Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie raise their fists upon his release from prison in 1990.
Alexander Joe/Getty Images

For some American journalists of color, covering the South African liberation struggle was a career marker, especially if they could be present for Nelson Mandela's release from 27 years in prison in 1990 or for the first all-race elections in 1994, when Mandela was chosen president. Journal-isms asked some of them what they thought of how events in South Africa have been covered since Mandela's death on Dec. 5.

Six—all African American men—responded by email with reactions ranging from praise to disgust to wondering whether the coverage would raise Africa in the American consciousness. What is your opinion? Please feel free to add it in the Comments section.


Sunni Khalid, freelance broadcast journalist:

"NPR won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton Award for our coverage of the election," in 1994 in which Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected president. I was a Washington, D.C.-based diplomatic correspondent for NPR. I went in to South Africa in 1989 en route to Namibia for the Baltimore Sun."

On the current coverage, "The CNN stuff was the worst, describing Madiba in MLK terms as a 'man of peace!' For Chrissakes, he was imprisoned because he took up arms against the government! And he refused his release several times because he would not renounce the armed struggle. When he was released, it was because [South African President F.W.] De Klerk agreed to HIS terms, elections, freeing political prisoners and unbanning of the ANC [African National Congress], PAC [Pan Africanist Congress] and others. [One television reporter] told viewers that Winnie Mandela-Madikezela was his FIRST wife! The guy never read Mandela's bio. Everyone forgets his first wife, Evelyn Mase.


I'm sorry, these are egregious errors. And I got sick and damned tired of hearing white commentators talk about their fears that Mandela would emerge from prison and call for a racial bloodbath. That was never Madiba's option, nor the ANC's. They consistently preached full equality, which scared both white Americans and white South Africans. I almost got sent back by my editor for telling the IHT [International Herald Tribune] that white American journalists on the scene cared as much about black South Africans as they did black Americans, which was not at all. She might have if Bill Keller hadn't agreed with me!" Keller was Johannesburg correspondent and later executive editor of the Times.

"I was there four times. The first time was October and November 1989, then November 1992, February 1994 and then March through May 1994. I cried at the airport when I left on May 13th because I was leaving."

Howard W. French, a New York Times bureau chief for West and Central Africa, covered South Africa in the summer of 1995. He teaches journalism at Columbia University and is the author of "A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa":

"In the ordinary course of things, hardly a week goes by in my life when I am not asked to explain to someone the reasons why Africa occupies such a small place in the American public consciousness and in the media in specific.


"Given that, it was strangely disorienting to see the attention devoted to the passing of Nelson Mandela, who was honored with the broadest and most respectful commemoration of anyone anywhere in recent memory.

"I found this very heartening, even slightly salutary, although I do think that amid all of the generalized attention there was a failure to reflect on the role the United States played in helping prolong apartheid.

"Going forward, I wonder whether this event will have any follow-on effect in terms of getting the American media and the public at large to think of Africa differently, which could begin with something so simple as thinking about Africa more often."


Keith B. Richburg, a former Washington Post foreign editor, is living in Shanghai, researching a possible book idea before decamping next month to teach as a fellow at Princeton University:

"I was based in Nairobi from 1991 through the end of 1994, and made several trips to South Africa, both before and then after Mandela's election. I last returned there for a visit in 2006.

"Overall, I think the coverage, and tributes, have been pretty comprehensive, and also touching on some of the controversies—like how Mandela was viewed with suspicion by many on the right in the US because of his ties to Cuba and Libya; and how he was seen as 'too moderate' even by those within the ANC. It's all been there in the reporting after his death.


"One other small point; for black journalists, covering South Africa and Mandela was always a tricky balancing act, because for many—like me—he was an icon before I was ever a journalist, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa was the first political cause I cared about while in college. So it was always a challenge trying to be 'objective' when covering that story as a black man. How do you 'objectively' cover the end of apartheid when you—like me—had gone to divestment rallies in college and played 'Free Nelson Mandela' at house parties? And how to write 'objectively' about a racist system that oppressed black people in South Africa?"

Sam Fulwood III, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress:

"I covered South Africa for the Baltimore Sun during the summer of 1985. I have since visited the country twice, in 1995 for story for The New Republic, which was never published. And again in 2012 as part of a delegation attending an energy conference sponsored by the African Presidential Center at Boston University.


