When a weary and jet-lagged Barack Obama took the stage on the last day of the UNITY Journalists of Color convention in Chicago last month, most of the attendees had already left. But there was still a healthy crowd of over 2,500 there to hear the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
That is when, according to the mainstream media, black folks apparently acted like natural-born fools.
"When Obama walked on stage at the McCormick Center, many journalists in the audience leapt to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after being told not to do so," reported The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "During a two-minute break halfway through the event, which was broadcast live on CNN, journalists ran to the stage to snap photos of Obama."
Later, National Public Radio Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard told the radio network's Talk of the Nation that she actually witnessed a journalist rush the stage to score an autograph and later bragged about touching the senator. "I think it's unfortunate, but it's inappropriate," she scolded. NPR political editor Ken Rudin chimed in, calling the reaction, "disheartening" and "disappointing in our profession."
"This was a convention of journalists, not a rally of groupies for Obama," snorted John Leo on New York Daily News' Web site.
As a longtime journalist, I have a question of my own for those critics: Was the visible enthusiasm really so different than journalists (mostly white) fighting for the chance to go to the White House and have their pictures taken with the president at the annual Christmas party or gathering every spring to hold a dinner in honor of the President of the United States? What about the fabled media crush on Maverick McCain, from the mostly white male Washington press corps? For years journalists have been fawning over politicians while keeping their credibility and objectivity securely intact. Which black reporters did John McCain have in mind when he referred to the news media as "my base?"
If it's not, it should be second nature for black journalists to act as if their every word and deed is under constant observation, scrutinized and examined for traces of racial pride that supersede their objectivity and fidelity to the facts because some of their white counterparts are always suspicious and need to be re-assured. Under an Obama presidency, black journalists will be more suspect than ever.
It should also be noted that many of the people at the convention were public relations types, activists, college students, journalism educators, sportswriters, county government reporters, music and movie critics and weather forecasters from places like Biloxi, Miss. or Greenville, S.C. or Maple Grove, Minn., who will not get near a political story this year. There were bloggers and freelancers who write about fashion or music, or of social issues like homelessness. The room was not full of political reporters who lost their minds.
Black journalists are being taken to task by white journalists who suggest that to remain journalistically chaste they must not show one shred of pride or enthusiasm in light of Barack Obama's history-making presidential bid, lest our precious "objectivity" be called into question.
"I would think that you give up certain rights when you are a journalist and if you are married to a journalist," Shepard said.
I, for one, am not giving up anything to meet Shepard's arbitrary standards of what makes a good journalist. Too many people gave up too much blood to get me the rights I enjoy today.
If my white colleagues are confused as to where my allegiances are, let me make it clear for them: I am a human being first, a black man second and journalist last. Dead last. It's not even remotely a close call.
Journalism is what I do. Black is what I am.
There is no such thing as pure objectivity. Because of who I am, I look out for and protect the interests of African Americans. I'm always on guard for inaccurate and racist representations in the mainstream media. The news business remains one of the least diverse institutions in America—despite commentator Pat Buchanan's ridiculous fear of journalists of color plotting to squeeze out white reporters.
The Barack backlash is a reminder of elitist gatekeepers' double standards.
It would seem some of our white colleagues don't trust us and don't respect our ability to do our jobs. This is one of the reasons the UNITY conventions exist in the first place.
To our peers who seem concerned as to how fairly and accurately journalists of color will cover the presidential contenders, I ask only that they judge the results of our reporting first and not assume a shared racial identity automatically means we will be more sympathetic and less critical of Obama. After all, when it comes to race, white journalists have been given the benefit of the doubt when covering white candidates since, well—forever.