Commentators Question President's Manhood, Blackness

Remember when black journalists were accused of being "in the tank" for Barack Obama? If it wasn't true during the presidential campaign, and was a misreading after the inauguration, it's certainly not valid two years into his presidency.

The black left was never really there to begin with. Glen Ford of has been consistent, writing last week: "Only fools should feel sorry for Obama as he prepares for a Republican-led House and weakened Democratic control of the Senate. This is Obama’s 'comfort zone,' where he can continue to woo Republicans to join his grand center-right coalition. The only people Obama has no tolerance for are liberalish Democrats, who will emerge relatively stronger in the new Congress thanks to the decimation of Obama’s Republican-Lite friends in conservative Democratic ranks. By freezing federal wages, Obama signals that he has no philosophical problems with the GOP’s general aims."

In 2007, Laura Washington, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, raised the question of whether Obama was "black enough." If she ever resolved that question, it wasn't evident on Monday. She wrote in the Sun-Times, "Is it time for President Obama to 'go black' on his opponents? Time to put his hand on his hips, and let it rip? That’s what I am hearing from liberal friends and political activists. Get some backbone, Mr. President. Don’t let the Republicans push you around. Get mad, then get even."

The phrase "man up" is gaining currency.

While not a journalist, Clarence B. Jones has a piece on the Huffington Post under the headline, "Time to Think the Unthinkable: A Democratic Primary Challenge To Obama's Reelection."


Jones is scholar in residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. He said he was motivated by listening carefully to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in The Wind": "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" Ouch.

The most recent cause for disappointment is Obama's willingness to make a deal with congressional Republicans to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels for two years, even though Democrats still control the White House and both houses of Congress. Obama announced an agreement with Republicans Monday night to extend expiring tax cuts for all Americans, renew jobless benefits and grant a one-year reduction in Social Security taxes for millions, as Jim Kuhnhenn and David Espo reported for the Associated Press.

"Obama said there were elements of the deal he personally opposed, including an extension of expiring income tax cuts at upper income levels and a more generous deal on estates. But he said he decided that an agreement with Republicans was more important that a stalemate that would have resulted in higher income taxes at all income levels on Jan. 1," they wrote.


During the negotiations, some argued that Obama had no choice but to accede to the Republicans. But not everyone bought that argument.

"Those desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled 'Understanding Stockholm Syndrome' in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin," columnist Frank Rich wrote Sunday in a hard-hitting New York Times piece. "It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim’s loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors’ 'good side' and develop psychological characteristics to please them — 'dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think.' "

Rich isn't black. The Washington Post's Courtland Milloy Jr. is, however, as he underscored recently with controversial columns about Adrian Fenty's defeat for re-election as mayor of the District of Columbia and about the Tyler Perry movie "For Colored Girls."


"Much of this criticism against Obama has to do with his resolve, not his race," Milloy wrote last week. "But I see the president as a black man first. It's a pride thing. Obama's victory wasn't just about his progressive platform. It was a historic, racial barrier-busting victory that was supposed to make it just a little easier for black boys to imagine being president.

"But Obama is proving himself to be a most peculiar commander in chief. Maybe another black boy will someday grow up to become president, but if he turns out to be like Obama, it'll be hard to call him a black man."


SPJ Joins Appeals for AP to Keep Internship Program

The Society of Professional Journalists’ national president Monday urged the Associated Press "to do all in its power to maintain its prestigious paid internship program as it looks for ways to make significant cuts in its operating budget."

Hagit Limor, an investigative reporter at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati who is SPJ president, said AP officials last week confirmed they were considering dropping their internship program as part of an overall restructuring that "AP chief executive officer Tom Curley called a 'business transformation.' A final decision is expected this month," the news release said.


"We got our information from AP staffers familiar with budget proceedings," Limor told Journal-isms.

The internship program, begun in 1984 to train journalists of color, has produced successful professionals inside and outside of the AP. The interns are paid salaries on News Media Guild scale.

SPJ's release continued, "Too often in recent years, we have seen news organizations slash their talent development programs as they move to cut costs. This may prove to be a short-sighted approach to charting the future of a company or industry, as experience has shown internship programs are essential investments in helping identify and train top talent for future roles in our business."


The Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association have urged AP's CEO, Tom Curley, to keep the program, and the National Association of Black Journalists has also been talking to senior staff members at the AP, according to Deirdre Childress, NABJ's vice president/print.

"The fate of their internships is tied to the 2011 budget scheduled to be completed this week," Childress said. "NABJ is lobbying for the program to be sustained but knows some reductions are on the table."

NABJ President Kathy Y. Times, who with Childress held a conference call with the AP's human resources manager on Thursday, said, "I'm optimistic the program will survive, even if it means cutting some slots."


