End of Strained Relationship Means "Sky's the Limit"

Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, who finally returned to the Philadelphia Inquirer in February after a two-year feud with his employer of 15 years, left the paper by mutual agreement on Tuesday.


"I'm as happy as I've been for a long time," Smith told Journal-isms on Wednesday. "I get to do what I really want to do. Anything's possible. The sky's the limit."

Bill Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, said in his own statement, "Stephen made a major contribution to The Inquirer during his 15½ years at the newspaper, and we wish him well in his future work." He did not return a call seeking further comment.


Marimow fired Smith, the highest paid employee in the Inquirer newsroom, in 2007, precipitating a two-year tug of war involving The Newspaper Guild, arbitrations and high-powered lawyers at the ready. Marimow testified at an arbitration hearing that he thought Smith was making too much money given the layoffs taking place at the paper.

So Marimow demoted Smith, who had branched into radio and television, from columnist to general assignment reporter. When Smith refused the new assignment, he was fired. Smith and the guild took the demotion to arbitration and won, but the Inquirer still did not take him back.

The columnist returned to the paper in February only after agreeing to the Inquirer's demand that he remove political opinions from his website and agree to stop espousing them on cable news shows. Smith and the guild decided to leave the fairness of that restriction to arbitrators.

Did he and Marimow finally come to terms? "Yes, we have," Smith told Journal-isms. "He's happy; I'm happy. We're moving upward and forward."


Smith has continued his broadcast appearances, guesting recently on ABC's "The View" and hosting the morning drive-time show he began in January on Fox Sports Radio.

As reported last week, Smith is in preliminary talks with the Showtime cable network to host a late-night program.


"I'd sincerely like to take a moment to thank the Philadelphia Inquirer for 15½ mostly wonderful years," Smith said in a statement. "I can honestly say I would not be where I am today, nor would I have been able to achieve the things I achieved, had it not been for the wonderful opportunity granted to me back in 1994.

"But all things must come to an end. At some point, it's necessary to move on and explore new, adventurous opportunities, which is precisely what I'm doing and I'm incredibly excited about.


"Still, I'd like to acknowledge the tremendous level of gratitude I feel for the opportunity afforded to me. I wish the paper well for the future, as I'm certain they will do for me."

[There will be no "goodbye" column, Michael Klein reported on the Inquirer website.]


Surprise at Spy Charge Against El Diario Columnist

"Vicky Pelaez was not one to pull punches," Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Shawn Cohen and Jonathan Bandler wrote for the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., on Wednesday.


"The fiery activist and columnist for the Spanish-language El Diario newspaper railed against Arizona's controversial immigration law and U.S. human rights abuses, and once likened the nation's jail system to slavery.

"The Yonkers resident was a featured speaker at a May Day rally at Union Square Park in New York City, and was as politically passionate with friends as she was in print.


"Nothing, however, prepared friends and colleagues for the federal complaint filed this week against Pelaez and her husband, Juan Lazaro, who taught political science at Baruch College, in New York City.

"The Yonkers couple were among 10 people charged as part of an alleged spy ring that investigators said had been selling information to Russia.


"'I can't believe it,' said freelance journalist Lilliana Bringa, a close friend of Pelaez's. 'When I heard, I went right to El Diario to hear from the editor if it was true."

In the New York Daily News, columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote, "Of the accused Russian spies the FBI nabbed this week, none surprised more people than Spanish-language journalist Vicky Pelaez.


"The others, after all, even Pelaez's husband, Juan Lazaro, were obscure figures."

Mary Zerafa, a spokeswoman for ImpreMedia, the Spanish-language media company that owns El Diaro, told Journal-isms that the company had no statements to make about Pelaez and that El Diario was covering the story as it covers others.


"Gerson Borrero, a columnist and former editor-in-chief of the paper, wrote (in Spanish) that Pelaez was fearless and outspoken but never wrote about Russia or the former Soviet bloc," Ben Smith reported in Politico.

" 'I am as surprised and perplexed by the [charges] of Russian espionage as everyone else. But I confess that when I learned of them, I laughed aloud,' he writes, going on to attack the FBI as 'discredited' since the days of J. Edgar Hoover."


