Marion S. Barry Jr.

D.C. Journalists Say National Reporters Missed the Nuance

Near the end of the autobiography he wrote this year with novelist Omar Tyree, four-time Washington mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., recalled his time as a ward representative on the D.C. City Council. "Everyone above the line at The Washington Post, including most of the key editors, had benefited from covering my life over the years as the mayor of Washington, and apparently, they were still milking the cow."


That was true not only of the Washington Post, Adrienne Washington, who covered Barry at the old Washington Star and at the Washington Times, told Journal-isms. "Marion Barry made the careers of a lot of D.C. journalists, myself included. You could go down the list," she said by telephone, naming local journalists in print and broadcast. "It wasn't going to be long before you got a good front-page story out of Marion. He kept us busy."

Barry's death at age 78 on Sunday was international news, as Barry was in life. Yet international audiences often received an inadequate or misleading picture of Barry on Sunday.

Milton Coleman, a former senior editor at the Post who covered Barry as a reporter and supervised coverage of him as an editor, told Journal-isms, "The national press corps had no sense of Marion in the period that I call classic Marion."


TMZ was one of the most egregious. It reported Barry’s death with the headline, "CRACK MAYOR DEAD AT 78," prompting justified outrage that such a headline could summarize Barry's life. [A petition to TMZ has gathered more than 15,000 signatures.] Chuck Todd, host of NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," ended a sympathetic report by saying that while Barry was arrested in a 1990 "sting" operation that famously saw him inhaling crack cocaine, many Washingtonians would "forgive him because of his days as a civil rights leader." (video)

Not really. It was what Barry did for everyday black residents while mayor that established the forgiveness, winning him those elections.

Lurma Rackley, who was Barry's press secretary at the time of the 1990 drug bust, remembers former radio reporter Rudolph Brewington giving Barry a hug years later.


"As you know Marion built a number of senior citizen centers," Brewington said by email. "Specifically, the one [at] 37th Street and Alabama Avenue, SE.

"I moved my late mother down from New York when she was about 80 years old, and I introduced her to the center.

"She fell in love with the place and the people, and I believe it extended her life because of the activities and joy she felt at that center.


"I told Marion how my mother [and other participants in the center] felt about having that facility to come to and be a part of it in the twilight of their lives, and I thanked him for building such a facility that directly helped the seniors, and yes, how eternally grateful I was for his foresight. . . . Whatever one thought of him, he was about serving the people, like my mother, which is why he was loved to the consternation of certain folk."

That was closer to the Barry that local reporters knew. His work was informed by the civil rights movement — he was an activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but not defined by it — and he lived in the same racially polarized city as the journalists. While Barry railed against the white power structure, many city hall reporters of color dealt with their own racial workplace issues. They were often assigned to the beat to take advantage of racial commonalities with their sources.

As Rackley wryly noted, some journalists even fell victim to the same vices as Barry.


That is not to say that they did not have issues with Barry. But for the most part, the issues were accompanied by sometimes grudging admiration.

Jonetta Rose Barras, who covered local government for a variety of D.C. news outlets, was one of his strongest critics. The title of her 1988 book, "The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the New Age of Black Leaders," reflects her criticism.

Barras told Journal-isms by email Sunday, "I think writing about Barry's handling of the press is a very good idea. Of all the politicians I have covered, I think he was probably most adept. He and Bill Clinton shared a similar style.


"Barry could manipulate the media masterfully, pulling them in when he wanted and expelling them with a moment's notice. He knew how to make a journalist feel special, distributing morsels at the right time. Often they would amount to little, but they could result in a mention of him in some news article. He [understands] his value to the press.

"When he was angry with a reporter, he banished him or her. But [he] would [be] reeling them back in when he needed to represent himself or offer his opinion on an issue.

"I think when he told [the New Yorker's] David Remnick that he was a 'situationist' it was true regarding his politics and his packaging of his politics, which is to say his media relations."


Kojo Nnamdi, a veteran broadcaster who hosts the long-running "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on public radio's WAMU-FM, found himself denounced by Barry on his own show in 2010 after Nnamdi wrote a commentary in the Washington Post that called Barry "a central figure in the city's racial divide."

