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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Of lies and war


Gen. Stanley McChrystal lied to the parents of Pat Tillman and he aided the coverup of his unfortunate death in Afghanistan. He lied to the loved ones of hundreds of casualties in the prosecution of war. Then he goes forward to tell Rolling Stone that his civilian bosses were essentially a bunch of clowns and he knew better how to win hearts and minds.

The conundrum of Afghanistan and the West is and always will be a Gordian Knot. Backward in thinking and in deed, the Afghans are rooted in the past. For McChrystal to believe that he possessed some kind of answer to this age-old dilemma and to have the sand to tell off his Pentagon and White House chiefs in the press shows that he too is rooted in the past -- and perhaps smoking some opium as well. Give him a drug test, will someone please? Then knock off one of those stars. Bust him down to lieutenant general and kick him out of the military. He is a disgrace who cared not one whit about his men and women in uniform.
This clown would not have made it in Vietnam, another failed enterprise that took too many from us. But at least we Vietnam vets had the guts to keep our mouths shut, even as our own people blasphemed our service.
That is true honor. McChrystal has none.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"F" Troop

It was the 1960s when a popular TV comedy, "'F' Troop" entertained the masses. They were corrupt, comedic and cowardly, the way they fraternized with Native Americans who were keenly smarter than the boys in the fort. It was a time of civil rights, Vietnam and aspirations for a better American day.

Today, I have a new "'F Troop," and I am not amused. These troopers are my failing or mediocre journalism students at Howard University in Washington. They don't know that mid-term elections come every two years, that 33 (or 34) U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs, that "ensure" means something totally different than "insure" -- and they don't care about their collective ignorance.

They just want a passing grade, to get them to some unknown next level of stupid oblivion.

I don't get it. I don't understand how we as Black Americans could have let this happen at Howard University, so called "The Mecca" of black higher education. If this is the Mecca, then Mohammed must be in Acapulco. Although my journalism class, called "Reporting & Writing," ended at 7:30 p.m. twice a week, I routinely stayed hours later to provide one-on-one coaching.
To no avail for many of my troopers.

They would rather watch "The Bad Girls Club" on the Macs in the lab rather than take in "The Elements of Style," an online news site or anything else that would enrich their learning.

I saw this early on, when my class was overfilled to 24 students; it usually only holds 16. But so intent was the administration to just take their money, clearly those higher on the academic food chain didn't care a whit about higher learning, either. Still, I provided coaching and mentoring, and warned those clearly failing -- frequently - that "fat meat is greasy" if they didn't believe that their sad ways would be enshrined as "Fs."

They didn't believe. They didn't do the work, either, despite the first page of my syllabus urging them to seek knowledge instead of just a letter grade. They skipped classes. It took extra effort to get them to read the bible of journalism, the AP Stylebook. It took even more effort and time to grade their papers, word for word, line for line, and pick up every little error for their own betterment. That was my weekend rigor these last four months.

Apparently, many never got the memo that I would not accept mediocrity or their collective BS. They got their "F" grades, deservedly and sadly for all America in this age of journalism that allows blogs to pass for the real deal.

They also lack ethics. One student had her parents travel from the South to plead her case to university officials. She somehow believed they could argue for her to receive a passing grade, despite my pronouncements that I would not be compromised. She even got the athletic department's academic advisor to reach out to me because she told her that I refused to engage in a dialogue to hear a final plea. Oh, and one final thought: Her final news story quoted her own mother as one of her news sources.

I emailed the advisor back that all this effort was 13th-hour drama, that the student had ample time and my attention during the semester and that I would not change the "F"." The advisor thanked me, explaining that she had not been told the whole story. And I never revealed to anyone except the department chair that the student had used a relative as a news source.

Credibility has nothing to do with them getting a grade, they believe. Doing the work has nothing to do with making the grade.

Yes, this is about the whole story.....for all the people. But who will accurately tell our story, I repeatedly asked my class, 90 percent of whom were females from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and points in between. Sixty percent passed -- and I use that term loosely -- because they at least demonstrated some effort.

The "F" Troopers, on the other hand, will be back to take the course for a second, third and, yes, even a fourth try. They told me so in their personal tales of travail of having to deal with other professors who, they claimed, either wouldn't or didn't teach them what they needed to succeed.

Dear parents, please don't send your kids off to college expecting some miraculous transformation. Don't think for an iota that we professors have some magic potion that will allow them to drink in knowledge or that we can provide sustenance that will get them out of school and into a well-paying job. It's not so, because fat meat is greasy and I'm not easy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Weather sideways

Plopped sideways in the snow, the yardstick is more than half buried this February, and I am awed by the power of wisdom and foolishness. I won't be among the bravehearty legion who believe they can surmount snowdrifts, black ice and bad drivers. They won't be able to, we know, as we will watch spinning tires and carooming vehicles sliding sideways and upside down.

Perhaps -- indeed, yes, Nature deserves a capital "N" to connote Nasty. How else to explain that which transforms humans into beasts of privilege who stage snowball fights at Dupont Circle, who clog supermarket parking lots for the perceived Last Supper, and who dare travel when common sense says stay home for the day after tomorrow after tomorrow?

I, for one, will do just that. I will mercifully cancel Monday's class before any official authorizes it.

When conditions go sideways, common sense always needs to plow straight ahead.