New Book Describes How Slavery Impacted Who Is Wealthy Today and Who Isn’t

In 2011, vandals wrote “No Hero” on a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Mile in Richmond, Va., where Davis is but one Confederate figure still lionized on public streets. 
Doug Callahan/rvanews.com

Magazine Trashed Book on Forced Free Labor, U.S. Economy

On Sept. 4, the British magazine the Economist published a rare apology and disowned a book review that criticized a new perspective on slavery that, the reviewer said, gave too much credence to the words of black slaves and not enough to whites.

It was only the latest attempt to whitewash or excuse the "peculiar institution." Fortunately, the book by Cornell historian Edward E. Baptist, 'The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism" received a more favorable reception in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and, this past weekend, the New York Times.

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Yet its conclusions have not reached beyond the book pages into the news sections, and particularly, the editorial pages.

Journal-isms asked Baptist what the news media should take away from his book. "In the simplest form, that slavery has a major impact today, including an impact on who has wealth and how much wealth they have today," he replied Monday by email.

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Others see more. "Perhaps the most important contribution of 'The Half Has Never Been Told' to the literature on slavery is Baptist's ability to convey the size and scope of the slave economy while managing to detail how that economy was built on countless acts of individual cruelty," Hector Tobar wrote Sept. 4 for the Los Angeles Times.

The book considers the slaves victims of torture and calls plantations "slave labor camps." Baptist documents how much the economy of the United States was built on slave labor and how, seemingly, no cruelty was too great if it meant keeping America's economic engine going.

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And yet, as Dannye Romine Powell wrote Friday for the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, when the "peculiar institution" ended, "Southern whites built monuments to the defeated generals of their war for slavery, memorialized the old days of the plantation, and wrote histories that insisted that the purpose of the war had been to defend their political rights against an oppressive state. They were so successful at the last goal that they eventually convinced a majority of white Americans, including most historians, that slavery had been benign and that 'states' rights'’ had been the cause of the Civil War."

To this day, memorials to Confederate generals and slavers stand tall all across the South, with editorial pages in those areas raising hardly an objection.

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Baptist wrote an essay for cnn.com after the Economist issued its apology.

"One day two lifetimes ago, about 1825, a man from Maryland was standing outside a Methodist church after service, talking with his friends and fellow church members. William was enslaved. Parts of his life were very difficult. But he had also been able to create richness in other parts of his life. He probably had a family, and he was very active in the church. Yet as I explain in my new book 'The Half Has Never Been Told,' on that particular day everything suddenly changed for William.

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"William saw his owner approaching him with another white man. William might have never met this man before, but he had heard all about him. This was Austin Woolfolk, a slave trader who shipped hundreds of men, women, and children from Maryland down to New Orleans every year. And Woolfolk was carrying rope.

"Woolfolk told William to stretch out his hands. William had been sold. He would be shipped or marched down to New Orleans, where Woolfolk would sell him again, probably to a cotton planter.

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"In Louisiana, or Mississippi, or Alabama, he'd have to learn a different kind of work, and build a new life — if he survived the diseases and violence that shortened African-American lifespans in the cotton regions. Now his friends began to break down, weeping and screaming like people at a young person's funeral. They were watching yet another friend's life dissolve in front of their eyes.

"Starting in the 1790s, slave owners began creating a huge cotton and slavery complex on the newest frontiers of the young United States. Cotton soon became the world's most important market commodity — the Big Oil of the 19th century — and the work of slaves like William was driving the industrial revolution.

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"We live today in an economy built in part on the foundations that people like William laid. That's what my book argues, and that's why I wasn't surprised that the British magazine The Economist wasn't happy with my book. The story of how slavery's expansion helped to shape the economy in which we all live isn't likely to please everybody at a publication that spends a lot of pages explaining why our current neoliberal economic order is the best possible one.

"But I was surprised by how old-fashioned the response was. It complained that in a book about the exploitation of the enslaved, slave owners came across as exploiters. It complained that in a book about the violent things done to people like William — and how people like William survived — the enslaved were 'victims.'

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"Hundreds of Internet commenters reacted to the review with fury. They pointed out the casual racism seemingly implied by the flippant caption under the picture of Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o — 'A valuable property.' They mocked the reviewer for claiming that slaveholders would treat their slaves well. Some of the best parodies of the review — which seemed to be complaining that I left out the less negative side of a profoundly evil system — were collected on Twitter under the hashtag #economistbookreviews. . . .

"Even today, the discrepancy between the descendants of the enslaved and white Americans is huge … in terms of family wealth. . . ."

