Obama's Achilles' Heel: A Writer's Soul?

"He Can Be in a Room but Detach Himself"

A writer granted rare access to President Obama for six months said Wednesday that the politically costly charge that the president is aloof grows out of a personality trait he shares with journalists: "It's the personality trait of a writer."


Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of "Moneyball" and "The Big Short," conducted multiple interviews with the president that culminated in a 15,000-word piece for the October issue of Vanity Fair.

"What I noticed is that that office takes your personality and exaggerates it," Lewis told Terry Gross Wednesday on NPR's "Fresh Air." "You become a caricature of who you are. And he has a personality trait that costs him politically, and it's the personality trait of a writer. He really is, at bottom, a writer. And the trait is he's in a moment and not in a moment at the same time.

"That he can be in a room but detach himself at the same time. It's almost as if he's writing about it at the same time he's participating in it. It's a curious inside/outside thing. It means — and what this does, you know, the charge that he's aloof, I think, grows right out of this trait.

"So he's got these traits that are of ambiguous value to the job but you can't do anything about it. It's who he is. His politics, he's essentially a pragmatist. He's just like a — his nature is problem-solving. So it's a little hard to — he's not an ideologue so it's a little hard to get too worked up either way about, you know, his politics."

That Obama might have a writer's personality might not be as surprising as it first appears. After all, he wrote two successful books, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" and "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream."

Describing "Dreams From My Father" in 2008, Janny Scott wrote in the New York Times:

" 'The book is so literary,' said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. 'It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.' "


Scott quoted Deborah Baker, the editor on the first paperback edition of "Dreams From My Father."

" 'Even now, it's hard to get my mind around the idea that this person is in politics,' said Ms. Baker, who described Mr. Obama as a born writer. 'I actually think he could be a brilliant politician. He was ambitious as a writer in the same way - very cunning in the way he structured the book. I remember thinking, "This guy really knows how to tell a story." ' "


The first stories about Lewis' interview centered on Lewis' agreement that "he had to submit to the widespread but rarely disclosed practice of quote approval," as Jeremy W. Peters reported Tuesday in the New York Times.

". . . Mr. Lewis said that ultimately the White House disallowed very little of what he asked to use. And he described having access to the president that was unusually unfettered. About 95 percent of what he witnessed was on the record, he said," Peters reported.


Lewis reinforced his argument about Obama's views of the written word with this anecdote:

"One of his aides told me once, thinking the president otherwise occupied, he'd made the mistake of switching the Air Force One television from ESPN, which Obama prefers, to a cable news show. The president walked into the room and watched a talking head explain knowingly to his why Obama, he had taken some action. 'Oh so that's why I did it,' said Obama and walked out."


Lewis told Gross, ". . . he's already, for example, decided that nothing on cable news is worth listening to. He doesn't watch it. He thinks it's totally toxic, like it affects your brain, and he won't turn on the TV. But he does read the newspapers."

Univision Forums With Obama, Romney Next Week

Univision News said Wednesday that the televised forums in which the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates discuss education and the future of the Hispanic community will take place next Wednesday and Thursday.


The "Meet the Candidates" forums, conducted in conjunction with Facebook, grew out of the failure of the Commission on Presidential Debates last month to include journalists of color in the upcoming presidential and vice presidential face-offs.

Univision called on President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to participate in a separate forum that the Spanish-language network would sponsor. Neither Univision nor the two campaigns would respond to questions about why the candidates are not appearing together.


Romney is to appear on Sept. 19 and Obama on Sept. 20. Both events are to be streamed online in English and televised on Univision at 10 p.m. ET/PT on each night. They take place in front of a live audience at the University of Miami BankUnited Center Fieldhouse in Coral Gables, the network said.

On NPR's "Tell Me More" on Wednesday, host Michel Martin asked Jorge Ramos, who is to moderate the sessions with Maria Elena Salinas, for "a sense of what kinds of things you think should be addressed in these forums that you don't think will be addressed in the other forums."


Ramos replied: "It is not that Latinos are a nation within a nation, but we have our own specific concerns. We have to take into consideration that one out of two Hispanics in this country over 18 years of age was born outside the United States. So obviously we're going to be talking about immigration. So we have to ask Governor Romney about his self-deportation idea.

"In the platform they are for building a new fence between Mexico and the United States. And for President Barack Obama, we have to remember that he broke a major electoral promise when he said in 2008 that he was going to present an immigration proposal during his first year in office. And he didn't keep his word.


"So we have to ask him about that. We have to ask him about — President Barack Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in the history of the United States, more than 1.2 million immigrants. So we have to talk about those issues. But also, obviously, immigration is not the only issue that we care about.

