Preserving a Right

A request to sign a petition from Brigade + Causes hit my mailbox yesterday that raised my eyebrows. “Sign the petition to #fireColbert” read the subject line. The opening of the petition says: “Stephen Colbert finally took it too far with a disgustingly lewd anti-Trump rant on The Late Show on CBS.”

The author of the petition was sufficiently offended by Colbert’s monologue from last week that the author initiated the movement. In fact, he closed his appeal by saying, “This is certainly within Colbert’s right to free speech, but the networks should strive for a higher level of decency. This isn’t comedy. It’s just disgusting and offensive.” Apparently the FCC was also alarmed at the language used in the monologue.

However, we need to ask ourselves in what way did the Colbert monologue in question substantially differ from the many antics of #45 during his campaign. We also need to recognize that Colbert is in the entertainment business and relies on [Nielsen] ratings in order to keep his show on the air. Similarly, during the campaign, #45 was in several industries (including entertainment) and heavily relies (even now) on outlandish behavior for the sake of garnering ratings and attention. So where’s the difference? We also need to take into consideration that #45 was never called to task for any of his campaign behavior and was never penalized in any way. In fact, he was applauded. It’s difficult to understand why, in a post-Carlin’s “7 dirty words” environment that Colbert (or CBS for that matter) should suffer even a penalty.

Now, to be sure, it’s no secret that Colbert is not a fan of the 45th President. It’s safe to say there’s little evidence that he has ever had favorable feelings about #45.

It says a lot about what still remains of American freedoms that Colbert can express his political opinions during his monologue without being censored or have his way of life threatened. It’s called freedom of speech. True, there were objectionable words used in the body of the monologue but the blue language was bleeped from the speech. Even Colbert’s mouth was blurred when he pronounced certain words so that they could not be discerned and cause offense. Those were the instances when it went into territory not covered by Carlin’s “7 dirty words” but at least the freedom to express those feelings was in place.

Other TV hosts have also lampooned the First Family in this last week. It doesn’t appear any of those hosts are being called to task for doing their jobs while simultaneously pushing their audiences to engage in critical thinking or else express what their audiences fear to say aloud.

Likewise, the petition’s author has the freedom to express his distaste for the language – the language, mind you, not the thoughts and feelings owned by the speaker.

So, rather than endorse a return to Woodrow Wilson standards and suppression of one of our precious foundation rights, free speech, I will not sign that petition. Let us, without resorting to expletives and bullying, discuss and debate the policies of #45 and come up with solutions.

It appears both Colbert and the petition author have come up with a very meaningful topic for discussion as well as some meaningful tangents.

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Oscar and Minorities

Hollywood

Hollywood California USA. World Famous Hollywood Sign Concept.

Not the first time in their history, the Oscar Awards ceremony has a boycott in store this year. Started by Jada Pinkett Smith, it didn’t take long for the boycott of the Oscars ceremony (announced the day after the nominations were revealed) would take place. And the announcement was close on the heels of another protest in Hollywood – women’s salaries compared with those of men.

The complaint is there are far too few roles for Blacks on the big screen that result in far too few who are eligible for nomination for having done exceptional work. Some of Hollywood argues back that there aren’t enough stories to be told. In the alternative, the viewing public only identifies with White faces and characters, thus the casting of the parts. But the Oscars acknowledge the work of more than just those on the screen. There are also writers, directors, composers, designers, and more who comprise the entertainment experience. This year none of color were among those nominated. Protests regarding the good ole boys club atmosphere among those who can nominate and vote for Oscar recipients grew with such intensity that protocols were immediately changed and implemented – but too late for this year’s nominees. As long ago as 1970, George C. Scott was noted as having expressed his disdain for the Oscars. “George C. Scott held nothing but contempt for the Oscar organization. He called it a ‘2 hour meat parade’. He said the whole thing was offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt.”

It was complained that only movies about slaves and slavery or racism are put forward as examples of Blacks who have done superlative work as actors. What about the other portrayals that could have been available? There are far too few. Why is that? It seems one of the complaints expressed during this year’s protest are accurate. It isn’t so much that the parts aren’t available so much as a matter of the parts for Black characters are converted to being played by White actors. This fact was memorialized in a book I happened to discover circa 2007 while at a Los Angeles branch library that dealt with the subject of Black Hollywood. A random opening of the book brought me to a section about the Western, “The Searchers” in which the scout is portrayed as a White man. According to the book, the scout was actually Negro but Hollywood didn’t find it appropriate to portray that fact.

