Telling Our Truth in the Age of Trump

Onlookers yell at a Donald Trump piñata during a "Take It Out on Trump" event in East Los Angeles in September 2015.
Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times

Brian Stelter, television critic for CNN Money, isn't the only journalist sounding an alarm. "A question I asked on Sunday's 'Reliable Sources:' he wrote in his email newsletter Sunday. "Is this a national emergency? And are journalists afraid to say so because they're afraid they'll sound partisan?"

"Consider: A U.S. intelligence community conclusion that Russia intervened to help the Republican nominee… Who won in the electoral college but lost by a historic margin in the popular vote… Who says he does not believe the intelligence assessment and actually questions the motives of the experts.


"Maybe this is not a crisis. But this is a uniquely unsettled, unsettling time. Journalists should be talking about HOW to cover this; how to reflect the emotions and concerns of both Trump and Clinton voters; how to demand evidence and answers from government officials. . . ."

Peter Sterne, writing Sunday in Politico magazine, warned that "press protections as most have understood them over the past half century depend to a large degree on observance of longstanding political tradition. To say that Trump has certainly shown a willingness to disregard tradition when it comes to the media would be an understatement. . . ."


Jim Rutenberg, writing in the New York Times Sunday under the headline "In Trump Era, Uncompromising TV News Should Be the Norm, Not the Exception," declared, "Television news is going to have to do its part should Mr. Trump and his administration try to make policy based on false assertions, the same way he used them on the campaign trail. (And, yes, television will have to be just as vigilant should Mr. Trump’s opponents use falsehoods to fight him, too.)

"The same holds for all of the news media, of course. But live television can be a safe harbor for falsehood and deflection."


Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist, was one of the few voices of color in the conversation. She wrote for Nieman Lab, "The impulse after this election is to double-down on heterogeneity and to eschew 'identity politics,' a weaponized term that really just means people whose visible identities delimit their civil liberties. That impulse is short-sighted.

"Diverse newsrooms don’t just better understand racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. Diversity newsrooms better understand working-class whites, immigrants, and middle-class white elites. Diverse newsrooms have thinkers who can hold two competing ideas at the same time, and research shows that people from a variety of backgrounds that have different experiences of race, class, and gender best understand the nuances of white, middle-class normativity. The successful media platform in our post-fact reality will be a diverse media platform that challenges our assumptions smartly, inspiring trust again in media. . . ."


Jay Caspian Kang, writing "An Open Letter to Fellow Minority Journalists" on, was pessimistic.

Kang, a correspondent for HBO's "Vice News Tonight" and writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine, wrote Monday, "The media companies who clap themselves on the back because they have an 'authentic voice' writing about Beyoncé or the VMAs did not make a real commitment to diversity. Instead, they put forward poorly paid 'fellowships' or meager web contracts that require no investment on their part. They, in large part, do not give out reporting assignments that might build up skills that could translate into long careers. The sort of work they do have so many of us do — 'woke' pop culture writing — will only last as long as it drives the wan, asymmetrical glow of Media Twitter. . . ." His solution: "building our own shit."


Journal-isms asked African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American journalists, "Do journalists of color have a particular obligation in light of Donald Trump's looming presidency? If so, why?" They were asked at first to limit their responses to 25 words or less, but later respondents were urged only to be succinct.

Here are 11 who replied:

Mary C. Curtis, columnist, Roll Call and NBCBLK and contributor to NPR and WCCB-TV Charlotte, N.C.

Mary C. Curtis

When president-elect Donald Trump returned to Fayetteville, N.C., early in December, on the second stop on his victory tour to thank supporters, not many outlets reporting on the trip referenced candidate Trump’s earlier appearance in the city, when a white supporter was arrested for punching an African-American protester in the face.

A few mentioned the March rally, calling it “raucous,” a relatively genteel description. Instead of using that disturbing history to help understand how and why Trump was successful on Nov. 8, it was as though the incident was erased.


The normalization of soon-to-be President Trump has started, a clean slate provided, with past behaviors and statements downplayed or forgotten. Black journalists have a special obligation to provide context to the actions of President Trump, to know history — that of the United States and of Donald Trump, who has left a long, well-documented, often videotaped record.

The truth is more than what happened today. It isn’t even the truth if it fails to also include and interpret what has come before, in order to understand what is ahead.


What happens next — in criminal justice, fair housing, voting laws, environmental justice and more — will most affect those whose voices are most ignored. We need to be that voice.

