Race reporting


Why the columnist who writes about race in Spokane got scooped on Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal, stands in front of a mural she painted at the Human Rights Education Institute,  offices in coeur d'alene, idaho In this photo taken July 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

Rachel Dolezal, stands in front of a mural she painted at the Human Rights Education Institute, offices in coeur d’alene, idaho In this photo taken July 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

Shawn Vestal, a newspaper columnist in Spokane, Washington, had just cleared his decks to start checking out Rachel Dolezal’s story when he got scooped last week. But Vestal wasn’t looking into whether Dolezal was black. Instead, he was asking whether her story of being a hate crime victim was real.

While he was researching previous stories about the now notorious woman who was the head of Spokane’s NAACP, one person had in passing wondered aloud whether Dolezal was really black. But Vestal dismissed the question as irrelevant.

“I probably didn’t even give it 15 seconds of thought,” said Vestal, a columnist at The Spokesman-Review, during a phone interview this week. Read more

Herman Cain in 2011 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In conversations about race and media, Twitter’s limitations show

It may have been the the oddest 90 minutes of my media-watching life courtesy of Twitter, where hot-button issues such as race, prejudice and media can quickly turn toxic in 140-character bursts.

The first real sign of trouble came on Tuesday evening from Tim Graham, an official at the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center and Newsbusters.org. Though we don’t agree on much politically, he is one of the few conservatives willing to have regular conversations with me about media, so I was a little surprised to see this note from him on news that former Democratic political operative Karen Finney would host a weekend show for MSNBC.:

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Photographer, trooper from Klan rally image meet

Athens Banner-Herald | Gainesville Times
Former Georgia state trooper Allen Campbell met Tuesday with Todd Robertson, who photographed a child in a Ku Klux Klan robe looking at Campbell two decades ago.

Photo courtesy Lee Shearer/Athens Banner-Herald

“The State Patrol made me be there. His momma and daddy made him be there,” Campbell tells the Athens Banner-Herald’s Lee Shearer. Campbell remembered being “ticked off” about being at the rally, but less because of its racial implications than when it occurred. Read more

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How KKK rally image found new life 20 years after it was published

Buried on Page B1, alongside the hum-drum headline “KKK march calm,” a powerful image of race relations in the southern United States was nearly lost. In fact, it almost wasn’t published at all.

And in the 20 years since, this emotionally complex photograph of a Klan-robed toddler playfully touching the riot shield of a bemused African-American state trooper has gone uncelebrated and largely unknown.

Photo by Todd Robertson, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Now, thanks to a few twists of fate, the photo has been granted a second life through social media, where each viewer seems to read something different into the image. Is it disturbing? Hopeful? Humorous? Touching? Heartbreaking?

Many who have shared the photo online admit they know little about its origins, which is understandable. Read more


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ‘Police Beat’ column identifies suspects by race

Arkansas Times
Managing editor Frank Fellone says the paper has used race in the column “for years and years,” and that the newsroom standard is “to use all available information provided by the police.” The Democrat-Gazette’s policy is “at odds with the conventions of many other news outlets, which avoid racial or ethnic identifiers unless they’re important or, in some cases, if victims provide detailed descriptions,” writes Lindsey Millar of the Arkansas Times. When asked if he had a sense that his paper’s standard for using racial information in crime reports was unconventional compared to other newsrooms, Fellone told Millar: “I don’t know.” Read more


Chicago Tribune readers question failure to mention race in attacks

Chicago Tribune | Chicago Now
Chicago’s recent downtown “flash mob” attacks have made the front-pages and led local TV newscasts, but Mary Schmich points out that what “you haven’t read in the Tribune or seen explicitly stated by most of the official media [is that] the young men were black.” She quotes a reader:

I can’t imagine that if a gang of white teenagers went to the South Side of Chicago and began attacking African-Americans including a 68-year-old that the race card would be left out of your coverage. … I see a media double standard here.

Schmich’s view:

I’m ambivalent about the omission of the attackers’ race in the news accounts, but I think I would have decided to leave it out too.

As an editor pointed out when I asked about it, the crimes don’t appear to be racially motivated.

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Chat Replay: How Can Journalists Draw Line Between Political Incorrectness & Bigotry?

Juan Williams’ departure from NPR raises an important question about where, and how, to draw the line between political incorrectness and bigotry.

Williams, a longtime news analyst for NPR, was released from his contract for comments he made on “The O’Reilly Factor” Monday night. When asked to comment on the notion that America is facing a dilemma with Muslims, Williams said: “When I get on the plane … if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

His departure comes on the heels of CNN’s decision to let go of Rick Sanchez after he called “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart a bigot and implied CNN and other networks are all run by Jewish people. Read more


Study Finds 20 Percent of Sexually Active Gay, Bisexual Men Have AIDS

A new Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 20 percent, or one in five, gay men who are sexually active have HIV. Forty four percent of those who tested positive said they did not know they had the virus. The study is based on tests and interviews with 8,000 men from 21 different U.S. cities.

The study says that overall, less than half of 1 percent of the U.S. population is infected with AIDS, but sexually active gay and bisexual men are affected at much higher rates. An Associated Press story (linked to above) talked about how race plays into the findings:

“Black men were more likely to have HIV, with 28 percent reportedly infected, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic men and 16 percent of white men. Read more


Black Farmers Have Yet to See Money from $1.25 Billion Settlement

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled a federal discrimination case filed by black farmers. The government had promised $1.25 billion to be paid out in sums of up to $50,000 for qualified farmers, but the Senate has since refused to fund the settlement. So farmers who thought they had settled their case have not. This week, they protested in front of the Department of Agriculture.

The original lawsuit, called Pigford I, claimed that farmers were being denied farm loans and crop supports because they were black. The suit represented 15,000 to 20,000 black farmers. The applications were evaluated by county committees.

The lawsuit pointed out that, “Nationwide, only 37 county commissioners were African American out of a total of 8147 commissioners.” It went on to say that, sometimes, it was not just an outright denial of an application: “In several southeastern states, for instance, it took three times as long on average to process the application of an African American farmer as it did to process the application of a white farmer.”

NPR provided additional background:

“In 1997 Pigford I, the first USDA settlement, provided 13,000 farmers with $50,000 each and debt relief. Read more


Bloggers Just As Squeamish Covering Race as Traditional Media

Well before the NAACP publicly called out the tea party last week for having racist elements in its ranks, questions about the racial attitudes of tea party supporters had been popping up in news stories, broadcasts and online forums. But they were just that — questions.

A sampling of recent headlines: “Are Tea Parties Racist?” and “Is the Tea Party Movement Racist?” and“But Isn’t the Tea Party Movement Racist?

The question marks in those headlines reflect a longstanding squeamishness by mainstream journalists in wrestling with race and racism. Racism has been a difficult subject for traditional journalism, with its insistence on letting all sides have an equal say. If someone alleges racism, find someone who will argue that it’s not racism and put him or her in the story too. Read more

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