Lester Holt
Courtesy of NBC News

Some Wonder Whether Double Standard Is at Work

The fallout over Brian Williams' retraction of his years-old story that he was on a helicopter shot down by enemy fire in Iraq might be primarily about credibility and trust, but it is also about celebrity, ratings and, some say, race.

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"You know…Patricia Smith, Jayson Blair & Janet Cooke all got fired for being lying reporters. What will happen to Brian Williams? What do you think?" one African American Facebook poster asked, referring to three black journalists who left the profession after their fabrications were discovered.

Another veteran black journalist wrote, "I know that my career would have been permanently snuffed, crushed and disfigured had I engaged in ANY fabrication of the news. Not so for Brian Williams, who predictably won't be severely punished…"

[Williams announced Saturday that he was taking himself off the air "for the next several days" and that Lester Holt would fill in.

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["In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions," he wrote.

["As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us."]

Shelli Weinstein reported Friday for Variety, "An overwhelming 80% think that Williams should no longer continue as a news anchor for NBC, according to a survey conducted Thursday by celebrity brand expert Jeetendr Sehdev, who polled 1,000 people who either watched or read the anchor's apology.

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"If Williams keeps his seat in the anchor chair, he will have to face an uphill climb to regain [viewers'] trust. Seventy percent of respondents surveyed . . . do not believe that Williams will overcome the mistake.

"Eight out of 10 respondents reported that they will now struggle to believe what Williams says following his admission that he 'made a mistake in recalling the events 12 years ago,' as he said during his Wednesday night newscast.

"Seventy percent did not describe Williams' apology as sincere, with 60% believing that the anchor attempted to minimize the significance of his fabricated story in his apology. . . ."

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In the speculation about who would succeed Williams in what one veteran black journalist called "the white man's chair," Lester Holt, the African American who has been Williams' chief substitute anchor and the go-to guy at NBC News for nearly every on-air job, has seemed like the man who wasn't there.

"There is no clear heir apparent," David Folkenflik reported Friday on NPR.

Matt Wilstein wrote for Mediaite, "After the tragic fall of David Gregory, NBC really cannot afford to cut Williams loose. They've already installed Chuck Todd on Meet the Press — who would they even consider as his replacement right now? Just for argument's sake [let's] examine this question. With Diane Sawyer out of the anchor chair at ABC, choosing a woman would be a smart move. But Savannah Guthrie didn't exactly impress with her softball Obama interview before the Super Bowl and Andrea Mitchell isn't exactly ratings gold on MSNBC.

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"For all those reasons, NBC News president Deborah Turness is probably loathe to fire Williams, despite the voices who are calling for his head (or denying that they are calling for his head in the case of Tom Brokaw) . . . ."

Carole Simpson, the retired African American weekend anchor at NBC and ABC, has a different answer. "Lester Holt has certainly proved himself capable of filling Brian Williams' shoes," Simpson said by email. "He does Weekend Today, Weekend Nightly News, Dateline and is the major substitute anchor for Brian. NBC has had him reporting from virtually all the major news events around the world. What's a guy have to do? Lester is the MAN.

"But, unfortunately, I expect NBC execs will come up with some 40ish, attractive white male to replace Brian (because he must be replaced.) You know — a Willie Geist, Thomas Roberts, Peter Alexander, Steve Kornacki, etc. Lester by every measure should be a shoo-in, but I fear he will be relegated again to 'second banana.' Clearly the network news has become more interested in some 'eye candy' than a Walter Cronkite. And that candy is rarely chocolate."

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Indeed, there has not been a person of color as a broadcast network's regular weekday nightly news anchor since Max Robinson left the three-person ABC anchor desk in 1983.

And yet, as a veteran broadcaster points out, African Americans including Bryant Gumbel and Al Roker ("Today"), Oprah Winfrey, Robin Roberts ("Good Morning America") and Byron Pitts ("Nightline") have proved that they deliver the goods.