Sarah Glover, president, National Association of Black Journalists; social media editor, NBC-Owned Television Stations

All journalists who cover elected officials are obligated to do their jobs, asking the tough questions of those that hold any political office. But it is also incumbent upon news leaders to ensure that the teams covering the incoming administration are diverse. It is essential that the administration remain open to all journalists, including those who work for ethnic media and those covering underrepresented groups.


NABJ knows that its members will be fair, honest and operate with the utmost integrity.

Emil Guillermo

A few weeks ago, NABJ joined 14 other journalism organizations and sent a letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump on steps he and his administration can take to ensure access to our members covering his administration, the letter can be found here.

Emil Guillermo, columnist, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund;

Mainstream media folks are learning what ethnic media journalists have known for years. You can and must be both objective and an “advocate.” Trump elevating [Steve] Bannon, the white ethnic media guru, to the White House leaves no choice. Treble our efforts or our communities will be ignored.


Maria Hinojosa, president and CEO, Futuro Media Group

Do I, as a Latina Mexican immigrant US citizen leading a media company have a particular responsibility as a journalist? Yes. Because of the simple fact that I am all of those things. In 2016. And I am committed to telling my truth. And the truths of the communities I see, from my perspective. My American perspective.


Charlayne Hunter-Gault, veteran journalist

Charlayne Hunter-Gault (Credit: Sharon Farmer)

This moment takes me back to the time following the riots of 1967 when the Kerner Commission blamed the media, in part, for the explosions aka riots that took place in inner cities. That led to more people of color being hired and they, along with conscious white reporters did, indeed, begin more consistent and accurate portrayals.

But now… it's deja vu all over again. And what we need is to stanch that bleeding and ensure that we have people of all races and colors in our profession who are equipped and committed so that when those in power go low, they (we) can do deep.


Derrick Z. Jackson, columnist, Boston Globe

This is what I said at the Theodore H. White Seminar on Press and Politics on Nov. 16:

"I don’t know if you read last Sunday’s [New York] Times. There was a wonderful column by Nell Irvin Painter, the great historian, who said that the amazing thing about this election was that for the first time in modern memory, this was a campaign [Trump's] where the heads of it didn’t just happen to be white. They will now be governing as white.


"I think I don’t need to add to the mea culpas that the press has now been flagellating itself with in the last week and a half. I think the most important thing, looking ahead, is will the media, which is mainly white-led, cover the Trump administration, to a significant degree, as a white administration?

"I think the more that it overtly covers it as such, the more accountability the press can reclaim. I think that starts with Stephen Bannon…….I think as long as you have Steve Bannon, the likes of that, as your right-hand person, you must cover that administration as a white nationalist administration. If you don’t, the media will be more derelict tomorrow than it was covering the election itself."


Greg Moore, consultant; former editor, Denver Post

We must be willing to take on any turn-back-the-clock policies as well as singling out advances if they happen. Social networks are going to be important.


Clarence Page, columnist, Chicago Tribune

Trump lured black voters by asking, "What have you got to lose?" Journalists of color, among others, need to report how well Trump answers that question — or not.


Julio Ricardo Varela, co-host, "In the Thick" podcast, Futuro Media Group; co-founder,

Julio Ricardo Varela

The obligation’s been there since Day 1 of his campaign, but no one took us [Latino journalists] seriously. Holding public officials accountable, no matter the party, is critical to democracy.

Rochelle Riley, columnist, Detroit Free Press

Journalists of color have always had the additional obligation to shine a light on how government and society treat (mistreat) people of color. Not all journalists of color accept that duty. But after November 8, every journalist of every color must — because the oligarchy has truly begun.


Denise Rolark-Barnes, publisher, Washington Informer; chair, National Newspaper Publishers Association

Journalists working for Black-owned media have an historical obligation to report and interpret the news from our perspective. This administration, like all others, demands the same obligation.


[Additional observation from Linn Washington Jr. in the Comments section.]

With Talented Black Editor, Teen Vogue Sparkles

"Teen Vogue lit up the internet on Saturday when the magazine published an article by Lauren Duca titled 'Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,' Mark Joseph Stern reported Monday for Slate.

Elaine Welteroth

"The piece is a fierce polemic against Trump’s insidiously deceptive style of politicking, his habit of fueling hate with lies and capitalizing on the toxic combination to drum up bigotry and fear.


"Duca encourages readers to maintain their grasp on the truth by resisting the efforts of 'an admitted sexual predator' to make reality malleable. 'Refuse to accept information simply because it is fed to you,' Duca writes. 'If facts become a point of debate, the very definition of freedom will be called into question.'

