When he went to Ireland last year, President Obama made it a point to connect Ireland with abolitionist journalist Frederick Douglass and the slave trade.
In a visit to Colombia in April, Obama witnessed a land title handover to black Colombians.
Still, according to two journalists or former journalists who have just written about aspects of Obama's foreign policy, race has played little if any role in the conduct of the first black president's statecraft, though it might have affected the expectations of some abroad.
In a 6,925-word piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Scott Wilson examined Obama's handling of the Mideast conflict and found it wanting, yet representative:
"The way Obama managed the Israeli-Palestinian issue exhibited many of the hallmarks that have defined his first term," Wilson, who has covered both the White House and the Middle East, wrote. "It began with a bid for historic change. But it foundered ultimately on his political and tactical misjudgments, on a lack of trusted relationships and on an outdated view of a conflict that many of his closest advisers imparted to him. And those advisers — veterans of the Middle East peace issue — clashed among themselves over tactics and turf."
Wilson also wrote that Obama's relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, might have affected how he was perceived by American Jewish leaders.
"Obama's Muslim middle name, former anti-Zionist pastor in Chicago and past friendships with prominent Palestinians had shadowed his presidential campaign," Wilson wrote in his narrative. "He wanted to restore the United States' reputation as a credible mediator. To do so, he believed that he needed to regain Arab trust — and talk tough to Israel, publicly and privately."
Wilson told Journal-isms by email: ". . . no, I didn't find that his race played a role. Suspicions about his religion did, at least early on, but race does not seem to have been a factor — unless you count the Rev. Jeremiah Wright factor, and his anti-Zionist message not that uncommon (I believe) in the black church (or at least political ones.) Being associated with Wright made him have to convince Israel supporters he was on their side — something he never quite pulled off. But that's not directly related to his race."
James Mann is a former newspaper reporter, foreign correspondent and columnist who wrote for more than 20 years for the Los Angeles Times and before that for the Washington Post. He is now an author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
In Mann's latest book, "The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Define American Power," he draws upon 125 interviews to write "with shrewdness and insight about the evolution of the president's thinking, tensions among his staff (over issues like humanitarian intervention and the use of military force), and contrasts and continuities between his conduct of foreign policy and that of the previous two presidents," Michiko Kakutani wrote last week in the New York Times.
"In general, I found that race rarely if ever played a role in his foreign-policy decisions — but that it was sometimes a factor in the reactions to them, particularly overseas," Mann told Journal-isms by email.
"It's hard to see race as a factor in any of his decisions on major issues like Afghanistan, drones, bin Laden, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, arms control, climate change, etc.
"But from his very first weeks in office, I've noticed that the foreign reactions to Obama sometimes drew inferences about his foreign policy based on race or color. I remember, soon after he took office, a British television reporter asking to interview me about the idea that Obama would somehow think differently about Europe or somehow be distant from it, because he was the first American president who didn't have 'European roots.' The very premise was silly — Obama's mother's family, the Dunhams, were English, I believe. And George W. Bush, who did of course have entirely European roots, did more to alienate America from Europe than any president since the 1920s.
"At first, I took this as an odd query from just one idiosyncratic reporter. But at some point in Obama's first or second year, it was clear that this bizarre theory stretched high up in the British government: Sir David Manning, the former British ambassador to Washington, aired in public this theory of Obama's foreign policy reflecting the fact that he did not have British roots. (My own take is that Obama, having been educated at an American prep school, Columbia and Harvard Law School, has an elite background and training not too different from FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton or the Bushes).
"I don't mean to single out the British on this — they're just a good example, because they're our closest allies and certainly don't think of themselves as influenced by racial considerations. But people in other countries, too, have shown similar expectations: other Europeans, the Israelis, have exhibited occasional nervousness about Obama because he is not white. And correspondingly, I think that, particularly in Obama's first year, some Arab leaders expected too much from Obama because they thought his color would make a difference in his foreign policy."
[David E. Sanger of the New York Times, author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power," said by email on July 18: "In my reporting for Confront and Conceal I found no evidence of the kind you ask about."]
A running joke developed at the annual gala of the South Asian Journalists Association at the National Press Club Saturday night, the first for the New York-based group to be held in Washington.
"My dad still asks me, 'When are you going to law school?" Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network, the emcee, said. Then Amita Parashar of NPR's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin said, "My mom still asks if I'm going to medical school."
When Joya Dass, business anchor for NY1 and CNN, reached the stage to present the award for "Outstanding Business Story on South Asia, or the Worldwide South Asian Diaspora," she quipped, "My parents have moved past career development. They just want me to marry somebody — anybody."