On New York's WNYC Radio, a host asked reporter Marianne McCune what people who know Pelaez were saying.

"Many are in total disbelief. A court reporter there, Candida Portugues, says she's been working with Pelaez for seven years, and admires her work, admires that she speaks frankly about what she believes. And you could hear in our phone conversation how blown away she is by this arrest. . . .


"Portugues said she agreed to talk to me because she's afraid no one will take it upon themselves to stand up for Pelaez. She says she is a serious journalist, a lover of painting — she takes painting classes two or three nights a week — and a very involved mother. Her younger son is a pianist."


N.Y. Times Wants "Newsroom That Knows America"

In light of Monday's report in this space that this year's New York Times summer interns include no African Americans, Abbe Serphos, director of public relations for the New York Times Co., forwarded these remarks about diversity delivered by Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to his newsroom in staff meetings on June 3:

"Our preoccupation with the business of journalism in recent years has meant that some important subjects have been crowded to the periphery of these meetings. One of them is diversity.


"There was some worry, based on the experience of other news organizations, that the two rounds of staff cuts and a virtual hiring freeze might represent a setback for diversity. Thankfully that was not the case if you look at the big picture. In overall numbers, our minority representation — a little over 18 percent — is as high as it has ever been. But that number disguises a serious problem: The representation of African-Americans in American journalism — and especially in the upper ranks — continues to be a serious rebuke to the industry's professed commitment to diversity. While the numbers of Asian-Americans and Latinos at The Times have grown, the number of African-Americans has declined — a trend that holds true across the industry, according to the tracking of the ASNE and NABJ.

"I’ve said in the past that diversity is not simply about addressing legal and historical imbalances, or assuaging liberal guilt, or juggling numbers. It is not mainly about being morally right or politically correct. The point is not, as Bill Clinton once said of his cabinet, that we want a newsroom that looks like America. The point is, we want a newsroom that knows America, in all of its variety, from firsthand experience. In other words, The Times needs a staff diverse enough to speak not only to the Washington foreign policy establishment and the political leadership in Albany, but fluent in the cultures of all of America's communities, Latino and Asian, black and white, rural and urban, military and civilian, devout believer and skeptic, so that we can reproduce those voices with as much fidelity as possible. That imperative — that journalistic imperative — has only grown as the country itself has become more diverse.


"We have to do better.

"There are some factors that make it harder.

"When the newsroom normally hired 50 or 60 people a year, we could actually make a recruiting and hiring plan, and move the needle on diversity. Now we hire only very rarely, generally for jobs we can’t fill from within or because we have a chance to poach an extraordinary talent from a competitor. The outside hiring is ad hoc, and it’s harder to develop a strategy. Moreover, a good deal of our hiring is for technical specialties, especially in new media, where African-Americans are grossly under-represented. Among the handful of people we have hired since the first of the year, we have added no minorities to our staff.


"Again, we have to do better.

''Dana Canedy now chairs a group, including Jill, John, Bill Schmidt and Susan Edgerley, that is focusing on several aspects of diversity. One is tracking some of our more talented editors and reporters of color to ensure their career development. I will not get into specific names, but there will be several announcements in the coming days and weeks that, I hope, will show you this effort is bearing fruit. [The references are to Senior Editor Canedy; Jill Abramson and John M. Geddes, who are managing editors; Deputy Managing Editor William E. Schmidt and Assistant Managing Editor Edgerley.]


"Second, since we have not been doing much hiring in the last year or so, our recruiting and hiring pipeline has gone pretty dry. So Dana is now involved in a project, with the full support of senior management, to entirely rethink and rebuild that structure to ensure, among other things, that when we DO have the opportunity to hire, we will be hiring from the most talented and most diverse pool of candidates possible. Given the state of the industry, there is a lot of talent out there, looking for a new home. If people on our staff are aware of great candidates — particularly candidates of color — they should share their names with us, and make sure we have them on our radar.