The refusal of Hollywood to cast Black actors in positive roles has been cited as one of the reasons there is still a struggle for Blacks to rise into being viewed as a population other than suspect and available for exploitation. The outcries of 2016 are merely echoes of what was openly expressed in a 1999 paper on ethics wherein the three authors state:

Forcibly brought here as slaves to the white man, blacks have never been treated as completely equal to whites. Stereotypes of blacks as lazy, stupid, foolish, cowardly, submissive, irresponsible, childish, violent, sub-human, and animal-like, are rampant in today’s society. These degrading stereotypes are reinforced and enhanced by the negative portrayal of blacks in the media. Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1 888. But blacks weren’t even hired to portray blacks in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.” (http:/www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/open.htm). By refusing to hire black actors to portray black characters, demeaning stereotypes were being created as blacks were presented in an unfavorable light. In addition, blacks were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over blacks. This has had a tremendous effect on our society’s view of blacks since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years.

Add to that representation the unstated but very prevalent attitude that Blacks are an exotic race that is more for the appeasement of sexual gratification and stimulation, not for critical thinking and stubborn business aptitude.

The reference librarian who attempted to help me relocate that book from 2007 found a list of titles that may be helpful to your further inquiry on the subject of Hollywood and accurate portrayal of race. He never found the book. He explained that it may have been removed from the shelves. However, the list of titles he did find is provocative and can be found at the bottom of this post. To get more information about any of the titles, you may visit the page of your favorite book seller or put the title into your favorite search engine.

This boycott and protest is not new to Oscar. The civil rights of a pantheon of actors of all colors and genders, of every sexual preference, has endured throughout the ages. The question, then, is whether this latest wave will be effective in bringing about positive, enduring change.

References:

Other References:

  • Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era by Ellen C. Scott
  • Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-American Culture by Vincent F. Rocchio
  • Race Results: Hollywood vs. Supreme Court ; ten decades of racial decisions and film by Eileen C. Moore
  • Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle by Allison Schoen
  • The subject of film and race : retheorizing politics, ideology, and cinema by Gerald Sim

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Diversity: An Evolution of News Reporting

The newsroom used to be a gaggle of men who typed up the script that was delivered by men’s voices. It was populated by men who took pictures of people, places, and events. Typically, these men were White, because they were male, the voices were deep and conveyed authority. We were subconsciously conditioned to believe that they were the only ones qualified to provide us with the information about us and our world – whether any of it matched our current existence or not. If women were involved in any of the production of the news, their names were suppressed, changed to merely non-gender revealing initials, or simply not provided. It was a time and an industry for men – White men. Asians, Latinos, Negroes were not seen on the television screen nor heard in the background.

But change is inevitable. The news desk that used to be populated by White or Latino faces began to have Black ones, although they were typically the weather prognosticators. To give credit, there was a smattering of Asian faces that finally began to spread before us so that an awareness that the world is more than White and Black began to press on our senses. All hard-won inroads.

Let us return our attention to the inroads of Black journalists. Max Robinson and Ed Bradley were national newscasters of note, as were many other men of color who began to be part of the on-screen presence. Jim Hill remains one of the first Black sports casters, even before retired football and basketball players became pre-game and post-game commentators. Now we have the likes of Lester Holt and Pierre Thomas who will probably become the national news anchor for his station.

Make Room, the Women Are Here

And then it happened. Women were not only on the screen but Black women were there – and the stations admitted to their presence. There was the first woman reporter, Nelly Bly, as well as the first 24 women reporters allowed to join the Press Club. Did that then obviate the need for the women’s press conference started by Eleanor Roosevelt? It isn’t clear. It’s meetings were weekly and its focus was on getting women hired to be in the newsroom. As time passed and acceptance grew, Gloria Steinem found herself holding the distinction of being the first woman to address the National Press Club. That event isn’t recorded on the NPC’s timeline. But what is recorded about their firsts are the first woman president of the organization on February 10, 1982, Vivian Vahlberg of the Daily Oklahoman, and 22 years later on January 21, 2004, Sheila Cherry was sworn in as the Club’s first African American president.

