Civil Rights Worker: Selma Is ‘a Fine Film,’ but Eyes on the Prize Is More Accurate

Participants, some carrying American flags, walking in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965
Peter Pettus/Library of Congress

Filmgoers Should Have a Chance to See the Documentary

Judy Richardson was a worker for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia from 1963 to 1966, the time depicted in the movie "Selma."

She began a career in filmmaking as associate producer of "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1985," a 14-hour documentary series on the history of the civil rights movement that was broadcast on PBS in 1987 and 1990, and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1988.

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Richardson calls "Selma" "a fine film." But to set the record straight, she wants PBS to show the episode of "Eyes" that features the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. That suggestion was made in this column a week ago, but a PBS spokeswoman has been unavailable since then to say whether that is a possibility.

[Update: Spokeswoman Jan McNamara messaged on Tuesday, " 'Eyes on the Prize' is not currently cleared and in rights for broadcast. The rights for the series are extremely complicated due to the amount of music and news footage that it features."]

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"Yes, I've also been recommending that 6th hour of Eyes I (Bridge to Selma) as a reality check to 'Selma,' " Richardson messaged Journal-isms on Monday. Moviegoers have testified to the emotional power of the movie, but Richardson and others say that seeing documentary footage of the events could pack even more of an emotional punch — and correct some of the film's historical inaccuracies.

As the nation celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, "Selma" was part of the discourse. It ranked fifth in weekend box office receipts, according toboxofficemojo.com. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote for the New York Times' Sunday print edition, "I loved the movie and find the Oscar snub of its dazzling actors repugnant.

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"But the director's talent makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it." Dowd also wrote, "The 'Hey, it's just a movie' excuse doesn't wash. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season. . . ."

Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus took opposing views in op-ed pieces. In the Los Angeles Times, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., SNCC chairman at the time of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which he helped lead, wrote Friday, "The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: 'The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.' "

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He added, "This movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear . . . ."

In the Dallas Morning News, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, began an op-ed piece Sunday, "The new, acclaimed motion picture Selma suggests that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was not an ardent supporter of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a fragile relationship. Nothing is further from the truth. . . ."

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Meanwhile, Barbara Reynolds, a journalist who collaborated with Coretta Scott King on a biography, complained in the black press and in the Washington Post, "The movie presents a Coretta who exists under a fog of fear as she endures the terror of Selma. It portrays a Coretta who blames her husband for leaving the family during his trips to lead the movement. It shows a Coretta who timidly acquiesces to the charges that her husband dishonored their marriage vows and tearfully asks if he loves his mistresses. That Coretta is pure Hollywood fiction. . . ."

Asked what "reality check" was needed, Richardson directed Journal-isms to comments she made in a radio interview about "Selma" last week on Washington's WPFW-FM. "I know the difference between feature films and documentaries," she said on the "On the Margin" program (audio, Jan. 14.)  "My piece is that if you're doing a historical feature, you can have composite characters, you have made-up characters, you have lines that were never said in real history. I understand all of that, because the main thing is to make a really good story, well told.

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"But for me, you use that artistic license in service to the real history, because the real history is so amazing and exciting and it includes all of these regular people who were leaders, not just participants, women who were leaders, not just with one or two lines. You have all this amazing history and you can do a really wonderful feature film."

Richardson argued that mobilizing for voter rights was not begun by King or even her own SNCC, but by local people such as Annie Lee Cooper, who had been organizing for voter rights in Selma since the 1930s. Cooper was played in the film by Oprah Winfrey. Other women were likewise given less than their due, she said.

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"The problem is that it is absolutely the old, traditional narrative: Dr. King came in, he saves the day. Yes, he is flawed and therefore what's wonderful is he's like us, but not really, because he is the only one who is leading those demonstrations in terms of leading the strategy. You see women in the front lines, as they were, in the demonstrations, but you don't know that they were part of the leadership, making the decisions that moved the movement forward."

Richardson also faulted the film for not doing well what the film is being praised for — showing ordinary African Americans taking charge of their own destiny. Young people were guiding the older leaders, not the other way around, Richardson said. It's important for "young people to see themselves" as leaders, "as strategists, that's what I'm saying." Except for SNCC's executive director, James Forman, who was 36, "we were 18-19-20 years old," she said of herself and her SNCC colleagues.