"Unlike some others, Marion had no fear of the media," Nnamdi told Journal-isms by email. "He almost never used the words 'no comment.' He DEMANDED to come on my radio show to respond to something I wrote in a newspaper. Why? Because he could. No one turns down a radio interview with Marion Barry. And because a letter to the editor is not the Barry way. Wouldn't have the personal touch that is his most effective trait. It would be live and unedited. Marion had unlimited confidence in his own charm, and with good reason.

"He wasn't good at prolonged feuds with us in media. Didn't bear grudges for long. Never stopped speaking to a reporter for long. He'd much rather charm you. He was as forgiving as he was forgiven."


Barry's relationship with the mainstream media was, as some said, complicated.

The Washington Post boosted Barry into the mayor's office with an endorsement in 1978. "Though I didn't write any of the several Post endorsements of Barry for mayor in 1978 — and I've never found anyone who will own up to having done so — it happened," columnist Colbert I. King wrote for the Post on Sunday.

But the Post became disillusioned with Barry, who adopted a term initially used to deride him, "Mayor for Life."


Not that it mattered to Barry that much. Barry wrote in his memoir, "The Washington Post no longer endorsed me for a fourth term. It really didn't matter. The Washington Post Editorial Board didn't register well in the black community. . . ." Barry won his fourth term with black support and white antipathy. He famously told white voters after his comeback 1994 election, "Get over it."

"Barry was too busy making lemonade to bother about the headlines," Barras wrote in her book. "After all, he knew he didn't have any friends in the media. The Washington Post had abandoned him years before and The Washington Times, which began operation in the 1980s, had never embraced him. As expected, the black media, particularly the Washington Afro-American newspaper, one of the country's oldest black media organizations, steadfastly supported him. . . ."

Coleman told Journal-isms that "two different Marion Barrys" interacted with the city hall press corps, one "in the early years, during the first term, and another Marion in the second and third terms. He was much more under attack. In the early years, he was far more personable. There was not as much of a need on his part to be manipulative. It was part of his coming into power."


According to Rackley, Barry's experience as a reporter on the student newspaper at LeMoyne-Owen College persuaded him that "he was savvy about the news business, and in some instances he was. He would come up with some good ideas."

The mayor was comfortable calling reporters at midnight without telling his staff. But Barry sometimes was too trusting of journalists and got burned, Rackley said, such as the time after his release from prison in 1990. A television reporter violated her ground rules and began by asking, "Are you going to tell us who was your pusher?" "The mayor raked me over the coals a little bit," Rackley said. That reporter wasn't granted more interviews.

Barry began to judge reporters individually, as do many public officials. Jim Vance, longtime anchor at WRC-TV, the NBC-owned station, was rewarded with the first interview when Barry came out of rehab in 1990. Bruce Johnson of WUSA-TV, the CBS affiliate, also gained Barry's trust. The Howard University radio station, WHUR-FM, received an interview during the trial on the cocaine charges.


Vance went public with his own drug addiction in 1985 and sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center. In 1994, Barry outed Post columnist Courtland Milloy's drug problems. Rend Smith wrote in 2010 for Washington City Paper:

"At a Post luncheon in 1994, Barry, campaigning for mayor, was speaking about his own drug and alcohol use as Milloy sat by, listening. When asked to name the major mistakes he'd made Barry digressed. 'Before we get to that, let me just talk about myself a little bit, personally. Again, I think I've had a remarkable recovery…I often use the example of [WRC-TV's] Jim Vance and, I hope he doesn’t get offended by this, Courtland Milloy, who've gone through difficult situations but come back to work.' . . . "

Barry wrote in his memoir, "Ironically, CBS-WUSA-Channel 9 news anchorman Bruce Johnson told me years later that a lot of the media professionals were going through the same issues that I was going through with drinks, drugs, alcohol and women.


" 'He said, 'Shit, Marion, we had our own struggles and addictions to deal with. That's what made your case so strong and hypocritical for a lot of us.' . . . "

Some of Barry's attention was financial. WPFW-FM, the community-supported Pacifica radio station founded in 1977, credited Barry on Sunday for saving it from bankruptcy in its early years. The station received a grant for a training program in public broadcasting under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, known as CETA. 