"It’s a great piece, written by an award-winning journalist, full of the vim and spirit and acuity we should demand of the press today. But it threw plenty of readers for a loop because of the outlet in which it ran. . . ."


Stern also wrote, "Why is Teen Vogue so great? Two theories. First, the magazine clearly goes out of its way to hire women, writers of color, and sexual minorities — groups that, sadly, remain underrepresented at most outlets. This inclusion of diverse voices pushes the magazine in bold editorial directions.

"Writers are clearly encouraged to pursue their passions, which include pressing, topical issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, writers everywhere like to pursue their passions. But when you hire a diverse crew of smart people — rather than, say, a stable of mostly straight white men — you’ll wind up with a fiery denunciation of Mike Pence rather than a tedious entreaty begging minorities to be nicer to racists.


"Second, and relatedly: Last May, Teen Vogue hired the astoundingly talented Elaine Welteroth to run the magazine with digital editorial director Phillip Picardi. Welteroth is a woman of color — that alone is rare in this industry, though decreasingly so — who has a progressive bent and, it seems, a backbone of steel. Under Welteroth and Picardi’s direction, Teen Vogue has become a clearinghouse for liberal news and ideas with a proud activist streak. . . ."

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Operating from a "fact-free environment".

Lauren Victoria Burke, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Trump Fills Cabinet Quota with Token HUD Pick


David Dishneu, Associated Press: Police Expect Trump to Lift Limits on Surplus Military Gear

Editorial, Washington Post: A big change to U.S. broadcasting is coming — and it’s one Putin might admire


Ariel Edwards-Levy and Janie Velencia, Huffington Post: HUFFPOLLSTER: Most Trump Voters Say They Wouldn’t Believe News Reports That Said He Was Lying (Dec. 6)

Paul Farhi, Washington Post: Mainstream media puts out the call for pro-Trump columnists


Brian Fung, Washington Post: How media law could drive a wedge between Donald Trump and the Republican Congress

Renée Graham, Boston Globe: More guns, more risk for people of color

John Gramlich, Pew Research Center: Most Americans haven’t heard of the ‘alt-right’


Jeffrey Herbst, Wall Street Journal: How to Beat the Scourge of Fake News (accessible via search engine)

Serge F. Kovaleski, Julie Turkewitz, Joseph Goldstein and Dan Barry, New York Times: An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds the Swastikas


Thomas E. Patterson, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University: News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters

Rick Perlstein, Washington Spectator: Meet the Press: The hustlers, hucksters, hacks, and cowards who helped elect Donald Trump (Dec. 6)


Marlow Stern, Daily Beast: President Obama on Campaign Hacks: ‘Very Clear Relationships’ Between Team Trump and Russia

Katie Sullivan, Media Matters for America: NBC News Is Struggling To Report On Its Own Trump Problem


Bankole Thompson, Detroit News: Black voting bloc taken for granted

Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker: Gawker’s Demise and the Trump-Era Threat to the First Amendment


Mark Trahant, Trahant Reports: Trump's Choice for Interior Could Risk Salmon Recovery, Treaty Rights

John Wagner and Simon Schuster, Washington Post: Trump says blacks who stayed home were ‘almost as good’ as those who voted for him


Gary Weiss, Columbia Journalism Review: Surprised by Trump win? Stop ignoring the white working class.

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: New York Times is playing big on Trump White House: Peter Baker returns from Jerusalem

Julian Castro, then mayor of San Antonio, in blue tie, meets in 2013 with the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. (Credit: Franklin Garcia)

HUD Secretary Castro Has Tips for the News Media

Julian Castro, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, wanted to be a television journalist, but his career plans took a different turn in college.


Still, he is comfortable around journalists. He spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Minneapolis and the Native American Journalists Association in Arlington, Va., in 2015; appeared in 2014 at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Antonio; and was present at the Unity: Journalists of Color convention in Seattle in 1999.

Following the lead of his boss, President Obama, the Democrat issued a brief statement declaring his intention to work with Dr. Ben Carson, his designated Republican successor at HUD, to ensure a smooth transition. Also, Castro told Journal-isms, he posted on Twitter "Six straightforward things media outlets can do to increase transparency/accountability and enhance trust" as a series of tweets:

"1. Regularly explain why a story was written, why it was prioritized, and why others weren't covered or given less coverage


"2. Include the name/contact for folks who edited a story and wrote the headline (Bloomberg regularly includes editor contact).

