Debo Adegbile
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The 1995 convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in Philadelphia was the scene of "a struggle for the soul of NABJ, a struggle between the nationalistic-activist and professional establishment wings of the association," Wayne Dawkins wrote in "Rugged Waters: Black Journalists Swim the Mainstream," his history of the group.

At issue was what stand the organization should take on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists who was on death row in the killing of a Philadelphia policeman.


On Wednesday, the Abu-Jamal case again demonstrated its power to ignite. It was cited in the U.S. Senate as reason enough to reject President Obama's nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Adegbile had worked on Abu-Jamal's death penalty appeal, prompting law enforcement officials to vigorously lobby the Democratic-controlled chamber in opposition to the nomination.

NABJ members, while not on the Senate floor, were again part of the debate.

"The demagoguery of politicians exploiting the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner to score points toward their next election is blatant and sickening," began an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, whose opinion page is led by NABJ member Harold Jackson.


The editorial continued, "It would be hard to find a better candidate for the position than Adegbile. But [Sen. Pat] Toomey (R., Pa.), Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and others say he should be disqualified because he was the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's director of litigation when the organization advocated on behalf of Faulkner's killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, during appeals of his conviction.

"The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is no fly-by-night group. It is held in high esteem for the historic work that led to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which struck down segregation. That case was argued by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who later became the high court's first black justice. Over the years, the Legal Defense Fund has added to its mission the pursuit of justice in criminal cases that may involve racial bias.

"Sometimes the organization is right; sometimes it is wrong. But its goal is commendable.


"To argue that Adegbile, one of the country's foremost legal scholars — especially when it comes to civil rights law — should be disqualified from the Justice post because he participated in Abu-Jamal's appeals is an affront to what it means to live in America. This country allows every convict to exhaustively appeal a verdict, even when all the prior evidence appears to have assured his guilt. . . ."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., read from an Inquirer editorial in defending the nominee.

Adam Serwer noted for MSNBC, "Representing murderers hasn’t proved disqualifying before — Republicans confirmed John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court despite his pro-bono work on behalf of a man recently executed for mass murder. . . ."


Linn Washington, an Abu-Jamal supporter who writes for the Philadelphia Tribune and teaches journalism at Temple University, maintained in an op-ed, "Members of the U.S. Senate, who now loudly castigate Russia for violating 'the rule of law' in the Ukraine, trashed that fundamental legal precept during a vote to reject the man President Obama nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

"The Senate that rejected the nomination of Debo Adegbile, followed a venomous, falsehood-filled campaign against Adegbile launched by the National Fraternal Order of Police and exploited by conservative opponents of Obama. . . ."

Jonathan Tamari reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer in an early version of the story (later revised):

"Toomey, on the Senate floor before the vote, read a searing letter from Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner who Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing in 1981.


" 'I would argue that Mr. Adegbile's decision to defend a cop-killer should preclude him from holding any public position,' Faulkner wrote.

"In an interview with Fox News, she thanked the Democratic senators who 'broke ranks and had the courage to do the right thing.'

"Toomey received congratulatory [handshakes] after the vote.

"Fitzpatrick said Faulkner had asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) not to hold the vote this week because she could not travel to Washington. Reid's office sets the timetable for votes.


"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) — quoting Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams — said Adegbile's work sent a 'message of contempt' to police.

"Democrats accused Republicans of creating a caricature of an attorney who has twice argued for protecting voting rights before the Supreme Court and rose from poverty in New York to become a respected attorney who worked for civil rights. . . ."

A Philadelphia jury convicted Abu-Jamal of killing Faulkner, who was white, in 1981 after the patrolman pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother during an overnight traffic stop. Abu-Jamal, a onetime reporter for public radio station WUHY (now WHYY) and an activist, was working as a cab driver at the time.


"Prosecutors say Faulkner, 25, managed to shoot Abu-Jamal during the confrontation. A wounded Abu-Jamal, his own gun lying nearby, was still at the scene when police arrived, and authorities considered the evidence against him overwhelming," the Associated Press reported in 2009 when Abu-Jamal lost his bid for a new trial.

While in prison, Abu-Jamal continued to write and speak. So have his supporters.

Activists took the Abu-Jamal issue to the NABJ convention in Philadelphia shortly before Abu-Jamal's 1995 scheduled execution. Supporters said Abu-Jamal's trial had numerous legal errors.


