Black Journalists Organization Backs Robin Givhan Over Michelle Obama Piece

Sally Quinn and Robin Givhan
Photo: AP Images

The National Association of Black Journalists wrote a letter Saturday in support of Washington Post journalist Robin Givhan after she wrote a piece on former first lady Michelle Obama’s talk at a BET event that many of the guests assumed was off-the-record.

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Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was invited to moderate a panel of fashion-industry leaders at the Leading Women Defined summit but took notes at the session where Obama spoke. After her piece was published, Givhan says, she was told to leave the event. The Washington Post writer was also harshly criticized online, prompting many of her colleagues to come out in support of her.

“As the world’s largest journalism organization of people of color, it is vital that NABJ stands up for the rights of journalists to do their job without being attacked,” the NABJ board of directors wrote in a letter. “Robin Givhan did not break any journalistic code of ethics in her decision to write about Michelle Obama at the BET conference.”

As The Root’s editor-in-chief, Danielle Belton, who was present at the event, reported, BET said it was clear that the event was “an intimate conversation in a sacred space of sisterhood and fellowship.”

The network, however, also acknowledged that it was not made explicitly clear that the event was off-the-record, but said that Givhan was told of the intimate nature of the event and “knew exactly what it was.”

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NABJ said that excuse simply doesn’t hold up:

The rules of journalism are clear: any decision to make an event off-the-record must be stated clearly upfront, and not after-the-fact. If an individual or entity desires to have a conversation that is off-the-record, that has to be made public. It can’t be assumed or hinted. BET’s statement of the event being ‘an intimate conversation in a sacred space of sisterhood and fellowship’ does not hold water in any newsroom. If the off-the-record declaration is not made, that means everything is on-the-record and available to be reported.

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Over the past few days, Givhan has received her fair share of criticism and support on Twitter. Either way, she doesn’t seem very bothered by the controversy at all, based on one of her tweets during all of this:

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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