Bloggers' Roundtable: A Look Back Black blogger power was definitely in effect in 2007. Their posts helped spread the word about the Jena 6 case and pushed for BET to change its programming. Here to look back on some of the year's top stories of the year are bloggers Eisa Ulen, Nashieqa Washington of Your Black Friend and John McCann of Book of John.

Bloggers' Roundtable: A Look Back

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Black blogger power was definitely in effect in '07. Bloggers did more than just write about the nights at the club or rant about their love life. They used the cyber world to make a change in the real world. Black blogs became a major source of information for African-Americans. Posts helped spread the word about the Jena Six case and pushed for BET to create more positive content.

Here to look back on some of the top stories of the year, Nashieqa Washington from yourblackfriend.com. Also John McCann, he blogs at the Book of John. And Eisa Ulen, she's the creator of EisaUlen.com.

Hi, folks.

Ms. NASHIEQA WASHINGTON (Blogger, Your Black Friend): Hello.

Ms. EISA ULEN (Creator, EisaUlen.com): Hi.

Mr. JOHN MCCANN (Blogger, Book of John): Merry Christmas to you guys. Merry Christmas.

CHIDEYA: Yes, thank you.

And so let's do this whole retrospective thing where we look back at the best and worst of blogging in '07. Now, in the summer BET was launching this new line of shows. One of them was titled "Hot Ghetto Mess" and it was based on the Web site by the same name. The Web site features home videos that some say glorify racial stereotypes of black folks and black bloggers like Gina McCauley from What About Our Daughters bashed the show. BET said, however, said that the show actually criticizes ignorant behavior and here is what the host, Charlie Murphy, said in one episode.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "Hot Ghetto Mess")

Mr. CHARLIE MURPHY (Host, "Hot Ghetto Mess"): Before, you head out with your picket signs and your letters to the NAACP, just hear us out, okay? We want you to think of this show as a little tough love for America. We're here to put on blast those few individuals out there who would make life bad for all of us. And you know who I'm talking about. Those folks, black, white, or otherwise that do this.

Unidentified Man: Get out of my business.

CHIDEYA: So you got a situation there where you have maybe a little fig leaf for…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: …what's going on on the corporate level?

Nashieqa, what do you think? I mean, this was re-titled "We Got to Do Better."

Ms. WASHINGTON: Right.

CHIDEYA: Does changing the title change the game?

Ms. WASHINGTON: No, it didn't change the game. I've - kind of have a laugh in my voice because hearing Charlie Murphy just talk about this show and trying to explain it away as this whole, oh, it's an educational tool - that's funny to begin with. But, yeah, changing it to "We Got to Do Better" in order to - I'm not sure what point they were trying to make by that but no. It doesn't change anything.

CHIDEYA: Eisa, how did this go over with you, personally?

Ms. ULEN: Well I think the problem with this site and the short-run BET show is the voyeuristic titillation these stereotypical images induce. I mean, without real context, what's the point? And to follow up the line we got to do better, doesn't say how. How are you going to do better? That's the hard work. And neither the site nor the show did that.

CHIDEYA: John, did you actually watch this and weigh in or how did you process this?

Mr. McCANN: I didn't see it. I didn't weigh in on it. But I did hear about it. And all I can say is we're worried about Don Imus and what he said?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McCANN: This is clearly, I mean, BET is just trying to make the dollar and yeah, with Charlie Murphy trying to clear it up is just a bad attempt.

CHIDEYA: Eisa, what about the whole corporate responsibility thing? There have been protesters actually picketing in front of the house of Deborah Lee who is the head of BET at this point. There's a question of whether or not that's crossing a line to go and picket at her home as opposed to at the office. But some people are completely fed up. How do you come down on the idea of whether or not a black network, which, of course, at this point is owned by Viacom has a certain responsibility to the community or is it really just about let's make a dollar?

Ms. ULEN: Well, I would draw the line at picketing in front of someone's home especially when that person has children. I think that goes too far. But I think that people's outrage is certainly justified, the fact that BET, with its problematic track record, specifically regarded - regarding black women, was airing the show, just got everyone's antennae up even before its debut. And it's unfortunate that there's this sort of, you know, buying into and I used that term on purpose because of course we're talking about commerce and making dollars. Buying into these stereotypes by African-American producers and television executives. We're the ones who are responsible for this nonsense going out on blast and it makes it even more nefarious I think.

Ms. WASHINGTON: But it is about the dollar and going back to picketing at her home. I think it's fair game. My understanding was that they were picketing at her home because she was nonresponsive. You know, we send you a letter, we try to make some phone calls, we try to do it in a professional way so let's kind of get your neighbors engaged to maybe get your attention of hey, you know, maybe you should talk to us or at least hear our concerns.

Mr. McCANN: Well, clearly though, there's a market out here for this. Somebody, if not us, somebody is watching this type of program and particularly the raunchy music videos. And can we really hold BET to the fire, you know, any more that we hold ourselves with the fire because, you know, sort of like using the N word the kind of thing where we kind of use it amongst ourselves but don't just put it out there for - on the clothesline for everybody to see your dirty drawers. I mean, if we're forwarding this stuff to all our friends and cousins and all these folks - is BET doing anything any different than what we're complaining about.

CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, let me bring you into this. You wrote this book with a big slice of watermelon on the front that says, why do black people love fried chicken and other question you wondered but didn't dare ask, answered by yourblackfriend.com. One thing that's worth bringing up is that a large percentage of BET's viewers at this point are white or non-black. Does that affect, you know, per what John was saying don't hang your dirty laundry out, can you avoid it? I mean, everything on BET is fair game for everybody.

Ms. WASHINGTON: And I think our dirty laundry is out. I just - I don't think it's - we're in a position anymore to kind of sit back and say, you can use this and we can't or…

Mr. McCANN: Right.

Ms. WASHINGTON: …you're not allowed. I mean, it's out there. And whether it's BET, I mean, I can only imagine ABC wouldn't have put together "Hot Ghetto Mess" just for fear of their sponsors, but is BET any more responsible or liable or should we hold them there? I'm not - I don't necessarily think so.

CHIDEYA: I want us to actually reintroduce our guest and our topic. We are talking about the best and worst of the blogs of 2007. You're listening to NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I am Farai Chideya.

We have got Eisa Ulen, the creator of EisaUlen.com; John McCann, he blogs at the Book of John; and Nashieqa Washington from yourblackfriend.com. So, John, let's take a look back at a moment earlier this year when a small Louisiana town made big news.

(Soundbite of rallying)

Unidentified Man: Free the Jena Six.

Unidentified Group: Free the Jena Six.

CHIDEYA: Now who can forget when an estimated 20,000 people swarmed into Jena, Louisiana, to protest some of the racial issues brewing there. The tension was bubbling up after white students at the high school hung nooses from a tree after black students sat there for lunch. And a few months later, six black students were charged with an attempted second-degree murder for beating up a white student. The charges were reduced and all the teens were released except for Mychal Bell. How did you first hear about this case because a lot of people were blogging about it?

Mr. McCANN: It was a while before I heard about it, and in fact, a friend of mine here in Durham was asking me about the Jena Six and asked me had I heard about it. And I hadn't. You know, here I am in the news business, I haven't even heard about it. But when it finally caught my attention, now okay, this is what my man was talking about. And granted, you know, it was unfair - the unfair charges against the black students.

But the thing that bothers me still is that I didn't hear anybody talking about it - unless I overlooked it - was, you know, nobody talks about this whole idea of trying to take justice into your own hands. And, you know, possibly, what if the white kid had died? You know, we would have really had something on our hands here all because we want to handle our business.

So we got to talk about that and as unfair as it was, you know, that the charges were too much, were extreme, but people, please, you know, let the law be the law.

CHIDEYA: Eisa, Mychal Bell, was imprisoned for a long time on adult charges. That became one of the key questions in this case. Do you think per what John said that the fundamental issue here should not have been the charges but the personal responsibility?

Ms. ULEN: No, I have to disagree slightly. I think he makes an important point and maybe we got to do better in Jena also.

Mr. McCANN: Yeah.

Ms. ULEN: But I think ultimately, the real outcry came from the misappropriation of justice and the timeline in this case, the fact that the school superintendent voted down a request made by the principal, if I'm not mistaken, at Jena High School to have the children who hung the noose penalized. And that kind of led to the protests that the students had under the tree, the African-American students, a group of young black men were sort of assaulted with a shotgun in front of a quickie mart in Jena. A black student who went to a majority white party was beaten up. And there was a lot of scuffling going on in the school. A part of the school was set on fire and the adults obviously didn't have a handle on the situation.

Now, I'm not saying that Mychal Bell and the other members of the Jena Six don't have a level of responsibility. But as teenagers, as high school students, I think that they were really in a situation where the adults did not take control of the situation.

Mr. McCANN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ULEN: And yes, they acted out with youthful fervor. Yes, they shouldn't have hit that boy. But ultimately, there was a miscarriage of justice, not just with the Jena Six but in the very beginning when those nooses were - when that noose rather was first hung.

CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, you had a situation where you had the radio host Michael Baisden, you had a lot of black bloggers. You had a lot of people in the African-American media communities really looking at this case. And then it blossomed into a march. What's happened since then?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I think that people at least feel like they're galvanized around this idea that we can bring this many people together. I think it was important, the march. And there was actually an outcome for Mychal Bell. I mean, just kind of following the story. I haven't been following it closely. But I understand now, he's serving out his time in a juvenile facility or something like that. So there was a positive outcome. It's great that people see that, yes, we can still come together and do something positive. The fact that there was no violence or arrest…

Mr. McCANN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WASHINGTON: …during that time. That was - seemed miraculous to me.

Mr. McCANN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Very, very glad about that. But on the whole, I think that was the outcome. The blogging community, I mean, talking about blogging again. I heard about the Jena Six issue through MySpace - MySpace blogs. So having friends all over the country who are on top of information and who are posting it, and then just subsequently getting the word out there that, to me, that's the major outcome of all of this.