Then-NABJ president Dorothy Gilliam supported a new trial for Abu-Jamal in her Washington Post column, as did several black newspapers. But NABJ was reluctant to take a position on Abu-Jamal's guilt or innocence, not only because its members are journalists and believed they should keep their distance from that kind of activism, but also because members noted other cases around the country they thought deserved the same level of attention.

In the end, NABJ decried violations of Abu-Jamal's First Amendment rights, filed a friend-of-the-court brief to that effect and urged "a full an accurate review by the judicial system of the state of Pennsylvania" of new information that might have developed.

It also decried actions by the activists. "Instead of developing a winning partnership with us, NABJ has been targeted by various groups and individuals for ridicule and scorn," the board said in a statement. "Instead of working side-by-side with a powerful ally such as the nation's news media, we have been used as the scapegoat."


On Wednesday, Abu-Jamal supporters Noelle Hanrahan and Stephen Vittoria, who produced a 2012 film about Abu-Jamal, issued a statement reading, in part, "If you want to understand why the reactionary wing of America's one-party system is using Adegbile's association with journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal as a flashpoint in their attempt to block his nomination, take a long hard look at the trajectory of Abu-Jamal's life.

"This examination will reveal a mountain of substantiation regarding his life as a vibrant journalist as well as a black revolutionary targeted by the Philadelphia Police Department as well as the FBI's COINTELPRO program — a truth that has been conveniently disregarded by the right-wing echo chamber and the American media. But that's nothing new. The narrative embroidered by those hell-bent on perpetuating America's white supremacist power base has been one chock-full of lies and race-charged innuendo. . . ."

John Featherman, Philadelphia Inquirer: He was unfairly rejected (March 6)

Justice Department: Statement by Attorney General Eric Holder on the Senate Vote on Debo Adegbile


Wesley Lowery, Washington Post: How Mumia Abu-Jamal doomed Debo Adegbile in the Senate

Michael McGough, Los Angeles Times: In rejecting Debo Adegbile, two Senate Democrats take the easy way out

White House: Statement from the President on the Senate’s Failure to Confirm Debo Adegbile


Political Writer Sought for "User's Guide to the News"

Project X (a working title), "a user's guide to the news produced by the beat reporters and subject area experts who know it best," is seeking a political writer.

Such job openings are not usually so prominently displayed here, but Project X is headed by Ezra Klein, former stalwart of the Washington Post's Wonkblog who just departed to start his own digital venture in explanatory journalism.


Under the headline, "Journo-diversity advocate turns attention to Ezra Klein project," Erik Wemple, the Post's online media blogger, noted Wednesday that this columnist asked Klein last week about the racial diversity of his new hires.

Klein responded: "There is, but certainly not enough. That said, this is the beginning of our hiring process, not the end. I'd love to know your suggestions for the top few young candidates of color we should be talking to. We're particularly looking right now for science, health, foreign policy, and data journalists, though I’m interested in names beyond these topics, too."

Wemple wrote, "A fine response. Since leaving the Post for a new explanatory journalism project at Vox Media, Klein has hired many of his former Post colleagues, including multiplatform specialist Melissa Bell, reporters Brad Plumer, Sarah Kliff, Max Fisher, Dylan Matthews and Tim Lee. Also: Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias, Politico education reporter Libby Nelson, U.S. News staffer Danielle Kurtzleben and New Yorker Washington bureau staffer Andrew Prokop. Full staff list here."


Wemple also noted, "There’s nothing exceptional about this outreach on Prince's part. . . . His history with journalism diversity has given him a seedbed of tipsters: A reader of his flagged the diversity scarcity among the hires for Klein’s Vox project. . . . "

Klein messaged Journal-isms Wednesday about the political writer's job, saying, "here's our top job listing right now, would love for you to circulate it."

Harry Jaffe, Washingtonian: Katharine Weymouth Defends Decision Not to Fund Ezra Klein's New Venture (Jan. 29)


Peter Goodman, Who Sought Diversity at HuffPost, to Exit

In 2011, Peter Goodman wrote ths columnist a message that was soon circulated:

"I'm the new business editor at the Huffington Post, having just landed here after a dozen years in the traditional newspaper world (New York Times, and before that the Washington Post). Your piece on [Poynter] this morning caught my eye. I am of the strong belief that we need to significantly increase diversity here (and in every other newsroom I've worked in, for that matter), not for any sort of image management but given the imperatives of basic journalism: We can't report what we do not know, and if everyone comes from the same background our knowledge is limited. . . ."


On Tuesday, the parent company of International Business Times announced that it had hired Goodman to become editor in chief.