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In his review in Sunday's New York Times Book Review, historian Eric Foner disabuses readers of any idea that slavery was benign.

"Planters called their method of labor control the 'pushing system,' " Foner wrote, "Each slave was assigned a daily picking quota, which increased steadily over time. Baptist, who feels that historians too often employ circumlocutions that obscure the horrors of slavery, prefers to call it 'the 'whipping-machine' system. In fact, the word we should really use, he insists, is 'torture.' To make slaves work harder and harder, planters utilized not only incessant beating but forms of discipline familiar in our own time — sexual humiliation, bodily mutilation, even waterboarding. In the cotton kingdom, 'white people inflicted torture far more often than in almost any human society that ever existed.'

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"When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his Second Inaugural Address of the 250 years of 'blood drawn with the lash' that preceded the Civil War, he was making a similar point: Violence did not begin in the United States with the firing on Fort Sumter. . . ."

Foner does not advocate tearing down the monuments to the Confederates who perpetrated this system. Instead, he has urged that they be balanced with symbols of African American achievement during the period, such as the first black members of Congress, who served during Reconstruction.

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In the Washington Post last December, local columnist John Kelly wrote of his dismay at learning that images of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were embedded into the stained glass at the Washington National Cathedral. "I don't think the stained-glass windows should be pried from their frames," Kelly wrote, "but I’m not comfortable with the unquestioning context in which they're presented. How about adding some sort of sign that explains the windows' history and that acknowledges the overwhelming oddness of treating these two flawed men like saints?"

Eleven days ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation prohibiting California state government agencies from selling or displaying items showing the Confederate flag.

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Last year, the Memphis, Tenn., City Council, after a protracted battle, voted to rename three parks whose names are associated with the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Klan wizard and Confederate general.

Editorial boards were more bystanders than activists when these actions were taken.

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In 2005, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox Jewish author and public speaker, wrote for Beliefnet that he had taken his family to visit Civil War battlefields. "What consistently baffles me in making these visits is the romanticization of the Confederacy that continues 140 years after the war's end. Wherever you go in the South, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, and the other Confederate leaders are venerated as heroes."

He also wrote, "Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. But his personal feelings about the institution are utterly immaterial. The only relevant point was that he used his military genius to fight a war that would have kept men, women, and children in chains. What on earth could make a man like that a hero? What could make a man like Jefferson Davis a hero in the eyes of the good people of the modern South, and what message are those who lionize this man sending to their children? That it is good to rebel against the United States?"

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The rabbi concluded, "When religious southern Christians engage in nostalgia for the Confederacy, they are making the mistake of putting Southern sentiment before religious conviction, in effect elevating an inferior part of their identity over the most central part. Regional loyalty must never come before eternal principle."

Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal: Book Review: 'The Half Has Never Been Told' by Edward E. Baptist (Sept. 5)

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Tommy Christopher, the Daily Banter: The Real Lesson In The Economist's Insanely Racist Review Of Slave History Book (Sept. 5)

Joy Wallace Dickinson, Orlando Sentinel: Scarlett and Rhett's 1939 epic still has us gawking, talking

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Joel Dreyfuss, The Root: Celebrating Confederate History Month (2010)

Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review: A Brutal Process

Charles R. Larson, CounterPunch: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Felicia R. Lee, New York Times: Harvesting Cotton-Field Capitalism:  Edward Baptist's New Book Follows the Money on Slavery

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Boston Herald to Meet With NAACP Over Staff Diversity

"A spokeswoman for the Boston Herald said Saturday that newspaper officials are looking forward to meeting with community members who were offended by its editorial cartoon meant to satirize the Secret Service after an intruder made it deep into the White House," Rodrique Ngowi reported for the Associated Press.

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"The cartoon published this past week has been criticized as racist. It shows a man taking a bath watching President Barack Obama brush his teeth. The man says, 'Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?' The caption reads: 'White House invader got farther than originally thought.'

"The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, has apologized, saying he got the idea after finding 'kids' Colgate watermelon flavor' toothpaste in the bathroom at his home and was 'completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations.'

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"Gov. Deval Patrick, the state's first black governor, has called the editorial 'offensive' and 'stupid.'

"The Boston Branch of the NAACP said Friday that the cartoon 'reopened the wounds of race in Boston' and that the newspaper's 'apology is an inadequate response.' They asked for the newspaper to participate in a community meeting hosted by the NAACP to discuss the cartoon and what can be done to prevent racially offensive reporting.

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"The NAACP also pressed the Boston Herald to provide diversity training for its staff that includes information on the many racially insensitive images and rhetoric in the nation's history. The group also called on the newspaper to ensure more diversity, particularly on the news and editorial operations. . . ."

