Reporters' Roundtable: Bell Released

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Farai Chideya talks about the latest in the Jena Six case with Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn magazine; John Yearwood, world editor for The Miami Herald; and Corey Dade, southern correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.


And we continue our conversation about Mychal Bell's recent release from jail with our Reporters' Roundtable.

Jordan Flaherty is editor of Left Turn magazine. He was in Jena, Louisiana, all summer reporting on the case. Also with me, John Yearwood, he's world editor for the Miami Herald; and Corey Dade, a southern correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. JOHN YEARWOOD (World Editor, Miami Herald): Hi, there.

Mr. COREY DADE (Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): Thank you, Farai.

Mr. JORDAN FLAHERTY (Editor, Left Turn Magazine): Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So Jordan, catch us up. What has been the reaction after the nationwide protest?

Mr. FLAHERTY: Well, I was at the protest, and it was unlike anything I've seen in my life. It was absolutely incredible. And one of the most incredible things was the way it was so grassroots. That this was not really called by any national organization. National organizations did catch up, but it was really called by YouTube, by black radio, by independent media, by MySpace, and Friendster, and Facebook, and social networking sites.

And tens of thousands of people came out, and I think that what I saw was the people of Jena - black folks from Jena were very empowered by it. They were absolutely a part of the demonstration and absolutely out. White people from Jena almost overwhelmingly stayed away from the demonstrations.

In the aftermath, we've seen, I think, a real backlash from white folks around the country. Of course, there were these white supremacist Web sites that posted the phone numbers and addresses of family members of the Jena Six. They've all received threatening phone calls. At least one of them received a threatening visit from a white man she didn't know who is not from Jena but maybe from nearby.

And so there's a tense atmosphere in the town. And I think a lot of media around the country - a lot of corporate media has really been trying to push this as something not about race. And I think part of what captured the imagination of the Jena case was the nooses hanging, the assault by white students that weren't prosecuted. All these things have made people say you can't finally say that this is not about race. But still, people are really tripping over themselves to try and explain how this is not about race. And I think that if we can make clear…

CHIDEYA: Let me get to Corey in here…


CHIDEYA: Go ahead. Finish up your thought.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Well, just - if we can make clear that this is not about the Jena Six, but really about the criminal justice system and about the Jena Six in everyone's town, whether it's been New Jersey Forest(Ph), Shaquanda Cotton in Texas, or the 5-year-old that was handcuffed in Florida, or Genarlow Wilson in Atlanta, then this really will mean something for everyone.

CHIDEYA: Corey, is that how you're covering it - your newspaper? And what I mean by that is: Has the story moved out from this one specific case to talking about civil rights race relations in the criminal justice system - all that.

Mr. DADE: Unfortunately, our newspaper hasn't made a point of covering this closely, but we are monitoring it. And a few things we are looking at are the bigger pictures, and one of them is prosecutorial discretion. And that's a wide and fertile ground for our organization and all news organizations, especially national media, to dive into.

Prosecutors in each parish in Louisiana and in counties across the nation have enormous berth, enormous judgments that they can make about what to charge and what circumstances under which they can even - they should pursue a case when the same case with the similar facts in the next county over may face an entirely different judgment from the prosecutor.

And so that's one of the things that, here in Atlanta, has become a key point. The local newspaper here just finished a huge series on the death penalty. And the fact that prosecutors here use their own discretion in whether or not to seek the death penalty, apart from a standard list of criteria that the state dictates that they use.

CHIDEYA: Now, Michael - I mean, I'm sorry - John, how are you covering this? You are a world editor and I don't know if this is playing on a world stage.

Mr. YEARWOOD: Well, Farai, one of the things that we are doing, we're looking at it more as a national story, in addition - even though, my title says world editor, I'm also over our national coverage. So as we look at what's been happening, I was really interested in what I heard earlier about how this story has become quite, and it started through the work of the Internet and folks on blogs.

And we've been hearing about it in trickle for quite some time. And then, it became a flood. So that's one of the things that we are looking at. But clearly as we look at the case in a much wider scope, there are a number of issues there that we looked at. One is the role of the Internet in helping with the coverage of the story. And secondly, we're also looking at what the prosecutors are doing in Jena and looking at how that can spread across the country.

CHIDEYA: John, I want to stay with you and move on to a different topic. You had these presidential candidates who cited scheduling problems. They didn't go to speak with Tavis Smiley at a debate at Morgan State University - Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney, all no-shows.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback said he was sorry for the empty seats.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): I apologize for the candidates that aren't here. I think this is a disgrace if they're not here.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. BROWNBACK: I think it's a disgrace for our country. I think it's bad for our party, and I don't think it's good for our future.

CHIDEYA: Internecine warfare on the Republican side? Is that going to hurt the entire field? John?

Mr. YEARWOOD: Yes, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Do you think this is going to hurt the entire Republican field?

Mr. YEARWOOD: I think it will. However, in looking at what Republicans are doing, I think though that as we look at this race, we're expecting - and we've seen this before where Republicans during the primary process didn't spend a great deal of time looking at whether it's African-American or Hispanic communities. But once that the primaries was over, then there was more of a focus on whether it's African-American or Hispanic. I mean, we have seen it happen with the current President Bush. It happened indeed with his father.

And I expect to see that happening with this, whomever is selected as the Republican nominee. However, I think it would take some time to make up lost ground in this case.


Mr. YEARWOOD: If someone said that they are making a mistake by not attending a number of these - and not accepting a number of these invitations.

CHIDEYA: Well, John, stay with us. Also Corey and Jordan, stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. Talking to Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn magazine. He joins us from Audioworks in New Orleans. Also, John Yearwood, world editor for the Miami Herald, and Corey Dade, southern correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

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