Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Of two dictators and madness in Miami

I treasure my 2015 trip to Cuba. Nine days with real Cubans, learning how they believed in Fidel Castro's vision of racial equality. They also looked forward to better relations with the United States, and praised President Obama at every turn. My hope is that the two nations continue to move closer economically and democratically. But I also remember when I was an editor at The Miami Herald that Cubans fleeing Castro's Cuba got 40 acres and a mule (symbolically) -- but immigrant Haitians fleeing dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier's brutalty were imprisoned in detention camps in South Florida. That blatant racial discrimination lives on today; just examine the upward mobility of the expatriate Haitian community compared to their Cuban counterparts. There really is no comparison.

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Veterans Day – Never Mind

Fifty years have passed since I last saw many of my high school classmates. Frankly, I could have waited another 50 before seeing them again.
No bitterness here, just the realization that most of them remain so out of touch with the sacrifices and service made by me and a handful of their Vietnam veteran classmates. That our McKinley Tech Class of '65 reunion committee in Washington never thought of recognizing their veteran classmates shouldn't have come as a surprise.
After all, when it comes to those Americans who halted teenage lives to join the military for wartime service to this country, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence and outright hatred for the war were ways of life for the non-serving. Few in power even wanted to admit it was a war, with politicians and the media alike euphemistically calling it "the Vietnam conflict."
Still, this slight may have hurt the most, more than being slurred by fellow Americans, of being spat on and turned down for jobs because of the myth that Vietnam veterans were “crazy” and “baby killers,” even after decades of rejected Agent Orange claims and Vietnam buddies' deaths at the hands of the Veterans Administration.
One would have thought that my ex-classmates would have been the first to celebrate our collective sacrifice, that they knew and appreciated that it was also for their future security that we enlisted or were drafted. I allow that maybe they couldn’t have understood the political ramifications of the Vietnam War, but I thought surely they, as witnesses to headlines and history, would have celebrated their old classmates who became casualties of war in one way or the other.
I don’t know whether I should be ashamed of them or for myself for daring to suggest that their weekend of reunion memories should have included a brief recognition of their veteran classmates. Most of those things school chums at my predominantly black high school's graduating class (99 percent) went on to college, created successful careers in education, government, law, medicine – you name it, these middle-class children did it. For me, I had little choice except join the military. My parents weren’t able to afford college and, frankly, my grades were only so-so back then. 
So, it took me a few years to catch up after my four-year Air Force enlistment. It took 10 years to earn that bachelor’s degree. After my cut-rate GI Bill for college stipend ran out in three years, I left college to work full-time as a court stenographer, later re-enrolling to get that elusive degree in journalism. My professional life has since taken me around the globe and across this nation as a newspaper reporter, editor, college professor and public relations practitioner.
This Veterans Day, and with each passing November 11th I find the moment less authentic. For me, and I am sure with countless other Vietnam vets, “the Vietnam conflict” simply mirrors the widening schism between those who served in the most unpopular war in American history and the rest of the nation. Today, less than 1 percent of all Americans are in the uniformed services. That’s the lowest percentage of Americans in uniform in the last 100 years. Most military families will attest to their second-class status as citizens, with many depending on food stamps and food banks while their loved ones are deployed.
Seems that this country – along with my now-senior citizen classmates – remain all too happy to get on with their lives and leave the fighting to someone else. National service was and tragically remains absent from the American agenda.
So be it! It will be the nation's loss, sadly, when most Americans fail to have their own skins in the game of serving this great country.
As for us Vietnam Vets, we are more than willing to thank our own selves for our service. We did our duty – no thank you is necessary.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Duane, Larry and Jimmy: yesterday's heroes, today's conscience

Duane, Larry & Jimmy: Yesterday’s Heroes, Today’s Conscience

January 1, 2011 at 5:11pm
Duane D. Jackson, 63, a Times Square street vendor, saved New York and the country as a whole from a tragedy that could have derailed our peace of mind and sense of security. Jackson risked his life when he peered into a suspiciously smoking SUV. He immediately summoned a police officer, who then cleared out the tourist-heavy district as the country watched and prayed.

Jackson is a Vietnam veteran.