Michael A. Curry, president of the Boston NAACP, said Friday in a news release, "Recently, the NAACP requested that the Boston Association of Black Journalists (BABJ) work with us to evaluate overall diversity in the media, and this incident underscores the urgency for this work [PDF]." Curry also referenced the protests of William Monroe Trotter, activist editor of the Boston Guardian in the early 20th century, and noted that Boston was one of the opening cities for D.W. Griffith's racist 1915 film "The Clansman," better known as "Birth of a Nation."

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The Herald did not participate in the most recent diversity census of the American Society of News Editors.

Michael Cavna, "Comic Riffs," Washington Post: Obama watermelon-toothpaste controversy: Apologetic Boston Herald cartoonist says, 'I detest' racist humor 

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Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Secret Service lapses raise legitimate questions

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: NYT, WaPo disagree over threats to President Obama

Turner Broadcasting to Cut Workforce by 10%

"Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, will cut its total workforce by about 10% in the coming weeks through a mix of buyouts, layoffs and other measures, the company said Monday," Brian Stelter reported Monday for CNN.

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"The reductions are part of a broader effort to save money and refocus investment, known internally as Turner 2020. The company said about 1,475 positions — out of 14,000 full-time positions worldwide — would be eliminated in the coming weeks. . . ."

This column reported in August, "Three black journalists in CNN's Washington Bureau, including Bryan Monroe, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, are leaving, have left or are at risk of leaving as a new executive reorganizes its CNN.com political unit." Monroe has since left CNN, and Halimah Abdullah lists herself in her LinkedIn profile as "Content Editor (contractor)" for Bloomberg Government.

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John Marzulli, Daily News, New York: EXCLUSIVE: Ex-CNN editor who claimed to have been fired because he's gay, worn bright track suits settles suit

Gabriel Sherman, New York magazine: Jeff Zucker Has Endured Cancer, Hollywood, and Being TV's Wunderkind. So Why Not Take on CNN?

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At Dallas Weekly, a "Few Folk Here Rather Upset"

"Dallas Weekly, one of the city's main black-owned newspapers, just published its latest issue online," Eric Nicholson of the Dallas Observer blogged on Friday.

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"The issue date suggests the cover was designed pre-ebola, but the timing of the email blast they just put out is … unfortunate."

Other bloggers followed suit. James A. Washington, publisher of the Dallas Weekly, wasn't sharing in the glee.

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"That story Taste of Africa (an event celebrating the African presence in North Texas) actually ran the week before Ebola outbreak (see dates)," he told Journal-isms by email. "our e blast service sent the e edition out late to this blogger for another newspaper, which is what was referenced. [I] question his motive but… If I could have predicted the future and knew the train wreck was coming…of course we would have rethought it. It is unfortunate, but definitely unintentional….it now has a life of its own with no perspective of what happened whatsoever… our coverage of the outbreak continues…."

He added, "We just wonder how you equate the celebration of culture with the spread of a deadly disease….few folk here rather upset….."

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Washington attached a link to the Weekly's own Ebola story published Thursday and updated Friday, "City of Dallas continues to monitor local Ebola situation."

Meanwhile, in Dallas, "The first person diagnosed with Ebola on American soil has begun receiving an experimental medication, just as officials announced his condition was worsening," CBS News reported Monday.

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"Thomas Eric Duncan is now being treated with brincidofovir, receiving an investigational medication in late-stage testing for other types of viruses, officials said Monday. . . ."

Also, Meghan Keneally reported Monday for ABC's "Good Morning America," "The American journalist with Ebola who arrived at a Nebraska hospital today believes that he may have gotten infected when he got splashed while spray-washing a vehicle where someone had died from the disease.

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"Ashoka Mukpo arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center this morning after being flown directly from Liberia. . . ."

On Sunday, New York Times White House correspondent Helene Cooper, a native of Liberia, filed a front-page story from Monrovia, the capital, on the effects of the disease on the culture. "Even in more intimate circles, in families and among lifelong friends, Liberians are starting to pull away from one another, straining against generations of a culture in which closeness is expressed through physical contact," Cooper wrote.