"You know, unemployment within the Hispanic community is above 10 percent. Our dropout rate is huge. Poverty is prevalent within our community. And obviously we have a very, very close relationship with Latin America, so we want to know what are they going to do with the dictatorship in Cuba, with the flow of arms and drugs from Mexico to the United States and vice versa, what's going to happen with Hugo Chavez.


"Now, can you ask all these questions in the traditional three debates that we're going to have? We're not sure, but we just couldn't run the risk of not asking these questions."

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Michelle Obama, Ann Romney show their strengths


Charles M. Blow, New York Times: The Engagement Gap

Michael Cottman, blackamericaweb.com: Michelle Obama is President's Most Effective Surrogate


Stanley Crouch, Daily News, New York: Getting at the soul of our nation: Lessons from Tampa and Charlotte

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Politicians use 'dog whistle' to send message to voters


Colbert I. King, Washington Post: The give and take of America

Jerry Large, Seattle Times: This campaign is magnifying our political division

Douglas C. Lyons, South Florida SunSentinel: Crist speech puts the onus on state Democratic Party


Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Dems Needed Strong Convention To Up Enthusiasm

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post News Media Services: The Charlotte hustle

Ruben Navarrette Jr., syndicated: Policy by teleprompter

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Both parties go to extremes

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Coming-out party for Obama 2.0

Joy-Ann Reid, theGrio.com: DNC vs. RNC: A tale of two 2012 conventions

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Romney's health-care dither

Julian Sancton, Bloomberg Businessweek: 'New York Post' Runs Boldest Anti-Obama Ad Yet


Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth: Clinton makes strong legal case for client Obama

Jay-Z on the Cover, All-White Ads on the Inside

The New York Times Style Magazine on fall fashion debuted on Sunday with Jay-Z as its cover salesman. "The civic-minded hip-hop mogul holds court with Zadie Smith," the cover line said.


But inside the 136 pages were page after page of men's fashion ads with white men as models. Among the advertisers were Canali, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Paul Stuart, Maestro Dobel Tequila, Macy's, Jack Victor, Superior Pima and Tallia Orange. Seemingly, only Tommy Hilfiger and Brunello Cucinelli, on the inside covers, decided to include people of other races.

"As you know, we have much more control over our own editorial content than the advertising that appears in our pages," Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday. "Each advertiser submits ads independently so any trend you see is coincidental."


The advertising business has been scolded for years for its lack of diversity by the New York City Council and the city's Human Rights Commission.

Ken Wheaton wrote in March for adage.com: "The average ad-industry employee likely agrees the diversity issue is a very unfortunate situation. One that should be remedied. By someone. But on a daily basis, he's likely to carry on, figuring for the most part the industry will evolve and that his nonwhite coworkers are content with the state of adland.


". . . . lack of diversity does play a major role when it comes time for employees to decide whether or not to say in adland. African-Americans (33%) and Latinos (21%) were more likely to cite lack of racial and ethnic diversity as a very important reason for leaving the industry, compared to whites (4%)."

". . . Another step agency employees could take? Perhaps realizing that not everyone sees the time period portrayed in 'Mad Men' as something to admire. (Responded one person to the scenario 'I feel excluded': 'When they had a 'Mad Men' party.")


Portia E. Badham, senior vice president, communications for the Association of American Advertising Agencies, known as the 4A's, told Journal-isms that the 4A's guidelines encourage diversity but that it is an association of the agencies that work for advertisers, not a collection of the advertisers themselves.

Duke Fanelli, senior vice president, for marketing & communications of the Association of National Advertisers, which represents the advertisers directly, did not respond to a telephone inquiry.


Stripped-Down Defender Struggles to Cover Strike

National attention is focused on Chicago, where 350,000 public school students have been out of school since Monday, and their 29,000 unionized teachers are walking picket lines and rallying, red-shirted, around the city. The city's major black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, is struggling to keep up.


For much of the time, the Defender's website has featured Associated Press copy on the strike. On Wednesday, the Defender posted a story by editor Kathy Chaney that credited the wire service for some of the material. "We're using both original copy and AP," Chaney told Journal-isms.

Meanwhile, Fernando Diaz, managing editor of ViveloHoy, told Journal-isms that his publication was being innovative with its Latino audience.


"We are doing coverage in English and Spanish for the paper and online," Diaz said by email. "We are also working on an experimental approach to video and database journalism. We did a piece on jaywalking arrests in Champaign Illinois that was cited by the Atlantic and slate and we're evolving that format for other stories, including the teachers strike.

