What Happened to All the Black Voices on the Cable News Shows?

Is it just me, or do the airwaves seem less… colorful… since the wrapup of the 2008 elections?

I was thinking about that when a commentary from E.J. Dionne Jr in the Washington Post, titled Rush and Newt Are Winning, caught my eye (and lots of other folks on the blogosphere as well):

A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion.

…the media… regularly treat(s) far-right views as mainstream positions and… largely ignor(es) critiques of Obama that come from elected officials on the left.

This was brought home at this week’s annual conference of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group that supports Obama but worries about how close his economic advisers are to Wall Street, how long our troops will have to stay in Afghanistan and how much he will be willing to compromise to secure health-care reform.

In other words, they see Obama not as the parody created by the far right but as he actually is: a politician with progressive values but moderate instincts who has hewed to the middle of the road in dealing with the economic crisis, health care, Guantanamo and the war in Afghanistan.

While the right wing’s rants get wall-to-wall airtime, you almost never hear from the sort of progressive members of Congress who were on an America’s Future panel on Tuesday.

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Hats Off to Black Radio’s Tom Joyner for His Get Out the Vote Efforts

The very effective use of the Internet by the Obama campaign, and the role of the Internet in this election season, have gotten a lot of attention, and deservedly so.

But an old mainstay of the black community – black radio – has, as usual, has played an important role in informing and mobilizing black voters.

The Nation magazine talks about the great work being done by radio DJ Tom Joyner (paid subscription required to read the full article):

In October, as trumped-up accusations of voter fraud swirled around ACORN, another national grassroots voter registration drive aimed at low-income and ethnic communities steamed along, under the radar of the mainstream press and the Republican operatives hoping to challenge such efforts.

Called 1-866-MYVOTE1, it is headed by African-American disc jockey Tom Joyner. His Tom Joyner Morning Show, fourteen years old this year, broadcasts nationwide on 115 radio stations, reaching more than 8 million weekday listeners. His website, blackamericaweb.com, receives 3.5 million page views per month.

…Joyner downplays rhetoric endorsing individual candidates–he supports Obama but has made no official endorsement–in favor of touting the 1-866-MYVOTE1 campaign as a nonpartisan effort to provide voter registration and polling place information and to give his listeners a way of reporting, in real time, problems they encounter at their local balloting place. Listen to his program daily and you will hear relentless references to 1-866-MYVOTE1, all delivered in cheery language free of rancor.

“Politics is never a sexy subject,” Joyner said in a phone interview from his Dallas studio in early October. “We’re in the business of reaching as many people as we can. That’s how we stay in business. But in taking up topics like politics and health, or unemployment or the economy, we’ve found that our formula for success is to put humor with it.”

In his twice-weekly “Trickery Updates,” he turns to Ken Smukler, a political and technology consultant in Philadelphia, for jocular updates on signs of polling irregularities around the nation. Smukler built Joyner’s call-in voter information and poll-monitoring system after determining that two principal factors had contributed to problems at polls in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004: voters’ lack of information about the process and particulars of registering and voting, and the fact that many polling places lack the resources and well-trained staff to handle large numbers of voters.

Links of Interest: Black Viewers Tuning-In to the Election

A story at DailyKos.com, Signs of impending African American voter tidal wave, discusses the high interest of African American viewers in the election. The story notes that according to Neilson, ratings for the presidential debates have been especially high in metropolitan areas with a high percentage of African Americans.

An article from the Baltimore Sun, Debates drawing big TV audiences in Baltimore, notes that:

Among the Top 30 TV markets in the country, Baltimore has the second-highest percentage of black viewers at 27.1 percent. But for the (first two presidential and vice-presidential) debates, Nielsen figures show the black audience tracked higher than that, at about 38 percent of all viewers.

In the Baltimore area, ratings collectively were the highest in the country for the first two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate.

Baltimore ranked third nationally in viewership for the first debate, first for the vice presidential showdown and third for the second presidential debate – far outpacing even the nation’s steeped-in-politics capital 40 miles down the parkway. That’s a marked change from the 2004 race, when Baltimore did not finish in the top 10 TV markets for any debate.

“When you look at the ratings for the debates, the large number of black households in the market would have to be a major factor,” says Emerson Coleman, vice president of programming for Hearst-Argyle, which owns WBAL-Channel 11 in Baltimore.

In other markets where black households make up more than one-quarter of all TV homes, viewership for the recent debates was also among the strongest in the country – in metro areas including Memphis, Tenn.; Raleigh- Durham, N.C.; and Norfolk and the Richmond, Va., area.