Holt, meanwhile, has been patient. He told Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune in 2013, "I'd be a liar if I didn't say that at this point in my career, I would have hoped I'd be anchoring a Monday-to-Friday national broadcast of some sort, but it hasn't come to pass . . .

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"On 'Dateline' the last couple of years, I've really enjoyed working a story that may take months to do. And I have this vision of maybe going the way of Bill Kurtis and, I think, Tom Brokaw, to a certain extent — the ability to not be tied to the desk anymore, but to do projects that are meaningful to you.

“I expect to be continuing my role at NBC for a little while longer, but we'll see. You never know what doors are going to open up and why they are going to open up. You've got to be ready to walk through them."

None of this is to say that a decision to keep Williams or let him go would be solely about race. Blair, now a life coach, messaged Journal-isms, "I don't think the difference" between the penalties for the disgraced black journalists and for Brian Williams "has much to do with race. But I do think the case can be made, with Mr. Williams and Fareed Zakaria as examples, the there is a 'too big to fail' problem when it comes to the reaction of media companies to certain journalists who end up in trouble. It might be easier to sweep things under the rug than to risk the potential ramifications." Zakaria was accused of plagiarizing material in some of his syndicated columns.

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David A. Wilson, co-founder and executive editor of theGrio.com, an African American-oriented website that partnered with NBC News, agreed. "I know Brian Williams personally and consider him a friend," Wilson messaged. "It's hard to say whether he would be allowed to keep his job if he wasn't white. I think the more relevant color in this controversy is green. Brian makes NBC News a lot of money but that's because he's established a strong sense of trust with his audience.

"I think everyday Americans outside the media-sphere will shrug off what Brian did as somewhat human. Remember we live in age of Fox News who spew far more dangerous mistruths in 12 minutes than Williams did in 12 years. So let's maintain perspective."

NBC plans an internal investigation, as Emily Steel reported Friday for the New York Times.

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"The 'fact-checking' inquiry, confirmed on Friday by several people in the network's news division, will review not only the Iraq incident but also Mr. Williams's reporting during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as any other issues that arise during the investigation.

"Richard Esposito, the head of NBC's investigative unit, will lead the inquiry. Mr. Esposito does not report to Mr. Williams, who holds the positions of both anchor and managing editor for 'NBC Nightly News.'

"In a staff memo on Friday, Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, said that the network had 'a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired.'. . ."

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Ken Auletta, the New Yorker: Brian Williams's Mistake

Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Brian Williams' Future Uncertain as NBC News Investigates Iraq, Katrina Coverage

Yvette Carnell, blacklikemoi.com: Black Reporter Banished for Lying, But NBC's Brian Williams Gets Off With Just an Apology?

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Christian Christensen, Common Dreams: The Shame of US Journalism Is the Destruction of Iraq, Not Fake Helicopter Stories

CNN: How Brian Williams' Iraq story changed

C-SPAN: Brian Williams describes Superdome Conditions during Katrina  (video) (2006)

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Editorial, Daily News, New York: Brian Williams is a New York knucklehead

Roxanne Jones, CNN: Brian Williams broke public trust

Dan Lamothe, Washington Post: Why war reporters can't stand the Brian Williams scandal

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Jason Linkins, Huffington Post: How Will 'The Daily Show' Cover Brian Williams' War Story Woes?

Jonathan Mahler, Ravi Somaiya and Emily Steel, New York Times: With an Apology, Brian Williams Digs Himself Deeper in Copter Tale

Martin Matishak, the Hill: Vets assail Brian Williams over 'reprehensible' false claims

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Jim Naureckas, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Some Other Tall Tales Brian Williams Might Want to Apologize For

Ryan Parker, Los Angeles Times: Brian Williams misremembers — and the Internet won't let him forget it

Thomas E. Ricks, Foreign Policy: 3 reasons I am pissed at Brian Williams

Jack Shafer, Politico Magazine: Brian Williams' Slow Jam

Jack Shafer, Politico Magazine: Why Did Brian Williams Lie?