About 200 people attended the affair, sponsored by a journalist of color group that receives less attention than some others. Yet with 750 dues-paying members, it is larger than the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which has about 600 members, and the Native American Journalists Association, which had 237 members as of its convention last year.
SAJA differs from the other journalism associations in that its charge is primarily networking and helping one another, rather than advocacy. It has no paid staff or headquarters, it is not a member of Unity Journalists and many of its members hold relatively high-ranking positions in the profession. Others are distinctly entrepreneurial. The treasurer, John Laxmi, is an investment banker, not a journalist.
At such occasions, many members wear traditional dress, saris for women and sherwanis for men. And many of their parents did not have journalism in mind for their children. Indian Americans, the Pew Research Center reported in June, are thinking beyond journalism's relatively meager salaries. They have a median household income of $88,000.
On that last point, Jigar Mehta, a digital entrepreneur, former New York Times video journalist and immediate past president of SAJA, said by email, ". . . I think this is similar with other immigrant groups as well. It also reflects how journalism is valued in society (and how journalist pay stacks up).... However it is changing, reflected in the amount of students there, esp for south asians as we now have so many more SA on tv, on the radio, in the leading papers and at the top of their fields....
"This was the case for me in a minor way, because i went and got a engineering degree before becoming a journalist!"
The current president, Anusha Shrivastava, foreign exchange reporter for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal, agrees.
". . . in general, South Asian parents are more inclined to want their offspring to study medicine, engineering or law or become professors or bankers rather than journalists," Shrivastava told Journal-isms by email. "That said, we've heard over and over again that once the children pick journalism as their path, the parents are extremely supportive. That's been my experience, too. My parents would have liked me to study medicine but when I didn't, they thought I'd teach since I got a doctorate in International Relations. I did get hooked to journalism early in life and once they saw me on-air in a BBC World program called 'India Business Report' in the early 90s, and later, on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, they couldn't have been more pleased.
"We now have South Asian journalists reporting on business, sports, fashion, science, politics and technology in newsrooms of every size. Clearly, parents who worry about their children's future in journalism should take heart from this development."
S. Mitra Kalita, senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal, had some news: As of Wednesday, she will leave the Journal to join the Atlantic Monthly as commentary editor of its new free digital product about the global economy, Quartz. Kalita told Journal-isms she was looking for voices to display in the section.
In introducing the night's speaker, Kalita mentioned the "joke about how everybody's parents wanted them to be Sanjay Gupta. But the question we get when we go home is, 'How come you're not Ali Velshi?' "
After scolding Washington lawmakers for their paralysis, Velshi, anchor and chief business correspondent at CNN, recalled that when he told his father that he was going to be a journalist, "All my dad would say was, 'I had a journalist as a tenant once, and he never paid his rent.' "
Yet, Velshi said, "All I ever wanted to do is write for a newspaper. I didn't think anyone on TV was very smart."
He told the journalists that "the most important thing you do is bear witness" and that the public counts on journalists to offer "some sense of analysis."
SAJA awarded $50,000 in scholarships this year, and Velshi said he contributed $2,000 to challenge other broadcasters to create a counterpart to the print-based SAJA Editors Challenge, which this year raised more than $20,000.
It's important that SAJA urges other South Asians to be journalists, Velshi said. "Just go and tell the truth. Don't kill yourself over ratings. Don't decide that you want to be a TV star. Go out and be a journalist."
Ebony.com has pulled its interview with Genarlow Wilson, who was convicted on child molestation charges at age 17 in 2005, and is planning "a three-part editorial series to educate Black America about these issues and to provide a platform for the powerful voices of women who have been affected by rape and sexual molestation," Johnson Publishing Co. has announced.
Some readers were outraged by the headline on the website's July 9 interview, "Notorious to Glorious: Genarlow Wilson is No Child Molester and Never Was."
Crystal Howard, director of communications for Johnson Publishing Co., told Journal-isms by email on Sunday, "We pulled the original story because we felt that it was clouding Ebony's core mission to uplift and advocate for all members of the [African American] community. It is of paramount importance to us that our readers be able to trust all platforms that bear the Ebony [name] for clear and accurate reporting on the issues that affect Black America the most."
The publication posted a new statement on Saturday on ebony.com:
"Our controversial story on Genarlow Wilson, a young man who was convicted of child molestation at age 17, raised a myriad of issues of pressing importance to the Black community. As a result of Wilson's conviction, debates opened up surrounding the topics of both sexual consent for minors and harsh sentencing laws for Black men. For the past 66 years, Ebony has advocated for the well-being of all members of the African-American community, and has been at the forefront of these necessary conversations.