"3. Record and publish all editorial board candidate interviews and ed board meetings at which endorsement decisions are made


"4. Publish a year-end compilation of stories/reports that either positively or negatively covered businesses that advertise with you

"5. Increase diversity within the newsroom — racial, religious, gender, viewpoint diversity so that your staff looks like the community/nation you cover


"6. Establish an anonymous, useful forum for your reporters/editors/staff to discuss pressures they feel on what to cover or how to cover a story."

Alex Ghassan (Illustration by Claudia Escobar/KQED-TV)

Freelance Producer Among Oakland Fire Dead

The final list of 36 victims of the devastating Oakland, Calif., warehouse fire, released Friday, included Alex Ghassan, a freelance producer for KQED-TV in San Francisco, and his fiancee, 32-year-old Finnish national Hanna Ruax, a jewelry designer and yoga instructor, Emily Kirschenheuter reported for KRON-TV.


"I first met Alex Ghassan in the summer of 2013 when he interviewed for a job at KQED as a video producer," his friend David Markus reported Dec. 6 for KQED. "He made me laugh right from the start when, in response to the interviewer’s comment that he would be on assignment in African-American, Latino and other communities of color, he deadpanned, 'That’s okay — I’m pretty comfortable with black people.'

"Beneath the wicked wit, and sly grin, Alex was whip-smart with an insatiable appetite for the next amazing opportunity, most of which he imagined through the lens of camera. He was always looking for something — something new, yes, but more something that would rock him down deep. I didn’t hire him for the KQED full-time position because we both knew his vision and aspirations weren’t going to fit inside the box of a 9-to-5 job, so he ended up working as an on-call producer for KQED and all kinds of other folks around the country and the globe.


"Alex was a brilliant cinematographer, and emerging as a very talented director. He could make the most mundane scene dance and sparkle in his lens. He worked for Spike Lee and countless other producers and executives, and was a master of the music video. He didn’t mince words (Spike had done something back when to piss him off) but neither did he cloak his affections.

"He once told me about some people whose names he didn’t know in Mexico City who had — for no compensation — helped him scout and style a shoot and then snatched him out of harm’s way when some dangerous stuff went down. When it was over they hugged him and sent him on his way. He loved that, and loved them.


"And there were many others along the way. . . ."

Eric Kurhi, East Bay Times: Oakland fire victims: Alex Frantz Ghassan, 35, freelance producer


Kemberly Richardson, WABC-TV, New York: EXCLUSIVE: Mother from New Jersey speaks out about son missing after Oakland fire (Dec. 5)

April Simpson, Freelance producer for KQED dies in Oakland fire (Dec. 6)


L.A. Times Sorry About Pro-Internment Letters

"Many Times readers have taken issue with two letters in this week’s Travel section, which criticized a Nov. 27 article about National Park sites that address issues of race and ethnicity in America’s history," Deirdre Edgar wrote Monday in the Los Angeles Times.


"The letters employed cultural stereotypes to suggest that the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified, and sought to minimize the hardships they endured.

"Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Times, said the letters did not meet the newspaper’s standards for 'civil, fact-based discourse' and should not have been published.


"The Nov. 27 article highlighted the Tule Lake and Manzanar relocation camps in California, where thousands of Japanese Americans were detained. Tule Lake was especially notorious, the only one of the 10 war relocation camps with a stockade and jail. Japanese Americans deemed disloyal were sent there. . . ."

Edgar also wrote, "The two letters published in the Dec. 11 Travel section accused the National Parks article of engaging in an 'anti-U.S. remake of history' and of needing balance. The letters included racial stereotypes:

“ 'Japanese have an extremely strong attachment to family, and even more so back then. First- generation and, to a lesser extent, Japanese here would have been expected to follow the wishes of their elders in Japan.'


"And they suggested that it wasn’t so bad in the camps:

“ 'Virtually everyone in the U.S. was assigned jobs to help the war effort. The Japanese were assigned the job of staying out of the way and not causing complications. Millions of Americans were assigned far worse jobs.'


"Or that the detainees could have had it worse elsewhere: . . ."

Chicago Tribune Didn’t Know of Lerone Bennett

Lerone Bennett (Chicago Police Department)

"Have you checked the clips?" a sign read at the old Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y., an admonition no doubt repeated in other newsrooms.

Heeding it probably could have saved the Chicago Tribune from the embarrassment of appearing not to know the name of Lerone Bennett, former editor of Ebony magazine, published in Chicago, and a historian whose books on black history include the acclaimed "Before the Mayflower."


"An 88-year-old man went missing early Saturday morning near the lake in the city's Kenwood neighborhood has been found," Deanese Williams-Harris' brief story read Saturday on the Tribune website.

