Reporter Roundtable: Obama and Iraq Coverage
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
We've got more on Senator Obama in just a second, plus an announcement. We're kicking off a new regular feature on the show. Every Friday, we'll invite three journalists from print and broadcast media to give us their take on the news of the week from an African-American perspective.
Today, we'll talk Obama, look at how larger media outlets covered this week's Iraq news, and we'll weigh Webster's decision to add the word crunk to their dictionary.
To help us out, we've got Dominic Carter, NY1 News' senior political correspondent; Mara Schiavocampo, a freelance broadcast reporter; and Joshunda Sanders, reporter with the Austin American-Statesman. She's been covering the funeral of Lady Bird Johnson there and has been kind enough to take a quick phone break just for us.
Ms. JOSHUNDA SANDERS (Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Thank you.
Ms. MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO (Freelance Broadcast Reporter): Glad to be here.
Mr. DOMINIC CARTER (Senior Political Correspondent, NY1 News): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So I'm going to turn to Barack Obama. He said, there are bad options and worse options, speaking about Iraq, and then went on to say there's no reason we shouldn't be out by next summer.
Dominic, is this realistic?
Mr. CARTER: Well, Farai, that's an excellent question, and unfortunately, I don't think that any of us realistically know the answer at this point. We know what Senator Obama is promising. We know what most of the Democratic candidates are saying. We know what the Republican candidates are saying. The Republicans indicating stay the course for the most part following President Bush's lead, and the Democrats saying that it's time to get out.
In terms of whether or not this is realistic, it's a tough call. We know the argument that it will destabilize the region if America, if the U.S. pulls out immediately. Senator Obama says he can meet his deadline, but we have to take him at his word but it's said in the course of a political campaign.
CHIDEYA: Maria(ph), when you hear this, do you hear a candidate, a senator, or both?
Ms. SCHIAVOCAMPO: At this point I would say both because he's not really saying anything that's too different from what other people in Congress and other candidates - Democratic candidates are saying. At this point the president is borrowing time on borrowed time. He asked for additional time to get the troop surge going, and now that the interim report came out, he's asking for additional time until September for people to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the troop surge.
Though I don't feel like Obama is really departing that far from that many people right now. I mean, even the Republican Party is being very — we're seeing a lot of fracturing because even they're fighting and not really sure of what options are the best right now. So I don't see him as really being that — saying anything that different from his peers.
CHIDEYA: Joshunda, we haven't seen each other in a long time, but we used to be up in the Bay Area, you in San Francisco; me working out of San Francisco, living in the East Bay.
I want to turn to affirmative action. The senator said, I'm a firm believer in affirmative action. And then he referred to the idea that his daughters are not traditionally disadvantaged, perhaps they shouldn't qualify for affirmative action. How's your paper covering issues like affirmative action and Senator Obama's relationship to the African-American community?
Ms. SANDERS: Well, to be honest, Austin hasn't really — here at the Statesman, we haven't really covered affirmative action as a political issue. We've written a little bit about, you know, the Supreme Court decision, and we've ran wire stories here lately, but we haven't focused particularly on Barack Obama and the affirmative action. So it's hard to know what our corporate and paper, you know, relationship is to his stance on affirmative action.
CHIDEYA: You're in a college town, though. Do you have any sense of whether the university population is taking a look at this?
Ms. SANDERS: I do. I think that it's always of interest here because U.T. is so big. They have 50,000 students. And certainly, I get the sense that people are looking at the issue. But, you know, he came here, his wife was just here, Michelle, and they're treated like rock stars every time they come. So that's — from what I see, people have been more focused on that than the actual issues themselves.
CHIDEYA: Dominic, do you think that affirmative action is going to be one of these issues that African-American voters and perhaps Latino voters want to know more about the senator's position on?
Mr. CARTER: You know, let me say this, Farai. And I want to put this in the context of I traveled the country in '88 every day, 24 hours a day, assigned to the Reverend Jesse Jackson when he ran for the second time. The fact of the matter is Senator Obama is not, you know, we can play this game all we want to, but he's going to be judged somewhat differently than the other presidential candidates. And he's in a very difficult position, especially on an issue like affirmative action. His base, which he must energize, African-Americans, Latinos, progressives, he must say what they want to hear, especially on issues like affirmative action. But that is an issue that, frankly, could sink his campaign so he is walking a very fine line. What I also would like to say is that, you know, looking at the transcript and listening to your interview, which was an excellent interview, which you just did by the way with Senator Obama.
Mr. CARTER: It portrayed him as the person and not just as a candidate. what he is saying on affirmative action in terms of - and I'm saying this as someone who benefited from affirmative action because I would not have a college degree if not for affirmative action. He is saying that it should be based on the individual, on whether or not the individual is disadvantaged as opposed to rather solely on race. And that's the way it was when I went to school back in the '80s, and that's the way I've always understood it. But again, this isn't the situation in terms of his position. There are certain issues where he's in almost a no-win situation and affirmative action is one of them.
CHIDEYA: Well, Dominic, you've mentioned that I've talked to him a little bit on a personal level. I'm going to ask this of all three of you very briefly. He said that he was putting together a little team with Charles Barkley and Alonzo Mourning. I don't know if he was joking or bragging or - because he is apparently a great basketball player himself, I'm referring to the senator. So Joshunda, would you go up against these guys in battle? And if so, would you put - who would you put on your fantasy team?