Black viewers compelled by Obama’s candidacy are being drawn to national politics in a way not seen since the civil rights movement, several analysts said. In Baltimore, other factors could be at play, they said, such as the concentration of colleges, including historically black Coppin State and Morgan State universities.

“The reason, of course, is Barack Obama, who has made it possible for African-Americans to hope again,” said Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, who specializes in the study of media, pop culture and African-American families. “Many African-Americans, and I am one of them, did not expect to see this in our lifetimes, an African-American who could be president, and you are not going miss any chance to see him on television.”

Because of its large percentage of black households, the Baltimore area became known in the TV industry in the 1990s as part of the “Cosby Belt.” The Cosby Show was a huge hit most everywhere, but scored exceptionally high ratings in Baltimore and cities demographically like it.

The debates are captivating people of all colors and creating newfound political junkies who are watching together at movie theaters, bars, churches, college dorms, restaurants and in private homes.

Obama Campaign Addresses Black Economic Issues; Did You Hear About It?

{Hats off to the South Florida Times, an African American news source, for the article referenced below.}.

Some observers of the Obama campaign complain that it is not doing enough to speak to the specific concerns of the black community.

But what if the campaign was speaking to the concerns of the black community… and nobody knew it?

Consider this article in the South Florida Times, in which the Obama campaign does speak specifically to African American economic issues. I don’t recall any reporting of this in the mainstream press. But then, this is not of real interest to the “general public”:

Black unemployment in the United States reached 10.6 percent last month, up from 9.7 percent in July and an average of 8.8 percent during the first quarter of 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, the Obama campaign seized on the statistic to attack both the Bush administration and the John McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign in Florida did not respond to a request for comment.

“I wish we could say that reaching 10.6 percent is the highest unemployment we’ve had under this administration,” said former Bill Clinton administration Labor Secretary Alexis Herman during a conference call with members of the black press Tuesday. “But we’ve actually seen rates as high as 11.5 percent.’’

Herman and other surrogates said economic issues would take center stage in an Obama presidency, and they assailed what Herman called “a constant economic deterioration for the African-American community” under George W. Bush. The overall unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent last month, with unemployment for whites at 4.9 percent and for Hispanics at 7.7 percent.

“We’ve actually lost more than 500,000 jobs in the African-American community,” since Bush took office in 2001, including 55,000 jobs since December 2007, Herman said, citing U.S. Department of Labor statistics and contrasting the grim numbers of what she called record low unemployment, “the lowest since the Department of Education began collecting the data” during the Clinton years.

“The fact is that when you look at the unemployment numbers” under Bush, she said, “we have lost good jobs in our community, particularly in construction and manufacturing, where we are disproportionately employed. Any attempts to continue to open the doors of the middle class and to move us up the economic ladder really have been stopped dead in its tracks by this administration.”

Herman said that by contrast, Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage from the current $6.55 to $9.50 by 2011, which she said would disproportionately help black women, plus a “long-term plan to target urban areas” for economic development, rebuilding the infrastructure of American cities, ending tax breaks for employers who ship jobs overseas and providing tax breaks for companies that create jobs in the U.S.

It is worth noting that the comments from the Obama campaign on the black economy were made around the same time as the “lipstick on a pig” controversy. Guess which of those two news stories was widely reported, and which was not?

I encourage you to go the South Florida Times’ website to read the rest of the article, and browse through the site’s other contents as well.

(Satire) Lipstick Sublimina

Is there a subliminal message in the McCain lipstick ad that claimed Barack Obama was smearing Sarah Palin?

Probably not. But just think of the impact on the unconscious mind of the images conjured by these words:

• black male
• white female
• lipstick
• smear

Now, I’m not saying there was something “intentional” about the way the ad was devised. Nobody could be that cynical and calculating… right? But I had to laugh when I thought about it. I wonder if anybody else gets the joke.

Where are social comics like Richard Pryor and George Carlin when we need them?

Will Racism Prevent White Americans from Voting for Barack Obama?, Part 2: WSJ Doesn’t Think So; Republicans Do.

In the previous post (Will Racism Prevent White Americans from Voting for Barack Obama?, Part 1), I spoke about concerns that whites might not vote for Obama because he is black.