"Your response to our story has further illuminated for us the importance of engaging around issues of sexual violence, of supporting victims, and of empowering our community with relevant knowledge and resources. We deeply regret that the perception of the article about Wilson (published on EBONY.com on July 9, 2012) led some readers to believe that we are less than sensitive to the plight of young women in sexual assault cases.
"We want you to know that we are now, and have always been committed to confronting sexual assault in our community. At present we have many articles on our site that challenge America's rape culture. In addition, we are developing a three-part editorial series to educate Black America about these issues and to provide a platform for the powerful voices of women who have been affected by rape and sexual molestation. We encourage everyone to join this conversation."
The News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., blurred the N-word in a photo of a banner hanging at a school district's office that "included 21 words printed . . . in red and black ink, a racial epithet, a reference to the Ku Klux Klan and a pledge to 'get our monument back,' in the words of the News & Record's Thursday story.
Editor Jeff Gauger told Journal-isms by email Monday that the word was blurred because "doing so best reflected the taste boundaries of our community."
"As you know, editing is one part knowing and reflecting the taste expectations of your community, and one part leading your community toward its better self.
"We blurred the N-word because, after discussion among a half-dozen editors, I decided that doing so best reflected the taste boundaries of our community. The editors' opinions were not unanimous. The decision was mine alone.
"In deciding, I thought of rape victims, whom newspapers almost uniformly do not identify. In a more perfect world, we would routinely identify them because there is no shame in being a victim. The taste boundaries of most communities do not permit us to.
"As rendered, the published photo left no question as to what the word was, even with the blurring. It matched our expression of the word in text, as 'N-----.' Our published report was both complete and respectful of our community's sense of itself.
"We have received no response since publishing the story and photo, no response either positive or negative."
"When Matt Drudge released his report yesterday that Condoleezza Rice was the new top contender for the GOP vice presidential nomination, pretty much everyone saw it for what it was — an attempt to distract the press from the mounting controversy over Mitt Romney's departure date from Bain Capital," Eric Boehlert and Simon Maloy wrote Friday for Media Matters for America.
"It was so transparent and so improbable that even conservatives like Erick Erickson, while appreciative of the intent, were calling it 'silly.' But it worked: major newspapers and the network morning shows jumped on the Drudge rumor."
- Lauren Ashburn, Daily Beast: How the Drudge Report, With Its Condoleezza Rice 'Scoop,' Again Rules the Media
- Cora Currier and Suevon Lee, ProPublica: The Best Reporting on Detention and Rendition Under Obama
- Ted Diadiun, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Readers wary of bias missed out on an even-handed Bain primer
- Glenn Kessler, Washington Post: Weighing the evidence on Romney's departure from Bain: A response to readers
- John McWhorter, Daily News, New York: Mitt's rich and stiff — so what?
- Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Why silence from African-American voters?
- Geraldo Rivera, Fox News Latino: Obama's Latino Support Eroding
- Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star: The subject straight-shootin' Mitt doesn't dare address
"Will Sutton, a 2012 Reynolds Center Visiting Professor, will join Grambling State University as acting Director of Public Relations and Communications," Kelly Carr reported for the center, based at Arizona State University, on Monday.
"Since January, Sutton taught a business journalism class at Grambling as part of the Reynolds Center's Visiting Professor Program, which pairs veteran journalists with academic institutions to encourage stronger financial training. Sutton, whose career included leading award-winning teams at various media outlets, was one of four visiting professors funded by a $1.67 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
"In his new role, Sutton will handle Grambling's public relations and communications. He will also advise journalism students as they embark on professional careers. . . ."
Sutton is a former deputy managing editor of the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and former Scripps Howard Endowed Professor/Visiting Professor at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at his alma mater, Hampton University. He was editor of the Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind., from 1993 to 1996.
Curtis Bunn is a best-selling novelist and national award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Washington Times, New York Newsday, the Daily News in New York and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to the brief bio at the end of his essay.
Earlier this week, I was arrested and placed in the Atlanta City Jail," Bunn wrote Sunday for the Atlanta Black Star. "Mug shot. Finger-printed. 'Random' stop. My crime: Traffic violation. From 1996. In New Jersey. This is not written in error.
"In the process of suffering through this ordeal, I stumbled upon some disturbing scenes — scenes that will stick in my head for a long, long time. The view from inside the jail was not pretty; what I saw was a troubling comfort and familiarity too many black men have with the insides of our prisons. For many of them, getting sent back there was like going home. . . ."
