Except for the posting of a smart-phone video of President Obama greeting black bloggers and journalists — a video that found its way to the Drudge Report — the White House does not believe that ground rules for the Monday session were broken, according to the White House liaison for African American media.
Controversy over the meeting, which had gone virtually unreported in the mainstream media, increased late in the week after a Wednesday blog posting about the session by Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times. It began, "The White House is usually quite good at keeping a muzzle on the mediaafter one of its off-the-record sessions with President Obama and senior members of his administration.
"But not this week."
Providing the meeting further notoriety, the Drudge Report and RealClearPolitics.com posted the blogger's smart-phone video under an identical headline: "Obama: Blacks Probably Don't Watch 'Meet the Press'."
What Obama actually said during his surprise visit to the online "summit" was, "The media is changing so rapidly. It allows us to reach audiences that may not be watching ‘Meet the Press’ — not that there’s anything wrong with ‘Meet the Press.’ I’m just saying that, you know, it might be a different demographic," prompting laughs from the group.
Kevin S. Lewis, director of African American media for the White House, told Journal-isms on Friday that the bloggers did not break the ground rules, save for the posting of the video. Under those rules, as Peters wrote, the first half of the briefings was to be on background, meaning they could report any information they learned but not attribute it to any specific official; the second half was off the record entirely.
But Lewis, defending the bloggers, said of the meeting, "We didn't make it a secret." He noted that the White House posted its own account of the session on Wednesday morning, complete with a list of attendees.
As reported on Monday, the session took place as the Democrats attempt to solidify their African American base for the midterm elections. Among the 20 Web workers who attended were representatives of theRoot.com, Black Entertainment Television, Essence, Jack & Jill Politics, City Limits, Concrete Loop, AOL Black Voices, Black America Web and even the gossipy MediaTakeOut.
The session prompted a range of opinions about its propriety and the choice of invitees.
"Tell anyone who reads MediaTakeout.com that the site was invited to the White House as part of its effort to 'broaden online engagement' with the black community and it will be at least 5 minutes before you can continue the conversation due to the laughter that will ensue," wrote J Danielle, identified as a professional speechwriter and media coach, on her Media Strut site.
"As a black woman and confirmed policy wonk, I can tell you, I don’t look to music and gossip blogs for thought leadership. It’s almost as if the White House decided that any blog or web site that is owned or read by black people would be sufficient."
But Cheryl Contee ("Jill Tubman"), blogging at Jack & Jill Politics, wrote, "Look, if black bloggers and black online media weren’t having a consistent impact in reaching people — if what we are trying to do wasn’t meaningful & important — no one would care what we did, when we did it and whether or not we did it at the White House. Naw mean? You could read this as an attempt to drive a wedge between increasingly effective and powerful black online forces and a new center of power at the White House. We can’t let that happen."
Introducing his observation with, "Oh my people," Ta-Nehisi Coates, blogging for the Atlantic, posted an excerpt from Peters' piece and said, "Insert your favorite line from 'The Poundcake Speech' [by Bill Cosby], 'The Ballot or the Bullet,' Ice Cube or Chris Rock," all of which offer advice on or criticism of some black behavior.
"Can't have an off-the-record convo. Why? Cause bloggers are videoing the president . . ."
On the "barbershop" segment of NPR's "Tell Me More" on Friday, columnist Ruben Navarrette said the president was playing "to the lowest common denominator in terms of the guest list," adding that "the real story" was, "What was the president thinking in reaching out to a bunch of people who are, frankly, probably beneath him and beneath the office?"
Bloggers who attended the session defended themselves — and acted to blunt the criticism.
"I took it upon myself to remove the video, solely due to certain media (who were not present at the Summit) who have publicly misconstrued the facts," Natasha Eubanks of TheYBF.com (for "The Young, Black and Fabulous") celebrity-gossip site wrote in a Twitter posting. "I refuse to give any ammunition in any way to those who have a negative agenda for such a positive event."
Angel Laws, editor of ConcreteLoop.com, another celebrity-gossip site, tweeted of Peters, "i hate the undertone of his article. he is basically saying we can't be trusted." She accused the reporter of not checking his facts and urged others to contact him.
In the comments section under Peters' article, some predictably accused Obama of being "racist" for meeting with black bloggers.
Also in that space, entrepreneurial journalist Mike Green, who is black, said Peters had buried the lead. He said it was this passage:
"The attention the meeting received in the black blogosphere highlighted the vast gap that remained between mainstream media outlets and ones focused at minority groups. Though the meeting occurred on Monday and had been a topic of discussion in black media circles for three days, it received virtually no attention in the mainstream press."
At the White House, Lewis defended the choice of guests, which he said was determined after "a collection of folks got together. We're reaching out to all Americans. People get their information from different places," he said. Lewis added that Peters had not contacted him for his article.
Obama held a session on Friday for members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists. The Journal-isms author, an 18-year member of the group, was disinvited when the White House cut the number of attendees from 18 to 10 and Trotter organizers said attendance would be limited to newspaper columnists and a founder.Thus, there is no firsthand report here.
Matt Dornic, Fishbowl DC: Behind-the-scenes of Obama’s Youth Town Hall
David Jackson, USA Today: Obama: 24/7 media makes it hard to focus 'on the long term'
Steve Krakauer, Mediaite: Meet The Press Gets Worst Ratings In 18 Years
Gina McCauley, AOL Black Voices: The New York Times vs. Black Media Mogulettes: When Black Bloggers Visit the White House, We've Arrived
Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: The Disillusioned Latino Voter
Christopher Nelson, the Grio.com: Obama tries to recapture his youth vote
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Can Obama deliver the black vote?
David Squires, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Schools are failing black males
Leutisha Stills ("The Christian Progressive Liberal"), Jack & Jill Politics: Why the NYT and Drudge are Having Coniptions about Black Bloggers
Shernay Williams, Afro-American: Black Vote May Have Strong Impact on Maryland Gov. Race
Essence.com Spotlights Lesbian Couple in Brides Feature
Essence.com showcased its first lesbian couple in the site's "Bridal Bliss" feature on Wednesday. The couple married on Long Island, N.Y., last month.
Aisha Mills, a public affairs consultant, and Danielle Moody, an environmental lobbyist, secured their marriage license in the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage became legal this year. Their story began:
"When Aisha's dear friend Rashad accepted a job in NYC, he invited her and another close friend over to help him pack and reflect on his life in Washington D.C. But when Danielle walked through the door, Aisha put down the cardboard boxes and the packing tape and focused on the vision of love in front of her. It was love at first sight.
"Danielle and I sat in Rashad's window sill and talked about our lives for hours," Aisha remembers.
"Six and a half years later, Aisha and Danielle continue their conversation of love."