As reported two weeks ago, Curley responded to a four-paragraph appeal from Rhonda LeValdo, president of NAJA, with a single sentence, "Rhonda, We simply must focus resources, especially staff time, in 2011 on getting projects accomplished."

Barbara Ciara, president of Unity: Journalists of Color, said she remains hopeful. "I am reaching out to AP insiders who have an interest in saving the program," she told Journal-isms on Monday.

"It's my hope that we can come up with a proposal that will convince the CEO to reconsider his position on ending such a valuable training tool. In the interest of future journalism, AP needs to rethink this ill-conceived business decision. In our view, it's bad business for the Associated Press not to invest in growing future journalists."


Is FishbowlDC Too White, or Is That Just One Perception?

Reading the Fishbowl blogs about the media — there are three of them, for New York, Washington and Los Angeles, all produced by the MediaBistro organization — one sometimes gets the impression that media people of color exist merely as window dressing. They rarely do anything collectively on their own.

The Washington City Paper's latest cover story is about Betsy Rothstein, editor of the D.C. operation. "With Fishbowl DC and Betsy Rothstein, the Beltway's media culture gets the gossip column it deserves," its headline says, over a story by Moe Tkacik.


Inside is a two-page layout of "The Fishbowl DC Cast of Characters." In a majority-black city, all 22 are white.

"Factually yes, that's correct. All the 'Boy Banders' are White," Rothstein e-mailed Journal-isms, referring to Generation-Y pundits who make up one of the categories in City Paper's Fishbowl cast of characters.

But, Rothstein added, "Quick Google and Nexis searches will reveal that I have written about a number of black journalists as well as black lawmakers in the course of my writing career here in Washington.


"Among my beats for my former employer, The Hill, early on was Caucuses, and I covered the Congressional Black Caucus extensively. On FishbowlDC I have written about the D.C. blogger, The Black Snob, as well as WaPo's Courtland Milloy, NYT's Helene Cooper, WaPo’s Jonathan Capehart, Washington Watch’s Roland Martin, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and [the Washington Post's] J. Freedom du Lac, some of whom are among my regulars that I quote and write about.

"Other black journalists we’ve written about include former Politics Daily writer and Bitch is the New Black Author Helena Andrews, Geoff Bennett, Clinton Yates and Beth Perry. Last year I won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists on a story I wrote about Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and what he was going through in his political scandal.

"I cannot help the way the Washington City Paper portrayed our coverage as I was not a part of those editorial decisions. I also don't think it's necessarily a compliment to be a part of a Boy Band or to have been categorized in any of those categories on WCP. So a suggestion that we don't cover minorities because of City Paper's picks who didn't get picked on or called out is just wrong. We clearly do have a diverse array of journalists we cover on FishbowlDC. Apart from black journalists, Asian journalists who we cover regularly include CBS's Kaylee Hartung, Ed Chen (former head of WHCA [the White House Correspondents Association]), Time's Jay Newton-Small, Christina Sevilla, Pamela Sorensen, WaPo's Ylan Mui."


She added that she had forgotten that "Gwen Ifill, Donna Brazile and Michael Wilbon are all black journalists who we cover regularly. And Juan Williams — we cover and have covered him extensively."

Michael Schaffer, editor of the City Paper, which coincidentally has also been viewed as edited with a white audience in mind, replied by e-mail:

"Our reporter read every Fishbowl post of Betsy's that had appeared in the year she'd been writing Fishbowl. She picked the names that in her opinion represent the folks who pop up either most frequently or most dramatically in that space, often on the receiving end of Betsy's teasing. That's not to say they are the only people covered, by any means. I don't think there's any implication that this was a scientifically selected gallery of the media types who appear in Fishbowl."


NABJ Members Part of U.S. Delegation to African Festival

Members of the National Association of Black Journalists are joining "an unprecedented gathering of black artists, writers, filmmakers, academics, scientists, and other leaders" who are convening in Senegal Friday for the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.

"A high-powered U.S. delegation of more than 200 African-American leaders will attend the Festival, including groups from the National Conference of Black Mayors, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. In all, thousands of delegates from 80 countries will converge on Dakar," an announcement said.


The festival is being billed as only the third such event in 50 years. It continues through Dec. 31.

The delegation is led by Djibril Diallo, coordinator of the U.S. Committee for the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, senior adviser to the executive director of UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) and a longtime NABJ member. Among other NABJ members in the delegation are Vice President/Print Deirdre M. Childress; photojournalist Kimberly P. Mitchell and columnist Rochelle Riley, both of the Detroit Free Press; Ebony magazine Senior Editor Adrienne Samuels Gibbs; Curtis Simmons, representing the New York Amsterdam News and the National Newspaper Publishers Association; and Miami Herald World Editor John Yearwood, co-chairman of the NABJ World Affairs Task Force.

