Roundtable: Iraqi Media Policy, Malcolm X Topics: The Pentagon reviews its practice of paying to plant stories in the Iraqi media; Malcolm X's legacy; and a Supreme Court involving an employer who called black employees "boys." Ed Gordon's guests are Julianne Malveaux of Last Word Productions; George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; and Pedro Noguera of New York University.
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Roundtable: Iraqi Media Policy, Malcolm X

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Roundtable: Iraqi Media Policy, Malcolm X

Roundtable: Iraqi Media Policy, Malcolm X

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ED GORDON, host:

This NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable: remembering Malcolm, and can the Pentagon buy good news. Joining us today to discuss these topics and more: from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., economist and author Julianne Malveaux. She's president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Inc. In our New York bureau, Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University, and George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service joins us from Maryland. And I should note that I'm coming to you from Jacksonville, Florida today. I hosted a town hall meeting last night, and we want to thank the folks here at WJCT, who've been great hosts to me, and we appreciate all their help today.

That being said, let's talk about what's in the news. The White House, again, the Bush administration, having to do a little tap-dancing this week, if you will. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that the Pentagon is reviewing the practice of paying to plant to stories in Iraqi news media. He said earlier that he thought that this practice had been stopped. Julianne Malveaux, we've heard of this before, the idea, and it smacks--particularly when you juxtapose it to the problems that the Bush administration had on this side of the water, if you will, for paying Armstrong Williams and others to tout some of their policies and programs. We should note that the Secretary suggested that this was seeking non-traditional means of getting out messages to the Iraqi people in the face of what they said was a disinformation campaign by insurgents.

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (President and CEO, Last Word Productions, Inc.): You know, this smacks of so much hypocrisy, Ed. When you listen to Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld talk about democracy, about the development of self-determination in Iraq, and then you see the United States--repugnant enough here, but really quite more deleterious there--involving itself in planting stories in the media. I mean, the $200,000 plus Armstrong Williams got here has a multiple affect somewhere like Iraq, and so it's shameful, but it's consistent with this administration's hypocrisy. I don't think any of us should be surprised, but we should be outraged, and we should--those people who are talking about peace in Iraq surely also be talking about the media manipulation of this administration.

GORDON: Pedro, any credence to what the Secretary suggests in that this is the only way they have to fight what they claim is a disinformation campaign?

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (Steinhart School of Education, New York University): I don't buy it. I think that if the work in Iraq was really going as well as they'd like us to believe, there'd be no need to manufacture stories; the stories would be evident. American journalists would cover the rebuilding and the growing support in Iraq for the American occupation and the progress in democracy, but that's not the story we hear from Iraq.

The story from Iraq today was that Shiite mosques had been bombed, that the government looks like it'd be very partisan. It's not going well there, and so the attempt to create stories is just an attempt to try to continue to fool the American public and the world that things are going well when all the evidence shows it's not.

GORDON: George, you're an old print man, if you will. Talk to me about the idea of planting the good story. It certainly makes for good propaganda for the U.S. over there. Anything wrong with this in your mind?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): Well, we're not just talking about planting. They do that all the time here, everyday. What we're talking about is buying and purchasing news under this guise of building a democracy. A democracy operates with a free, unbridled, uncontrolled press. So on one hand we're saying, we're going to build a democracy, brag about it as a matter of fact, and on the other hand, we're saying, we're going to show you how democracies don't function, and so it hurts our credibility in the long run, and it hurts our whole campaign.

GORDON: All right. Let's turn our attention to the Supreme Court, who suggested this week that--by unanimous decision, we should note, they overturned an appeals court decision that said the term boy alone was not evidence of workplace discrimination, and this was against the Tyson Foods Corp, who was being sued by two long-time black employees who claimed that they were passed over for promotions by a white manager who called them boy.

Pedro Noguera, so many people taking a finite, a fine look at this Supreme Court now with the new justice Samuel Alito sitting on it. This could be a bellwether of things to come. I would suspect that others will say that this is going to be the anomaly in a court that they're suggesting is going to be too far right.

Professor NOGUERA: Well, I think that the case is important because of both symbolically what it represents, but my understanding of the case is that there's more to it than just the use of the term boy, which I think many of the listeners may say, well, what's the big deal about being called boy.

It really has to be placed in a context of both the South, but also of the fact that these particular employees were passed over for promotions and that there was a pattern of discrimination, and the use of the term boy really just exemplifies the kind of atmosphere that was created in that workplace, and I think that's the point that hopefully the lawyers are going to make so that we don't get confused that this is just about a word.