Goodman was wary of having his diversity efforts highlighted — he cast his efforts as "I expanded the applicant pool by ensuring that we sought a diverse workplace" — but journalists of color who worked with him were not as shy about offering an assessment.

Trymaine Lee, who was a senior writer for the Huffington Post and is now a national writer for, messaged:

"It was evident to me that Peter Goodman cared about and valued diversity in the newsroom. It was clear in our earliest conversations that it was important to him. He offered me a position even before it was clear if Black Voices would survive the merger with AOL. Peter said that either way it went, he wanted to hire me. If anything he was responsive to the wider concerns about diversity at HuffPost, asking on a number of occasions if there were people of color that should be on his radar. Still, aside from Black Voices, there were only a few people of color in the Huffington Post newsroom when I was there. And even fewer now. I don't think that's a testament to any failed efforts on the part of Peter Goodman. I just don't think newsroom diversity is something that is embraced as a priority in the culture of the place."


Rebecca Carroll, who was managing editor of HuffPost BlackVoices and is now managing editor of xoJane, wrote:

"Peter was a steadfast advocate for me during my time at The Huffington Post, and absolutely instrumental in helping me to staff the HuffPost BlackVoices team. Beyond BlackVoices, though, his commitment to diversifying the entire newsroom at HuffPost was clear and pointed and unwavering from our very first conversations. It was never about 'creating diversity' or quota thinking, rather it was about being as diverse as we could and should be, and making a concerted effort to recruit and interview strong candidates of color. The International Business Times is extraordinarily lucky to have him."

"Critically Important" for Blacks to Cover Ukraine Crisis

“It is not OK that there is a lack of journalists of color, and particularly black journalists, covering the current crisis in Russia and Ukraine," Ann Simmons, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote to Journal-isms on Tuesday.


Simmons was responding to a request for comment on the lack of reporters of color covering the Russian incursion into Ukraine's Crimea region. Only four African American journalists have ever covered Russia, Journal-isms reported Monday, and both Russia and Ukraine have histories of racism.

Simmons is a former Nairobi and Johannesburg bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times with a double honors B.A. in Russian and Norwegian from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. She covered Russia for Time magazine from 1991 to 1994.

"I think it is critically important that black journalists have the opportunity to cover such events in part to help dispel the racial stereotypes that some people in Russia and Ukraine might have about status of blacks in the U.S. and the Diaspora," Simmons continued. "We are not only talented athletes and entertainers. We also work for large and reputable news organizations and are capable of covering significant international news events.


"I also believe that black journalists should not to allow the fear of being confronted with racism influence their decision of whether to cover a particular news event. Wherever we travel in the world we are ambassadors [for] our race and people can learn much simply from our presence.

"Equally important is that journalists of color not be limited to covering foreign news events that only have a connection to their race or heritage. It’s clear that having diversity in news coverage better serves and informs readers and viewers."

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Their hero.

Committee to Protect Journalists: Independent media, journalists obstructed in Crimea


Journalists Say Egypt Tortured Them, Denied Medical Care

"The trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting deposed Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood heard defendants charge they were tortured and denied medical care," Haitham El-Tabei reported Wednesday for Agence France-Presse.

"The high-profile trial is seen as a test of the military-installed government's tolerance of independent media, with activists fearing a return to autocracy three years after the Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.


"The trial of the Qatar-based channel's journalists also comes against the backdrop of strained ties with [the Qatar capital of] Doha, which was a strong supporter of Morsi and his now-banned Brotherhood.

"The 20 defendants include well-known Australian reporter Peter Greste. Eight of them are in custody, and the rest on the run or abroad.

"They are accused of supporting the Brotherhood and broadcasting false reports, after police shut down the Cairo offices of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, the network's Egyptian channel, following the military's July 3 overthrow of Morsi. . . ."


The trial was later adjourned to March 24, disappointing journalists advocates who were hoping for their release.

Jeanine Poggi, AdAge: Al Jazeera America at Six Months: Some New Advertisers, Few Viewers

Blacks Tops in Viewing TV; Asians in Internet-Connected Devices

Blacks continue to exceed the rest of the population in time spent watching television, listening to the radio and playing with game consoles [PDF], while Asian Americans are far ahead in their use of Internet-connected devices, according to a Nielsen survey of media consumption released Wednesday.


Hispanics watch television more than Asian Americans, but far less than blacks.

The survey found that people 2 years and over watch television 33 hours and 53 minutes a week, with blacks watching 47 hours and 25 minutes, Hispanics 27 hours and 14 minutes and Asian Americans 18 hours and 52 minutes.