"Our news team is small, 12 people total in editorial, so we're trying to be extremely judicious about where we put our resources. The news cycle is very hot, with many moving parts and an agreement that could come at any time. We trying our best to focus on explaining what's at stake and the process rather than the horse race."


According to October 2011 figures from the Chicago Public Schools, 41.6 percent of the public school students are African American. Another 44.1 percent are Hispanic. Just 8.8 percent are white, and 3.3 percent are Asian American.

Chaney referred Journal-isms to a November 2011 story by Maudlyne Ihejirika in the Chicago Sun-Times.


"One of the nation's oldest black-owned newspapers, the Chicago Defender, is struggling to stay afloat," it began. "The newspaper is months behind on its rent, and this week laid off a sixth of its staff.

" Laid off were the only two editors left among its already dwindled staff of 18 — Executive Editor Lou Ransom and News Editor Rhonda Gillespie.


"An accounts receivables staffer also was laid off, and the paper's only photographer switched from full- to part-time, according to staffers at the 106-year-old, once daily paper founded by Robert Abbott in 1905. Amidst financial woes, it became a weekly publication in 2008.

"The Defender is thousands of dollars behind in its lease with developer Elzie Higginbottom, owner of its 8,500-square-foot headquarters at 4445 S. King Dr., the landmark Metropolitan Funeral Home building in Bronzeville and the Defender's third home since 2003.


"That's when it was purchased by Real Times Media Inc., a Detroit-based investment group.

"Publisher and President Michael House attributed the Defender's woes to factors assailing the newspaper industry as a whole — competition from the Web, decreased advertising, and rising print and operating costs — compounded, he said, by difficulties collecting its accounts receivables."


Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report: Chicago School Strike is Against Obama "Race To The Top" Agenda of School Privatization and Corporate Education Reform

Zerlina Maxwell, ebony.com: Why Are Chicago's Teachers on Strike?

Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times: If CPS teachers strike, what will happen to the children? (Aug. 29)


Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Strike pits new Democrats against old friends

Hinojosa Honored With Columbia J-School Award

"Maria Hinojosa, a groundbreaking news anchor and reporter for NPR, PBS and CNN who has covered the marginalized and powerless in America and abroad for over 25 years, is the recipient of the 2012 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism" [PDF], Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism announced Wednesday.


"Hinojosa, anchor for NPR's Latino USA and PBS Need to Know, was selected in recognition of the courage and independence she has shown over the course of her career reporting on those whose stories might not otherwise make it into the mainstream media.

"The John Chancellor Award is presented each year to a reporter for his or her cumulative accomplishments. The prize honors the legacy of pioneering television correspondent and longtime NBC News anchor John Chancellor. An eight-member committee selected Hinojosa for the award, which bestows a $25,000 prize for the winner. The award will be presented at a dinner at Columbia University's Low Library in New York on November 14, 2012.


" 'From chronicling the Latino experience in America to investigating abuse in immigrant detention facilities and profiling child brides in India, Hinojosa has shown resilience and integrity by consistently covering critical issues that impact our society,' said Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school and chair of the award's selection committee. 'Her work continues to be an example of the best of journalism. She embodies the spirit of the John Chancellor Award.' "

Class-Action Suit Challenges Unpaid Internships

"Last fall, Diana Wang was named 'head accessories intern' at Harper's Bazaar," Kayleen Schaefer reported Tuesday for New York magazine.


" 'I'd been dreaming of standing in their offices for fifteen years,' she says. 'I was so ready to give everything I had. I couldn't imagine that the dream of mine was becoming real.'

"At 27, she was older than the average magazine intern. After graduating from Ohio State in 2010, Diana spent a year working for a pharmaceutical company in Columbus, Ohio, saving up so she could afford to live in New York as an unpaid intern — a gig she'd heard was a necessary first step to getting a job in fashion.


" 'This was going to be my only ticket to the industry,' she says. 'I didn't have unlimited resources. I was going to make the time worthwhile. I was going to be remembered by people.'

"And she will be, but not because she's on her way to becoming the next Melanie Ward, a stylist she revered. In February, Wang sued the Hearst Corporation, Harper's Bazaar's parent organization, for not paying for her work. The lawsuit, which accuses the company of violating federal and state labor laws, has since become a class-action one — including about 3,000 former Hearst interns — and may be decided as soon as early 2013.


". . . Since Outten & Golden agreed to take Wang's case, Hearst interns from Esquire, Marie Claire, and Redbook have joined the suit."