Still Moving the Ceiling

There was Nancy Hanschman Dickerson who moved the ceiling to become the first female reporter for CBS. Pam Moore continues as the evening anchor for San Francisco’s KRON (NBC) News while Belva Davis is a legend for her superb special reports and journalism firsts. I would be remiss if this piece had no reference to Paula Madison and acknowledgement of the award bestowed on her for her push for new excellence in reporting. Charlayne Hunter-Gault Who has a civil rights legacy among her accomplishments and Gwen Ifil are others among the industry minority icons and beacons of excellence. With those journalists came sporadic yet meaningful reports on more than just ethnic reporting. There came news about significant matters of national and international magnitude with incisive yet very understandable explanations of the complex. Unfortunately, NPR has grabbed those talents; fortunately, they still serve as examples of good, solid journalism and models for others, no matter what the race of the journalist.

Therein lies the basis for my excitement when on June 23, the CBS Morning News had a report delivered by a young Black journalist about a very complex issue affecting the American public. Her report was quite thorough and shed light on many aspects of the situation. On being questioned by the three anchors, she was quite adept at explaining for the layman’s understanding what was at issue and why. It was with that report, as well as the growing number of interviews of Black professionals, scientists, and corporate spokespersons selected to be interviewed on news analysis and social issues programs, because of the growing number of Black actors in commercials, and interracial groups and couples on the small screen, all (of necessity) articulate and representing the positive attributes of the race, that I exulted my joy at where we have come. I thank Tracie Powell and Richard Prince, both members of the National Association of Black Journalists for the articles they wrote in what appeared to be a response to the post regarding my epiphany. They brought out even more information that was proving too time consuming for me to cover alone. And their articles are testaments to the strength there is in working with commendable colleagues.

Where sports was definitely a man’s territory, the emergence of women started growing. KAVU’s first black female sports anchor/reporter is one example. Pushing the gates of news reporting and journalism for minorities continues its momentum. Acceptance is now taken for granted in many places.

It’s refreshing to see this phenomenon of acceptance and presence happening. These representatives (named and unnamed for the sake of space) are also role models for our youth. And they are positive racial and cultural models who negate the old stereotypes and bases for discrimination and exclusion. Is there a particular reason for this burgeoning presence or is it simply the evolution that has finally come of age?

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When Disabled Is Powerful

The new television season started this past week. There’ve been shake ups for program days and times. Some of last year’s staples are gone. With that, we’ve collectively breathed a sigh of relief about some of the shows as well as grumbled softly about others that remain.

We also have one show that’s a reprise. “Ironside” is now set in current perspective with Blair Underwood (a Black lead) playing the title role of a paraplegic police detective out to get the answers that lead to getting the bad guys out of circulation.

Remember Raymond Burr? With Burr as the star, the show had an eight-year run. It was all about the hard-as-nails detective out to get results. As far as the audience was concerned, he had no real personal life and no real obstacles.

Enter Underwood in the title role. Ironside has a personal life. He has a girlfriend and they have a full relationship. He suffers from PTSD and suffers flashbacks (just like many of our contemporary veterans) to the day of the incident that led to the loss of his full abilities. He’s a Black man aligned with law enforcement, not a victim of it. The bad guys (and women) come from all walks of life, diverse ethnicities, forms of crime. You find them in many locations and venues.

As with the earlier version, the new Ironside quickly identifies ways to overcome the barriers to accomplish his goals and the manner in which he pursues his mission. Although his flashbacks remind him of how he wound up in his current circumstances as well as the fact that his condition is permanent, he is not wallowing in self pity. It’s obvious that he’s not dissolved into feeling worthless. There are alternatives to the straightforward methods of doing his work. Life is still open to him in many ways. And just when the criminals think they have him under their thumbs, some new skill (of which we weren’t previously aware) emerges as part of the means of escaping Death.

While I want to say that this version of Ironside is stellar in its delivery because of the demographics it seeks to portray, I don’t want to go down that path while there’s scant time to research the statistics of Black men who are paraplegics. I want to research how many there were five and ten and fifteen years ago. It’s my guess, especially in light of the fact that there are so many foreign war veterans, that the numbers are growing at an enormous rate.

The fact that this iteration allows Ironside to have PTSD and flashbacks sets the stage for us to become conditioned. We are being led to realize that not every person who suffers from those conditions is out of control. They are not deranged and they are not dangerous to others – unless, of course, that other is actively and currently threatening their welfare and safety.

The frequency of those flashbacks made the story line difficult to follow at times. That’s what probably caused its low rating.