Ms. SANDERS: Well, Farai, unfortunately, even though I'm rather tall, I've never been very coordinated so I probably am not going to go up against them in a battle.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Yeah, I said, give me a pass.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: So Dominic, what do you think?
Mr. CARTER: I think you already know my answer. My point guard on the team -whether or not she's played basketball or not - would be Senator Hillary Clinton, just to see the two of them go at it, if you will. And if he's going to get Alonzo Mourning - and who was the other name that you tossed out there?
CHIDEYA: Charles Barkley.
Mr. CARTER: Charles Barkley. Of course, Charles Barkley. If he's going to get those two, then I want Michael Jordan on my team up against those guys - since him and Barkley are good friend, as well as the young kid that's with Cleveland now who's - his name is - forgetting my memory right now, but a very good ball player, the future of the NBA. But certainly, Senator Hillary Clinton.
CHIDEYA: I love that. Mara?
Ms. SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yeah, I'm thinking among the same terms as Dominic. I would love to see a political match-up. And actually - and I would be a spectator, of course, because I'm 5'2" so I wouldn't go on a basketball court. But I would love to see him go one-on-one with Karl Rove especially because he's a master of pickup basketball which has no referees and limited rules. And I'm sure Rove have some interesting fouls up his sleeve. So that would be one to watch.
CHIDEYA: Oh yeah, that could get very dirty.
Let's move on to Iraq war coverage, another very serious issue now that we've had a couple of jokes. How would you rate bigger media outlets' coverage of the war this week? There was some criticism early on in the war that the large media companies just weren't covering it aggressively enough. Now there seems to be perhaps some blood in the water. Mara?
Ms. SCHIAVOCAMPO: Well, my criticism of the coverage has been the same from day one until this point, and that is that I feel it's far too sanitized. When you see the coverage of the war on television, you see talking heads and you see wide shots of charred remains of cars after car bombs. You read figures of injured and dead, but you don't see anything that really touches the soul. And if anyone who had seen any of that material, there's a number of excellent documentaries. Richard Engel's, I believe it was called "War Diaries."
War is not sanitized. War is not clean and tied up in a boat. War is very nasty and very ugly and very gory and very sad and very painful. And so my biggest problem has been that there has been no effort to show any of the realities of war even stuff - it doesn't have to be blood and gore. I mean, the stories of the refugees, people who have lost everything. We don't hear that enough. So my problem with the coverage of the war is that it really doesn't cover the war. It covers policy, in my opinion, far too much. I think if we saw the consequences on real human beings it would affect us a lot more and we would care more.
CHIDEYA: Joshunda, when you look at the coverage, what are you seeing?
Ms. SANDERS: I agree with Mara to some extent. I think from a newspaper perspective, from a print perspective, we are facing challenges, industry-wide and, you know, they have to do with the competition that we have from the Internet.
And so you know, I was watching the "Frontline" documentaries or news, you know, capabilities at this point, with all the advertising going online and newspapers wanting to meet their bottom line. They're starting to close bureaus in Baghdad and overseas. And so that's having a tremendous effect I think on the resources that reporters have in terms of coverage. I also think that, you know, we live in an era where people can find the realities of war online and they know that they can do that. They know they can go to alternative sources -and that's a wonderful thing for our generation.
CHIDEYA: Dominic, your news outlet, NY1, obviously, had a huge role in covering 9/11, how are you guys covering the war from a local perspective?
Mr. CARTER: Unfortunately, Farai, the way we cover it for the most part - and Senator Clinton will come on our show - I'd say maybe twice a month. We'll cover it from the perspective for the most part since New York is mostly a Democratic town of what Democrats are basically saying about the war. And as you might imagine, it's a very critical perspective, but I would agree with what's been said so far. Anyone that has traveled the world knows that when you're outside of America, you find out that Americans are basically given a one-sided perspective in terms of our news coverage, in terms of how we're told things on a world of spectrum.
And, you know, as already has been expressed, war is not pretty. And so the fact that we are not permitted to see, for example, the coffins that are arriving back home - that the Pentagon and the White House blocks that - and my one personal opinion, as a newsmaker, I think that's a horrible thing in terms of, you know, every town reports when a soldier has been slain in Iraq, you know, tragically, but we're not actually seeing what's going on.
And so I wish that my news organization while it's somewhat limited - but we've been to Iraq a couple of times - I would like to actually see the full story of what's going on and not just the American side. I would like to hear more from the Iraqis, what's the impact on them and how they're seeing this several years end, and as several Republicans are starting to break ranks with the White House.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, I had another topic that was all about pop culture, but you know what, we just don't have the time. Each of you have been wonderful guests. Thank you for joining us.
Ms. SCHIAVOCAMPO: Thank you.
Ms. SANDERS: Thanks, Farai.
Mr. CARTER: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: In our New York studios, we had Dominic Carter, senior political correspondent. We've got Mara Schiavocampo, freelance broadcast reporter. And with us by phone from Austin, Texas, Joshunda Sanders, reporter with the Austin American-Statesman.
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