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Richardson was joined on the radio program by African American historian Peniel E. Joseph, who responded with a sentiment shared widely in discussions of the movie on social media, "all films are historically inaccurate."

Richardson has been a visiting professor in Africana studies at Brown University and after "Eyes," for which she was also education director, co-produced Blackside Inc.'s 1994 Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary, "Malcolm X: Make It Plain" (for PBS's "American Experience").

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According to a biography for the HistoryMakers, she also "produced historical documentaries for broadcast and museums, with a focus on African American historical events, including: a one-hour documentary on the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre (South Carolina) for PBS; two History Channel documentaries on slavery and slave resistance; and installations for, among others, the National Park Service's Little Rock Nine Visitor's Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati), the New York State Historical Society’s 'Slavery in New York' exhibit, and the Paul Laurence Dunbar House (Dayton)."

Richardson acknowledged that her students at Brown had never heard of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and now they have.

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Many of those who will be watching "Selma" likewise had never heard of "Eyes on the Prize," which first aired in 1987 and was rebroadcast in 1993 and 2006. Hour 6 covers the Selma-to-Montgomery march, the subject of the film. "Eyes on the Prize II" covers 1964 to 1972, a time of riots and the birth of the black power movement.

However, Blackside, the production company, has gone out of business.

"Unfortunately, since there really is no Blackside, any decision about re-airing Eyes resides with PBS," Richardson said. "I agree that Eyes II is really almost more relevant to today. I often show the Eyes II segment ('A Nation of Law?') on the Hampton-Clark Black Panther party assassination in Chicago to teachers' professional development workshops, given how much it speaks to 'stop and frisk', Ferguson, Eric Garner, et al. You can get Eyes II on DVD through PBS if you're an institution."

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The miniseries can be also found on YouTube.

Viewers who enjoyed the "Selma" film and those whose enjoyment came with an asterisk all deserve to see what other treatments of those events are available.

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That move appears to be up to PBS. [Updated Jan. 20]

David Carr, New York Times: Why the Oscars' Omission of 'Selma' Matters

James E. Causey, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: After 'Selma,' the real lesson in African-American history began

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Lee A. Daniels, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Selma and the Folks at the 'Back of the Line' 

Jarvis DeBerry: NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: How does the Martin Luther King in 'Selma' compare to the actual man? 

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Lance Dixon, Miami Herald: The Selma-to-Montgomery March: A peaceful protest that changed history

Verena Dobnik, Associated Press: The youngest participant in Selma's 1965 march describes the day

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Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times: Dr. King's willing partner, LBJ

Editorial, New York Post: Hollywood: Beyond the pale

Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer: Why we remember

Emil Guillermo, NBC News Asian America: Beyond Black and White: Asian-American Memories of Selma

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Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Diversity at the movies? Was that Kiyoshi Kuromiya in a few frames of "Selma"?

Emil Guillermo, Diverse Issues in Higher Education: MLK, 'Selma,' and the Feeling

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Kim Marin, Huffington Post: My Dad Was in Selma: What Can His Grandchildren Learn From That?

Jim Naureckas, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Maureen Dowd Sets Martin Luther King Straight on How Freedom Is Won

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Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Sure, Oscar snubbed 'Selma,' but Sharpton's help isn't needed

Editorial Writers Connect King's Legacy to Today's Headlines

The nation's columnists, bloggers and editorial writers used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to connect King's legacy to the police killings of unarmed black men, to the infighting among the King children, to a day of service and to current racial inequalities.

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About the King children, USA Today said, "At some point . . . the family's attempts to obtain value crossed the line from reasonable to embarrassing. Perhaps most appalling was the children demanding to be paid when their father was honored with a statue on the Mall. It's hard to imagine the heirs of others so honored — George Washington, for example, or the soldiers who died in Korea and Vietnam — insisting on a fee. It is a tawdry shadow on the legacy of one of America's most remarkable leaders."

Here are some perspectives on King:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Time: Why I Have Mixed Feelings About MLK Day

Koran Addo, Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Michael Brown protesters clash with Martin Luther King Day observers

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Donna Maria Blancero, Bentley University: What Does Martin Luther King Mean to Latinos Today?