Use of multimedia devices was defined as "viewing on an internet connected device, such as an Apple TV, Boxee, Roku, or Google Chromecast, through the television. This does not include DVD / Blu Ray Devices, Game Consoles, or Computers." Asian Americans were ahead, using the devices for 50 minutes a week, compared with 16 minutes for all people 2 years and over, eight minutes for blacks and 10 minutes for Hispanics.


The survey also found gender differences. "When looking at U.S. smartphone and tablet users, women win the battle of the sexes in terms of time spent on media via apps and the mobile Web. In fact, while all smartphone users spent 89 percent of their mobile media time in Q4 2013 using mobile apps, women spent nearly an hour-and-a-half more than men using mobile apps," Nielsen said. The digital divide is even wider among tablet users. In Q4 2013, women spent more than five more hours using mobile apps on their tablets than men and more than two more hours on the mobile Web! . . ."

David Hinckley, Daily News, New York: Average American watches 5 hours of TV per day, report shows

"On February 21, my company, New Wave Multimedia, released a documentary [video] about the assassination of Malcolm X, verifying for the first time ever who actually shot him: Thomas Hagan, William Bradley and Norman 3X Butler," writes Karl Evanzz, a former researcher for the Washington Post. Evanzz is an author best known for "The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad," about the Nation of Islam leader, and "The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X.""Black Zapruder" Film Documents Malcolm X Killing


"Hagan was caught at the scene, so there was no question there. In 2010 researcher Abdur Rahman Muhammad broke new ground by confirming that William Bradley was the shotgun assassin. The only remaining question was the identity of the 3rd shooter. The video 'The Black Zapruder Film: They Killed Malcolm X,' not only confirms that Butler was guilty, but it is the FIRST to document the presence of ALL THREE ASSASSINS at the scene of the crime.

"The Abdur Rahman Muhammad discovery and the discovery of this footage are landmark events in American history. We may never know who really killed John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Robert F. Kennedy. But as of today, we know for certain the names and identities of the three men who killed Malcolm X."

Black College Opposes End of Deals With TV Stations

"FCC commissioner Ajit Pai continued his pushback on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's expected vote later this month to make some joint sales agreements (JSAs) attributable under ownership rules," John Eggerton reported Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.


"Pai in a public statement Wednesday showcased a meeting he had held last week with Pervis Parker, general manager of WLOO-TV Jackson, Miss., which is owned by historically African American Tougaloo College.

"It is one of a few — only three or four total — African American-owned TV stations in the country, Pai points out. But Pai said Pervis told him the only reason the station could broadcast in HD, air high school sports, or launch student-produced locally originated programming was because of a joint sales agreement with WDBD. . . ."

Meanwhile, the activist media group Free Press updated its census of African American-owned television stations.


Free Press previously said there were none remaining. However, the organization now says, "The owner of WJYS in the Chicago DMA did not identify as African American in the 2011 FCC ownership filing we based our reporting here on. However, in previous filings, the station's co-owners self-identified as African American. And in its most recent filing, posted on the FCC site after our report came out, the owners selected every race."

Joseph Stroud, founder and president of Jovon Broadcasting of Hammond, Ind., owner of WJYS, provided $1.57 million for former Sen. Roland Burris' 2002 bid for Illinois governor, Pro Publica reported.

The Free Press census also did not count stations owned by Armstrong Williams, who reported in November that he had won approval from the FCC to buy WEYI-TV, an NBC affiliate in the Flint/Saginaw/Bay City/Midland, Mich., market, and WWMB-TV, a CW affiliate in the Myrtle Beach/Florence, S.C., market, near Williams' hometown of Marion, S.C.


The stations were acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., and turned over to Williams under shared service agreements. Free Press and other opponents see shared service and joint sales agreements as big companies' end runs around ownership limits.

Williams also plans to acquire WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., from Sinclair.

Writing Beyond "A Bunch of Immigrants Dancing on Stage"

Last month, the Association of Opinion Journalists put out a call for pieces "looking back to the era of racial blinders in media, or current blinders, relevant mostly to people who do professional writing, editing or audio-video producing of opinion for a public audience."


The collection was published last week, but one anecdote didn't make the package.

"In the spring of 2004, I wrote a story for the Washington Post on 'Bhangra Blowout,' a competition hosted by George Washington University where groups of Indian students from across the country tried to out-dance each other," S. Mitra Kalita, ideas editor for, wrote. "I was struck by how authentic each tried to be, the money some troupes had spent for instruction in India, the choreography that called for real drummers onstage. This was so unlike the Jay Z-mixed bhangra that played on the radio.