On "News Now With Roland Martin" on Radio One on Monday, Radio One Chairman Cathy Hughes said she was critical of Barry for a long time and found that a $75,000 grant was initially held up. Listeners told her, "He's just like you, you just don't see it," Hughes said. She became one of his biggest fans, and concluded that Barry was "sent by God to the nation's capital." 


On the other hand, Barry spoke out against perceived enemies. In May, Barry made known his feelings about a proposed HBO movie about "Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.," an unflattering 1994 book about the Barry era.

" 'Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe are trying to exploit me, and I'm tired of being exploited,' Barry said of the 20-year-old book's authors on WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show. 'The citizens are tired of being exploited by them,' " Will Sommer reported for Washington City Paper in May.

" 'Much of Barry's appearance centered on his unhappiness that Dream City, a book about an African-American mayor and a majority African-American city, was written by two white men.


" 'Why should I let two white men exploit a black man?' Barry said. . . ."

Barry's human frailties were part of what endeared him to some journalists and many of his constituents.

"He really cared about people. He could remember names," Adrienne Washington said, recalling that when she mentioned that her mother was ill, Barry called her mom so often that "she said, "would you please tell Marion Barry to stop calling me?' "


Washington teaches a course on the city at the community college of the University of the District of Columbia. She shows the 2009 PBS documentary "The Nine Lives of Marion Barry." The students, 19- to 24-year-olds, respond, "That's my mayor!" as they watch. "It's like a legacy," Washington said. "It's passed down. A lot of them are from Wards 7 and 8," the areas of the city most populated by African Americans. "They still see him as the people's mayor."

On the last weekend of his life, Washington said, Barry was upset that the business community hadn't contributed enough money to pay for his annual turkey giveaway.

Barry "never got rich from being Mayor for Life," she added. "He ended up in an apartment.


"He's always been a man of the people. That's the thing I hope doesn't get lost."

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Reflecting on 'Mayor for Life'

Bart Barnes, Washington Post: Marion Barry dies at 78; 4-term D.C. mayor was the most powerful local politician of his generation


Desmond R. Barnes, Washington Informer: Youths Take to Social Media to Grieve Marion Barry, Decry Negative Coverage

Jonetta Rose Barras, Washington Post: The death of Marion Barry

Bridget Bowman, Roll Call: Marion Barry, 4-Term Mayor and D.C. Councilmember, Dies at 78


David Carr, Washingtonian: Marion Barry's Unstoppable Appeal

Ericka Blount Danois, Ebony: RIP Marion Barry: 'Mayor for Life'

Lloyd Grove, Daily Beast: Despite Crack and Graft, D.C. Loved 'Hizzoner' Marion Barry


Allan Lengel, Deadline Detroit: My Adventures Tracking Marion Barry

E. Ethelbert Miller, Dancing to Barry's Blues When Others Would Prefer You to Waltz

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: Marion Barry was open and honest about his shortcomings, even his own dishonesty


Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Marion Barry, a mayor who changed his constituents' lives

Paul Schwartzman and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post: Marion Barry's death stuns D.C. politicians and residents

White House: Statement by the President on the Passing of Marion Barry

Clinton Yates, Washington Post: When the mourning’s over, what will we do to remember Marion Barry?


CNN, Fox Reporters Attacked in Ferguson Protests

"It's after midnight in Ferguson now but looks like reporters are still fair game for some," Dominic Patten reported Monday night for Deadline Hollywood.

"In the middle of a talkback with CNN's Jake Tapper just a few minutes ago, correspondent Sara Sidner was hit in the head by a rock that someone threw at her. 'Sorry I just got hit by a rock,' said the tough reporter before going straight into describing the burnt out scene around her. 'I'm OK, I'm OK, I've been hit by much worse in my day.' Sidner went on to continue her reporting but Tapper jumped in asking her 'to get to safety' as more rocks were flying [toward] her. . . ."


As Rebecca Rivas reported for the St. Louis American, "After three months of hearing testimony and viewing evidence, a St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert M. McCulloch announced their decision Monday, November 24 in a courtroom in Clayton, the county seat. . . ."