Outten & Golden wants Hearst to pay its former interns back wages, overtime, and other damages, an amount that "we certainly don't believe is nominal," Rachel Bien, an associate at Outten & Golden, the firm representing Wang, said in the article. "The firm doesn't think the suit will end work-for-free internships altogether but hopes it will inspire more companies to change their policies to pay interns instead of giving them school credit," Schaefer wrote. "In fact, Fox already has changed its policies: Student interns now earn $8 to $10 an hour. This month, Gawker Media abolished its unpaid intern program and now offers paid editorial fellowships. (New York Magazine internships are either paid or for school credit.). . ."


Kevin Aldridge Named Editor at Cox Ohio Newspapers

"Kevin Aldridge has been named editor of the Hamilton Journal News and The Middletown Journal," the Middletown, Ohio, newspaper reported on Tuesday.


"Aldridge also will serve as editor of Cox Media Group Ohio's group of weekly newspapers in Butler and Warren counties, which include The Pulse-Journal, Western Star, Fairfield Echo and Oxford Press.

" 'Kevin has deep roots in the Northern Cincinnati area, and he has a rich history of in-depth and investigative community journalism,' said Jana Collier, editor in chief. 'I'm so excited to have him leading the team.'


"Aldridge, 38, is a native of Middletown and a veteran journalist of 16 years. He joined Cox in April 2005 as city editor of The Middletown Journal after a seven-year career as an award-winning reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

"In his seven years with Cox, Aldridge has been city editor of The Middletown Journal and Hamilton Journal News, and most recently was an editor with the newspapers' Ideas & Voices pages.


". . . Aldridge replaces Rich Gillette, who has been named a metro editor with the Dayton Daily News."

Short Takes

TVB, a not-for-profit trade association of the commercial broadcast television industry, reported Wednesday that in each of the top 10 U.S. TV markets, the cable news networks' audience was dwarfed by local TV stations, TVNewsCheck reported on Wednesday. Cable television delivered only 3 to 8 percent of the in-market evening news audience. The analysis, released at the TVB Forward Conference '12 in New York, is based on a breakdown of May Nielsen Media Research data and compares the audience delivery of local TV news with the five highest-rated cable news networks, CNN, CNBC, FNC, HLN and MSNBC.


"Univision Communications Inc. . . . announced the appointment of Jesus Chavez to senior vice president of Interactive for Univision Television Group (UTG)," the company announced on Tuesday. "He will continue to be based in Dallas and will report to Kevin Cuddihy, president of UTG. . . . Chavez will drive strategy and development on the interactive offerings for the Station Group overseeing all local online and mobile efforts across the UTG footprint. Prior to this, he served as vice president and general manager of Local Interactive Media."

"Cari Champion, a reporter from the Tennis Channel, has been selected as the new host for ESPN's First Take, three sources confirmed to me," Jason McIntyre reported Monday for thebiglead.com. ". . . Champion was selected over Heidi Watney and Jemele Hill (among others) and will sit between Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on the occasionally combative morning show that athletes seem to hate-watch."


"Jennifer Lopez, the actress-singer who put her cross-cultural appeal to use in movies such as 'Selena' and 'Maid in Manhattan,' is joining NuvoTV, the English-language cable network aimed at Latino viewers ," Andy Fixmer reported Wednesday for Bloomberg News. "Lopez, 43, and her Nuyorican Productions will contribute programming, work on strategy and assist in marketing the eight-year-old channel, she said an interview. In exchange, she will receive a minority stake, according to an e-mailed statement that didn't disclose other financial terms."

"O, The Oprah Magazine is shuffling the deck for a new look," Jerry Barmash reported for FishbowlNY. "The publication named a trio of appointments today. Kirby Rodriguez becomes design director, Leigh Haber is the books editor, and Jihan Thompson has been selected as health editor. Rodriguez and Thompson's appointments are effective immediately, while Haber assumes her new role Monday."


"James Martinez, a veteran journalist who has helped drive coverage of some of the biggest stories of the past decade for The Associated Press, has been named to the newly created position of news editor for New York state for the news cooperative," the Associated Press reported on Sept. 4.

"Welcome to Thanh Tan, who joins our editorial page staff this week as a new multimedia editorial writer and columnist," Kate Riley wrote Tuesday for the Seattle Times. "We lured her away from the Texas Tribune . . . This digital journalist went from being a commercial TV reporter to Idaho Public TV, where she hosted a weekly political program and revolutionized the station's social media approach, only to be stolen away by the innovative Tribune to be a multimedia reporter/producer.


Follow Richard Prince on Twitter.

Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" on Facebook.

Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.