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Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post: Reporting on Ebola: First rule is you don't touch anyone

Lee A. Daniels, National Newspaper Publishers Association: The Ebola Case in Dallas

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Jerome Delay, Associated Press: Photographer covering Ebola: The world must see

Michael Depp, NetNewsCheck: DallasNews Mobilizes Ebola Coverage

Charles D. Ellison, The Root: Where Ebola Meets Concerns Over Race, Class and the Uninsured

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Fox News: Farrakhan claims Ebola invented to kill off blacks

FrontPageAfrica, Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia: Disagreement With Ellen — Journalists Slam Licensing Scheme

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Media Matters for America: On CNN, PBS Science Correspondent Slams Media's Ebola Coverage: "I Get Embarrassed For Our Brethren In Journalism"

Paula Park, SciDev.Net: African Journalists Offer to Help Cut Ebola Deaths

Evan McMurry, Mediaite: NIH Official Explains to Fox Why We Can't Ban Travel from West Africa

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Al Sunshine, Radio Television Digital News Association: Ebola in America: Not theoretical any more

George White, New America Media: Q&A: Ebola and Africa's Untold Stories

Ken White, Poynter Institute: Media coverage of Ebola requires a delicate balance

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2 Black Networks Partner for 5½ Hours of News Daily

SSN TV, also known as Soul of the South, and ARISE TV have signed a content agreement that will provide 5½ hours of co-branded news programs daily, the networks announced on Monday. Last week, SSN announced that it had gained distribution in nine of the top 10 African American designated market areas, known as DMAs.

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The five shows are all hosted by black women. Beginning Oct. 27, SSN and ARISE News programs will air on this schedule:

SSN/ARISE AMERICA, weekdays, 6 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Central; "D.C. Breakdown," weekdays, 7 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Central; "SSN Evening News," weekdays, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central; "Arise News Now," weekdays 1 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Eastern, midnight Central; "Arise Review," Sundays noon to 1 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Central.

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Sarah Glover to Edit Social Media for NBC O&Os

Sarah J. Glover, social media editor at WCAU-TV, the NBC owned-and-operated station in Philadelphia, has been promoted to social media editor for the national digital team at NBC Owned Television Stations, Josh Kleinbaum, executive editor of the NBC-Owed Stations Digital Media Group, confirmed on Monday.

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"She will be responsible for social media support and strategy for NBC's 11 owned stations," Kleinbaum said by email. "She begins the new role in November."

Glover was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists from 2009 to 2012 and is a former three-term board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, serving from 2001 to 2007. As a photographer for the Philadelphia Daily News, she led the newspaper's video team for its "Tainted Justice" series, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism.

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"CBS Evening News" Airing "Long Look" at L.A. Dropouts

"Most evening-news segments last anywhere from a few seconds to just a few minutes. Tonight, 'CBS Evening News' will unveil what is expected to be the first of at least four segments that take a long look at a group of high-school dropouts trying to turn their lives around," Brian Steinberg reported Monday for Variety.

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"Correspondent Michelle Miller has spent the last three months traveling back and forth to Los Angeles as part of an effort to follow students inside the Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy, a program run by the National Guard for at-risk teens. The goal is to chronicle the kids' efforts from their first day until graduation, Miller said in an interview. . . ."

Steinberg also wrote, "The in-depth approach is one which the venerable CBS newscast has been highlighting under the aegis of Steve Capus, the former NBC News president who came on board as executive producer for the Scott Pelley-anchored program in July. To be sure, much of the program dovetails with the expected. A typical segment on the show is about a minute and 45 seconds. But Capus has encouraged the occasional deep dive, whether it is a multi-part series or a report lasting more than five minutes. . . ."

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CBS News: A Last Second Chance

Cartoon on India's Mission to Mars Scored as in Poor Taste

"Last week, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars, and the first in the world to do so on its first attempt," Sharanya Haridas wrote Sept. 30 for the Huffington Post.

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"The spacecraft called Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in English and 'Mangalyaan' or 'mars craft' in Hindi was launched in November and reached the orbit on Wednesday, to much jubilation from the public.

"India's first interplanetary mission is all the more creditable because, at $72 million, Mangalyaan cost just a fraction of NASA's $670 million Maven, and $2 billion Curiosity Rover. It also cost less than to produce the film Gravity, and at Rs.7 or 11 cents, per kilometer, cost less than the per-kilometer cost of commuting by autorickshaw in most Indian cities.

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"So yesterday's New York Times' comic by Heng, titled 'India's budget mission to Mars' seems in poor taste. . . ."

Short Takes

"On Thursday, BuzzFeed announced that it would offer a year-long investigative reporting fellowship exclusively for 'journalists of color,' but BuzzFeed is now allowing journalists of 'other diverse backgrounds' to apply as well after the website's editor learned that the original job posting ran afoul of anti-discrimination employment law," John McCormack wrote Friday for the Weekly Standard. " 'We had actually gotten confused on employment law — pure fellowships can be targeted this way; but this role includes benefits and a desk and is, legally speaking, a job not a fellowship,' BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email. The title of the fellowship is now: 'BuzzFeed News/Columbia Journalism School Investigative Reporting Fellowship for Journalists of Color And Other Diverse Backgrounds.' . . ." Gadfly Evan Gahr also wrote about the program on Friday. "I am white and Jewish. But I decided to apply to the program anyway . . . ," he wrote.