Larry Platt, 62, took the nation by storm on last year’s “American Idol” auditions with a side-splitting, mocking message to America’s black youth:

Pants on the groundPants on the groundLookin' like a fool with your pants on the groundWith the gold in your mouthHat turned sidewaysPants hit the groundCall yourself a cool catlookin' like a foolWalkin' downtown with your pants on the ground, get it upHey, get your pants off the groundLookin' like a foolWalkin', talkin' with your pants on the groundGet it up; hey! Get your pants off the groundLookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground

Too old to go beyond auditions, the message resonated with TV hosts and celebrity everywhere.

Platt is a Vietnam veteran.

Jimmy McMillan has a painfully clear mantra: The rent is too damn high, and it's hurting the economy, not to mention the quality of life of New York, his home city. Hailing from Flatbush, Brooklyn, the 63-year-old didn't win the state’s gubernatorial election -- though he did receive an astonishing 40,916 votes, which was 0.9 percent of the total. But for a while, he won the hearts of struggling Americans and earned a host of Internet tributes. He became a 2010 cult hero, showing courage in the face of inestimable odds to tell the nation that something was terribly wrong with our economy.

McMillan is a Vietnam veteran.

By now, you might have guessed that I love black Vietnam veterans. Now in their senior years, they went to that war young and drafted, baby boomers with little opportunity, but they were young men who saw their way to a good future through life-threatening service to their country.

Today, as America is ensnarled in another conflict of questionable merit, with trillions of dollars siphoned from economic progress, another group of American heores will need your support when they return home.

And while one might question how well Duane, Larry and Jimmy individually won their shares of the American Dream, no one can doubt that their ethos of service to America has ever waned. They, like many veterans from all of our wars, continue to push the envelope for the sake of others.

That is our hope for tomorrow. That is the lesson we learned in Vietnam.


Since my youth, my only 'crime' has been my skin color

Since my youth, my only 'crime' has been my skin color

I didn't sleep well last night. Was up until 4 a.m., I guess too wound up to let my body do its job over my mental anguish of seeing a human being -- a BLACK human being, like myself -- murdered before my eyes. 
I spent much of the day after the fateful video surfaced reading the comments from various news sites. To be sure, 95% of them were equally appalled. I found, and verified the irony of ex-police officer Michael Slager's surname. In the Dutch language, "Slager" means "butcher shop." 
I ran back my own memory of being stopped by police...once as a 16-year-old high schooler, while walking to the bus stop after a classmate's birthday party. I was accused of stealing a car. Again, I was walking.
I was stopped in Prince George's County on my birthday (some 40 years ago) for speeding. I knew there was a cop car behind me, and knew the highway I was on, so I slowed down. Nonetheless, the officer lit me up, pulled me over and cited me for speeding. I went to court, armed with a photograph I had taken of the speed sign showing 35 mph. I didn't need that proof, however; the cop never showed and the case was dismissed. But I lost a day's pay back in the day for that foolishness.
It was 1985 in New Jersey, when I was pulled over by a state trooper on the NJ Turnpike; I had just relocated from The Miami Herald, and had Florida tags. The trooper did his usual protocol of running my tags, etc. About 20 minutes later, he returned to my car and said I could go, offering a lame explanation that there were a lot of drugs running up from Florida and that was why he pulled me over. Then, he had the audacity to ask me why I was even in New Jersey.
I told him, "I just relocated here from Florida. I am the new city editor of The (Bergen) Record," and I'm on my way to work. His face turned fire-engine red. 
Today, more than ever, I shudder that there are few black journalists in America's newsrooms to fight the power that be. I am no public enemy. Peace!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A drink of freedom

When I was 18 and in the Vietnam War, I couldn’t drink legally. I remember an editorial cartoon depicting GIs in a foxhole, bombs bursting in air, and one saying to the other, “If I couldn’t drink, then why am I here to die?”

The cartoon brought a brief, knowing smile to my young face, knowing well that, worse, I couldn’t vote myself out of the war, either. You had to be 21 to vote and to drink, yet most of my bros were my age or not much older. We knew the law, but we also knew how to get fired up while “in country."  We all needed numbing to get through that unreal, and no one asked for our IDs back then, not that it mattered. 

Years passed, and I moved on from Thunderbird -- the vintage of black choice in ‘Nam -- to Boone’s Farm, then onward to something with a cork. In between, there were some name brands as I grew toward sanity after a tour of the duty with Uncle Sam. 