"Lerone Bennett was last seen about 5:05 a.m. in the 4800 block of Lake Shore Drive. He was wearing khaki-colored clothing and black loafers, police said.


"Police said the man was located this afternoon."

The Chicago Sun-Times and readers who commented on the Tribune's online story correctly pointed out Bennett's background.


Bennett's daughter, Courtney Bennett, told Journal-isms by telephone on Sunday that police did not want to issue further identification in their news release. Of her father, she said, "Let's just say he's doing reasonably well. He just wandered out in the neighborhood."

Bruce Dold, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Tribune, told Journal-isms by email on Monday, "The story unintentionally lacked identifying information that should have been included, and that information will be added." It was.


Number of Jailed Journalists Highest Since 1990

"Turkey's unprecedented crackdown on media brought the total number of jailed journalists worldwide to the highest number since the Committee to Protect Journalists began taking an annual census in 1990," the press freedom organization reported early Tuesday.


"As of December 1, 2016, there were 259 journalists in jail around the world. Turkey had at least 81 journalists behind bars, according to CPJ's records, the highest number in any one country at a time — and every one of them faces anti-state charges. Dozens of other journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, but CPJ was unable to confirm a direct link to their work.

"China, which was the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2014 and 2015, dropped to the second spot with 38 journalists in jail. Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are third, fourth and fifth worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Combined, the top five countries on CPJ's census were responsible for jailing more than two-thirds of all journalists in prison worldwide. . . . The Americas region, which had no jailed journalists in 2015, appears on this year's census with a total of four journalists in prison. . . ."


Short Takes

Byron Pitts, chief national correspondent for ABC News and co-anchor of "Nightline," is one of 11 people to be honored by Horatio Alger Association, the group announced on Thursday. Pitts' 2009 book, "Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges," "tells the story of a childhood secret. Until he was 12, Pitts could not read," the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins wrote at the time. "He faked his way through school, memorizing what he needed to know to get by. He also had a stuttering problem that robbed him of his self-esteem. But Pitts overcame these challenges and grew up to be one of network TV's shining stars. . . ."


"The Washington Post has published the final installment of its Obama Legacy project examining how the First Family reshaped perceptions of the black family in America, how Michelle Obama became a singular voice on inequities of race, class and gender, how the first couple leveraged fame to advance a political agenda, and more," the Post announced on Monday. ". . . See the complete, year-long effort: . . ."

In Atlanta, "Gloria Neal, the recently departed CBS46 morning anchor, confirmed on a Facebook Live video Friday . . . that she left the station on her own after 17 months but didn’t specify why," Rodney Ho reported Friday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "At the same time, she implied she was forced to leave by internal management pressure and alluded to possible legal action down the road. . . ."


"Chicago’s journalism community will lose a treasure at year’s end, when renowned former EBONY writer/editor Lynn Norment, longtime supporter of the National Association of Black Journalists’ mission to increase the ranks of African Americans in newsrooms nationwide, leaves the Windy City for Sweet Home Memphis," the Chicago Crusader reported on Friday. It also told readers, "NABJ Chicago Chapter has launched the Lynn Norment Scholarship Fund. . . ." Norment told Journal-isms, "In Memphis, I plan to continue working via Lynn Norment Media, but my main goal is to finish my book" on her life and career.

"The Blaze has recalled and suspended a researcher who while in Iraq said he fired shots at ISIS fighters, and later proudly publicized his actions," Hadas Gold reported Friday for Politico (scroll down). She also wrote that Jason Buttrill's actions "came under scrutiny for putting other journalists' lives in danger, as the Military Times outlined in a follow-up piece. " 'Jason, journalists are detained and killed all over the world over false accusations of being combatants,' Jason Stern, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, tweeted on Friday. 'This doesn't help.' . . .” The desire for journalists not to be taken for government operatives is one reason that the National Association of Black Journalists for many years barred the CIA and FBI from its job fairs, and why journalists organizations oppose government agents posing as journalists.


"More than 40 years ago, Peru became the first Andean nation to recognize Quechua as one of its official languages. Now, this Monday, December 12th, the country of 30 million will continue setting the gold standard for indigenous linguistic rights with the first-ever Quechua-language nightly news broadcast, Ñoqanchik," Andrew S. Vargas reported Thursday for "Produced by TV Perú and Radio Nacional — Peru’s public television and radio networks — the broadcast will reach 90% of the country’s territory, and promises to provide a culturally authentic take on relevant issues that goes beyond mere Spanish-Quechua translation. . . ."

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