"It’s important that The Times continues to be an industry leader, as far as reaching out to communities of color in an effort to develop journalistic talent, and not just for The Times. At the end of May, we wrapped up our eighth institute in New Orleans for young African-American journalists, a program that brings in college students from across the nation, including a cohort from the historically black colleges mostly in the South, for a two-week long hands-on session, producing a two-section newspaper and a daily website. Don Hecker, who runs the program, tells me that since it began in 2003, more than 305 young people [have] been trained by a group of faculty drawn from our staff, and the staffs of The [Boston] Globe and the regional newspapers as well. Many of them now work at websites and newspapers across the country, including more than a dozen who have been employed within The Times family. And in January, we also do a similar program for Latino college students, alternating each year between Miami and Tucson.


"I thank the many of you who have participated in these training sessions, and I solicit your ideas for how we do better."

NBC, Comcast Pledge More Hispanic Programming, Hiring

"Comcast and NBC Universal are agreeing to step up Hispanic programming and hiring as part of an agreement to help win Hispanic groups OK of their $30 billion deal," Ira Teinowitz reported Wednesday for theWrap.com.


"Comcast has come in for criticism for underrepresentation of Hispanics on its board, while NBCU has drawn criticism for not having enough Hispanic execs.

"The agreement was announced Wednesday with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Some of the groups have previously questioned the deal."


Among the additions to previously announced concessions:

  • "NBCU is committed to increasing news and information choices for Hispanic viewers, including a plan to work with an independent producer on a weekly business news program.

  • "Comcast will add a Hispanic to its corporate board within two years."

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposes the merger. "Companies like Comcast and NBC may try to sell us on why consolidation will benefit our community. But we know better. It never happens once the deal is done. Instead, Latino journalists are laid off and our community continues to be marginalized in news coverage," Ivan Roman, NAHJ's executive director, said in April.


Kagan Reiterates Support for Cameras at Supreme Court

"You want forthcoming? Well, the Kagan hearings so far haven’t mimicked the confessional tone of MTV’s 'The Hills,' but they’ve revealed a bit more than did last year’s hearings involving Sonia Sotomayor," Nathan Koppel wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan.


"For starters, Kagan Tuesday morning didn’t hedge when asked her opinion of cameras in the courtroom. 'I think it would be a great thing for the institution and for the American people' to have cameras, she said, adding 'I’m open to being persuaded I’m wrong.' Wow. A far cry from David Souter’s cameras 'over my dead body' proclamation."

In a C-SPAN poll on the Supreme Court [PDF], 63 percent of voters said they support television camera coverage of the court’s oral arguments.


Clarence Thomas Gives Voice to Black Gun-Rights Backers

In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that her black minister father "and his friends armed themselves to defended the black community in Birmingham, Ala., against the White Knight Riders in 1962 and 1963. She said if local authorities had had lists of registered weapons, she did not think her father and other blacks would have been able to defend themselves," Barry Schweid of the Associated Press reported then.


Some African Americans have long been in favor of gun rights, but it was not until Monday's Supreme Court decision about gun rights in Chicago, in which a 5-to-4 vote gave Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old black man the right to buy a handgun, that African Americans who oppose gun control received much media attention.

Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy Wednesday pointed out the amplification given this point of view by Justice Clarence Thomas:

"He hardly ever speaks during oral arguments, often appearing asleep on the bench. But in his written opinion Monday supporting the right to bear arms, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas roared to life.


"Referring to the disarming of blacks during the post-Reconstruction era, Thomas wrote: 'It was the "duty" of white citizen patrols to search negro houses and other suspected places for firearms.' If they found any firearms, the patrols were to take the offending slave or free black 'to the nearest justice of the peace' whereupon he would be 'severely punished.' " Never again, Thomas says.

"In a scorcher of an opinion that reads like a mix of black history lesson and Black Panther Party manifesto, he goes on to say, 'Militias such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces and the '76 Association spread terror among blacks. . . . The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.'


"This was no muttering from an Uncle Tom, as many black people have accused him of being. His advocacy for black self-defense "is straight from the heart of Malcolm X. He even cites the slave revolts led by Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner — implying that white America has long wanted to take guns away from black people out of fear that they would seek revenge for centuries of racial oppression."

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