FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Today, we debut a new feature, a Blogger's Roundtable with three people who are making their mark online and off. Now, don't worry if the Internet is not your thing. We're not really talking tech. We're talking about the news these African-American commentators are covering, including reaction to the NAACP's burial of the N-word and controversy over a new BET program that is more of a hot ghetto mess for their advertisers than they intended.
With us is Michael David Cobb Bowen, creator of cobb.typepad.com and founder of the blogger group the Conservative Brotherhood, political commentator Jasmyne Cannick of jasmynecannick.com, and pop culture analyst Rob Fields from boldaslove.us. Welcome everybody.
Mr. MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN (Founder, Conservative Brotherhood): Hey.
Mr. ROB FIELDS (Pop Culture Analyst, Boldaslove.us): Thank you.
Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Political Commentator, Jasmynecannick.com): Hi.
Mr. FIELDS: Thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: So let's start out with the N-word, and Michael, I'm going to start with you. On Monday, the NAACP held a symbolic funeral in Detroit for the N-word. Thousands reportedly attended the service. It included a - a procession following a horse-drawn carriage and a coffin draped with black roses. So Michael, what do you make of this?
Mr. BOWEN: Well, I think it's a positive thing to do. It's kind of a publicity stunt. But you think about the NAACP's continuing rule. Malcolm buried the word in the '60s. Richard Pryor famously buried the word in the '70s. Bill Cosby buried the word again in the '80s. So somebody must have resurrected it, so that it had to be buried again. But I think, you know, we've learned the lesson and the lesson still has to be taught then NAACP can teach it.
CHIDEYA: Now, Jasmyne, there's a blog called daytoday, not to be confused with the NPR show. It's run by a young black man in his 20s. He says the ceremony did not inspire him to stop using the word and the NAACP is disconnected from black youth. What do you think?
Ms. CANNICK: I think that he - his opinion is probably that of many African-Americans. You know, I'm not at the belief that just because we did this, this is going to be the end of the N-word. I mean, artists are still trying every day just for the fact that they will use that word.
But I do think the onus is on us to start to talk to our young ones about the use of that word, and that's really all we can do. At the end of the day, stopping that word - it's up to us to do that and until we are all willing to do that, it's not going to happen. So his thoughts are probably that of about 50 percent of us.
CHIDEYA: If not more.
Ms. CANNICK: Right.
CHIDEYA: Rob, what do you think?
Mr. FIELDS: I think that just to piggyback on the things that Jasmyne has said and David, that it was - it's a nice, symbolic move but it was ineffective, I think, not because it was symbolic. Symbolism is good. But I think that it didn't take into consideration what you need to do to get the message out in 2007.
I think that there was a lack of thinking about how to utilize new media, how to really market this whole program really effectively like was there any video podcasts, was there any audio podcasts of the speeches? Was there any video up on YouTube, for example? I mean, who are they talking to? So if so, the question is, how do you get - use new techniques to really mobilize in order to really meet the audience you want to reach.
CHIDEYA: Rob, I'm going to stay with you about "Hot Ghetto Mess." So BET is catching heat for their new show, "Hot Ghetto Mess." It's based on a Web site of the same name. State Farm Insurance and Home Depot reportedly dropped their ads after outrage over the show. It features home videos of man-on-the-street interviews with black folks that, well, it's just not no Cosby show. So, what do you...
Mr. FIELDS: Right.
CHIDEYA: Is this a faux pas, one of perhaps many for BET?
Mr. FIELDS: Well, I mean, it's - there's a couple of things going on here. One, I think, that certainly we have to understand BET is a publicly run company and so their eye is always on the bottom line. And they're going to do what they need to do in order to make money and continue to be in business, so on and so forth.
On the other hand, I mean, it just shows a complete lack of imagination, I think. And I think that it's very important that in 2007, black folks start looking at new paradigms. One of which I would submit is black rock and looking at what that represents to people and the possibilities for a new future, a new way to be a new - new way to be in the world to be black, to be men and women in 2007. And I think that we really need to start talking about some other ways to be other than this sort of lowest common denominator type of program.
