Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates at the New Yorker Festival on Oct. 4, 2015, in New York City
Anna Webber/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic magazine writer, has managed a feat apparently accomplished by no other black journalist. He was granted 4½ hours on the record with President Obama, access he turned into a 17,000-word cover story for the January/February issue of the Atlantic.

Advertisement

"Talked three times in person. Total of about 4.5 hours. No idea why he gave the time," Coates messaged Journal-isms Wednesday when asked how often he spoke with Obama and why he was allocated so much time.

Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses his article "My President Was Black" Tuesday with host Trevor Noah on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Advertisement

Obama has given lengthy on-the-record interviews to CBS' "60 Minutes," to David Remnick of the New Yorker, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, Doris Kearns Goodwin of Vanity Fair and other white journalists and historians with whom he feels intellectual or personal chemistry.

Black journalists have been among those participating in off-the-record sessions or in one-off meetings such as that with the Trotter Group of African American columnists in 2010.

On-the-record interviews with black journalists and media figures, however, have come less often and usually been with admirers and those whose questions would lend themselves to the president's talking points.

Advertisement

Sponsored

That used to infuriate the late George E. Curry who, as editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, considered himself a hard-nosed newsman. Curry, who died in August, would complain that Obama would not talk to the black press, yet would readily share a television screen with late-night comedians.

Coates, whose National Book Award, 2015 MacArthur Foundation fellowship and perch on the best-seller list set him apart, used his access to Obama to raise some of the issues Curry might have.

Ta-Nehisi Coates joined the presidential motorcade May 7 as President Obama traveled to Howard University to deliver a commencement address. (Credit: Howard University)

He publicly challenged Obama's invocation of what has come to be known as "respectability politics" and apparently did the same face to face. And if Coates did not make his points with the president in person, he did so in his piece.

Advertisement

"For much of his presidency, a standard portion of Obama’s speeches about race riffed on black people’s need to turn off the television, stop eating junk food, and stop blaming white people for their problems," Coates writes in the Atlantic. "Obama would deliver this lecture to any black audience, regardless of context. It was bizarre, for instance, to see the president warning young men who’d just graduated from Morehouse College, one of the most storied black colleges in the country, about making 'excuses' and blaming whites."

But as he does several times in his essay, Coates challenges Obama's thinking.

"This part of the Obama formula is the most troubling, and least thought-out," Coates writes. "This judgment emerges from my own biography. I am the product of black parents who encouraged me to read, of black teachers who felt my work ethic did not match my potential, of black college professors who taught me intellectual rigor. And they did this in a world that every day insulted their humanity.

Advertisement

Advertisement

"It was not so much that the black layabouts and deadbeats Obama invoked in his speeches were unrecognizable. I had seen those people too. But I’d also seen the same among white people. If black men were overrepresented among drug dealers and absentee dads of the world, it was directly related to their being underrepresented among the Bernie Madoffs and Kenneth Lays of the world. Power was what mattered, and what characterized the differences between black and white America was not a difference in work ethic, but a system engineered to place one on top of the other.

". . . Obama is unfailingly optimistic about the empathy and capabilities of the American people. His job necessitates this: 'At some level what the people want to feel is that the person leading them sees the best in them,' he told me.

"But I found it interesting that that optimism does not extend to the possibility of the public’s accepting wisdoms — such as the moral logic of reparations — that the president, by his own account, has accepted for himself and is willing to teach his children. Obama says he always tells his staff that 'better is good.' The notion that a president would attempt to achieve change within the boundaries of the accepted consensus is appropriate. But Obama is almost constitutionally skeptical of those who seek to achieve change outside that consensus. . . ."

Advertisement

If there is news among the 17,000 words, it might be that "Obama had been on the record as opposing reparations. But now, late in his presidency, he seemed more open to the idea — in theory, at least, if not in practice."

Coates also evinces from Obama an explanation of "why Obama’s early positive interactions with his white family members gave him a fundamentally different outlook toward the wider world than most blacks of the 1960s had.

"Obama told me he rarely had 'the working assumption of discrimination, the working assumption that white people would not treat me right or give me an opportunity or judge me [other than] on the basis of merit.' He continued, 'The kind of working assumption' that white people would discriminate against him or treat him poorly 'is less embedded in my psyche than it is, say, with Michelle.' . . .”

Advertisement

Advertisement

In a news release, the Atlantic describes Coates' piece this way: "In an extraordinary cover story, Atlantic national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of the first African-American presidency: how it came into being, what it meant — for black Americans and for the history of the country — and how it gave rise to its own undoing with the election of Donald Trump.