Strange how Election Day brings out the patriotism and memories in me. Today I wore my Vietnam veteran baseball cap while waiting in line to vote. I never said a word to my fellow Americans, except to the poll workers when required. I heard my companions banter about Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, same-sex marriage laws and legalized gambling in Maryland.

And I silently rejoiced. For I made their banter possible. I stood there, knowing they were free because I did what was asked of me when I was but a child. I enlisted in the U.S Air Force at exactly 17 years and 9 months old; I needed my parents’ signatures to enlist, and they grudgingly signed. 

It was the best move of my life. 

Back then, I began to learn how to survive in an unfair world. I learned how to communicate in spite of ignorant and intolerable rants from folks who thought themselves superior in rank, intellect, good manners and beyond. I learned about hate and rage and heroic acts that ultimately bested the former. 

Reflecting on that young life brought forward through the crucible of war and a career in public service through the art of journalism, I understand the cries of democracy and the unrelenting forces that seek to mute it. 

I remain a warrior for good thoughts and deeds. Today, while waiting in line, I changed my vote to allow children of illegal immigrants to receive low-cost college tuition. That’s because I saw a young Latino couple cradling their playful infant daughter. They too had come to vote.

They, too, are part of my America. I figured that out while waiting in line. I changed my mind because I can.

Because I am an American. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Siding with the truth

Who’s watching the watcher, now that political hay can be made from untruths that go on and on?

No one is watching -- or seemingly caring -- as this debacle of an American presidential election continues to go down Pinocchio’s unseemly path.

Ethical and professional lapses darken our doorsteps with increasing frequency. A meningitis outbreak kills at least 16 Americans so far, and has tragically sickened thousands more. All because a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company was left to its own devices and allowed a fungus to contaminate its drug stock.

The Bay State also has to come up with a tough explanation about how a state police lab technician willingly falsified thousands of drug cases. Her false reports imprisoned hundreds, but no one was watching her for years.

As a crisis communicator, I continue to be amazed by the mirage people and corporations create to uphold their lack of character.

  • Pizza Hut reverses itself on a “Free Pizza For Life" contest if someone at tonight's presidential debate asks the candidates whether they prefer sausage or pepperoni toppings -- diminishing the seriousness of the moment.
  • American Airlines fails to answer questions today regarding the conviction of a long-time baggage handler who got other airline employees to secrete drugs on passenger jets -- at the risk of downing a jet because their hiding places were in the planes' control systems. His drug ring netted millions.
  • A Maryland lawmaker last week pleaded guilty to using $3,500 in campaign funds to pay for her wedding and a second charge in which she was found guilty of using $800 in state funds to pay an employee at her law firm. The woman still believes she should keep her post.
  • Lance Armstrong, the doper. 'Nuf said.
Such arrogance is an appeasement to vanity. Trouble is, today it boils over in more public scenarios than one can list. Yet, the perps think nothing of it, like tailgating speeders with no fear of consequence.

There is no prescription for humanity to act in a humane way. Which is why, in conscience-free 21st Century America, we need watchers empowered with the soul and commitment to know right from something less -- no matter someone’s ill-conceived definition.

The truth will always outflank a lie. It just takes longer today.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When name-calling is a beautiful thing

Godfather, he used to call me.

“Sensei,” I was called by another young brother, years earlier.

“Big Daddy, Dwight,” was one of my more recent appellations. It came from one of my many young charges who, like me once upon a time, chose journalism as a career with the expressed intention of making waves to change an unfair, racist world.

“Obi Wan” is perhaps my most favorite nickname. Joe Gray calls me that whenever we talk. It’s not all that frequently these days. He’s really busy, working for Time, Inc., as a page editor. And, yes, he continues to make his mark in New York City, quite a few miles and decades from where we first worked together in Detroit.

I hired Joe for his first full-time journalism job at the city’s business publishing group. As managing editor, I had just created the region’s first small-business magazine – and Joe was my stable’s only horse. The publication was wildly successful. Now Joe’s shepherding other young black journalists as an elected official with the National Association of Black Journalists. I couldn’t be more proud.