John Simerman, New Orleans Advocate: Katrina photos show water did surround Ritz-Carlton, where NBC anchor Brian Williams stayed

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Brian Stelter, CNN: Pilot in Brian Williams scandal: 'I am questioning my memories'

David Uberti, Columbia Journalism Review: Inside the newspaper that broke the Brian Williams news

Matt Wilstein, Mediaite: Why NBC Shouldn't Even Think About Firing Brian Williams

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Fox Site Gets Twice Its Normal Traffic Showing Immolation

"Fox News executives didn't know how many people would actually want to see the unedited — and horrific — video released by ISIS that seems to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burned to death," Mark Joyella reported Thursday for TVNewser.

"Posted to FoxNews.com with a strong warning of the intense graphic nature of the video, Fox News executive editor John Moody told TVNewser it was an editorial judgment. 'People have a right to see it.'

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"It turns out many, many people have decided to click on the link and watch the video. According to Omniture data obtained by TVNewser, traffic for the raw ISIS video was nearly two million streams. FoxNews.com delivered 7.7 million total streams yesterday, more than double what the site gets on a typical day.

"The raw ISIS video accounts for about ten percent of all streams to the FoxNews.com since it was posted. . . ."

Josh Feldman reported Wednesday night for Mediaite, "Fox News' Howard Kurtz strongly disagreed tonight with Fox's decision to make the entire ISIS video showing the death of a Jordanian pilot available on its website, in its online player. One Fox executive argued it's up there to show the brutality of the ISIS terrorists, but Kurtz said it does something entirely different.

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"He told Megyn Kelly he doesn't like how 'we are helping spread the fear that ISIS wants us so badly to spread.' He said Fox is essentially helping ISIS get its propaganda out to more people this way. . . ."

Meanwhile, at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama "noted pointedly that his fellow Christians, who make up a vast majority of Americans, should perhaps not be the ones who cast the first stone," Juliet Eilperin reported for the Washington Post.

" 'Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,' he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. 'And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.' . . ."

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Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America: Fox News' Tasteless Exploitation Of ISIS Video

Nick Chiles, Atlanta Black Star: Reaction to Obama's Remarks on Christianity's Ugly Past Shows How Afraid Americans Are To Have Honest Discussion of History

Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech

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Secretive White House Effort Blindsided FCC on Neutrality

"In November, the White House's top economic adviser dropped by the Federal Communications Commission with a heads-up for the agency's chairman, Tom Wheeler," (accessible via search engine) Gautham Nagesh and Brody Mullins reported Wednesday for the Wall Street Journal. "President Barack Obama was ready to unveil his vision for regulating high-speed Internet traffic.

"The specifics came four days later in an announcement that blindsided officials at the FCC. Mr. Obama said the Internet should be overseen as a public utility, with the 'strongest possible rules' forcing broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to treat all Internet traffic equally.

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"The president's words swept aside more than a decade of light-touch regulation of the Internet and months of work by Mr. Wheeler toward a compromise. On Wednesday, Mr. Wheeler lined up behind Mr. Obama, announcing proposed rules to ensure that the Internet 'remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans,' according to an op-ed by Mr. Wheeler in Wired.

"The prod from Mr. Obama came after an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House, led by two aides who built a case for the principle known as 'net neutrality' through dozens of meetings with online activists, Web startups and traditional telecommunications companies. . . ."

Justin Vélez-Hagan, Fox News Latino:  Opinion: Elected representatives, not the FCC, will protect our interests in Internet commerce

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Comic Wilmore Apologizes for Segment on Black Women

"Larry Wilmore may have done a 'really powerful' episode of The Nightly Show on Wednesday, featuring a panel of four black dads, but by the time Thursday night rolled around, he was apologizing for a bit he did during the 'Keep it 100' segment in which he asked his guests if black women are too 'bossy' to marry," Matt Wilstein reported Friday for Mediaite.