"Based on hours of exclusive interviews with President Obama, and on years of observing and thinking by Coates, 'My President was Black' explains how Obama was able to overcome centuries of institutionalized racism to become the first black president; how his blackness inflected, and often constrained, his presidency; and how his optimism and comfort with white people both propelled him to the presidency and blinded him to the scope of white nationalist backlash that Trump rode to the White House.

“ 'My President Was Black' leads The Atlantic’s January/February issue, published today, December 13 at TheAtlantic.com and on newsstands next week. The Atlantic will release full transcripts of Coates’ conversations with President Obama next week at TheAtlantic.com, along with reactions to the cover story. . . ."

Advertisement

The Atlantic's promotional efforts include an animated video.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, the Atlantic: The Problem With Obama's Faith in White America

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: When you hate the Obamas more than you love a paycheck (Dec. 5)

Advertisement

Advertisement

Jenée Desmond-Harris, vox.com: A pollster on the racial panic Obama’s presidency triggered — and what Democrats must do now

Brando Simeo Starkey, the Undefeated: Respectability politics: How a flawed conversation sabotages black lives

Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and Jess Cagle, People: President Obama’s Powerful Message to PEOPLE Readers: This Election Should Not ‘Negate All the Progress That’s Been Made’

Blacks Equate Significance of Obama Election, 9/11

"Shared experiences define what it means to be an American," Claudia Deane, Maeve Duggan and Rich Morin reported Thursday for the Pew Research Center. "The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were such a unifying event for modern Americans. Nothing else has come close to being as important or as memorable, according to a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center in association with A+E Networks’ HISTORY. . . ."

Advertisement

However, they also wrote, "While the Sept. 11 attacks easily top the list for whites, it shares the top spot with the election of President Barack Obama among blacks. Similarly, the civil rights movement ranks behind only the election of Obama and 9/11 on the list of most significant events for blacks but is absent from the top 10 lifetime events for whites. . . ."

Renee Chenault, then-anchor for Philadelphia's WCAU-TV, with Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., in 2000. They were married the next year. (Credit: Steven M. Falk)

10 Years for Derisively Nicknamed ‘Chaka Con’

"Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison, one of the longest terms of incarceration ever imposed on a member of Congress for federal corruption crimes," Jeremy Roebuck reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Advertisement

"Chaka Con, I don’t feel for you," philly.com columnist John Featherman wrote.

Roebuck also wrote, "The sentence capped a tough year for Fattah, who lost his first primary in two decades to U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) just days before his trial began.

Advertisement

"His wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, though not charged in his case, saw her career end this year after she was linked to the sham sale in 2012 of her Porsche convertible, a transaction prosecutors said was intended to cover up a bribe to her husband. She sat in the courtroom Monday typing on an iPad during the hearing.

"And his son, Chaka 'Chip' Jr., was sentenced to five years in prison in February in a bank and tax fraud case tied to loans he fraudulently obtained to fund a luxury lifestyle.

"But while the younger Fattah's crimes stemmed from his extravagant taste in fancy cars, clothes, and apartments, most of the congressman's misdeeds centered on money he owed creditors after a disastrous 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia.

Advertisement

"Addressing the court Monday, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson said the ex-congressman's trial proved his willingness to sell out his office and his constituents over and over again.

"He stole from some of the same causes for which he sought credit, including the education nonprofit he raided to repay an illegal $1 million loan from the mayoral campaign. . . ."

Advertisement

Fattah, who maintained his innocence, plans to appeal.

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: It's not fair, but black politicians have to be better

Advertisement

Jeff Gammage and Jeremy Roebuck, Philadelphia Inquirer: Friends, supporters bemoan Fattah's fall

(Photo illustration of Kanye West by Comedy Central)

Was Trump’s Meeting With Kanye a Distraction?

"After their meeting in Trump Tower this morning, Pres.-elect Trump and Kanye West appeared before reporters in the lobby, much to the surprise of the cable newsers who were deep in conversations about Trump’s Secretary of State pick," Chris Ariens reported Tuesday for TV Newser.

“ 'Oh my goodness,' said Carol Costello breaking in on CNN.

Advertisement

“ 'Look at that!' said Ali Velshi on MSNBC, whose segment with Stephanie Ruhle was interrupted by the moment.

“ 'Mixing up your day with Kanye makes it a little more exciting,' said Martha MacCallum on Fox News.