Chicago Tribune: Chicago and the Tuskegee Airmen (accessible via search engine)

Joanna Connors, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Martin Luther King Day: 6 books to read and celebrate

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Merlene Davis, Herald-Leader, Lexington, Ky.: It takes courage, on MLK Day and every day, to make the world better

Jarvis DeBerry: NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. with the songs that powered the civil rights movement

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Gene Demby, "Code Switch," NPR: King's Family Builds Its Own Legacy Of Legal Battles 

Editorial, Ashland (Ore.) Daily Tidings: King's other message

Editorial, Buffalo News: Despite real progress, race remains the great divide in American life

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Editorial, Daily News, New York: Why Martin Luther King couldn't wait

Editorial, Dallas Morning News: Martin Luther King's lesson of self-respect 

Editorial, Dallas Morning News: Duke, Paul Quinn and Abilene Christian University do poverty-busting in Dallas

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Editorial, Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune: Our view: King's famous speech still sadly relevant

Editorial, Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day: A day for service, a day to consider 

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Editorial, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Income inequality would be King’s issue today

Editorial, Newsday: Martin Luther King's ideals still unfulfilled

Editorial, Orange County Register: King's dream for black children unfulfilled

Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Disturbing data: Pittsburgh must get to work on racial disparities

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Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A merit society: Americans must recall Martin Luther King's hope

Editorial, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Dedicate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day for helping others

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Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the U.S. is still a nation divided

Editorial, San Jose Mercury News: Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of Jesse Jackson in Silicon Valley

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Editorial, Seattle Times: Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice echoes from the past

Editorial, South Jersey Times: A time when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s example must be followed

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Editorial, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times: King's values live on today

Editorial, USA Today: Martin Luther King's heirs milk a legacy: Our view

Terry Foster, the Detroit News: Foster: King's dream alive with career in sports

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Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, HuffPost BlackVoices: Celebrating MLK Day: Reclaiming Our Movement Legacy

Michael A. Gonzales, medium.com: Country Cousins: On MLK, Southern Rap and Racism

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Ricardo A. Hazell, the Shadow League: MLK: More Than a Statue, More Than a Speech

Stephen Henderson, Detroit Free Press: Stark violence, stark contrast frame MLK Day

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Sherrilyn Ifill, Tribune News Service: In King's honor, keep up fight for fair housing

Ben Kamisar, the Hill: Lawmakers reflect on MLK Day 'no' votes

Indian Country Today Media Network: Martin Luther King's Quotes on Humanism an Inspiration and Source of Support for Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Jan. 16, 2012)

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Hank Klibanoff with Robert Siegel, "All Things Considered," NPR: What The Press Got Right — And Wrong — About MLK In His Lifetime

Jerry Large, Seattle Times: Platitudes about equality hinder progress

Chris Lebron, New York Times: What, To the Black American, Is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

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David A. Love, theGrio.com: When it comes to Dr. King's dream, America still disappoints

Michelle Maltais, Los Angeles Times: MLK Day: King's legacy must go beyond the surface 

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Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: Blacks' political muscle has gone soft

Sendhil Mullainathan, New York Times: Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions (Jan. 3)

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The New Yorker: Cover Story: "The Dream of Reconciliation"

Old School 955: Ferguson Relief Radiothon

Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: For African-Americans in St. Louis, a long march for justice (Aug. 31)

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Orange County Register: Today's cartoons: Remembering Dr. King

Stacey Patton, damemagazine.com: 50 Years After Selma, White Lives Still Matter More

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Melissa Repko, Dallas Morning News: New Dallas play features story behind Martin Luther King's famed 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'

David Shedden, Poynter Institute: Today in Media History: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the news stories from Selma

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Scott T. Sterling, Los Angeles Times: From Run the Jewels to J. Cole, how today's musicians carry on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy

Linda Valdez, Arizona Republic: MLK: Statues don't dream

Crystal Valentine, Daily News, New York: Black lives matter? Vote like it's true

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Adrian Walker, Boston Globe: King had a dream. His children have an army of lawyers.

Theresa Walker, Orange County Register: MLK Day: Chapman alumnus recalls his part in the march from Selma to Montgomery

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Errin Whack, Los Angeles Daily News: A continuum of struggle for equality Martin Luther King sought

Lilly Workneh, Huffington Post: MTV Takes A Bold And Powerful Approach To Discuss Race On MLK Day

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Don Wycliff, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: King was right: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'

Gregory Lee Named Editorial Director for NBA.com

Gregory H. Lee Jr., executive sports editor at the SunSentinel in Fort Lauderdale and immediate past president of the National Association of Black Journalists, has been named editorial director for NBA.com, Lee told social media colleagues on Tuesday.