There are some who are skeptical of the idea that race will be a decisive factor in the election. Count the Wall Street Journal among them. An opinion piece by WSJ titled The Racism Excuse begins by saying “Things are supposed to be looking rosy for Democrats this November. But in case Barack Obama loses the Presidency, an excuse is all ready to go: America’s too racist to elect a black man. ”

So it’s worth noting that Republicans themselves are factoring racism into the way they view and manage the election. Consider this comment on polls, from reporting at the Republican National Convention by Southern California Public Radio:

(At a brunch for Californai delegates to the Convention) Republican Pollster and author of “Words That Matter” Frank Luntz was the featured speaker. He openly spoke of the “BRADLEY EFFECT.” That refers to the 1982 California gubernatorial election when then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was leading in the polls against George Deukmejian. Bradley lost the race. Analysts believe voters lied when they said they’d vote for Bradley, when in fact they were unwilling to vote for a black man. Luntz predicted the same thing would happen with Barack Obama. He told California delegates not to get discouraged if John McCain is trailing in the polls, because the Bradley effect will make up for some of that.

A more pointed comment comes from a unnamed Republican source in this article from Politico.com:

I was talking the other day to a prominent Republican who asked me what I thought John McCain’s strongest issues would be in the general election.

Lower taxes and the argument he will be better able to protect America from its enemies, I said.

Republicans have a pretty good track record with those two.

The Republican shook his head. “You’re missing the most important one,” he said. “Race. McCain runs against Barack Obama and the race vote is worth maybe 15 percent to McCain.”

The man I was talking to is not a racist; he was just stating what he believes to be a fact: There is a percentage of the American electorate who will simply not vote for a black person no matter what his qualities or qualifications.

So, Republicans know what we all know: race is a factor in the election. A bigger question is, are Republicans using overt or subtle appeals to race in this campaign? I have some thoughts on that here.

PS: See also: this article in USAToday dated 9/3/08: Armey: ‘Bubba vote’ to hurt Obama

The “Bubba vote” and underlying racism will hurt Democrat Barack Obama in key battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, Republican and former House majority leader Dick Armey said Wednesday.

“The Bubba vote is there, and it’s very real, and it is everywhere,” Armey told USA TODAY and Gannett News Service. “There’s an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man.

“It’s deplorable, but it is real,” said Armey, adding that he believes “Republicans would not encourage” such prejudices. He said the “Bubba vote” is “invisible” in pre-election opinion polls, because voters do not admit they would oppose a candidate because of race.

The “Bubba vote” is shorthand in politics for white, working-class voters who often live in rural areas — a group Obama did not dominate in state primaries.

Fox News: Obama is an “Angry Black Man”; Why Should He Go on the O’Reilly Show?

The “angry black male” is one of America’s enduring stereotypes. The image of the emotional and violence-prone black man goes back to the days of slavery (see Nat Turner), and reached its political zenith in the negative-imagining of Jesse Jackson during his runs for president. I’ll never forget a Newsweek magazine cover from the period that featured a picture of an impassioned Jackson, his faced contorted with emotion, in a way that no doubt scared the bejesus out of any white American who saw it.

Being called an angry black male is not a good thing.

Is it no wonder, then, that Fox News played the ABM card on Barack Obama? Witness this from a broadcast of Fox’s Cavuto on Business show on August 30, featuring writer/economist/actor Ben Stein:

Note that Stein says Obama is an angry black male without giving any reason or explanation for the charge. Show host Neil Cavuto did not challenge Stein’s claim; instead, he echoes it. Meanwhile, neither Stein nor Cavuto make mention of John McCain’s well documented anger management issues.

Interestingly, an African American who was on the show – Charles Payne, a Fox Business Network contributor – said nothing regarding Stein’s angry black male charge. Thanks, bro.

(Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who is an Illinois congressman, made the point in a Democratic Convention forum that Obama is like baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson — he must endure jeers and not to hit back “because no one wants an angry African American in the White House.”)

But there’s nothing new to Fox’s use of race-based and otherwise insulting attacks on Obama. Consider the following:

• In February, in response to a caller who described Michelle Obama as a “militant woman,” Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly offensively stated that he “didn’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence.”

• In May, Fox News’ Liz Trotta referred to Obama as “Osama” and then joked that both should be “knocked off.” Fox later apologized.

• In June, Fox News’ E.D. Hill described a fist bump between Obama and his wife Michelle as a “terrorist fist jab.” Fox later apologized.

• In June, a Fox producer described Michelle Obama by using the offensive slang term “Obama’s Baby Mama.” Fox later apologized.

• In June, Fox aired a smear/rumor from Republican operative Roger Stone that there was a tape of Michelle Obama using the term “Whitey.” The tape never surfaced, however.

• Since last year, Fox News has been echoing false rumors that Obama attended a so-called “madrassa” Islamic fundamentalist school as a child.

I have no doubt there are many more instances of unfair and unbalanced coverage of Obama by Fox.

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