"My sense of the coverage of the Mandela funeral is radically different from what I recall as a reporter there. Then, skepticism of the country's future was high and tended toward crime and tragedy. While the story was a funeral, it was largely celebratory—of Mandela, deservedly, and of the country in general. I think our understanding of South Africa was heightened during the period that Mandela was president and the coverage of the country tracked toward the hope and optimism. I sensed some of that in the coverage of the funeral.

"To be specific, I covered a great number of public funerals of slain activists during the summer of '85. Most of the victims were young people who were shot by police. The funerals were opportunities for public protests of the apartheid government and were, for the most part, celebratory of the victims' lives. There was dancing and singing, mixed with the protest speeches and angry denunciations of the government.

"Coverage of those events back then tended toward curiosity of why black folks acted out at funerals. This time, at Mandela's funeral, it was generally described as joyous and celebratory. Context is the key and I think appropriate from what I watched of the funeral and reporting."


Jon Jeter, author of "Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People," who covered South Africa for the Washington Post from 1999 to 2002:

"I arrived in South Africa for the Post in early 1999, about a month before the country's second democratic election in which Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela as head of state.

"I've read, watched and listened to very little of the coverage of Mandela's death for the same reason that I seldom read or watch any mainstream American news coverage: it reports the news from a white supremacist view, and as a consequence, is neither true nor interesting.


"Because white supremacy is nothing more than a form of self-adoration, news stories of Mandela's passing—Bill Keller's obituary in the NYT is one of the few I read—emphasize his 'forgiveness' of white people, at the expense of what he—and the ANC [African National Congress]—meant to the struggle of people worldwide to emancipate themselves from racist, colonial oppression. He has far more in common with Malcolm X and Fidel Castro than he does Barack Obama.

"It is in that context that Mandela really becomes one of the most extraordinary—and controversial—figures of the 20th century. I hold Mandela in high esteem but there is no doubt that many people believe that Mandela and the ANC betrayed South Africa's black and brown people, leaving them materially worse off than they were during apartheid. What mainstream outlet explored that very real tension, or as I reported recently on my own blog, that racial inequality in the US today is worse than it ever was in apartheid South Africa?

"What corporate news outlets have explored Mandela’s enthusiastic support of the Palestinian liberation movement, or his public contempt for the Israeli occupation?


"Or the irony of Mandela’s peer, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF has, over the past decade, evicted white farmers from their land without compensation, rigged elections, and nationalized key sectors of the economy, positioning Zimbabwe—and not neighboring South Africa—as a viable alternative to the market-based land reform and development models that have slowed global economic growth over the past 20 years? Similarly, why did the corporate news media not explore why, even in the eyes of some Africans, Mandela's revolutionary bona fides have been eclipsed by another patriarchal political figure who died this year, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez?

"By depoliticizing Mandela and rendering a portrait of him that is one-dimensional, the media does what they have always done, from 'Birth of a Nation' to hip-hop: appropriating the culture and iconography of African people to nullify its revolutionary reflexes and perpetuate hegemony over darker-skinned people."

Askia Muhammad, writer for the Final Call newspaper, news director of WPFW-FM in Washington and columnist for the Washington Informer:

"I was there in 1995 with the Rev. Leon Sullivan's African-African American Summit, reporting for The Informer; again in 1996 traveling with Min. Louis Farrakhan on his World Friendship Tour, reporting for The Final Call; again in 2001 for the World Conference Against Racism for The Final Call and Pacifica Radio; then again in 2002 for the founding meeting of The African Union, for The Final Call.


"Nelson Mandela is certainly deserving of the wall-to-wall coverage he received this week, not unlike the well-deserved attention he received when he was released from prison 23 years ago."

Meanwhile, BET, which was showing a sitcom Thursday when the cable news networks were carrying the breaking news that Mandela had died, sent Ed Gordon and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill to South Africa for Mandela's funeral on Tuesday. They produced an hourlong special that day.

Also, Armstrong Williams, the commentator who is purchasing television stations from Sinclair Broadcasting, was interviewed by veteran anchorwoman Patrice Sanders of Baltimore's WBFF-TV for a report on Williams' reflections on Mandela, to be broadcast nationally Sunday morning on Sinclair's affiliates.