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"NBA.com is part of the league’s multimedia portfolio managed by Turner Sports," Lee wrote. "Starting early next month I will [coordinate] NBA news coverage across platforms.

"I will supervise nightly game coverage during the heart of the NBA season, and more broadly oversee newsgathering and partnership development among other responsibilities. I am excited about the opportunity and at the same time am thankful for the past 2 and half years as executive sports editor of Sun Sentinel. The SunSentinel staff is top notch and will miss them greatly. I will also miss the beaches, but A-Town here I come."

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Lee is to be based at Turner Sports headquarters in Atlanta. His departure will leave three African American sports editors at daily newspapers, he told Journal-isms: Marcus Carmouche, sports manager at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans; Larry Graham, executive sports editor at UT San Diego; and Lisa Wilson, executive sports editor at the Buffalo News.

Spokesmen for Turner Sports were not available Tuesday morning.

According to the Turner Sports website, "The company's digital portfolio includes Bleacher Report, NCAA.com and March Madness Live, and PGA.com, as well as an accompanying collection of mobile websites and connected device apps. Turner Sports and the NBA also jointly manage NBA Digital, which includes NBA TV, NBA.com, NBA LEAGUE PASS, NBA Mobile, the NBA Game Time App, NBADLEAGUE.com and WNBA.com." [Added Jan. 20]

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Univision Shut Out of GOP's 2016 Debates

"The Republican National Committee announced Friday which networks landed 2016 presidential debates — and Univision, the most-watched Spanish-language network, didn't make the cut," Michael Calderone reported Saturday for the Huffington Post.

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"How Republicans engage with Univision this election cycle is being closely watched given that the network reaches 96 percent of Hispanic households, a key demographic for either party hoping to win the White House. On Wednesday, BuzzFeed's Adrian Carrasquillo described Univision, which has aggressively covered immigration reform, as 'one of the Republican Party's biggest, most complex, most painful challenges.'

"In a statement to The Huffington Post, Univision spokesman Jose Zamora didn't specifically address the Republican Party's decision, but spoke broadly of the need for both parties to engage the network's large audience. . . ."

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Fernando Espuelas, HuffPost LatinoVoices: Republicans Say Goodbye to Latino Voters

Anne Kim, the Hill: The myth of the 'Asian vote'

Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star: GOP's immigration amendments are cynicism as usual

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Greg Anthony Called Too Much of a Liability After Arrest

"Around dinner time on Friday night, the upper management for CBS Sports and Turner Sports learned that basketball broadcaster Greg Anthony had been arrested inside a room at a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., as part of an undercover operation targeting prostitution," Richard Deitsch reported Monday for Sports Illustrated.

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"Obviously, it was shocking news for both networks. According to the Washington Post, Anthony will be arraigned in court for the misdemeanor charge Feb. 3 and the maximum penalty, if convicted, is 180 days in jail. Working quickly and in conjunction with each another, executives at both places agreed on what they had to do heading forward. The following morning, Anthony was suspended indefinitely from his college basketball and NBA analyst jobs. . . ."

Deitsch also wrote, "There are some who would argue the punishment is too harsh and perhaps it is. But Anthony forced the hand of his bosses and CBS and Turner Sports brass could not afford to have him as part of its college coverage during the NCAA tournament. In addition to calling games, CBS Sports and Turner Sports announcers perform high-profile public appearances at these events. Having Anthony there with solicitation charges over him is a PR headache few networks are going to endure.

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"There's also the advertiser element. Some brands would be very uncomfortable with Anthony calling games in the near-term. There was very little debate between the top executives at both networks regarding the decision: Anthony is a talented broadcaster and well-liked at both places but he is not indispensable. . . ."

Fox News Apologizes for False Reports on Muslims

"Fox News took time out of four broadcasts on Saturday to apologize for four separate instances of incorrect information that portrayed Muslims in a negative light," Brian Stelter reported Sunday for CNN.