The guy who calls me “Godfather” is now a vice-president at Comcast. Neil Scarborough was a hot property almost 25 years ago when I tried – unsuccessfully – to recruit him to his hometown newspaper, The Record of Hackensack, N.J.  
And the cat who calls me “Big Daddy” – Corey G. Johnson – is now up for a Pulitzer in the investigative journalism category. A few years back as Corey switched careers, I helped train him to become a journalist.

I like being called names by these young brothers, many of whom now are seeing the other side of 40. Back in the day, I recognized them for who they were and what they wanted to become, and I worked with them to help them achieve their dreams.

But I was merely passing along the torch. That same torch lighted my way years earlier in the skilled hands of Paul Delaney. He was a national correspondent at The New York Times when he put my name forward to become a news clerk at the paper’s Washington Bureau. I took the job, wrote non-bylined pieces at every opportunity – and remembered his guiding hand and words mixed with an abundance of wisdom and good humor as I – we  – launched my career.

So, for all of my journalist friends who have no doubt propelled many careers in journalism, I have my own name for you: Hero. And I ask each of you to reach back one more time, because we need more young African Americans to help protect our democracy.

We veterans worked hard for our newsrooms and for all the American people. Now it’s up to the young ones to keep America’s oft-failed promise alive.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A New Game Plan for Penn State

Dear Penn State board of trustees, my sympathies to your students and graduates, many of whom will be branded for years as "less than" due to the Sandusky-PSU child sex-abuse scandal.

Suggest your school emphasize entrepreneurialism even more than currently, because your children (yes, that's what they still are to us parents who send them to school) will be branded by a tarnished Penn State brand. Starting businesses will be the best way for PSU grads to be employed, so get going putting together a new plan to boost your business school. 

As for the business world, one brand management executive says it will take 25 years for PSU to regain its good name. If so, then today's 17-year-old freshman will be 42 before cleansed from the scandal's dirty bathwater.

Imagine, 25 years, more than a generation. A generation without sympathy.

That's what you big shots at Penn State have wrought for your children. You all should seek redemption by cooperating with authorities and putting forth an honest effort to help, not hinder, investigations. Do so.....at any cost. 

Remember, you are now in a "No Sympathy Zone" -- and it stretches more than a country mile in Happy Valley.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Legacies Made and Gone

Two sporting Joes, both famous and toughly knit from Pennsylvania, died this week. They died in different ways, one whose body fell to illness, the other whose body of work fell to the illness of winning at all costs.
Joe Frazier succumbed to kidney cancer at age 67. Now after his last breath, the son of Philadelphia is being fondly remembered as a champion. His iron will matched an iron determination. He was consistent. He could  be counted on in victory and defeat.
The same can’t be said for Joe Paterno, whose godlike, 46-year reign at Pennsylvania State University will live way beyond Paterno’s last moment on this earth.He won’t be so fondly remembered, no matter what various courts of law and public opinion come to conclude.
For decades, Paterno forged a football legacy of truth, honor, courage, commitment -- yes, sacrifice -- for the team. They won national championships and were bowl perennials. Penn State emulated the best of collegiate sports.
Now, way beyond the collegiate sports world, the globe has judged Paterno lacking, his legacy corrupt, the Penn State brand facing continued ignominy. Even Moody’s investments is considering a downgrade, considering untold court cases soon to make the school liable for millions of dollars in payments to the sex-abuse victims and their families.
It is the Penn State family that will face the ultimate test. But they already have the answers. Just follow the truth/honor/courage/commitment/sacrifice mantra from here on out.

Those are the best embers to be taken from these sorry ashes.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

'Old School' All The Way

My brother, Greg Lewis, is a paragon of strength and good humor. Today, I return from his intensive care bedside, not broken but humbled.
I know that God is on top of  this, and I am somewhere near the middle of His universe. I know that Greg is now resting his final moments on His creation, and that soon my brother -- who always had sage answers for my undying queries -- will have that omnipresent answer that we all shall seek one day.

Greg Lewis and Rosa Parks, one of dozens of black luminaries
who got "good ink" from a great friend and journalist.

Greg is old school. We met in North Carolina as a pioneering fivesome -- including Mae Israel, Ron Topping and Ken Campbell. I was the only one from "The North," and my alleged Yankee upbringing repulsed Greg and "Top" early on.