Williams spent Thanksgiving this year in Washington with many of Mandela's grandchildren.

David Bauder, Associated Press: Brian Williams Is Only Network Anchor in S. Africa

Justin Berrier, Media Matters for America: Right-Wing Media Defend Reagan Following Death Of Nelson Mandela


Diana Cariboni, Inter Press Service: Mandela, Pacifist or Rebel?

Farai Chideya, the Nation: Mandela and Mugabe

Mark Gevisser, Daily Beast: Rowdy Crowds at Mandela's Memorial

Tamara Winfrey Harris, Muslima Media Watch: A South African Muslim Woman's Memories of Mandela


Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the New Yorker: A Rainy Day in Soweto

Nina Ippolito, 8 Photos You Didn't See From Obama's Trip to South Africa

Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report: Talking About Mandela

Merrill Knox, TVNewser: Broadcast, Cable Networks Up Early For Mandela Memorial Service


Randy LoBasso, Philadelphia Weekly: Mumia supporters liken his imprisonment to Mandela's

David A. Love, the Grio: Reagan criticism in wake of Mandela death strikes a nerve

Dawn Mabery, with Sam Fulwood III, Center for American Progress: Remembering Nelson Mandela


Anthony Monteiro, Black Agenda Report: Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions Of His Life And Legacies

Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: Mandela, Obama Presidential Sons of Africa

National Association of Black Journalists: NABJ Mourns The Loss of Nelson Mandela, Former South African President and Anti-Apartheid Champion


NewsOne Now: How Big A Role Did U.S. Black Lawmakers Actually Play In Ending Apartheid?

Anita Powell, The Root: Why They Booed at Nelson Mandela's Memorial

Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post: Appreciation: Nelson Mandela averted what many expected—an all-out civil war


Marjorie Valbrun, ColorLines: Mandela and the Black Diaspora

Coverage of "Selfie," Castro Handshake Called Excessive

"The handshake and the selfie," Chris Cillizza wrote Tuesday for the Washington Post.


"On a day in which President Obama delivered a stirring eulogy for Nelson Mandela, the South African leader to whom he credits the origins of his political stirrings, much of the media's attention was focused on two unplanned moments steeped—rightly or wrongly—with meaning by political observers.

"First was the handshake between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, repeated incessantly in video clips. As Obama made his way to the podium to speak at the memorial for Mandela in a Soweto soccer stadium, he walked down a line of dignitaries, greeting other leaders in attendance. Obama neither made a special effort to shake Castro's hand nor to avoid him.

Cillizza also wrote, "Then there was the case of the selfie seen 'round the world. While seated in the crowd at the Mandela memorial, Obama was seen taking a self-portrait with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. (To be precise, Obama and Thorning-Schmidt were actually holding the phone; Cameron was just leaning into make it into the shot.) Adding to the drama? First Lady Michelle Obama could be seen in the photo staring into the distance with a less-than- thrilled expression on her face.


"Cue furious social media debate about the appropriateness of a U.S. president acting like a bored kid at a school assembly during a funeral for a world leader. . . ."

The photographer who caught the image of the world leaders taking the "selfie," told his own story of how the image came to be. "I guess it's a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure," Roberto Schmidt wrote for Agence France-Presse.

Schmidt also wrote, "I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.


"I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. . . ."

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR "Code Switch": To Thy Own Selfie Be True, But Not In All Places At All Times

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: The selfie seen around the world.

Josh Feldman, Mediaite: Stewart Flips Out Over Obama-Castro-Handshake-Gate: 'What the F*ck Is Wrong with Us?!'


Roxane Gay, Salon: The media's Michelle Obama problem: What a selfie says about our biases

Albor Ruiz, Daily News, New York: Obama-Castro handshake more than just a gesture

Rick Sanchez, Fox News Latino: The Obama-Castro Handshake Is Much Ado About Nothing (video)


After Gaffe, KTVU to Air Documentary on Korean Americans

"To help mend strained relations between the station and the Korean American community, San Francisco-based Fox affiliate KTVU is airing a television documentary which chronicles the success of prominent Korean Americans," Steve Han wrote Wednesday for

"KTVU was publicly humiliated last July when it erroneously reported racial slurs as the names of South Korean pilots of the ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214 which crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport, killing three and injuring dozens. The TV network produced the documentary after meeting with Korean American organizations and community leaders a number of times since the scandalous incident."


