"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, April 24, 2004

A very good point raised

AN open letter to my colleagues in the news business.
By Leonard Pitts
Miami Herald

The silence is getting loud.

It's been nearly four months since the scandal broke. Four months since Jack Kelley, star foreign correspondent for USA Today, was found to have lied his way through his professional life for the last 13 years. He lied about where he had been, what he had seen, whom he had talked to, what they had said. He lied so much I'm only half convinced "Jack Kelley' is his real name.

Yet you, my colleagues, have not asked the most important question:

What does this mean for the future of white journalism?

Granted, you've pontificated about our damaged credibility. You've felled forests with your weighty ruminations about what this portends for the future of our profession. But, evidently cowed by political correctness, you've ignored the most vital issues.

Did USA Today advance a moderately capable journalist because he was white? Did some white editor mentor him out of racial solidarity even though Kelley was unqualified? In light of this fiasco, should we re- examine the de facto affirmative action that gives white men preferential treatment in our newsrooms?

Certainly, no one had to beg for these questions to be asked a year ago, when Jayson Blair got his sorry backside in hot water. Blair, as you hardly need to be reminded, was a black reporter who initially came to the New York Times via a slot in an internship program the paper was using to increase newsroom diversity. It turned out that the only diversity Blair represented was that which is to be found between lies and damned lies.

Still, some observers felt the circumstances of his hiring were almost as important as the reason for his firing. Columnist Andrew Sullivan claimed Blair got away with snookering the Times because his editors feared offending a black journalist.

Columnist Richard Cohen told us Blair enjoyed "favoritism based on race.'

Jennifer Harper, a reporter for the conservative Washington Times, wrote that the Blair episode made the New York paper a "case study on the effects of affirmative action in the newsroom.'

A computer search Friday indicates that Sullivan, Cohen and Harper have thus far been silent on the racial dimensions of the Kelley incident. In fairness to those worthies, I'm sure they're warming up their laptops even as we speak.

While we await the results, let me, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that I didn't think up today's column on my own. Rather, it was inspired by remarks Gwen Ifill of PBS made last week at an awards dinner. Truth to tell, though, she only crystallized what I and, I daresay, many other journalists of color have been thinking ever since Kelley's deceptions were uncovered.

Namely, that this is (with apologies to the Four Tops) the same old song. When a white person screws up, it ignites a debate on the screw up. When a black person screws up, it ignites a debate on race.

So, loathe though I am to position myself as a spokesman, I feel confident in saying one thing on behalf of black journalists everywhere: When and if our industry decides to deal with the issues raised by Kelley's transgressions, we stand ready to help. Need someone to handle outreach to journalism programs at HWCUs (historically white colleges and universities)? Want to discuss whether hiring whites requires us to lower our standards? Looking for ideas of how to make whites feel more welcome?

We're standing by. All you have to do is call.

Because doggone it, white journalism has a long, proud history Edward R. Murrow, Mike Royko ... Matt Drudge. We cannot allow one bad apple to sully that.

So I'll be over here waiting for the discussion of these issues to begin. I'm thinking I should pack a lunch.

-- Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@herald.com

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bush: Privacy of Families Outweighs Photos

Apr 23, 7:59 PM (ET)


DOVER, Del. (AP) - President Bush considers the release of photographs of flag-draped military coffins a reminder of the fallen troops' sacrifice, but believes family privacy should be respected, the White House said Friday.

Pentagon officials said the photos, issued last week and posted on an Internet site, should not have been made public under a policy prohibiting media coverage of human remains. Some activists argue that the photos, released last week, underscore the war's human cost.


"America knows full well that our men and women are serving and serving brilliantly both in Iraq and around the world. ... America is aware this is a war against terrorism," Bush spokesman Trent Duffy said. But, he said, "The message is, the sensitivity and privacy of families of the fallen must be the first priority."

The photographs were released to First Amendment activist Russ Kick, who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

Kick posted dozens of photographs of American war dead arriving at the nation's largest military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, prompting the Pentagon on Thursday to bar further release of the photographs to media outlets.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Keck said release of the 361 photos appeared to be in conflict with policy.

"They're not happy with the release of the photos," said Col. Jon Anderson, a spokesman for the Dover base.

Duffy said he did not know whether Bush had personally weighed in on the Pentagon's move to overturn the base's decision, or whether Bush considered the released photos an affront to the families.

The photos were taken at the Dover base, and most were of flag-draped cases used by the military to transport remains. But Anderson said Friday that the photos also included images of the remains of the shuttle Columbia astronauts arriving at Dover, as well as casualties from Afghanistan. A NASA spokesman said that at least 18 rows of photos on the site were of the Columbia astronauts.
According to his Web site, Kick, who has not returned phone calls or e-mails from The Associated Press, requested all Dover photos from Feb. 1, 2003, to the present. "He wasn't distinguishing between what he wanted," Anderson said. "He just wanted everything."

At least one of the Columbia photos, a Feb. 5 shot of a flag-draped coffin, was included in a picture of the Web site distributed by the AP.

At a rally in Dover last month, war protesters criticized Bush for continuing the practice of previous administrations of not allowing the public or media to witness the arrival of remains at the base.

"We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young; we need to be open about their deaths," said Jane Bright of West Hills, Calif., whose 24-year-old son, Evan Ashcraft, was killed in combat in July.

On NBC's "Today" on Friday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina agreed with the policy banning photos from Dover because "there's no ceremony held; it's a caretaking event."

But Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, said photos of caskets coming home from Vietnam had a tremendous impact on the way Americans came to view that war.

"As people began to see the reality of it and see the 55,000 people who were killed coming back in body bags, they became more and more upset by the war," he said. "This is not about privacy. This is about trying to keep the country from facing the reality of war."

The Pentagon move came a day after a military contractor fired a cargo worker because her photograph of flag-draped remains was published on the front page of Sunday editions of The Seattle Times.


On the Net:

Kick's Web site: http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/coffin(underscore)photos/dover

Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/home