CHIDEYA: And your blog, Bold as Love, it focuses on black rap. But let me turn to Michael. So there is a blog called What About Our Daughters that critiques media images of black women. And it's just one of the many online outlets criticizing the show. Does this illustrate the growing power of black blogs?
Mr. BOWEN: I think so. I think black blogs are getting their name out there. There are various stories that we cover in a different way than the mainstream media, and we have our angles as well. And I think we ought to think about the fact that black cultural as well as political, the monolith is broken.
So there are people all over the spectrum. And you're not really going to get a good variety of opinions until you look at a whole bunch of different places. But I think the "Hot Ghetto Messes" as well as the other things, you got to start with home training.
I mean - I think, you know, YouTube and all of that stuff is good, but do we actually have to have hometraining.com so people can learn some basic things about dignity?
CHIDEYA: What do you think, Jasmyne, home - goodhometraining.com, commonsensefornegros.com?
Ms. CANNICK: You know what, let's be real here. Who does BET cater to? There's a whole audience out there who was probably looking forward to seeing that show. I guess, my disappointment is in the fact that they could find the wherewithal to get this show on the air but can't bring back the news. That's what is depressing to me. You want to have your "Hot Ghetto Mess," fine, have it, but let's have a balance where we can get some education at the same time.
Mr. FIELDS: Yeah, it's always the issue of, you know, if we had, you know, in the case of movies, if we had 400 different movies coming out every year, you know, the occasional bit of minstrelsy probably wouldn't be so bad. But because we have such a small number of outlets and a small number of new programming, I mean, it took BET 27 years to get to this point. You know, everything is still magnified.
CHIDEYA: Well, I want to move on to yet another topic. BET is not the only network that has unhappy viewers, just ask the folks at CNN. Filmmaker Michael Moore blasted the news station and "Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer after a story aired challenging some of Moore's claims about the health care system in his new documentary "Sicko." Let's listen to more from Moore.
Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Filmmaker): I can't imagine what pharmaceutical company ads are coming up right after our break here. But, you know, why don't you tell the truth to the American people? I mean, I wish that CNN and the other mainstream media would just for once tell the truth about what's going on in this country, whether it's with health care, I don't care what it is. I mean, you guys have such a poor track record. And for me to come on here and have to listen to that kind of crap...
CHIDEYA: Dot, dot, dot and he went on. He was kind of a filibuster. He was responding to a news piece on his blog, challenge some of CNN's findings. In fact, CNN admitted that they made an error when they said that his film claimed Cuba spent $25 per person on health care when it's actually $251 - having gone to Cuba that actually goes a long way. Was Moore's hot blast uncalled for, Michael, or at least too harsh?
Mr. BOWEN: Michael Moore, I mean - I just don't listen to this guy and I don't believe that many college-educated people should listen to him. He's not as smart as your average college professor. And I don't expect, you know, people are going to take him as an authority.
The fact of the matter is Cuba only has - and here are some truth - only 11 million people. So if you're only talking about 11 million people, it's not going to be that difficult to deliver a good standard of health care. I mean, that's only a third of African-Americans or one-thirtieth of America. So the problem of providing health care to 300 million people is an order of magnitude more complicated than just 11 million in Cuba. So he's not really comparing apples to oranges. He's just making big propaganda.
CHIDEYA: All right. Jasmyne, how do you respond to that?
Ms. CANNICK: Two things. One, if Mr. Moore has such an issue with CNN and mainstream media, stay off of it. That's - that would be the bigger protest to me when CNN approached - if I were him, when CNN approach me, I would have just said no. The second thing is that the wonderful thing about being a blogger is there are a lot of stories out there that just don't mean anything to me. And that's one of them.
CHIDEYA: Rob, what do you think?
