Monday, July 28, 2008

Disingenuous Journalism

Okay, I think this is downright funny. The NYT's campaign blog The Caucus covers Barack Obama's speech at the Unity Journalists of Color Convention in Chicago. Whoever wrote the headline can't think of anything to describe what the story's about, so it's titled "Obama At Convention For Journalists." The URL title, "Obama at Unity Convention" seems just fine to me. "Obama At Convention For Journalists of Color" isn't exactly artful, but at least it's descriptive.

Then, before getting into any of the content of the conference or the speech, the story spends nine paragraphs wondering out loud whether journalists of color can actually be objective towards Obama. It doesn't actually answer the question of whether the attendees seemed to act professionally. It just kinda floats it out there.

Imagine this lede:

TUCSON – Senator John McCain of Arizona addressed a convention of thousands of white veterans and servicemen here Sunday, mixing foreign policy analysis with his views on topics like affirmative action and immigration in an environment that was closely watched for signs of favoritism toward the presumptive Republican candidate.
Now that would be pretty ridiculous. It's clear that journalists have standards of objectivity and professionalism that they need to hold and be held to. But so do soldiers, especially towards their future commander-in-chief. It would be slanderous to 1) demand that servicemen and servicewomen show no political preferences at all and 2) broadly impugn their ability to act as professionals towards whomever might be elected President.

Moreover, you would expect that in Arizona, in an audience of white servicemen and veterans, that John McCain would be hugely popular. Why would it be uncouth if an audience largely made up of college-educated, politically aware men and women of color, in Chicago of all places, was enthusiastic towards Obama? And why is that the story, rather than the questions that were asked and the answers that were given, which might help the reader actually make up his or her mind about whether these reporters were lobbing Obama softballs?

The message is that we can't trust black or Latino or Native American reporters to be honest about Obama, neither in their coverage, nor even in their own attitudes. Remember Derrick Bell's first rule of racial standing:
The law grants litigants standing to come into court based on their having sufficient personal interest and involvement in the issue to justify judicial congnizance. Black people (while they may be able to get into court) are denied such standing legitimacy in the world generally when they discuss their negative experiences with racism or even when they attempt to give a positive evaluation of another black person or of his work. No matter what their experience or expertise, blacks’ statements involving race are deemed ’special pleading’ and thus not entitled to serious consideration.
They're in the tank for Obama. And the old white guys, the deans of Washington, and the kids who swoon for McCain? They're just imbued with the same urge for straight talk. That's why Tom Brokaw can spend an hour with Barack Obama reading David Brooks's columns at him, and why white opinion-makers, liberal and conservative, are falling over themselves parsing every word of Obama's to convince themselves that he might roll back raced-based affirmative action.
THIRD RULE: Few blacks avoid diminishment of racial standing, most of their statements about racial conditions being diluted and their recommendations of other blacks taken with a grain of salt. The ususal exception to this rule is the black person who publicly disparages or criticizes other blacks who are speaking or acting in ways that upset whites. Instantly, such statements are granted ‘enhanced standing’ even when the speaker has no special expertise or experience in the subject he or she is criticizing.
Legitimacy. Who has it, and why?

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