Mr. McCANN: But, you know, I wonder if nothing, you know, if nothing really, really major, significant, becomes of this. I wonder if our voice as black bloggers is weakened in the future whereby, let's say, well, yeah, you get this groundswell of support. But nothing really ever changes, I wonder do we lose some of our effectiveness?

Ms. ULEN: I think that's a great question. I mean, you know, I think it's interesting that at this point, most people don't know what's going on with the members of the Jena Six.

Mr. McCANN: Hmm.

Ms. ULEN: And for that matter, Megan Williams, who was tortured for a week in West Virginia, or the mother who was raped in Dunbar Village in West Palm Beach, Florida, you know, you get sort of this flurry of activity and then silence. And I'm afraid that the protest in Jena might be like the Million Man March.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Hmm.

Mr. McCANN: Hmm.

Ms. ULEN: Empowering moment where we articulate our condition to the nation. And yet it received this inadequate follow up and no activist work. You know, our civil rights and black power era foreparents didn't just march.

Mr. McCANN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ULEN: They changed their lives. They joined in the work needed…

Mr. McCANN: Right.

Ms. ULEN: …to sustain the mid-20th century civil rights movement. And I'd like to think that this would galvanize people so that we get a new civil rights movement going. But I haven't observed or participated in that. And I really don't see it coming. I mean, I hope I'm wrong. But I think that the institutionalized racism that's in place that allows this initial miscarriage of justice is still very much in place. And we can blog all we want about it, that hasn't changed.

CHIDEYA: Let me just turn this in a different direction. There have been some questions about whether people focus too much on rhetoric as opposed to focusing on issues. You were talking about like movement building and when it comes to rhetoric, there was a lot of competition. You have Michael Richards but then you had, back in April, radio shock jock Don Imus. He used the infamous slur nappy-headed, blank, blank, blank, about the Rutgers Girls Basketball team. And after apologies and interview with Al Sharpton, advertisers pulling their support, CBS fired him but eight months later, he's back on the air on WABC.

Here's what he had to say on his first day back.

Mr. DON IMUS (Radio Host, "Imus in the Morning," WABC): I will never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret that they accepted my apology and forgave me.

CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, was this what black folks should have been outraged about? I mean , this was - this created a firestorm. And in the blogosphere as well as off, I mean, it's a different issue from Jena Six.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Right.

CHIDEYA: One is about the structure of criminal justice. One is about language. Are they equally powerful, equally worth protest?

Ms. WASHINGTON: I think they're equally powerful or at least worthy of protest. They're both important. But just watching what happened with Don Imus, I don't think anybody is surprised that this man is back on the air. I mean, you did your wrong. And then you get a little punishment, paid vacation, break time, and then you're back on another station. I kind of think it's funny he's on WABC. Michael Baisden is also on ABC. I thought somebody should have brought that to Michael Baisden's attention.

But anyway, yeah, I think they are equally important though. I'm not taking away from one or the other. But I wanted to say about the power of the bloggers. Just because we didn't get some kind of movement started, it doesn't mean that it's not important or that it's not effective. I mean, the power of the blog is for writing and disseminating information. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be, you know, the new movement builder. But it say - that's how things get started.

CHIDEYA: John, when you think about Imus, do you think that there was any success there in raising awareness perhaps not just about this aspect of the controversy but also people started saying, well, if, you know, black folks can say nappy-headed you know what, then again, it's kind of the "Hot Ghetto Mess," N-word thing, if we have our own in-house language, how can we expect people out of house not to deal with it?

Mr. McCANN: Look. What Don Imus said was wrong clearly. Okay. But he should have never gotten fired. He should have never lost his job. So, hey, I applaud ABC for putting him back on the air, he needs to be back on the air. Now, that's why on your radio, you have a radio dial. If you don't like Don Imus, if you don't dig what he's saying, turn the dial. Enough folks keep turning that dial, advertisers pick up on that, they pull out.

CHIDEYA: Eisa, if you had to round this out for us and you look at some of the hot button issues that have happened during 2007, does this strengthen the blogosphere to move forward as a tool for at least reflection, if not, change?

Ms. ULEN: I hope that the sister is correct. And as we disseminate information and get ideas going out in the blogosphere, it will motivate people to action. I certainly hope that the power of the word will ultimately prevail. Once people move their minds and their behinds will follow.

Mr. McCANN: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: On that note, happy holidays, guys.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Happy holidays.

Ms. ULEN: Happy holidays.

Mr. McCANN: Hey, somebody say merry Christmas, come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: I'll go eat at anybody's house.

Ms. ULEN: Happy Christmas Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid.

CHIDEYA: Exactly. You know, I'll go eat at anybody's house for any holiday. Anyway, we're talking to Eisa Ulen, the creator of EisaUlen.com; John McCann, at the Book of John; and Nashieqa Washington from YourBlackFriend.com. She joined me from our NPR West Studios.

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