GORDON: And while that point is made, Julianne Malveaux, one might think that if it was to be believed, the clarion call of not allowing this man to sit on the court, at face value, some would say that this would not have been the decision, certainly not unanimously of this court, when you talk about Scalia, Thomas, Alito and others.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, I think the issue here, Ed, is the pattern of discrimination. You had two African-American employees, respectively employed 13 and 15 years, who are passed over by a white man who had been employed by just two years, and a supervisor who - although rude to everyone and you know, non-African-American listeners will probably just say this guy was a jerk. He was rude to everyone, but boy is particularly pejorative, so I don't find it surprising that the court with Alito, Roberts on it would necessarily have fund unanimously. I think that this is a minor case in the body of case law on employment discrimination. This is a positive sign, but you know, a swallow doesn't make a storm.

Mr. CURRY: I think, clearly--I mean, I think with a case, you know, in a clear cut instances where there is blatant discrimination, I think it's easy to get unanimity from the court. I'm concerned about the cases that really impact race and not as clear cut, and that's where we find a very, very different kind of lineup, and those are the kinds of cases more likely to make it to the court. These kind of cases don't even, generally, even make it to the Supreme Court, but this was clear cut. It's kind of hard to vote any other kind of way, obviously, and you had a decision, but it doesn't really mean anything when you're talking about a significant body of discrimination that goes on in this country.

GORDON: All right. Not wanting to, in your opinion, read too much into this. Here's something that's being talked about quite a bit, and Bryant Gumbel, as he has been noted to do in the past, really stirred this up last week, but we want to take a look at the idea of the Winter Olympics and whether African-Americans are feeling some kind of connection to it. Let me read from an editorial that Bryant did on his program Real Sports. He, at the end of the program, gives some commentary, and he suggested this on last weeks show, the first run of it:

Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes despite the paucity of blacks that makes the Games look like a GOP convention.

He took a lot of heat for that, yet when you see the back and forth with Shani Davis and whether or not he was a team player for not skating in the team relay for the speed skating--a lot of attention being paid to that. Lost on it, unfortunately, is the historic win that he had of the gold medal being the first African-American male and single black athlete--Vonetta Flowers won one in the last games. We should note she placed sixth this time in the team bobsled, or the bobsled, I should note.

Pedro Noguera, when you see all this, is it enough just to say that, quite frankly, blacks and people of color don't necessarily gravitate to the Winter Games. If you want to get scientific about it, it could be from where our origins are, however you want to look at it. Anything wrong with the fact that it just doesn't ring a bell for most people of color in this country?

Professor NOGUERA: Well, the ratings show it doesn't ring a bell for most people, generally, that the Winter Olympics really don't have a strong following. It's very regional phenomena. Many people are not really informed about the nature of some of the events, and so I think that the fact that many African-Americans are interested is really just a part of the point that many Americans are not interested, particularly when they air the Games in the middle of the night.

GORDON: My friend, Mr. Gumbel, Julianne Malveaux, took a lot of heat for his comments with the idea that you can't say it's a group of the world's greatest athletes if you have so few blacks and the reference to the GOP convention. Many people wanting to hear an apology from him, some even suggesting that this is tantamount to what Jimmy the Greek said about blacks being bred for athletics. Is this much ado about nothing, taking this a bit too far, or should Bryant rethink what he said.

Ms. MALVEAUX: No, the brother should not apologize at all. He has no cut card, but then again, neither do any of us. He said what he thought, and he was absolutely right. Ed, our country missed the phenomenal opportunity to embrace and support Shani Davis, the first--as you said--African-American to get an individual medal. Even more than this, this little racist brat from Texas, Hendricks, who has been mouthing off about Davis not competing in a team sport, that he said a month ago he was not going to compete in because he wanted to concentrate on the 1000. Brian Cossas(sp) of NBC has been absolutely biased in going after this young man and I think that what Bob said is just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, you have sports you've never even heard of; you know, bobsledding, the Luge, what is the Luge? I mean I don't get basketball...

ED GORDON, host: It's the Luge.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Give me a break. But, you know bottom line...

GORDON: We know you haven't been following it. Let me do this...

Ms. MALVEAUX: I have been watching this young brother. I have been watching him with interest. I have been all over his webpage because white folks are actually sending emails to him under his friend's page using the N word.

It is utterly absurd and as I say again our country missed an opportunity to celebrate an excellent athlete because we are so seeped in our racism and in the pathology of so-called patriotism that we forgot the U.S. Speed Skating Association does not support this young man. He trains in Canada. His mama is running around wearing orange, the Danish colors, as opposed to our colors because of how rude they have been to him...

GORDON: Yes.

Ms. MALVEAUX: ...and this is a single mom who has sacrificed all kind of stuff to get this young brother going, and that's the story that needs to be told here.

GORDON: Let me do this, Julianne, before we get George in here, just for people who may not be following as closely, you mentioned Chad Hedrick who is, I don't know if he's racist or not, but you did get right that he's from Texas.