Mr. FIELDS: I mean, I think that Michael Moore is sort of a lightning rod for a lot of different people, lot of different groups, but I do think that he shakes things up and I think that, you know, it's taken, you know what, five, six years into this Iraq thing for the country to finally wake up.
I think that health care is something everybody complains about and even if Michael Moore doesn't have the facts straight, he's getting the people to talk about it and getting Americans to get up off their couches and be more engaged in some way at least to discuss this issue, and so I think that in it of itself is a good thing given where we've come from.
CHIDEYA: Well, let me just toss that back to all of you. You say even if Michael Moore doesn't have his facts straight, that's a criticism that's lobbed at the blogosphere in general. Well, even if you don't have your facts straight, you're creating discussion.
Jasmyne, is that good enough? I'm speaking here of the blogosphere, not of Michael Moore.
Ms. CANNICK: Look, the - in terms of the blogosphere, I mean, everyone has a different point of view. There are many things that I write about that people disagree with. And I always say, if you disagree, write about it on your blog. I think the blogosphere is large enough for all of our points of views to exist. And it does encourage a discussion that, oftentimes, doesn't take place face-to-face like when we're out in public. It's amazing how talkative people get when they're at home, sitting behind their computers with no one else.
CHIDEYA: Michael, do you fact check, for example - how do you deal with the aspect that blogging is considered journalism by some and not by others?
Mr. BOWEN: Well, you know, you have to go back to that old school rule, which is talk what you know. And then also just being out there after a period of years, you kind of get a feeling for what sounds true, what's not true, how to avoid flame wars and trolls and people who just come to talk smack. And your reputation depends on it. And sooner or later, you will get the audience you deserve. And so if you're trying to be respectable, then you're going to try a little bit harder to get your facts right and your reasoning correct. And you're respectability goes up.
Mr. FIELDS: I think that, you know, one, I'm not a journalist. If anything, my wife is a journalist. But I write about, to Michael's point, you know, things that I care about, and I try and check a couple of sources. But, you know, basically it's going to be a point of view.
And, you know, you want it to be a well-thought out point of view, but, you know, when it comes to some basic facts you do try and get those right because, you know, you don't want to say that, you know, for example, we've only been in this for a year or we've only - health care is - a certain amount of money being spent and it's not. I mean, those are facts you can check.
So when it's basic stuff like that, you do try to get them right, but I don't pass myself off as a journalist. I am somebody who cares about certain issues, like Jasmyne said, and I write about those. I stick to my nitty(ph).
CHIDEYA: Well, Rob, this is a perfect opportunity. We have to be quick about this. But name one thing on your blog, whether it's something we talked about or not, that you're most excited about blogging about.
Mr. FIELDS: I'm most excited about blogging about this new manifestation of black rock, and a live event series I'm doing, and just these ways that black rock is manifesting itself in the culture, in the black community in ways that we haven't seen before. And so the conversation is coming around, and the consideration by a lot of people are there to go and experience this and begin to incorporate this invitation to be brave into their lives.
CHIDEYA: Michael? Michael?
Mr. BOWEN: I'm very interested in the diversification of black politics, where we all came from one place, and we're heading in three different directions: left, progressive and conservative. And the back and forth between there is very enlightening, and it also helps us describe our own diversity within Africa and America.
CHIDEYA: All right. Jasmyne?
Ms. CANNICK: I'm most proud of opening up my personal life in my weight loss diary. I think that would be the biggest thing I'm proud of in my blog.
CHIDEYA: Girl, when you came in I was, like, oh, you look good. So...
Ms. CANNICK: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: ...you're working it. So, thank you, guys.
Ms. CANNICK: Thank you.
Mr. FIELDS: Thank you very much.
Mr. BOWEN: Thanks, Farai.
CHIDEYA: We've been joined by Jasmyne Cannick at NPR West. Her blog is jasmynecannick.com. In our New York studios, Rob Fields from boldaslove.us, and Michael David Cobb Bowen, creator of cobb.typepad.com - a lot of dots. He joined us by phone.