But not for long. We had so much in common. We were all race men, who tackled the white opposition in different venues and always came out superior. Then came the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party to Greensboro in November 1979. We covered the heck out of the story, to the point that at least one of our senior editors was trading our intelligence to the FBI after five people were shot dead in the city's streets during a public protest. (The assailants were never criminally convicted.)

Our coverage was tight, and we were named Pulitzer Prize finalists and won the National Headliners Award. We were young and oh-so- awfully good.

I could go on and on about how Greg has inspired me, how our friendship spanned decades and miles, how our phone conversations always ended with, "I Love You."

Never said that to any other man. None other were so worthy.

(Here is the link about Greg from Richard Prince's "Journal-isms"  blog.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cheap Lives

What gives with kids wanting to gang?

Well, for one thing, these aren't kids, even though chronologically they may be under 18. They have been living adult lives for most of their existence, perpetrating crime and mayhem with the solid belief that they can get away with murder because of their young ages.

Bring back harsher sentencing to youths. And stop expunging their juvie records just because they were allegedly too young to know the severity of their crimes.

These "kids" are adults, plain and simple. Treat them so, and some of these barbarous acts will lessen.

And for all of you bangers, stop celebrating death with T-shirts and makeshift shrines of cheap wine, cheap teddy bears and cheap balloons.

It only cheapens the lost life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fenty = Fool

Adrian Fenty will go down in political history as someone who squandered a $5 million war chest, the absolute goodwill of the city's electorate and the consensus that the city was moving in the right direction. (Oh, yes, and he squandered the "influential" endorsements of The WaPo, et al.)

All because he was tone deaf....for years. Tone deaf = Arrogance!

Deaf about inclusion. Deaf about working with the City Council. Absolutely, stupidly deaf when playing by his rules instead of the rules of the order. He held this city hostage for years.

He never met with the city's congressional delegation. Why, when we in the city need Congress to understand our issues? He opened schools and the city government with FEET of snow on the ground last winter, forcing his employees to take personal leave. Never mind that Metro was shut down and the federal government had decided to give employees administrative leave.

He traveled overseas -- yet the people never knew where he was until after he returned. He went to Dubai and China on those countries' dimes. (The Dubai visit was especially a case of tone deafness when he went to a tennis tournament where an Israeli had been banned.)

He kept his family under wraps -- until a few weeks ago when it became politically expedient and his wife cried before cameras, saying she couldn't understand why people had turned on him. Deaf, she too!

All along, Fenty told the media to take a hike when it came to his family. Deaf!

The Nationals baseball tickets was just the wicked tip of the Fenty Titanic. Throughout these last four years Fenty has told his agency heads not to cooperate with the City Council on even the most routine of matters. He hid information.

And, yes, he knew about that fire truck donation to the Dominican Republic. And, yes, he knew that his cronies were going to get tons of cash for no work under the cover of city construction contracts.

Yes, his administration has played with crime statistics. Yes, there are more unfulfilled Freedom of Information Act requests from citizens and the media -- even though Fenty promised in his campaign that he would run a "transparent" administration out of the Wilson Building.

I have watched this human disintegration with relish these last weeks. Fenty created this train wreck because he is an arrogant jerk.

He skipped Abe Polin's memorial service. He dissed Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou, who sought an audience with him to help resolve the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center eviction that his administration handed down.

Pettiness + Arrogance = Not another 4 years.

His godfather, Peter Nickles, helped take Adrian down this road to ruin. Nickles did not represent the city as the attorney general; he represented his boy king. They belong together, and now they can find new ways to disempower the people.

Today, the voters are the ultimate victors. And for those who want to paint this as a black-white thing, believe me it's not. Many people of all racial identities have been stepped on by this man, and they told their friends, relatives, church/synagogue/temple/mosque members, they told their sorors and frats, they told their relatives....and many took to the streets to ensure Vince Gray would win.

It wasn't because the Gray campaign promised anything. It's just that WE, THE PEOPLE, can't take four more years of Adrian Fenty's brand of corruption, cronyism and lack of critical thinking.

Bye, Adrian. Hope you never even THINK about entering political office again. If you do, no "Apology Tour," no Washington Post endorsement, no matter of money will be believable.

Fenty Arrogance = Comeuppance.

Oh, Happy Day!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Katrina - 5 Years And Counting

Note to readers: On this, the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I thought it noteworthy to reprise this editorial, which ran in black newspapers throughout America immediately after the 2005 catastrophe.

