Has the Black Press Disappeared During the Obama Presidency?
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Glen Ford from BlackAgendaReport.com wrote an insightful review of the recent appearance of Obama Administration Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. Ford makes the point that the attendees at the convention were more concerned with being a part of the presidential fan club than doing the hard, objective work that comes with clear journalistic analysis.
Ford a 40-year veteran of the journalist profession, says this:
“This is what often passes for journalism in Black America: an infantile obsession with the inner world of the Obamas that is wholly disconnected from the real world of economic policy, and of war and peace. Such reporters become indistinguishable from the antics of Steve Harvey, the professional media ignoramus, and the schoolyard politics of syndicated disc jockey Tom Joyner.”
Ford goes on to make the accurate point that the job of a journalist is not to befriend members of the political establishment, at least not in a way that undermines their ability to be objective. He mentions that no one challenged Jarrett’s remarks in the way that an adviser might be challenged when white journalists are in the room. Ford also says that the driving factor behind the docile nature of African American journalists is that many of them are hoping and wishing for jobs in mainstream media. If you’ll notice, the black faces on MSNBC (Melissa Harris-Perry and Al Sharpton) are known for their staunch support of the Obama Administration.
Ford is correct in his assessment of what’s happened to black media in the age of Obama. When one considers nearly all of the major black online news media outlets, I can’t recall any of them publishing anything other than content that was favorable to the Obama Administration. In fact, I dare to say that some of them are affiliated with the White House in a way that says that they would lose either access to valuable contacts or financial support if they were to confront the administration.
My scholarly background leads me to agree with everything that Ford has said about the state of black media under Obama. As a professor, I am accustomed to objectively grading a student based on his/her performance, not whether or not I like that student as a person. This influences the manner by which I refer to President Obama: I can praise him Tuesday and slam him Wednesday with no hard feelings in between. But I wonder if its even possible for any journalist (I am a scholar and commentator, not a professionally-trained journalist) to maintain objectivity when everyone is now being forced to pick a team. Media has become a Crib-Blood gang war, where you either choose a side or get caught in the crossfire.
The decision of many black journalists to lie down on the job is not much different from what’s been happening on MSNBC and Fox News. Only CNN has tried to go after that unrealistic thing called “the truth,” and it’s led to them having their worst ratings in 21 years. So, perhaps everything has become political, which means that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find networks that encourage viewers to form their own opinions instead of playing for a political football team. Also, MSNBC’s decision to reward Harris-Perry (a professor) and Sharpton (a preacher) with their own shows, while ignoring seasoned journalists, reduces the incentive for anyone to engage in meaningful journalism.
My argument is that any African American voter who wants what’s best for his/her family and community should seek truth and think for themselves. It makes little sense to become anti-Obama just because a Right Winger tells you to do so. But it makes just as little sense for you to vote for Obama because Steve Harvey said so. If our experiences in Africa and during slavery taught us anything, it’s that someone isn’t necessarily your ally just because they’re black.
Even though he was a little late to the party, I give Roland Martin credit for using his platform to speak some truth to power. His recent tweets about holding the Obama Administration accountable should be applauded, for he is moving against the grain. He also chose to speak out against the appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court after her racially-discriminatory hiring record was revealed. So, some journalists are taking their professions seriously and not simply seeking to join the Barack and Michelle Obama fan club.
For two years, our nation was high on “Barack Obama Crunk Juice,” and the party seemed to be jumping. Then, as time wore on, reality started to set in and our community has begun to sober up to see that we are worse off economically than we’ve been since Biggie and Pac made their debut albums. It will be after the party when the black history police show up that we are held accountable for our actions. When Obama is no longer president and has rode off into the sunset, history will remember who buckled to the fad and who remained true to the purpose. Glen Ford is one of those people.
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