John Eligon and Manny Fernandez added for the New York Times, "Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country — from Los Angeles to Atlanta to New York — to protest the grand jury’s decision, and in most places the demonstrations were peaceful. . . . "

In an unusual move, on Monday night officials made available 24 volumes of material from the grand jury, covering 23 meetings held between Aug. 20 and Nov. 21. "Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson said that he felt he was authorized to use force against Michael Brown Jr. after Brown punched him twice in the face," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.


"Wilson said he went for his gun because he thought that a third punch from Brown could have 'knocked me out or worse.'

"He also said that that even as he was running away, Brown could have posed a threat to officers responding to his initial call for help. 'He still posed a threat, not only to me, to anybody else that confronted him.'

"Wilson compared Brown to a demon during the struggle at Wilson's SUV. . . ."

Rachel Clarke and Mariano Castillo of CNN were among several reporters who summarized or posted the grand jury material.


Earlier in the evening, Deadline's Patten reported on attacks on CNN reporter Stephanie Elam, Fox News' Steve Harrigan and CNN's Don Lemon. "Just as President Barack Obama's remarks were ending, CNN's Don Lemon and crew were hit with what the anchor thought was tear gas. Soon afterward, St. Louis County Police sent out a tweet saying it is smoke not tear gas. Removed to a 'safe area' as unrest escalated, Lemon said on air he doesn’t know what it was but it was 'very hard to breathe.' "

However, another comment from Lemon drew fire in social media and online.

"How long you think it took for Don Lemon to say something infuriatingly dumb and insensitive on this rotten night?" Rich Juzwiak asked on "If you guessed less than a minute after Anderson Cooper threw to him, you guessed right.


" 'Obviously, there's a smell of marijuana in the air.'


"Don Lemon can't not. . . ."

In an editorial headlined, "The grand jury says no. Now St. Louis must make the most of it,"  the St. Louis Post-Dispatch joined others in urging calm. Among many, the advice went unheeded.


Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: The Gospel of Rudy Giuliani

Jarvis DeBerry, | the Times-Picayune: Before Ferguson grand jury announcement, civil rights group has a request of media

Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star: Educators at national convention discuss ways that Ferguson should change the U.S.


Editorial, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice demands a transparent, thorough investigation and — if warranted — prosecution

The Grio: TV anchors have met with Darren Wilson for potential interview

Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Finding empathy is enduring struggle in post-Ferguson world


Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Local and cable news goes all in on Ferguson coverage

Latoya Peterson, the Guardian, Britain: Teaching our sons to be afraid is not the answer to cops who shoot children

James Ragland, Dallas Morning News: What happens in Ferguson won't stay there

Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post: On A Night Of Peaceful Protests In Ferguson, One Reporter's Arrest Breaks The Calm


St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page

Washington Post: Live updates: Nation reacts, Ferguson erupts

Cosby Accusers Speak on the Record to Washington Post

"Sixteen women have publicly stated that [Bill] Cosby, now 77, sexually assaulted them, with 12 saying he drugged them first and another saying he tried to drug her," the Washington Post said in an extensively reported story in Sunday's print edition.


"The Washington Post has interviewed five of those women, including a former Playboy Playmate who has never spoken publicly about her allegations. The women agreed to speak on the record and to have their identities revealed. The Post also has reviewed court records that shed light on the accusations of a former director of women's basketball operations at Temple University who assembled 13 'Jane Doe' accusers in 2005 to testify on her behalf about their allegations against Cosby.

The story by Manuel Roig-Franzia, Scott Higham, Paul Farhi and Mary Pat Flaherty also said, "The allegations are strung together by perceptible patterns that appear and reappear with remarkable consistency: mostly young, white women without family nearby; drugs offered as palliatives; resistance and pursuit; accusers worrying that no one would believe them; lifelong trauma. There is also a pattern of intense response by Cosby's team of attorneys and publicists, who have used the media and the courts to attack the credibility of his accusers.

"Martin Singer, an attorney for Cosby, issued a statement Friday defending his client and assailing the news media. . . ."