- "A new study has found that YouTube is emerging as a major platform for news, one to which viewers increasingly turn for eyewitness videos in times of major events and natural disasters," Jake Coyle wrote Monday for the Associated Press. "The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism on Monday released their examination of 15 months of the most popular news videos on the Google Inc.-owned site."
- "On Monday, The New York Times announced that its search for a new public editor had ended with the appointment of Margaret M. Sullivan, editor and vice president of the Buffalo News," Sara Morrison wrote Monday for Columbia Journalism Review. "She’ll take over for Arthur Brisbane on September 1. Sullivan spoke with CJR about what she hopes to bring to position (hint: It begins with 'd' and rhymes with 'figital') and how her Twitter following has increased since the announcement."
- "MundoFox, the new U.S. Spanish-language broadcast network launching next month, today named long-time Hispanic television creative executive Adriana Ibañez as executive vice president, programming," TVNewsCheck reported on Monday. "Ibanez, who will be based in Los Angeles, will join the network Aug. 1, and will report to MundoFox President Emiliano Saccone."
- "Why would David Callaway, who has spent most of his career in online journalism, want to plunge back into the print world and run USA Today?" Howard Kurtz reported Monday for the Daily Beast. " 'I don’t look at it as a newspaper,' he tells The Daily Beast. 'Obviously the print product is their flagship. But the whole idea is to take the websites they have and make the journalism more relevant.' "
- "Channel 10 welcomes Anzio Williams as its news director, officially vice president of news, today," Neal Zoren wrote Sunday for the Delaware County Times in Chester, Pa. ". . . Williams has a daunting task ahead of him. Channel 10's news effort is respectable," he said, referring to WCAU-TV, the NBC-owned station, "but lacks shape and definition compared to rivals on Channels 3, 6, and 29. As news director, Williams can provide a tone for the newscast, and attitude that gives Channel 10 News a personality of its own."
- "Hundreds of friends and colleagues gathered Sunday for a memorial celebration for Armando Montaño, a news intern for The Associated Press who died at age 22 in Mexico City," the AP reported. "The service was held at Colorado College, where Montaño's parents, Diane Alters and Mario Montaño, both teach. It was by turns tearful and full of laughter as those gathered recounted how Montaño — who was known as 'Mando' — had great passion for journalism, family, friends and life."
- "Wall Street Journal reporter and Minnesota native Lee Hawkins' 'I Love You Woman' was Grand Prize winner in the R&B category of the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest," the columnist C.J. wrote Saturday for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. "Winning the contest 'prompted me to release a few songs from my catalogue on iTunes under the title "Midnight Conversations," ' he told me. Hawkins writes, sings and hosts 'The Business of Celebrity with Lee Hawkins' on YouTube. . . . On rare occasions, Hawkins is able to integrate journalism and singing, as he did in an interview (startribune.com/a1511) with boxer Manny Pacquiao."
- "Significant reporting errors at the Yale Daily News foreshadowed the fate of Liane Membis, the Wall Street Journal intern who was dismissed in late June for fabricating quotes," J.K. Trotter wrote Monday for IvyGate. "Those same errors cast doubt on the News's investigation of Membis's work at the paper, and contradict its claim that there is 'no evidence' suggesting Membis invented or misreported information at the News."
- "Asian American and Pacific Islander digital journalists, bloggers and social media communicators nationwide will attend the 'V3: Vision, Visibility, Voice' Digital Media Conference (V3con) on Aug. 24 and Aug. 25 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles," indUS Business Journal reported Thursday.
- "An Egyptian journalist detained in Khartoum for nearly two weeks arrived in Cairo on Monday with President Mohamed Morsi who secured her release during talks with Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir," Agence France-Presse and NOWLebanon said Monday. " 'Shaimaa Adil arrived in Cairo with President Mohamed Morsi,' the official MENA news agency reported.
- In Mali, "Gunmen abducted Saouti Haïdara, the editor of the privately-owned daily L’Indépendant, from the newspaper's headquarters in Bamako yesterday evening, gave him a severe beating and then dumped him in a northern district of the city, where he was found by colleagues," Reporters Without Borders reported.
- "The jagged mountains ringing Rio de Janeiro descend to a temperate valley with two storied beaches on the Atlantic," Frank Smyth wrote for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Here is the city that gave the world a new, eclectic musical beat with the Bossa Nova, the South American jewel that will host the summer Olympic Games in 2016. Yet Rio has also been the setting for violence against journalists, a trend that is on the upswing again throughout this nation."