"Before he moved on to his main topic of designer babies, Wilmore attempted to clear the air. 'Like I said, it was a joke,' he said. 'But I get it. Some people thought we were picking on black women. We were not, black women,' Wilmore said. 'You guys know we love you. I was raised by a single black woman.' . . ."

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Wilstein also wrote, "During the previous night's show, Wilmore asked his guests to 'keep it 100' on the question of black women's bossiness, [and] they all ended up with 'weak tea,' including New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who said, 'I’m not doing that,' when the host tried to get him to give him a rating between one and 10. 'It better not be under five,' Wilmore joked. . . ."

Genetta M. Adams, The Root: Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show Is the Black Talk Show We’ve Been Waiting For (Jan. 27)

Keith Boykin, BET: We Can't Sweep Black History Under the Rug

Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Larry Wilmore brings late night the real thing (Jan. 30)

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Lacey Rose, Hollywood Reporter: Larry Wilmore Reveals Roots of Bill Cosby Dislike: "Man, What an Asshole" (Jan. 29)

Matt Wilstein, Mediaite: Larry Wilmore Convicts Bill Cosby in the Court of Public Opinion (Jan. 21)

InStyle Explains Lightened Kerry Washington Cover

"Kerry Washington is on the cover of the March issue of InStyle, and for the second time in a few years, she looks…different…than she usually does," Kate Dries reported Friday for jezebel.com.

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Dries also wrote, "On Thursday, InStyle actually put out a statement about the cover…

" 'We are super fans of Kerry Washington here at InStyle. To feature her on the cover of our March spring fashion issue is both an honor and a delight. We have heard from those who have spoken out about our newsstand cover photograph, concerned that Kerry's skin tone was lightened. While we did not digitally lighten Kerry's skin tone, our cover lighting has likely contributed to this concern. We understand that this has resulted in disappointment and hurt. We are listening, and the feedback has been valuable. We are committed to ensuring that this experience has a positive influence on the ways in which we present all women going forward.'

"…One that Washington supported" Dries wrote. Washington tweeted, "Beautiful statement. Thank u 4 opening this convo. Its an important 1 that needs to be had."

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Lack of Journalists Leads to "Glaring Gaps" in Nigeria News

Reporters Without Borders said Thursday it was "alarmed about the glaring gaps in domestic news coverage in Nigeria in the run-up to the 14 February presidential election, especially in the northeastern state of Borno, where the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has been carrying out massacres.

"The scarcity of news coverage is tacitly tolerated by the government although the public's need for information is greater than ever in such times of political unrest and violence.

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"In Kambari, a village just 5 km outside Borno's capital, Maiduguri, suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 15 people on 25 January, laying waste to the village and putting it to the torch. No journalist has been able to enter the area. The only sources of information are people who fled from there to Maiduguri. . . . "

Meanwhile, Eyobong Ita, president of the National Association of African Journalists, messaging from Calabar in southeastern Nigeria, identified six NAAJ members on the ground to monitor the elections: Ita, naajournalists.org; Ben Edokpayi, naajournalists.org and Vanguard; Dimeji Abitogun, sharpedgenews.com; Femi Soleye, persecondnews.com; Sunday Dare Fase, africanexaminer.com; and Emeke Emmanuel Asiwe, huhuonline.com. Ita said three more would arrive this weekend.

BBC: Nigeria's elections in the shadow of Boko Haram

Ben Edokpayi, Vanguard, Nigeria: You have got no mail! (Feb. 7)

Journalists Caught in Dominican Republic Ethnic Crackdown

"Thousands of Dominicans woke up stateless on Monday, after the deadline expired for people born to undocumented parents to apply for migrant permits under a widely criticized 2014 law, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International," Roque Planas reported Tuesday for HuffPost LatinoVoices. 