Han added, " 'We undertook an intensive effort to reach out to the Korean community after our mistake,' Tom Raponi, KTVU's vice president and general manager, told iamKoreAm via email. 'In those outreach efforts, it became clear that one of the most upsetting aspects of our mistake is that it accidentally repeated an ethnic stereotype that has been upsetting to the Korean people.' . . . ”

Study Details Negative Network Coverage of Health Care Act

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that nearly 1.2 million people are on track to have health coverage in place next year via the Affordable Care Act, Media Matters for America detailed the negative coverage the law has received from the television networks.


"Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable," Zachary Pleat reported. "All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study. . . ."

CBS devoted more coverage to the act than ABC and NBC combined.

On enrollments, Jeffrey Young reported for the Huffington Post, "From Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, almost 365,000 people enrolled into private health insurance via the federal and state marketplaces and more than 803,000 were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to the department."


Young also wrote, ", the federal portal to health coverage in more than 30 states, still has problems, but appears to doing what it's supposed to do: enabling consumers to do shop and sign up for health benefits for next year. . . ."

Justin Berrier, Media Matters for America: Media's ACA Coverage Continues To Ignore Positive Stories

Anna Clark, Columbia Journalism Review: Healthcare reporter ISO agenda-free source


Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: Can Obamacare Be Fixed? (Dec. 4)

Noah Rothman, Mediaite: Melissa Harris-Perry: 'Obamacare' a 'Derogatory Term' Conceived by 'Wealthy White Men'

Diversity Is a Survival Strategy, Fellowship Director Says

The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford University topped the diversity record it set last year, when seven of its 13 U.S. fellows were people of color. Next year there will be eight of 12. In a video interview on the Maynard Institute site with Dori J. Maynard, the institute's president, fellowship program director James G. Bettinger discusses the mindset necessary to achieve such diversity — and with a caveat that he does so with reluctance, offers advice to newsroom managers.


"Look at diversity as a survival strategy," Bettinger said, "as a way of increasing the appeal of let's say a newspaper, increasing the audience of a newspaper by offering a richer portrayal of the area being covered, and doing that by having a richer mix of people doing the coverage.

"And thinking about not just what slot is there to fill, but what need do we have, how could we be expanding our reach, and who could do that, and to some degree looking at nontraditional people, people who are from different backgrounds, with journalism chops."

Bettinger gave an example from his time as city editor at the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. One of the most effective reporters at the paper, he said, was a single mother who had not finished college. She was the first person assigned to cover education who had children attending school. "The range of stories that we got because she had children in school and therefore heard things and knew things that others didn't hear was a great demonstration to me of how diversity in all its manifestations is really important to covering the community."


Univision Examines Threats to Free Press in Latin America

Univision News is premiering "PRESSionados" (PRESSured), "an original one-hour documentary that presents a chilling overview of how freedom of the press is being curtailed in several Latin American countries that call themselves democracies," the network announced on Wednesday. The show airs on Sunday at 3:45 p.m. ET, 2:45 p.m. CT and 2:45 p.m. PT.

"Practicing journalism in Latin America today can be a dangerous endeavor," the announcement continued. "Many journalists across the region risk their lives every day in order to do their job of keeping the public informed. The constant attacks and countless obstacles faced by the Latin American press can come from governments aiming to limit freedom of expression for political reasons, or from criminal organizations looking to intimidate the media and impede investigations that could expose them.


"For 'PRESSionados,' Univision News' award-winning Documentary Unit traveled throughout Latin America to record the first-hand accounts of journalists and reporters who are experiencing these attacks. Viewers will learn how renowned journalists, as well as owners of prominent media outlets, have been targeted and silenced by the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina; and how criminal organizations are putting members of the press in mortal jeopardy in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Brazil.

"In addition, 'PRESSionados' takes a look at the brave, new generation of dissident bloggers that have surfaced in communist Cuba, where freedom of expression is nonexistent, and how they are using the Internet to communicate with the outside world. . . ."

AP Correspondent Digs, Finds Dead Bodies in Mali

"Rukmini Callimachi was working in a hotel restaurant in Timbuktu when her colleague Baba Ahmed returned from a trip into the desert," Andrew Beaujon reported Wednesday for the Poynter Institute. " 'J'ai besoin d'argent pour acheter une pelle,' he told her: I need money to buy a shovel.


