Last night, New Jersey Network ended its 40-year run of providing state news and information," Jerry Barmash reported Friday for FishbowlNY.
"Due to budgetary concerns, NJN’s days were numbered. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced last month that WNET, the parent company of Channel 13 and Channel 21/WLIW, would handle all programming and services under a five-year deal. The broadcast license continues to be maintained by the state."
Christopher Baxter wrote Thursday for the Star-Ledger in Newark, "As of Friday, 130 people are out of work. They packed up their desks and grabbed as many hugs as they could before leaving out the back door."
Terence Samuel, veteran political journalist and founding deputy editor of theRoot.com, is joining the Washington Post as deputy political editor in charge of congressional and White House coverage, Post staffers were told on Friday, Betsy Rothstein reported for FishbowlDC.Terence Samuel
Samuel "comes to us from National Journal, where he was managing editor of congressional coverage," said a memo from national editor Kevin Merida and Marilyn Thompson, accountability editor. "He is author of the 2010 book, 'The Upper House: A Journey Behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate' and was a featured contributor to the anthology, 'Best American Political Writing 2009.'
"Terry also is a former national correspondent for both the Philadelphia Inquirer and St. Louis Post Dispatch, spent five years as chief congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, and in 2007 helped launch the Root.com, our sister site.
". . . A couple of final points about Terry: He was a half-mile runner at City College of New York and didn’t lose a race until he went to the NCAA Division III championships. So we know he’s a winner.
"And there is this: 'I grew up in Trinidad,' Terry says, 'which means I’m likely to break out dancing at any moment.' ”
Samuel's hiring at the National Journal helped to address a lack of diversity at that publication when he was hired there in September.
"Readers weren't the only ones hurt by the New York Post’s newsstand price hike this week," Janon Fisher wrote Thursday for Adweek.
"After Adweek broke the news that the tabloid would cost an extra quarter on Monday, editor-in-chief Col Allan went on a rampage to root out our newsroom sources.
"He fired one of the city’s top police reporters after the story came out. The reporter declined to comment for this article."
"Rashida Jones, who has served as director of live programming at The Weather Channel since 2009 (and is not the actress daughter of Quincy Jones, known for roles on 'The Office' and 'Parks and Recreation'), has been tapped to lead the newsroom at WIS, a Raycom-owned NBC-affiliate in Columbia, SC," Andrew Gauthier reported Wednesday for TVSpy.
"WIS general manager Donita Todd confirmed the move to TVSpy today, saying that Jones’s first day as WIS’s news content director will be August 1st."