Ironside is not a homeless man. He is not living in a shelter. And he does positive things to take care of himself, all the way from healthy diet to exercise to staying up to date on reading of all types of matter, and use of technology.

This iteration of Ironside shows us disability in a positive light. It helps employers see it not as a deficit and depletion of revenues. In fact, it tacitly shows employers and recruiters the many possibilities of having this type of disabled person among the members of their staff and book of talent. The person is resourceful and in many ways can go toe to toe with everyone else.

And then there’s that name of the character – Ironside. He’s difficult to defeat because his outer (and in many respects, even his inner) side is as difficult to penetrate as iron.

I’d like to congratulate the producers of this new, updated version of Ironside. The subtle messages came through loud and clear for me – and I was only half watching while I worked on another project. While it isn’t disabled veterans nor young men of color who live in a ghetto, this show is providing these demographics with a role model who helps them realize there is life after the incident, whatever that incident was. It reminds them that the encouraging and supportive words from friends, coaches, instructors, and family are not mere platitudes – empty words that sounds nice. There is reality in what’s being said. Being disabled does not mean not empowered. It’s just the opposite.

Who told you that Life would be easy lied to you. Life is supposed to be challenging so that you can take pride in figuring out how to overcome the barriers. Life is supposed to be challenging so that we can flaunt our own personal ironside.

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Never Stopped to Think About It That Way

It was December 12, 2001 when Shaun Michael Jex wrote an insightful piece that related to the sacrifices that foreign correspondents and journalists make to deliver their message. Shaun’s column was Literary Theory Explorations and the installment was titled “By Any Means Necessary.” It was a challenging read; it was a very good read. Shaun’s writings were not simple and superficial. They dug deep into the subject matter and challenged the reader to consider the subject from many aspects. It was a read that compelled some comment and mine was among four that were published.

Thanks for your words, Shaun. Your tribute is (by the examples you give) to news journalists. There are many types of journalists and we all go into the trenches in order to get the real, true story from ground zero. Our desire is to know the inner workings of the whatever and then tell it to others so that they may have some appreciation of the perspectives powering and driving the events. We put ourselves outside of the events. We are but onlookers empathizing and understanding and then sharing that understanding.

One of the highest tenets of being a journalist is telling the accurate story. Another of the highest tenets is that you see each person in their own esteem and look down on nor up to anyone. They are all equal. Therein lie some of the secrets of reporting the events – by getting the right information and reporting it accurately.

The free press and freedom of speech are very precious commodities that are in real jeopardy these days. Too many times meaningful information that can empower or exalt understanding is suppressed while the journalist is beaten to the back of the crowd or else their words suppressed and altered in order to make them more palatable and attractive, more appealing to the masses and flatter them into ignorance. Too often the true and accurate words are erased into oblivion because they offended those who did not want to know and desired to continue in the old, uninformed ways.

Our Muses command us to write. Therefore, we do not shrink away and never tell the story again. We re-emerge another day, sometimes in another place, because for us the story must be told.

Thank you for your tribute to the news journalists. Thank you for speaking.

We need to hold the banner high for good reporting standards and excellent journalism. It’s up to the journalists to tell the story with truth and accuracy (to the extent possible). Slanted reporting, suggestions about the meaning of words, excessive emphasis on certain points, commentary inserted into reporting instead of saved for the reporter’s opinion column are not part of fair reporting and fair comment. It’s difficult to understand the good reporting that’s supposed to be delivered when all that can be found are talking heads behind a desk who are trading jokes and gossip. It’s more as though we’ve come to having 24-hour reality shows instead of good news reportage.

The reading public needs information to independently form their own ideas about a subject. There is little room in a free society for yellow journalism, and biased, non-factual writing that attempts to pass itself off as hard news. There needs to be fact checking and proofreading that goes into delivering the story and a reporter who has an appreciation of the subject or knows how to gain the information in order to provide an informative piece.

The sacrifices of our journalists are important. They should be applauded for doing their jobs.

Who Decides What’s News?

It was two years ago on August 7 that we learned of Peter Jenning’s death. For me, it was a major blow (but not as big as the one that would hit that coming December). This man, journalism public figure, model, was one of my news reporter ideals. His cutting edge work throughout the decades put the issues in front of us and made us think about what they meant. Then he allowed us to put the pieces together for ourselves. He covered the news in the remote areas of the world. He covered the schisms of our social fabric and the tragedies compounded by tragedies.