Media Hurricane is Spinning Out of Control

by Dwight Cunningham
NNPA Special Contributor

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Watching TV newscasts on Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, I am struck by the media’s obvious tilt to covering the story of lawlessness rather than the bigger story of people who had little in the way of material things before Hurricane Katrina – and who have now been reduced to having nothing at all.

It seems the story fast became law enforcement’s inability to maintain law and order during a catastrophe, rather than the story of utter human despair in America.

Clearly, the survivor/refugee/rescue/recovery story has taken a back seat as images of Black people – to be sure, poor Black people – is “A” roll material, fed
continuously to a ravenous audience.

Just as clearly, those indelible images of desperate Black Americans are attempts to vividly portray Black America at its worst.
“Wild gangs” and the “urban menace,” Fox newscaster Bill O’Reilly proclaimed, were hurting search-and-rescue attempts.

The media is cementing those filtered words and images into the nation’s conscious. So that someday, when congressional hearings and blue-ribbon presidential panels are formed, such biased reporting will be used to formulate policy that could prove equally disastrous to Black America.

Who is monitoring today’s coverage? Is it the National Association of Black Journalists, for example, in a real concise, scientific way? That group and other respected journalistic organizations should be in the monitoring mode. Right now!

I worry about who is going to tell the story of the recovery effort and its impact on Black America. Will there be equal treatment, or no treatment at all, when federal and insurance dollars trickle in, whenever that is?

For the media, and left to our own devices, you can believe there will be huge gaps in the information chain.

In the past week, many times I have watched commentators with no new “news” to report. They are just rehashing what is mostly already out there, speculating to no one but themselves.

There is pitifully little in the way of racial diversity from the newscasters. Heck, as far as story content, Tuesday night, MSNBC’s anchor opened up the Katrina coverage saying there was also breaking news out of Aruba on the Natalie Hollaway story.

Again I ask: Who will cover Black America and the myriad angles as this story unfolds?

No doubt, Black households across the nation are dusting off spare rooms and sending Moneygrams to displaced family members. No doubt, people will need to be buried, yet there will be no money to bury them. Sick people will continue to die, perhaps needlessly, because the authorities did not mobilize as quickly as possible.

Yet, have you heard a “talking head” psychologist or trauma expert opine about the emotional distress our fellow Americans are under? By the way, when have they been referred to as fellow countrymen?

We hear them called “refugees” or “evacuees,” words used to disassociate them from the hard, cold fact that these are Americans perishing before our unbelieving eyes.

We have brothers and sisters whose collective lifestyles resembled a Third World nation – even before the hurricane hit. They were already living paycheck to paycheck. They didn’t leave the city because they couldn’t afford $2.75-a-gallon gas. They saw the huge parking lot on the interstates during the weekend evacuation, and decided to hunker down and pray.

And now they are dead. Or missing. Many others are certainly displaced and maybe perpetually homeless. They are engaged in basic human survival. And they need their elected officials to help.

This is the time for a democracy and the journalists protected under the First Amendment to embrace their basic ideals. For all the people. But will that be the case as the months, even years, go by, if no few Black journalists get to be truth tellers ?

The Black journalists association and other such groups may, at some point, look back and decry what the Fourth Estate failed to do. Or the organization can be a true journalistic leader by putting resources forth – today – to be a watchdog for Black America.

This is the worst calamity to ever befall the nation in my lifetime. Not the often deadly acts encompassing this nation’s struggle for civil rights. Not the King assassination and its riotous aftermath. And not the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington – nothing matches what we are witnessing in the Deep South.

Sadly, this calamity increasingly has a Black face. Judging from the media’s long history of ignoring minorities, I wonder whether we will really witness and hear unvarnished truth in the months ahead.

Or will the networks, newspapers, bloggers, talk radio, etc., be involved in pack journalism in a watershed event for Black America and the nation as a whole?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would dispatch a team of journalists soon – preferably in the next two to three weeks – to the disaster zone to begin covering the biggest story of the century and how it impacts 2 million Black Americans.

Undertaking such a major effort can inform the continuing national dialogue on life after Hurricane Katrina. Numerous human stories will not be covered in the months ahead, such as chronicling the lives of a Black family uprooted and relocated. Will journalists explore whether Black residents of the Gulf South will get a fair share of newly created jobs in the unprecedented rebuilding effort ahead? Who will monitor – watchdog – the distribution of aid, of federal funds, of state and volunteer efforts to rebound?