Advertisement

“ 'Some have said he’s co-opting his 2020 opponent because Mr. West has made it clear he might run for the presidency,' said a not-so-straight faced David Faber on CNBC.

“ 'Oh forget this,' said Stuart Varney on Fox Business Network, cutting away from a story on Monsanto. 'What you’re looking at is Donald Trump and Kanye West. I don’t care about Monsanto. I care about that.' . . . ”

Advertisement

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Trump Tower shuffle.

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: Patriotic Opposition to Donald Trump

Ryan Bort, Newsweek: Kanye West's Visit to Trump Tower Was Another Accidental Distraction

Advertisement

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: If Russia helped Donald Trump win, then what do we do?

April Glaser, Recode: Net neutrality faces extinction under Trump

Advertisement

Renée Graham, Boston Globe: Donald Trump’s master in Moscow

Tom Kludt, CNN Money: Donald Trump follows anti-media campaign with anti-media transition

Advertisement

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Trump is assembling an anti-government. Did Russia help get him here?

Marlow Stern, Daily Beast: ‘The Daily Show’ Rips Kanye West’s Meeting With Trump

Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation: How the Obama administration laid the groundwork for Trump’s coming crackdown on the press

Howard U. Paper Duped by Fake Story on Clintons

"The Hilltop deleted from its site an article on the claims of Danney Williams, a 31-year-old man who claims that Bill Clinton is his father," Erik Wemple reported Tuesday for the Washington Post. "The story was headlined 'ODDITY — Justice for Danney Williams, Son of Bill Clinton?' Owned by Howard University and run by students, the Hilltop was founded in 1924 and has a weekly print circulation of 7,000.

Advertisement

Advertisement

"From the start, the Hilltop’s story was a bit suspect. Its date stamp was Dec. 7, though it was pegged to a Nov. 1 event at the National Press Club. 'My name is Danney Williams,' said Williams at the press conference. 'As you can see, I’m the black son of former President Bill Clinton and stepson of Hillary Clinton . . . I have struggled all my life to get the acknowledgment of my father and stepmother. Because like any child, I want to know my dad and I want him to know me.'

"In front of the cameras, Williams disclosed that he’d sent a letter to Monica Lewinsky seeking to borrow her famous blue dress 'in order to obtain a DNA sample of my father.' . . ."

Wemple also wrote, "Paul Holston, editor in chief of the Hilltop, told the Erik Wemple Blog via email that 'our staff re-reviewed and concluded that there were factual errors within the article. We take full responsibility in this and have promptly removed the article from our site. The Hilltop will respectfully decline any further comments regarding the topic.' . . .”

The battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline drew thousands of Native Americans and activists to North Dakota to camp and demonstrate. (Credit: Michelle Zacarias/People's World)

Stereotypes Predominate in Reporting on Indians

"It's been entertaining to watch the press crowd come out to Indian Country," Tristan Ahtone wrote Wednesday for Al Jazeera. "They didn't want to, of course, but after a few months of United States security forces using tear gas, rubber bullets, mace, water cannon and concussion grenades on hundreds of indigenous protesters intent on stopping an oil pipeline, they had to.

Advertisement

"When the mainstream media finally showed up en masse, the scene at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) played out like a revisionist western movie," continued Ahtone, a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma and vice president of the Native American Journalists Association.

"This time, the Indians out on the prairie were fighting a corporation instead of the cavalry. They had horses and drums and some had painted faces — like the Indians in Stagecoach — but they also had drones and mobile phones, which made them thoroughly modern. Like their ancestors before, they were making a stand to protect their homeland, and this time, they were winning.

Advertisement

"It's sexy, isn't it? That's part of the problem. . . ."

Ahtone also wrote, "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began fighting the DAPL nearly two years ago because government agencies failed to adequately follow federal regulations. Reporting that kind of story — the kind that requires thumbing through reports, letters and memos between government agencies and tribes — can be done easily online.

Advertisement

"It's not ninja-level-Freedom-Of-Information-Act-style-journalism, it's the kind of work that an enterprising news organisation committed to the principles of ethical journalism (public enlightenment, justice, democracy, etc) could easily do if they had any desire to cover Indian Country. Establishing an Indian Country beat isn't all that crazy, considering the vast resources some outlets devote to covering niche issues as important as the cannabis industry, drones, or listicles.

"This is all to say that the same regulatory environment that led to Standing Rock is the same all over Indian Country, and one needs only to sift through publicly available documents to see where the next DAPL-style action will happen, because it is going to happen again. . . ."

"Moonlight" was cited for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor.