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"The result of a longstanding political battle against illegal immigration from neighboring Haiti, the vast majority of those affected are descendants of Haitian migrants. Without citizenship in the country of their birth, the newly stateless people will be subject to deportation. . . ."

On Wednesday, Amnesty International USA reported the effect on journalists.

"Four journalists have been harassed and received death threats in the Dominican Republic as the result of their advocacy for the respect of the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent [PDF].

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"On 2 February, four Dominican journalists, Juan Bolívar Díaz, Huchi Lora, Amelia Deschamps and Roberto Cavada, known for taking a strong stand against discrimination towards Dominicans of Haitian descent, reported a number of threats and acts of harassment they have suffered as a result of their work. . . ."

Amnesty also wrote, "Since the publication of the Dominican Constitutional Court controversial ruling 168-13 which retroactively deprived thousands of people of foreign descent of their Dominican nationality, individuals of Haitian descent, Haitian migrants, journalists and human rights defenders have reported an increasing number of threats and acts of intimidation against them. . . ."

Domestic Worker Wins Fellowship for Her Photography

"For the past 10 years, 27-year-old Xyza Cruz Bacani has been working as a domestic worker for a wealthy Chinese family in Hong Kong," Michael Zhang reported Jan. 23 for petapixel.com. "On her days off, she brings her camera onto her city’s sidewalks and captures impressive street photos.

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"Yesterday, Bacani's life took a dramatic turn: she was announced as a recipient of the 2015 Human Rights Fellowship by the Magnum Foundation, a prestigious scholarship that will give her the opportunity to study in an intensive, six-week-long program at New York University in NYC.

"The experience will equip her in creating 'effective visual stories with the aim of advancing Human Rights' in her home country."

Zhang also wrote, "More recently, Bacani used her camera to document a women's shelter for abused domestic workers. The images from that project helped her win the Magnum fellowship.

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"The photographer says she hopes to become a professional photojournalist and return to the Philippines for her future photography work — photos that she hopes will help change her home country for the better."

Short Takes

"When asked to rank four challenges facing journalists today, an overwhelming majority (88%) of journalists identify decreasing resources in newsrooms as their top concern. No other issue comes close," Jesse Holcomb, Amy Mitchell and Kristen Purcell reported Thursday for the Pew Research Center. "Following far behind are: legal action against journalists (5%), electronic surveillance by governments or corporations (4%) and hacking targeted at journalists or news organizations (1%). Furthermore, relatively few journalists (27%) have spent at least 'some time' in the past 12 months researching how to improve their electronic security. . . ."

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"A popular literary festival is abandoning its venue in Mexico’s Veracruz state this year due to protest over the killings of journalists," the Associated Press reported Friday. It also reported, "Friday’s announcement came in response to a call by hundreds of writers, intellectuals and journalists for the festival not to be held in Veracruz. Many hold authorities responsible for recent killings and disappearances of reporters in a state that is among Mexico’s most afflicted by organized crime. . . ." The National Association of Hispanic Journalists was among those who objected.

"Chuck Deggans, a veteran Gary journalist, columnist and radio show host, died Thursday at Southlake Methodist Hospital days after suffering a massive stroke," Lisa DeNeal reported Friday for the Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind. Deggans, 82, father of NPR television critic Eric Deggans, "was widely known for his social and entertainment column, 'Chuck Deggans' Den,' which is published in the Gary Crusader weekly newspaper. He was a former columnist for the Post-Tribune. . . ."

"On Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch launched 'Ferguson,' a project that brings together nearly six months of coverage since police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9, Kristen Hare reported for the Poynter Institute. "The project gathers content from the Post-Dispatch into several categories, including 'The Shooting,' 'Protests,' 'Policing,' 'Civil Rights' and 'Solutions.' . . ."