But, he's had an ongoing feud with Shani Davis because Davis decided to skip the team event for the speed skating. Many people thought that Hedrick was in fact mad because this may have cost him a opportunity of winning a fifth gold medal. All that being said, he placed third yesterday in the head-to-head and also Bob Costas had some scathing things to say about Shani Davis after a less than enthusiastic interview when Davis I think was just simply fed up.

All right George Curry, go ahead.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): I heard Bryant when he made that statement and the moment he said it, I said, that's trouble. Because, you know, I've been looking at, Julianne, the Web pages too and, of course, the counter is, well, does that mean that the NBA looks like a Democratic collection of people, you know.

But the problem is if you go back beyond just even the Olympics, he said at the last Olympics he was a substitute as a team member reserved, didn't play, didn't skate rather, and he said that if he ever got a chance that he would not compete, if he had a chance to compete as a individual, he would not compete as a team player. He said that four years ago, so there shouldn't be anything special about this. No, there are not a lot of African Americans in it because it's an extremely expensive sport in addition to being cold. You've got all that working against you.

Ms. MALVEAUX: You know what, Ed.

GORDON: Don't forget that cold part.

Ms. MALVEAUX: What Brian failed to note...

GORDON: Real quick because I need to get to the last note.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Yes, just really quick to note. What Bryant failed to note is that there are more athletes of color from the United States in this Olympics than there have been in any other, so despite the fact that the pace is slow, the pace is changing.

GORDON: All right. We just wanted to mark for Black History Month and the idea that this month also marks the 44th, oh, 41st I should say anniversary of the death of Malcolm X and just get a quick reflection of this man and what he, in fact, has meant to this country. Pedro?

Mr. PEDRO NOGUERA (New York University): I think that Malcolm continues to symbolize courage and a willingness to speak out fearlessly in the face of great violence and racism in this country towards black people. And although he himself was never involved in any violence and never picked up arms, except to defend himself, ironically, against other Africa Americans, Nation of Islam, the fact is that what he represented and the reason why he continues to have such an important legacy is this willingness to speak out and to challenge those who would do harm to black people.

GORDON: George Curry, interestingly enough, he and Martin Luther King both died at the age of 39.

Mr. CURRY: Yes, never saw 40, but here we are talking about them. I think, because the whole thing about the Nation of Islam is a whole 'nother discussion we obviously didn't get into it all here. I think what Malcolm X did was create a sense of pride, and fear, he was just fearless and he did it in a time when it was unpopular.

He also is a person who had gone to prison and is a model of self-help; how he changed his life himself, but I worry that when you put people on postage stamps after they die, particularly, that's when people try to dilute their message; whether it's Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or W.B. DuBois.

GORDON: Yes and, Julianne Malveaux, one of the interesting points here is because, particularly with the young generation, they take up the any means necessary side of Malcolm X, but this may be the most misunderstood or least known, in terms of his totality, iconic figure, we have from this era.

Ms. MALVEAUX: I think that's a good point Ed. You know that Malcolm X, the Ossie Davis eulogy really captures him so well. Malcolm was our manhood, our living black manhood. At a time when a young brother like Shani Davis is literally excoriated by a media icon like a Bob Costas, this notion of our living black manhood I think is very palpable.

The number of young black men, I was just at a college yesterday where a young brother said, you know, where are our role models? You know, there's one in Malcolm and there's one in Martin, I think the resonation is that shining positive African American men like all y'all on this conversation are not folk who are actually often held up as role models in our country, so we have to go back.

You know, our country literally would shrink the black man as opposed to expanding him and Malcolm was our every expansion.

GORDON: Pedro Noguera, real quick for me, with about a minute left. I'm curious, you being surrounded by young people so often, when you hear them speak of these iconic figures, do you believe that they have the full picture? Not just of Malcolm, but of others as well?

Mr. NOGUERA: I think that's the sad part. To the degree they know about Malcolm it's from Spike Lee's movie, a few more perhaps have maybe read the autobiography, but very few have actually read any of his speeches. When you read Malcolm's speeches what you see is a political leader whose thoughts and positions on issues evolve over time and you get a sense of the depth of his understanding. And I wish that were what more young people had access to rather than just the image of Denzel Washington on the screen. And I think that that's the work educators have to make sure is happening is that we are, in fact, making accessible that kind of knowledge and information to young people today.

GORDON: All right. Julianne Malveaux, who joins us from Washington; Pedro Noguera from New York; and George Curry joining us from Maryland today. I thank you all for joining us. Appreciate it.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you.

GORDON: Up next on NEWS AND NOTES, tech guru Mario Armstrong tells us how easy it is to have your own audio show with podcasting.

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