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Can minority journalists resist applauding Obama?


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At long last an AP writer; Jessie Washington has put into words what many have seen journalistic integrity descending to for the past decade+, this story is as it SHOULD be, no opinions by the writer, he reports the facts, quotes the participants (other reporters), and all in all it ain't a pretty sight.

Can minority journalists resist applauding Obama?

By JESSE WASHINGTON

AP National Writer

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks during a news conference at 10 Downing Street after a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, Saturday, July 26, 2008.

Jae C. Hong

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks during a news conference at 10 Downing Street after a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, Saturday, July 26, 2008.

When Barack Obama ascends the stage Sunday at the Unity journalism convention, fresh from an exhaustively chronicled overseas tour, he will face a surprisingly divided audience.

Not on the subject of whether Obama should be president - members of the four minority organizations that comprise Unity are largely Democratic. But many at the quadrennial gathering differ on whether the underlying current of enthusiasm for Obama's historic candidacy should be constrained or allowed to spill forth on live television.

In addition to race, the issue boils down to questions of human emotion, empathy versus ethics, and whether a group that has experienced its own share of prejudice can resist responding to Obama's powerful oratory and potent symbolism.

"This is not a pep rally," said Tonju Francois, a producer for CNN en Espanol and board member of the National Association of Black Journalists. "I don't want to say it's offensive, but the idea that just because he's a black candidate, somehow our journalistic ethics would go out the window ... I think we need to behave."

So does Unity. In an e-mail sent to the 6,800 conference attendees, the organization advised that "every effort should be made to maintain professional decorum during the event, especially since it will be broadcast to millions of people."

Yet the same diversity embodied by Unity itself can blur the definition of decorum.

"People don't view (attending Obama's speech) as work," said Connie Llanos, a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News and member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "We're not going to write about it, so you're allowed to voice your emotion or feeling."

Still, "people shouldn't be throwing underwear," said Veronica Garcia, a NAHJ board member and copy editor who spent 17 years at the Los Angeles Times. "We're journalists. We should strive to be a little objective."

Conservatives have spent years decrying a liberal media bias; Democrats fought over how Hillary Clinton's primary coverage compared with Obama's. This week, the campaign of John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, sniped at the media constellation chasing Obama on his excursion through the Middle East and Europe. And questions of personal politics have plagued journalists of all backgrounds.

But even against this backdrop, the Unity journalists face some unique pressures. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry inspired a standing ovation; President Bush got a few boos during his speech, which disturbed some of the journalists present. This year, McCain declined an invitation to appear at Unity, citing scheduling conflicts.

Barbara Ciara, president of NABJ and the anchor/managing editor at WTKR in Norfolk, Va., said it would be inappropriate "to show enthusiasm on any level" on Sunday because of a perception that minority journalists' coverage is slanted by their ethnicity.

"Maybe I'm a little bit old school, but I do believe there's a trust we have to achieve with our audience of viewers, listeners and readers," she said. "In order to trust you, they have to believe you're going to act dispassionately. You can't start jumping around like a little bumblebee just because a bee that looks like you is in the room."

Leonard Pitts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, believes that media objectivity is "a fairy tale we're supposed to pledge allegiance to." As one of the panelists who will question Obama on Sunday, he's more concerned with being fair to both sides, and he isn't bothered by the prospect of a few extra cheers.

"It's asking a little bit much to ask a room full of African-American journalists, or a room full of journalists of color, who have seen people like them and probably seem themselves excluded many times on the basis of color, not to have some sort of emotional reaction to the success of the person who may arguably become the first African-American president," said Pitts, who is black.

The fear at the convention, especially among veterans, is that emotions will run amok given the many young journalists, public relations professionals and sponsors in attendance.

"Taking pictures afterward, asking for autographs, acting like groupies," said Alfredo Araiza, a photographer for the Arizona Daily Star. He and Ramon Chavez, a University of Oklahoma journalism professor and member of the Native American Journalists Association, led a student seminar at Unity on how to act professionally at news conferences.

"I have the feeling the exact opposite will happen here," said Chavez.

So does Nicole Newsum, a 27-year-old public relations executive who described herself as "obsessed" with the candidate. "I'll be screaming," she said.

Said Luz Villarreal, an associate producer for "Dateline NBC": "I don't think it's such a bad thing if for 15 minutes you take off your reporter hat and respond to (Obama) as a human being at an event where you're surrounded by people of color and you're here for a united cause."

In the new media world of attack blogs, pundit power and felled newspapers, perhaps Obama's candidacy is marking yet another milestone.

"Barack Obama is the Jackie Robinson of our era," said Pitts, the columnist. "There's no getting around that, there's no asking people not to respond to that. ... Journalists are recruited from the human race. And as long as they're recruited from the human race they're going to have emotions, and they're going to have feelings."

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In my opinion, if you're a journalist (ie, a person who reports the news, not a columnist, who reports his/her opinion), you have a duty to remain as objective as possible. Wailing and cheering for a candidate simply because of his skin color is not only not objective, but doesn't do any good to the candidate as a whole because it gives the opposition ammo to claim media bias.

It seems pretty clear that there IS a bias, at least amongst these particular people, but they should at least TRY to act like professionals.

Direwolf

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I understand that the idea of a black (or atleast mocha) president is a huge step for minorities, and I really love that we may finally be getting over some stereotypes in this country. But if this kind of racial pride or excitement gets in the way of you objectively doing your job, then it becomes a problem.

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I just read and article about the media's contributions to the candidates. 10 to 1 in favor of Obama, and this as they try to convince us they are neutral. The media, who are suppose to be objective, should not be giving money to candidates period. Could you imagine a judge taking money from a plaintiff, and yet claim impartiality.

Media puts its money where its mouth is.

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Same way the Klan loves them some right wingers, I guess.

Lousy, inflammatory analogy. Ignoring the inherent insult, the Klan doesn't have the ability to inform the public and are widely regarded as being nutty racists (which, of course, they are).

The media, on the other hand, has quite a bit of power over the masses in this, the Age of the Sound Bite. With the public being less and less willing to research issues for themselves and more and more reliant upon packaged information presented in between commercials, it becomes more and more important that the media remain neutral. Clearly, for this group of reporters at least, that is simply not the case and they are doing a disservice both to their readers and to their colleagues by throwing their journalistic integrity to the wind.

Direwolf

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