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"Like the person with one leg who knows all the shortcuts, people with disability are busy living their lives as parents, neighbors, professionals, consumers, students," Sarah Gassen wrote for the Masthead, publication of the Association of Opinion Journalists. "Folks likely are not spending time thinking about being 'the disabled' — and we journalists shouldn't box our sources or subjects into one category, either. Deepening our coverage isn't difficult when we expand our own view. If your county is considering a transportation project, ask a taxpayer who uses a wheelchair to weigh in, too. When police in Ferguson, Mo., cited protesters who didn't keep walking, how did their rule affect protesters who couldn't 'keep moving?' . . ."

"Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would revoke trademarks for the Washington NFL team for as long as the franchise keeps its controversial name," Mollie Reilly reported Tuesday for the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, veteran sports journalist Kevin Blackistone, documentary filmmaker Sam Bardley Jr. and others have begun an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to make a film that will be "a comprehensive examination of the movement to end the use of logos, mascots, gestures and names that demean and trivialize Native Americans, their history and their culture. . . ."

"The Associated Press has promoted Claribel Torres to Director, Digital Media & Entertainment," Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for her Media Moves site. "She was most recently Manager, Video Business Development, a role she’s held since joining AP in 2008. With this promotion, she becomes the first Latina director of a business enterprise within AP. . . ."

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Veteran journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault was presented the Washington Press Club Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award on Wednesday. The award "recognizes an individual whose outstanding accomplishments promote the journalistic profession and enhance the role of women journalists."

Christina Leonard, a reporter and editor at the Arizona Republic for the past 17 years, has been named founding director of "an innovative business reporting program at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication," the university announced Wednesday. Leonard, former president, vice president and treasurer of the Arizona chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and founder and former chairwoman of the Republic's Diversity Committee, is leading the Cronkite School's Reynolds Business Bureau. Students produce daily coverage of business and economics for regional and national media outlets.

Laura W. Murphy, a descendant of John H. Murphy Sr., founder of the Afro newspapers and a member of the newspaper company's board of directors, is stepping down as leader of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, James Wright reported for the Washington Afro.

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"Detroiter James Robertson, whose daily marathons of walking to a suburban factory job made him an overnight media celebrity, registered total surprise as he walked into the Suburban Ford dealership in Sterling Heights, expecting just to 'get some brochures,' said Blake Pollock, the UBS banker who befriended Robertson last year while passing him on the road and began giving him lifts in bad weather," Bill Laitner reported Friday for the Detroit Free Press. Instead Robertson learned he had won a new car. He chose a Ford Taurus, because "it's simple on the outside and strong on the inside — like me."

A New York Times op-ed essay published Tuesday on domestic violence was criticized by some readers who mistook a shadowy cutout figure for a black man, Margaret Sullivan, public editor at the Times, reported. "We avoided putting any racial features in the drawing, and it's problematic to suggest that the color black automatically means African American," Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor, replied. "However, everything is open to interpretation, especially visual images, and we regret that this illustration led some readers to conclude that we were portraying the abuser as African American and the victim as white. It was certainly not our intent."

How did Ta-Nehisi Coates, blogger for the Atlantic, "foster a comment section in which — wonder of wonders — intelligent adults thoughtfully share ideas and knowledge, and where trolling, rudeness and bad faith aren't tolerated?" Eva Holland wrote for Longreads. "I asked Coates and other players in the blog’s success—editors, moderators and commenters — to look back on what makes it work. . . ."

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The Tampa Bay Area Association of Black Journalists has objected to the reassignment of Rod Carter and Josh Thomas, the only two African American news anchors at WFLA-TV News Channel 8. A letter to WFLA-TV General Manager Andy Alford said, "Carter and Thomas are highly regarded for their professionalism and skill. Their presence as anchors on the network’s flagship news programming illustrated WFLA's commitment to reflecting the diversity of the communities it serves." A meeting is planned.