When the media does come around, betcha’ they get to happily film rich neighborhoods in suburban New Orleans receiving their first FEMA checks – but won’t dare ask when the Black folks from Lower Ward 9 will get theirs.

Who will do the relocation stories, and what will they say? Who will look for disparate treatment among the races and locales? What media organization, amid continuous corporate downsizing, will expend the resources to embed reporters and photographers to chronicle the biggest disaster in the history of the United States?

As a veteran journalist who has covered disasters, my concern runs deep that the Fourth Estate is on the way to missing a seminal opportunity to do its First Amendment job. Witnessing the churn of obvious media bias, I shudder to believe that the media will do a fair job of reporting this compelling human story.

I urge journalism foundations to seriously consider this watchdog task. In past years, they have made sincere attempts to racially and ethnically integrate American newsrooms, believing that strategy would add to better, fairer coverage.

And it has worked over the past 30 years. Oddly, much of that diversity fervor was generated after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The nation’s newspapers found they had few Black journalists to get the story of riots and the human despair that helped trigger such an explosive reaction.

Many White journalists were just too downright scared to go into the ghetto to do the job.

So many newspaper janitors and porters became reporters. And a movement grew to recruit more Black journalists to give a fairer and more accurate picture of what was going on in the nation’s cities and towns. Today, an even stronger effort should be marshaled to give a journalistic watchdog voice to the voiceless.

My concern runs deep that the Fourth Estate may miss a seminal opportunity to do its First Amendment job. Witnessing the churn of obvious media bias thus far, I am concerned that the media will continue to do a dishonest job of reporting this compelling human story.

The soul of American journalism is at stake.

Dwight Cunningham is a veteran newspaper and magazine journalist and journalism educator. He is spending a year at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute in Nashville, Tenn. as training editor.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thank You, Keith Olbermann

I am a former journalist, who helped racially integrate The Greensboro Daily News in the 1970s, who was the first black man to become an editor at The Miami Herald (that was '84), who was the lone black editor at The (Bergen) Record in Hacksensack, N.J. and, even then, became a reporter to live in a public housing development in Paterson, N.J. to chronicle the arrival of a new drug called crack.

It was 1985, and my senior editors back then didn't think there was much to covering this drug epidemic. I had weeks of notes detailing that this was serious stuff, that 5,000 people were warehoused in a den of dope and a nexus of crime just short of murder.

Of course, my white editors didn't see it coming, but I did. Then, and tragically fortunate, came the death of Len Bias. He died of a coke overdose and -- SUDDENLY! -- my white editors got religion. They allowed me to spend six months eating, sleeping and "gathering string" for our ground-breaking series, "The Poisoning of a City."

It won no awards, because the editors didn't submit the series, newsroom politics being alive in well at this same newspaper that wrote "Goetz Vindicated" as a banner headline the day after he was found not guilty for shooting four young black robbers on a New York City subway train.

Not much has changed in journalism. Knee-jerk, feeble-minded -- and purportedly left-leaning -- journalists make those same sorry decisions on what's important or not for news consumers. They ignore, perhaps conveniently, the hard stories. Now, even more driven by the bottom line than ever, they push for instant gratification in the form of page views, or "hits," or some other metric that only God, Allah and Buddha together can understand.

Yet, as always, human lives are at stake. And nowhere have I seen the outrage more than in your recent take on the Shirley Sherrod debacle.

Thank you, sir. A hundred times thanks. The Fourth Estate has now morphed into some "Fifth Estate," as much a "Fifth Element" as the Bruce Willis sci-fi flick, and just as weird.

I just finished watching Howard Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" segment on the paucity of African-American journalists at the cable and network news tables in prime time.

Nothing much has changed, has it?

If you need a producer who knows how to get the story, I know a few -- some of whom are African American -- who can get the job done with vigor, ethics, creativity and courtesy, when such tact is needed. After all, isn't it still about covering the people, all the people, all the time?

Our job, as Joseph Pulitzer said, is "to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."

Most of those in journalism have lost their way. Clearly, you are on truth's road. Continue to drop bread crumbs for journalism's wayward souls.