David Carr, New York Times: Calling Out Bill Cosby's Media Enablers, Including Myself

Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post: As Bill Cosby's accusers find their voices, Camille Cosby loses hers

Tammerlin Drummond, Oakland Tribune: Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations finally getting deserved attention


Josh Feldman, Mediaite: TheWrap Apologizes for Controversial ‘The Rape of Bill Cosby’ Guest Column

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: This is the Bill Cosby I know

Chelsia Rose Marcius, Brian Niemietz and Larry McShane, Daily News, New York: EXCLUSIVE: Ex-NBC employee Frank Scotti claims Bill Cosby paid off women, invited young models to dressing room as he stood guard


Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Please say it ain't so, Bill Cosby — or is it?

Indy Star Tweaks, Then Removes Cartoon on Immigration

"The Indianapolis Star removed a cartoon from its website over the weekend after readers complained that the drawing was racist for depicting an immigrant family climbing through a window to crash a white family's Thanksgiving dinner," Emma G. Fitzsimmons reported Sunday for the New York Times.


"The newspaper should not have published the cartoon, the paper's executive editor, Jeff Taylor, said in a statement on Saturday. The cartoon, by the artist Gary Varvel, featured a white father unhappily telling his family, 'Thanks to the president’s immigration order, we'll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving.'

Somali Journalist, Shot Twice, Denied Asylum in U.S.

"As his friend Ali lay dying in the back of a car, Said Muse Dahir thought it might be time to leave Somalia," John Stanton reported Sunday for BuzzFeed.


"The 22-year-old journalist had already been shot twice himself by an al-Shabaab gunman. He said he realized the group's attacks on journalists in his hometown of Galkayo were becoming more frequent, and deadly.

" 'They force us to leave the country,' Dahir told BuzzFeed News. Within months, Dahir would begin a journey in search of 'first a safe place, and then a place to have free speech' that would take him across three continents to the southern border of the United States.

"Instead of a safe place, he found himself in in an El Paso, Texas, detention center fighting an ultimately losing battle against federal attorneys arguing for his deportation.


"After the judge overseeing his case read her verdict, Dahir told her, 'You are ordering me to be dead, and you will be responsible for my death.' According to Dahir, the judge simply responded: 'Good luck.' . . ."

Short Takes

"Ten media organizations, including The News & Observer, sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Monday to get names of faculty and staff disciplined in the wake of the athletic and academic scandal," Anne Blythe reported Monday for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Blythe also wrote, "On Oct. 22, Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor hired to investigate allegations of academic and athletic fraud, released a 131-page report disclosing that more than 3,100 students — about half of them athletes — took bogus classes in African and Afro-American Studies over an 18-year period that ended in 2011. . . ."


In California, the Oakland Unified School District has reinstated curriculum comparing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the prison journalist who is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, Chip Johnson reported Thursday for the San Francisco Chronicle. Johnson wrote, "The so-called classroom lesson is a transparent attempt to recast Abu-Jamal as something other than a cop killer. It's not academic exploration, as supporters suggest, it's another attempt by Abu-Jamal's idiosyncratic loyalists to muddle the historical record in his favor. . . ."

The New York Times published this correction on Saturday below a column by Joyce Wadler about Kim Kardashian: "An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West's quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column."

Commenting on writer and former editor Rebecca Carroll's recent piece in the New Republic, "I'm a Black Journalist. I'm Quitting Because I'm Tired of Newsroom Racism," writer and New York University professor Farai Chideya wrote that she won't follow. "I know that as with race writ large, race in the newsroom will not change overnight," Chideya wrote Friday for the Huffington Post. "In fact, it may get worse before it gets better. But that knowledge in and of itself allows me to forge on. In the era of Ferguson and immigration reform, I'd rather bear witness to our tense post-post-racial era than sit out the great debates of our time. . . ."


" A Libyan criminal court's imposition of a five-year prison term on Al-Ummah newspaper editor Amara al-Khatabi for allegedly defaming public officials is a serious blow to free speech that should not be allowed to stand," Human Rights Watch said on Friday. "The court convicted al-Khatabi for an article published in the November 21, 2012 edition of Al-Ummah. The article, 'The Black List of the Judiciary,' named 87 judges and prosecutors, all members of the public judiciary, whom it accused of accepting bribes and other illicit earnings, and of loyalty to the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. . . ."