‘60 Minutes’ remembers a horrific incident of racial injustice largely ignored by history

Your Friday Poynter Report

June 12, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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In describing a must-see report coming up this Sunday, CBS’s “60 Minutes” says the first time Americans were terrorized by an aerial assault was not Pearl Harbor. It was when an estimated 300 men, women and children were killed when aircraft dropped incendiary devices on a Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. It became known as the Greenwood Massacre, or the Tulsa Race Massacre.

“60 Minutes’” Scott Pelley will look back on those horrific events that started when the city’s white newspapers reported a Black man was in custody for assaulting a White woman in an elevator. Black World War I veterans arrived at the jail to protect the man after there were calls to lynch him. Then armed White men attacked the vets and things soon spiraled out of control.

A mob attacked the vets in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, and the police and National Guard joined in. There were reports of machine-gun attacks, a Black man being dragged through the streets, a Black hospital being burned down and White hospitals refusing to take in injured Black people. There was no official word on exactly how many people died and were injured, but there were never any arrests.

It’s believed more than 1,250 homes were burned and another 215 were looted.

Perhaps more stunning is how this awful chapter in our history isn’t more widely known. Mark I. Pinsky mentioned it for Poynter last year in his “Maligned in Black and White” story about the role Southern newspapers played in racial violence.

But even in Tulsa, the story has gone unnoticed by many. In the “60 Minutes” piece, Tulsa native Damario Solomon-Simmons says, “When I went to (Oklahoma University) in 1998, I was sitting in a class of African American history, and the professor was talking about this place where black people had businesses and had money and had doctors and lawyers. And he said it was in Tulsa. And I raised my hand, I said, ‘No, I’m from Tulsa. That’s not accurate.’ And he was talking about this massacre riot. I said, ‘Man, what are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I went to school in Greenwood. I’ve never heard of this ever.’”

Many people haven’t. The “60 Minutes” piece is an important starting point.

Giant step

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been embroiled in controversy over a reporter being taken off the protest story because of what seemed to be a harmless tweet. You can catch up with what I wrote in Thursday’s newsletter.

Now another development: Giant Eagle, a huge supermarket chain that is a staple in western Pennsylvania, will no longer sell the Post-Gazette because of “recent actions by the publication.”

Giant Eagle president and CEO Laura Shapira Karet said in a statement, “It is critical that we uphold the values that have defined Giant Eagle for nearly 90 years. These measures will remain in place until the publication demonstrates an equal commitment to all those in the communities it serves.”

Meantime, while it appears the Post-Gazette leadership has made poor decisions, Post-Gazette pop music beat writer Scott Mervis tweeted, “I’ve never seen so much glee over the demise of a newspaper.”

He added, “I realize the managers made a bad decision and then refused to back down. But so many journalism jobs have been lost this decade. Can we maybe watch the PG go down in flames without celebrating?”

Going into quarantine to cover the NBA

NBA star LeBron James (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The NBA hopes to return later this summer by having teams live and play in a bubble at the Disney/ESPN campus in Orlando for several months. Will the media be able to cover the rest of the season? Details are still being hammered out, but one option is having media members also enter the bubble with no option to re-enter if they were to leave. In other words, reporters would also be on quarantine lockdown for the rest of the season.

The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman broke the story after obtaining an email sent by Professional Basketball Writers Association president Josh Robbins to PBWA members. Robbins stressed nothing is set, but that writers interested in covering games could be divided into two groups.

The first group would be tested daily and have access to players and coaches. They would be required to stay at Disney without leaving. The second group would be allowed to attend games, but could not interact directly with players and coaches.

What this all could mean is few writers and other media covering the games in person for two reasons. One, the expensive cost of being on the road for more than three months and, two, being forced to be on lockdown that long. In the memo to the PBWA, Robbins wrote, “None of this is ideal. But this is a uniquely challenging situation. The league’s primary mandate is to minimize the risk of any players or team personnel contracting the virus.”

It should be noted that many NBA players continue to have reservations about restarting the season, so this all could be moot.

Missouri update

On Thursday, I wrote about the family drama at the Missourian — a Washington, Missouri newspaper in which the co-owners resigned in protest after the paper ran a racist cartoon Wednesday of a Black man stealing a White woman’s purse. The cartoon was approved by the editor, Bill Miller Sr., who happened to be the father of the co-owners who resigned. Later in the night, Miller Sr. also resigned.

Thursday, the paper announced that the new interim editor and publisher will be Tricia Miller, the first female to hold the position in company history. She, too, is the daughter of Miller Sr. She comes to the Missourian after 33 years with the St. Louis Business Journal.

Media tidbits

  • NBC News’ Lester Holt will anchor a two-hour special Saturday night called “The Playbook” — a “Dateline” in-depth look at the coronavirus as it tops 2 million cases in the U.S. The show, which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern, will look at whether the coronavirus could have been contained or slowed had government agencies responded differently. There will be several guests, including U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar.
  • “60 in 6” — a news show which tells “60 Minutes”-style storytelling in six-minute segments — debuts Sunday on the streaming app Quibi. Here’s a trailer for the show and Brian Steinberg has a preview for Variety.
  • Audrey Cooper, who had been editor in chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, has been named editor in chief of WNYC. In a note to staff, Cooper wrote, “Public radio introduced me to the awesome power of fact-based storytelling to confront wrongdoing, to help us understand each other, and to produce enlightened citizens. That’s something this country needs more than ever.”
  • The Atlantic is taking its first step into feature documentaries with “White Noise” — an investigation of the rise of the racist right in America. Director Daniel Lombroso had access to the inner workings of the alt-right over several years of filming across 12 U.S. states, as well as Canada, France, Belgium and Russia. The film will make its debut on June 20 at the AFI Docs Film Festival. Lombroso wrote this piece for The Atlantic.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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