"Let's roll back the tape a bit to my entry into journalism. It was the politically correct mid-1990s where diversity workshops taught (brainwashed) us to use our backgrounds as a lens to cover the world, especially the untold stories. Cover communities from the inside out. Make stories relevant to mainstream audiences, revelatory to the subjects. I'd spend the next decade applying those rules as a reporter covering business, immigration, education. For the most part, editors at the Washington Post encouraged that approach.


"And so I tried the same covering that dance contest. I reported the story on a Saturday night, on my own time. And then headed to the office on Sunday to file it. And waited for editing.

"At first, he sent a message. 'Mitra, can you come over here?' I head to his desk. It was a guy who I'd never worked with before.

"So I don't understand half this story. First, what is bhangra? Don't you think the lead should be more stepback?"


"Not really. I mean, I do define bhangra but I think we want to try to tell a story that is beyond just a bunch of immigrants dancing on stage, no?'

"And then came the line: 'When you write these stories,' he said, 'you've got to think about white guys like me. Eating our bagels, sipping our coffee in the morning. We're the audience.'

" 'Got it.'

"I tweaked the lead — and vowed to spend my entire career proving him wrong. Sadly, newspaper circulation figures beat me to it."


Short Takes

"Aly Colón will become the next John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Media Ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., on July 1," the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced this week. "Aly Colón has a long background in news and journalism ethics, most recently serving as Director of Standards and Practices at NBC News. He was assigned to Telemundo Network News, the second-largest Spanish-language network in the United States, and was responsible for applying ethical decision-making to the news operation, providing ethics training to reporters and producers, and reviewing scripts, video and digital news coverage. . . ."

"Comcast Corp on Tuesday said its discounted Internet service for low-income families will be available indefinitely, a move that should please U.S. regulators as the company seeks approval for its $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable," Alina Selyukh and Liana B. Baker reported Tuesday for Reuters.


"After a network spokesperson denied in early February that 'America,' the show Jorge Ramos anchors on Fusion, would be scaled back from a daily to a weekly, today it was confirmed that's exactly what will happen," Veronica Villafañe reported Tuesday for her Media Moves site. "Starting March 18, 'America' will only air on Tuesday nights at 7 and 10 pm. . . ."

"The Daily Breeze's headline Monday marking '12 Years a Slave' ‘s Best Picture win was 'tacky, ridiculous, stupid,' Michael Anastasi said in a phone call," Andrew Beaujon reported Wednesday for the Poynter Institute. "Anastasi is the vice president of news and executive editor for Digital First Media's Los Angeles News Group, which publishes The (Torrance, Calif.) Daily Breeze. The headline reads: ' "Slave" becomes master.' . . ." The headline also ran in other papers in the group, such as the Los Angeles Daily News and the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, Calif.

Adelle M. Banks and team, Religion News Service; Michelle Miller, correspondent, "CBS Sunday Morning"; Jeff Chu of Princeton Alumni Weekly; and Jaweed Kaleem of the Huffington Post were among the winners of Religion Communicators Council's Wilbur Awards announced Wednesday. The awards "honor excellence by individuals in secular media — print and online journalism, book publishing, broadcasting, and motion pictures — in communicating religious issues, positive values and themes during 2013. . . ."


The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS "released more info about their new $20 million American Graduate initiative, first announced Monday at the Public Media Summit in Washington, D.C.," Andrew Lapin reported Feb. 26 for "The two backers will each contribute $5 million per year for two years to support station projects 'for the creation of content and tools to help parents, particularly those from low income communities, better prepare their children, ages 2-8, for educational success,' according to a Wednesday release. A portion will be earmarked for stations to educate viewers about the link between early learning and increased high-school graduation rates."

In Sudan, "The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) confiscated print-runs of five Sudanese newspapers on Monday and Tuesday. El Jareeda, Akhir Lahza, and El Sudani daily newspapers were confiscated on Tuesday morning immediately after the copies were printed in Khartoum," according to Radio Dabanga, a project of the Radio Darfur Network, a coalition of Sudanese journalists. "The day before, the print-run of El Sudani was also confiscated, together with all the copies of El Hurra and El Ahram. The NISS on Monday also blocked El Jareeda columnist Haidar Kheirallah from writing for an indefinite period. A reason was not given. . . ."

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