Jennings was the ABC World News Tonight anchor. But on his death, he was remembered by the media, on rivals CNN, CBS, in Newsweek, and on the BBC, to name a few.

Hearing of his death and short-lived illness on the night of August 7, that I was struck motionless. As the special announcement played out the milestones of the icon’s life, the reasons why it was such a blow became increasingly apparent. It was reporters like Jennings who served as the models of my inquisitiveness, stabs at journalistic integrity, and an insistence on looking at the world and the meaningful issues rather than the tried and trite.

The final blow was learning that Jennings was born on July 29. No wonder! I thought as the pieces fell together. No wonder there are so many similarities, so many common roads and endeavors, the same fire.

So in reviewing Jenning’s life, and the other hallmarks who are, or were, models for me, the question begs asking. In media, who is it who decides what the news is? Is it the Managing Editor, the publisher, the advertisers, or the public? Who decides what is newsworthy and how long is it newsworthy?

In asking these questions, the events surrounding the Paris Hilton detention become striking. The fallout of poor little rich girl having to stay in that horrid jail with all of those jail people. Not able to use nail polish remover. Having to endure a constantly buring overhead light and an unsheathed toilet. House arrest in her 4,000 square foot house would have been much more civilized. But where would the time for contrition and genuine remorse have emerged?

For two weeks, we endured the Paris Hilton comedy as she used the legal system to do whatever she wanted, all the way up to determining that the last court hearing should be done via teleconference. She even doctored up her release after serving a scant two and a half days in jail. And all of this was news — matters of importance to the general public for the sake of their betterment and social welfare.

But the pivotal question looms before us as the Paris falling action subsides. Delgadillo, his governance, and his family have suffered some interesing public revelation while sweet Paris (who he prosecuted to the fullest for serving her full time) sat quietly in her confines. Who determines what is news and how long is it newsworthy?

Perhaps the answer to the questions were answered on June 26 during the Los Angeles County Supervisors Hearing. The area behind (and also in front of) the plexiglass was filled to overflowing with all manner of media. One of the reasons for their presence was the Supervisors’ deliberations concerning closure of the King-Drew Hospital. Another had to do with Sheriff Baca’s handling of the Paris Hilton incarceration.

Cameras were poised. Microphones were wrapped and held to just the right position. Notepads and pens were held at the ready and hasty notes were made about the proceedings. Sheriff Baca entered the auditorium and cameras panned then returned to the focus on the Supervisors and their witnesses.

After a time of sitting in the auditorium, The Sheriff left the room. The media quietly filed out behind him as public testimony regarding the closure of King-Drew Hospital was being offered. A ripple of amazement was quieted in short order as Supervisor Yaroslavsky announced, “Now you see who ranks as far as news coverage. Paris Hilton is being released from jail and the media need to cover that.” The audience was assured that there would be a one or two minute break while the media filed out and the hearings could then resume.

NOTE: Baca’s stress and strain showed through his need to acknowledge each and every person he passed as he made his way to a seat in the auditorium. His condition became acutely obvious as I left the Hall. I doubt that he recognized or even remembered me from the past, yet he had gracious acknowledgements for me. His voice was strained. His eyes seemed to look at the person but they merely saw an image before him as the two attendants ushered him back into the auditorium. He seemed like a person going before a firing squad.

What is newsworthy? Who determines what captures the intellect and attention of the public? That moment in the Board of Supervisors auditorium seemed to answer the questions. The most important issue of the day was the poor little rich girl who gets whatever she wants. The general public’s consciousness and urging toward critical thinking about meaningful issues that affect local as well as global welfare gave sway to whether Paris Hilton lived in a jail cell or walked out of a detention facility.

I look forward to those who follow in Jennings’ footsteps. I crave the days of consuming the news for the value of the information it provides and its informativeness. I yearn for the questions the media will force me to ask and spur me to research. Meanwhile, we have a duty to ourselves and our information driven needs to demand that we receive true news that is full of the information. And we also need to demand that the answers not be spoon fed to us — as though media has the right opinion and is telling us what to think. We need to demand that the facts be laid out in a clear and unbiased manner and allow us to draw our own conclusions.

Who makes the decisions? Those who cause the news wires to survive with our consuming dollars because we who watch the news also drive what is considered “news.”