Childress said no NABJ funds were being used for the project.

The trip is to "build on the work of President Kathy Times and other NABJ leaders during previous visits to Senegal and elsewhere in Africa. A roundtable will be held with Babacar Diagne, Director-General of Senegalese Radio and Television, and other journalists who will discuss how NABJ could work with African media to foster opportunities on the continent for the organization's members."


Charles Rangel Subject Even to Sartorial Scrutiny

How little some things change. In an October 1996 piece for the late Emerge magazine, "Targets for Scrutiny," preserved in the book "The Best of Emerge," Joe Davidson quoted Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"The African-American community is angered in two ways," Henderson said. "First, they are angry at the political and law enforcement establishment, which has at least in some instances clearly targeted unfairly African-American politicians for close scrutiny. On the other hand, the community is also angered by those politicians who use the excuse of unfair targeting to justify what is clearly unacceptable, often illegal, behavior. And reconciling that dilemma is the challenge that faces the next generation of politicians."


The subject then was the number of African American politicians facing criminal charges, the piece focusing particularly on Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., who was found guilty of seducing a 16-year-old campaign volunteer.

The House censure last week of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was not for any criminal offense, coupling that with accusations leveled at Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., some had noted that a disproportionate number of black politicians seemed headed for the dock.

Rangel appeared Sunday on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation" and Monday on the syndicated Tom Joyner radio show (audio) in an attempt at damage control.


But the case and its political fallout was not all that journalists wrote about Rangel. In the Washington Post on Sunday, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion columnist Robin Givhan discussed the broader implications of the sartorial choices of the New York congressman, who is 80, and of African American men in general.

"There was a moment in August when Rangel stood in the House well and addressed his colleagues in a manner that was both defiant and urgent," Givhan wrote. "But as he stood there in his dark suit and white shirt, something was wrong. His tie was crooked; his hair a little mussed. Rangel, by no means, looked disheveled. But for a man whose attire is always such a carefully moderated blend of tradition and showmanship, control and daring, it was a telling lapse.

"His words focused on his determination to fight the ethics charges, on his refusal to be pushed out. But his clothes suggested that he'd already lost control of his personal narrative."



ESPN Launching Site Targeting Female Sports Fans

"ESPN has launched the first phase of a dedicated digital initiative covering women's sports," Multichannel News reported on Monday.

"In what the programmer describes as the 1.0 version, [], aiming at fans and athletes 18+, bowed today in blog format. The site, supported by a Twitter and Facebook presence, will incorporate posts by top female sports columnists and bloggers, pro athletes, expert contributors and news from a variety of ESPN and non-ESPN news outlets. The launch serves as a precursor to a more robust Web site with mobile applications and personalized content, slated to bow next spring. . . .


"Contributors such as Adena Andrews (formerly, Melissa Jacobs (, Jane McManus (, Amanda Rykoff ( and Sarah Spain ( will write daily posts offering insight on the day's biggest sports stories across the entire sports landscape — encompassing men's and women's sports. Guest contributors such as Val Ackerman, Gretchen Bleiler, Tamika Catchings, Julie Foudy, Jessica Mendoza, Summer Sanders and Diana Taurasi will weigh in on a variety of issues as will ESPN's own Michelle Beadle, Sage Steele, Wendi Nix and Hannah Storm. Special posts will be made throughout the year by Jemele Hill."

Laura Gentile, vice president of espnW and ESPN RISE, is directing the site and its accompanying ventures.

Ebony Names Media Figures to Its "Power 100 List"

Ebony magazine Monday called attention to "the doers and influencers in 13 various disciplines within our community on our annual Ebony Power 100 List," which counts media among the categories.


"We’ve approached things differently this year by reaching out to last year’s candidates and asking for peer recommendations.

"Of course the lists were endless, so our editors devised a formula to assist with the final selection that ranged from the number of Google hits to annual company revenue," an announcement said. "Some of finalists are a given but there are a few surprises, especially with our 'Who’s Got Next' list of emerging leaders."

The media figures are Cathy Hughes, CEO and founder of Radio One; Debra Lee, chairman and CEO, BET Networks; Johnathan Rodgers, president and CEO, TV One; Tom Joyner, radio host; David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer, Google; Christina Norman, CEO, the Oprah Winfrey Network; Necole Bitchie, "Hip-hop Celebrity News Blogger"; Essie Chambers, senior vice president programming at Centric, the BET channel; and Traci Lynn Blackwell, vice president, current programs, the CW Network.


Emerging leaders were Alynda Wheat, "media critic" who reviews films for People magazine; Evan Narcisse, who "covers comic books, pop culture and video games for a wide range of publications," and Erica Kennedy, a novelist who "now has one of the fiercest Twitter followings out there."