Black Film Critics Choose 'Moonlight' as Best Picture

"Moonlight" dominated this year’s voting for the 8th AAFCA Awards, the African American Film Critics Association announced Tuesday.

Advertisement

Advertisement

"The independent film which chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami completely resonated with the majority of the members of the association. The A24 Pictures film earned multiple awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor.

"Awards were also given to singer Janelle Monae for Breakout Performance. She delivered star-making performances this year in both 'Moonlight' and 'Hidden Figures.' The top acting honors went to Denzel Washington and Ruth Negga for their roles in Fences and Loving. . . ."

Short Takes

"On Tuesday, a California appellate court held that 'the press has no special immunity' from employment laws, and reversing a lower court, allowed former CNN producer Stanley Wilson to move forward in a lawsuit claiming the cable news network subjected to him to discrimination, retaliation and defamation," Eriq Gardner reported for the Hollywood Reporter.

Advertisement

"A fire in an Oakland warehouse claimed the lives of 36 people, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office [, which] released the official list of victims names that erroneously included the birth name of a transgender woman, Feral Pines," Erin Fitzgerald reported Tuesday for Media Matters for America. "As a result, the initial media misidentified and misgendered Pines, which prompted loved ones and advocacy organizations to call for journalists to update stories with her correct name. Advocacy efforts ultimately yielded proper reporting, but the steps required to get there highlight the need for media outlets to take greater care in accurately reporting on transgender people. . . ." Scout Wolfcave, 34, a friend of Pines, had been calling news outlets asking them to change their usage of "he" to "she" in news coverage surrounding Pines' death, Sarah Grochowski reported Dec. 7 for the Daily News in New York.

"A Charleston man who hurled racial slurs at WBTV (Channel 3) reporter Steve Crump — and who later apologized and shook hands in court with the accomplished civil rights documentarian — was found dead over the weekend," Mark Washburn reported Monday for the Charlotte Observer. "Brian Eybers, 22, died Sunday at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, authorities said Monday. His death is under investigation and it will probably be several weeks until the cause is determined, according to the Charleston County Medical Examiner’s office. . . ."

"Spanish-language broadcast network Azteca America continues to build out its distribution in the wake of MundoMax’s apparent demise," Media Life Magazine reported on Tuesday. "It could help Azteca shed its status as the least-watched network on broadcast TV. Azteca has boosted its presence in three major markets, including new affiliate WHEH in Charlotte. That station began airing AA on Dec. 1. . . ."

Advertisement

Advertisement

In Kansas City, "Starting Monday, Steven Albritton from KATC in Lafayette, Louisiana will join KMBC morning anchor Haley Harrison on the evening newscasts," Kevin Eck reported Wednesday for TVSpy.

"A public radio reporter previously barred from attending weekly press conferences held by Baltimore’s mayor returned to covering the meetings Wednesday," April Simpson reported Dec. 8 for current.org. "The office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake barred WYPR reporter P. Kenneth Burns from the meetings in October in a letter sent to the station. The office accused Burns of being physically and verbally threatening to the mayor and her staff throughout his three years covering City Hall. Burns denied the charges and said he had received no verbal or written warning from Rawlings-Blake’s staff. . . . Rawlings-Blake left office this week as new mayor Catherine Pugh assumed the post Tuesday. . . ."

Cinematographer Craig Atkinson in 2013 "decided to embark on his directorial debut, 'Do Not Resist,' in which he examines the militarization of the police in the US.," Jason Guerrasio reported Tuesday for businessinsider.com. After the protests in Ferguson, Mo., reacting to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Atkinson and his producer "captured footage of the tactics used by riot-gear-dressed officers that was more raw and unfiltered than what the evening news had been showing. " Atkinson turned down Netflix's offer to buy the film. Still, it was a film festival hit. "But Atkinson came back down to earth when he learned after the festival that suddenly all the prospective buyers of the movie pulled out. He said he was told that Netflix blocks any service deals for movies on the streaming platform after they have turned down Netflix Original deals. . . ."

Advertisement

"Tanzanian security forces should immediately and unconditionally release Maxence Melo, the co-founder of popular online discussion portal Jamii Forum," the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday. "Police raided the website's office in the capital Dar es Salaam today, after detaining Melo yesterday. Melo's lawyer, Benedict Ishabakaki, told the independent newspaper The Citizen that police detained his client yesterday for interrogation regarding a case police filed demanding his cooperation in determining the identities of several users of the online forum who have written about such controversial issues as corruption. . . ."

Stay Woke! Donate Here to Keep Journal-isms Going