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"Several of the cases involved incendiary comments about 'no-go zones' in Europe, where Islamic law supposedly supersedes local law and where non-Muslims fear to go. Other media outlets have accused Fox of exaggerations and falsehoods, and even British Prime Minister David Cameron mocked one of the assertions. On Saturday, Fox apologized morning, noon and night.

"Jeanine Pirro issued the final correction of the day, at 9:10 p.m., for something her guest Steve Emerson said a week earlier: that Birmingham, England is a 'totally Muslim city where non-Muslims don't go in.' Emerson was ridiculed for his comments, and he subsequently apologized. . . ."

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Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: FOX NEWS is a "no-go zone".

Editorial, New York Times: An Inclusive French Republic

Thomas Grove, Reuters: Thousands Rally Against Charlie Hebdo Cartoons In Russia's Chechnya Region

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Phillip Morris, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Killing in the name of God and religion must stop

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Religion not exempt from free speech

Sara Smyth, Daily Mail: Murders and rapes going unreported in no-go zones for police as minority communities launch own justice systems 

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Poh Si Teng and Ben Laffin, "Lens" blog, New York Times: The Jihadist in Our Family (video)

Matt Wilstein, Mediaite: CNN Reporter Confronts Jindal for 'Exaggerating' Muslim 'No-Go Zones' 

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DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: 'Charlie Hebdo' crosses the line

It's "Safe to Say" NBC Is Through With Cosby

"The Bill Cosby chapter appears to be officially over at NBC," Cherie Saunders reported Friday for EURweb.com.

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"NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt delivered the final nail in the coffin Friday morning at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. Asked if it's safe to say that NBC will never do another project with Bill Cosby, he answered, 'Yes, that’s safe to say.' 

"NBC had been developing a multi-generational family sitcom with Cosby at the center, but the project was pulled after multiple women came forward with sexual assault allegations against the actor. Netflix also pulled its planned Cosby standup special and TV Land stopped airing reruns of 'The Cosby Show.'

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"The good news is — if there is any good news — unlike Netflix which had a special to run, or the 'Cosby' episodes that were running on a network, we were developing a script that we never even got a first draft of. So it wasn't something that was imminently going forward or even into production. I guess I can only say that I'm glad that we’re out from under that. . . . ."

Serge F. Kovaleski and Colin Moynihan, New York Times: Well Before Scandals, Cosby’s Wife Faulted Media Treatment of Blacks (Jan. 20)

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Short Takes

Donna Brazile, Jose Diaz-Balart, Juan Williams, Jim Acosta, Al Sharpton, Eugene Robinson and Janell Ross will be among those commenting on President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address Tuesday, followed by the Republican response from Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, Brian Flood reported Monday for TVNewser.

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"South Korea has been hailed by many as a bastion for democracy and press freedom, especially in comparison to its twin to the north, which for years has been featured on the Committee to Protect Journalists' most censored list," Sumit Galhotra wrote Friday for the committee. "However the recent stifling of critical voices in South Korea, including cases of arrests, deportation, and criminal defamation hearings in the past seven days, indicates a worrisome climate for press freedom and free expression. . . ."

"Strong ratings performances from a number of multicultural-themed shows during the 2014-15 television season are proving that an audience exists for quality programming featuring people of color," R. Thomas Umstead reported Monday for Multichannel News.

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"Laura Wides-Muñoz has started a new job as Fusion's Director of News Practices, based in Miami," Veronica Villafañe reported Monday for her Media Moves site. "Today is her first day. She'll be responsible for making sure that the cable network's reporting and newsgathering is compliant with its editorial standards. . . ."

"There's an intriguing timeline detail in today’s Washington Post report about the decision by civil rights non-profit group the Fritz Pollard Alliance to go strategically public, on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with regards to the group's efforts to broker a Washington Redskins team name change . . .," Richard Horgan reported Monday for FishbowlNY.

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"A British journalist who has spent 25 years reporting from Thailand is leaving the country after threats to himself and his three children," Roy Greenslade reported Sunday for the Guardian. "Andrew Drummond announced on his blog yesterday (17 January) that he was returning to Britain because he has 'too much knowledge' that could prove 'too dangerous'. . . "

"Two journalists who have been vocal critics of South Korea's president were acquitted Friday on charges of defaming her brother, in a case that rights groups saw as a test of freedom of speech here," Choe Sang-Hun reported for the New York Times Friday from Seoul.

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