"It was February, and they had spent most of their trip to the city in northern Mali scouring abandoned government buildings for documents left behind by a vanquished al-Qaida-backed government.

"But Ahmed, a native of the area and AP's Mali correspondent, had gone for a drive while Callimachi typed a draft based on what they'd found. When his car got stuck in the sand, children came to help him, and they pointed to a buried body in a shallow grave nearby.

"Callimachi, AP's West Africa bureau chief, and Ahmed bought a shovel at a local market and headed out to the spot. 'That was the first of many moments when I thought, "What am I doing? Is this OK?" Callimachi said in a phone call with Poynter. 'This is not really the way a journalist normally operates.'


"They discovered two bodies. Over the next months, during many trips to Mali, Callimachi would find other bodies, most of which belonged to Arab and Tuareg residents who hadn't fled after French and Malian troops recaptured the area earlier this year.

"The Malian military has denied any involvement with the deaths, demanding Callimachi give it evidence of the bodies. When she did, a spokesperson for the ministry of defense said, 'We have nothing more to say about this.' "

"On Tuesday, the AP reported that the editor of removed Callimachi's story from the site after he said 'the Malian ministries of defense and communication warned in separate calls they would block his website in Mali, effectively shutting down his business.' . . ."


Short Takes

Kathy Y. Times, former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, is among the winners of Unity: Journalists for Diversity's 2013 NewU Startup Competition, in which 11 startups competed for two, $20,000 seed grants. Times co-founded with her husband, James E. Covington, an entrepreneur and author. The second winner was EthnicDermMedia, a multimedia company founded by Eunice Cofie that "bridges the gap between low access to skin health education to ethnic minority consumers, dermatologists, and estheticians." The results, announced Tuesday, were determined by votes on the Unity site and by a panel of seven judges (four men, three women and all people of color with one a member of the LGBT community), who represent areas of the business, media and tech startup communities, said Doug Mitchell, co-director of the project.

"The board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists voted Friday to join Excellence in Journalism 2015 in Orlando, pending formal votes by the boards of RTDNA and the Society of Professional Journalists," the partnering organizations, the Radio Television Digital News Association reported. "This would mark the second time the group has joined forces with RTDNA and SPJ for the conference. NAHJ first partnered with RTDNA and SPJ at EIJ13 in Anaheim, California. . . . "


Last month, this column observed that "Newspapers Won't Rock Boat on Tributes to 'Lost Cause' Supremacy." In Wednesday's Washington Post, local columnist John Kelly told readers of his discovery about the Washington National Cathedral, site of a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. "I certainly know I was surprised when I learned recently that two memorial niches—complete with stained-glass windows and laudatory inscriptions—honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. . . ."

"Thirteen international news organizations, including the BBC, The Associated Press and The New York Times, have written a letter to the armed opposition in Syria asking for assurances that their reporters will not be abducted," Ravi Somaiya reported Wednesday for the New York Times.

"When Vice President Joe Biden recently addressed China's crackdown on foreign press and the government's refusal to renew journalists' visas, he turned the spotlight on a challenge that news organizations have traditionally dealt with behind closed doors," Michael Calderone reported Tuesday for the Huffington Post. "Biden made the administration's views public during his speech last Thursday morning at the St. Regis Beijing hotel and later met privately with roughly 10 Beijing-based journalists at the hotel's Press Club Bar, a small gathering first reported by The New York Times. A source present told HuffPost that the issue of reciprocity—or the U.S. refusing visa requests for Chinese journalists in response to China's actions—was discussed during the off-the-record meeting. . . ."


"A Mexican editor's ongoing hunger strike highlights the urgent need for the federal government to regulate the distribution of official advertising," Scott Griffen reported Wednesday for the International Press Institute. "Ildefonso ChĂĄvez, editor of the Chihuahua-based El Pueblo began his strike on Dec. 2, alleging that the Chihuahua state government refuses to pay a bill for nearly a year's worth of advertising space in the paper. In a video uploaded to the paper's website, ChĂĄvez accused Chihuahua Governor CĂŠsar Duarte of 'seeking to paralyse' El Pueblo in response to critical coverage of the Duarte administration. . . ."

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education ( Reprinted on The Root by permission.