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"In a public letter to Comcast. . . and Time Warner Cable . . . executives, the FCC announced that it is hitting the pause button on its review of the proposed $45 billion merger," contributor Amadou Diallo wrote for Forbes. "Citing inadequate responses by both cable companies to earlier FCC requests for additional information, the agency is stopping the clock on its 180 day review period until late October. . . ."

"October means new TV shows, the best baseball, and my favorite ethnic heritage month — Filipino American History Month," Emil Guillermo wrote Oct. 1 for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also wrote, "People ignore us, marginalize us, take us for granted. Basically, we get no respect. I've used that Rodney Dangerfield line too many times over the last 30 years. Some people may think they can get away with that treatment because Filipino American life was built on a legacy of discrimination. And in some ways, Filipino Americans are used to it. . . ." 

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Wayne Bennett, who blogs as "the Field Negro," added to his list of "my top ten list of house Negroes in America for 2014." On Sunday, Bennett quoted "an e-mail from a field hand": "Field I loved your top ten house Negroes list, but don't you think your list should have been longer?" Bennett replied, "Funny you should say that," and listed entertainers Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Harvey, former congressman Harold Ford, D-Tenn., Fox News anchor Harris Faulker and retired surgeon Ben Carson, who has become a best-selling author, conservative favorite and potential Republican presidential candidate.

"Kinsey Wilson, who has been a driving force behind NPR's digital strategy for the past six years, will leave the network, NPR CEO Jarl Mohn announced today," Scott Neuman reported for NPR. Reporter David Folkenflik, "who spoke to Mohn, says the CEO expressed that he 'very emphatically supports what Wilson did,' but that in a reorganization to put his own team in place, Wilson was left as 'the odd man out.' . . ." With Wilson's departure, Loren Mayor, the new chief operating officer, and Marjorie Powell, new vice president of human resources, will take over the search for a senior vice president of news, spokeswoman Isabel Lara told Journal-isms. Keith Woods, vice president for diversity in news and operations, and Mark Memmott, supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices, are leading the search for the next ombudsman.

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"The scope of the problem represented by what is going down in Ferguson can be particularly hard to discern for Asian Americans. Asian Americans as an aggregate are underrepresented in American prisons," Scot Nakagawa wrote Sept. 30 for racefiles.com. "Moreover, prosecution rates by race indicate that we fare pretty well in court relative to other people of color, particularly Blacks." Nakagawa also wrote, "However, in spite of being far less likely to be targeted by local law enforcement, Ferguson matters to Asian Americans as it matters to all of us. Why? Because the crisis of Ferguson is much more than a problem of racist cops and unresponsive, even racist, city government. As a wise man recently said in my presence, if all we come away from Ferguson with is the idea that 'cops are racist' we will fail to prevent future Ferguson-like crises in a society that is actively laying the groundwork for many, many more. . . ."

"After a sales representative at Harper's Magazine received a phone call on September 18 from a disgruntled advertiser, the subject of a critical story printed the week before, Publisher John R. MacArthur wasn't surprised that it decided to pull ads from subsequent issues," David Uberti reported Monday for Columbia Journalism Review. "But he was shocked by who that advertiser was: PBS, the public broadcaster famous for Big Bird and Ken Burns' epic historical documentaries. . . ."

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Gopal Ratnam, Bloomberg News Pentagon correspondent, is joining Foreign Policy to cover the White House with a focus on the way the Obama administration crafts and carries out its national security policies, the FP Group, a division of Graham Holdings Co., announced on Monday.

"Comcast SportsNet Northwest today announced the addition of [Portland] Trail Blazers Insider Jabari Young. Young's role will be covering the Blazers extensively on a year-round basis on both the television network and at CSNNW.com beginning October 20th," the network announced on Monday. The announcement also said, "Young, a North Philadelphia native and Temple University grad, comes to Portland on the heels of covering the San Antonio Spurs as a multimedia reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. . . ."

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In Cuba, "The National Revolutionary Police have arrested and threatened independent journalist Bernardo Arévalo for the second time in a less than month," Reporters Without Borders reported on Friday. "This time they arrested both him and his wife as they were travelling to the northern province of Matanzas on 28 September. . . ."

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