Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jackson, Sharpton, not Beck, have greatest impact with demonstration

By DeWayne Wickham

The important thing to remember about the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is not the debate over whether Glenn Beck hijacked the moment by holding a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

While the conservative talk host’s appropriation of the scene of King’s most famous address offends the spirit of the civil rights leader’s lifelong challenge to those whose lips drip “with the words of interposition and nullification,” it was just a noisy subplot. The day’s more important event came in two other acts.

One, which occurred a short distance from Beck’s rally at Washington’s Dunbar High School, was led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The other, in Detroit, was headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Both, like the 1963 march at which King gave his famous speech, were primarily demonstrations for jobs and the dignity that steady work gives a person.

Then, as now, blacks were hardest hit by joblessness. In 1963, the civil rights movement was largely outside of the nation’s political mainstream. It didn’t come in from the cold until after passage of the landmark civil rights bills of the 1960s. That’s when people like Andrew Young, Parren Mitchell, Richard Hatcher and Marion Barry traded their marching shoes for business suits.

In recent years, the civil rights movement has been more an appendage of the Democratic Party than an independent actor in the struggle for black enfranchisement. But the decision by Jackson, Sharpton and a supporting cast of civil rights groups, backed by organized labor, to “wave the bloody shirt” in their struggle for jobs for blacks, whose unemployment rate is double that of whites, signals a willingness to publicly pressure a Democratic-led White House and Congress.

“Many of us realize that without the real dramatic impact of some street demonstrations they (government leaders) don’t get it,” Sharpton said. “We’ve got to put some public pressure on them they’ll deal with our issues.”

Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally was a thinly disguised act of political chest-thumping by the “Tea Party” movement, which is a 21st century incarnation of the anti-immigration Know-Nothing Movement of the 1850s. Like its predecessor, the Tea Party will be short-lived.

More long lasting, I hope, will be the reawakening of this nation’s civil rights movement. The King anniversary demonstrations were a call for national action that organizers say will be followed up with other efforts between now and Election Day to rally blacks and their white supporters to the polls. That’ll do more to push this nation’s governing Democratic majority to attack the problem of black unemployment than quiet backroom negotiations.

“Congress — Washington must move from destruction and obstruction to the reconstruction of our economy,” Jackson said in his address at the Detroit rally. And Democrats in Congress have to do more to end the disproportionate impact of this nation’s ailing economy on its core constituency.

Coming as they do in an election year, the civil rights rallies have a greater potential to impact decision-making in Congress than Beck’s Lincoln Memorial appeal to the Tea Party movement. Sharpton and Jackson hope to use the momentum of their rallies to spur their supporters to the polls.

But if Democrats want this vote to hoist them into the winner’s circle — as it has done so often in the past — they must give blacks a compelling reason to do so.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dr. Laura's n-word rant a window onto her twisted mind

By DeWayne Wickham

I’m going to talk about the flap over Laura Schlessinger’s use of the n-word without once calling her the r-word.

The nationally-syndicated radio talk show host said the n-word 11 times during a recent program in response to a black woman who called in to complain about the racially-tinged things some of her white husband’s friends say around her.

The caller was looking for relationship advice. What she got from Schlessinger was a cacophony of the word many blacks consider a hate-filled pejorative, especially when used by whites. Schlessinger rattled off the n-word easily in suggesting blacks are schizophrenic when it comes to its use.

“Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger,” she said. “I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”

But to an advice expert that shouldn’t be any more confusing than women who recoil when a man calls them the b-word; but laugh it off when a girlfriend does the same thing. Or, more confusing than the outrage gays show when a heterosexual calls them the f-word; but treats it as a term of endearment when it comes from another homosexual.

Anyone smarter than a nitwit understands that words can take on different a meaning, depending on who uses them. But Schlessinger’s failure to acknowledge what most first-year psychology majors understand isn’t what makes me think she’s got some bigotry coursing through her veins. It is what followed her n-word rant.

“If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race,” Schlessinger said. That sounds to me like the good doctor is saying the caller should just grin and bear it when her white husband’s friends start talking like they’re at a Ku Klux Klan coffee klatch.

It is Schlessinger’s insinuation that blacks who spend time in the company of whites should expect to be exposed to the racial stereotyping the caller complained about that rubs me raw. And it is Schlessinger’s stereotyping of blacks that makes her vulnerable to a charge of racial prejudice.

Racism is a contorted value system that increasingly takes the form of something far less menacing, like advice from a radio talk show host. It can lurk just beneath the surface when someone says, as Schlessinger did: “a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ‘cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise.”

It is to me.

In every presidential election since 1964, “a lot of blacks” – in fact, the overwhelming majority –voted for the Democratic Party’s candidate. And in 11 of those 12 contests that person was white. So to say blacks voted in great numbers for Obama simply because he is black is not only factually wrong, it’s a crass, racial stereotype.

Even crasser is Schlessinger’s attempt to make herself the victim of her n-word rant. She’ll give up her show in December so she will be free to say what’s on her mind and in her heart, Schlessinger told CNN’s Larry King.

I think that’s exactly what she did when she offered that black caller a piece of her twisted mind.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Obama press secretary attacks president's liberal base

By DeWayne Wickham

A day after Robert Gibbs opened a second front in the Obama administration’s political warring, Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine was triaging the wounds inflicted by the White House press secretary.

Asked how the Democratic National Committee can rally Democrats to the polls in November — after Gibbs blasted party liberals for griping about what the president hasn’t done and for not giving Obama enough credit for what he has accomplished — Kaine offered a surgical response.

“On balance, I liked more than I didn’t,” he said, trying to put a good spin on the front page story in The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper that covers the federal government. In the article, Gibbs called discontented liberals the “professional left” and said some of them “ought to be drug tested” for comparing Obama with George W. Bush.

Kaine, who runs the political arm of the Obama administration, faced a tough job before Gibbs’ rant. With polls divided over whether voters are leaning toward Republicans or Democrats in November’s midterm elections, the press secretary’s fragging of some members of his party’s left wing has made it worse. Self-described liberals voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

“The rallying of the troops (Democratic voters) is ultimately a function of the troops understanding what’s at stake,” Kaine said, deflecting attention away from his party’s infighting and focusing it instead on the war Democrats are waging with Republicans. “Our job is to explain to people” why the midterm elections are important. That message, he said, will make the choices “plain and stark” for voters.

An early supporter of Obama’s presidential bid, Kaine cut his teeth in the rough-and-tumble world of Virginia politics, where sniping among Democrats has been something of a blood sport in recent years. Somehow he was largely unscathed. He served two terms as mayor of Richmond, and a single term as lieutenant governor and governor before being tapped by Obama to take on the largely thankless job of national party chairman. His selection might prove fortuitous for Democrats, who desperately need a calming influence at their political helm this election season.

“The nub of what he was trying to express is, we Democrats tend to be impatient people.  There isn’t a single constituency within the Democratic Party who says everything has been done” on the issues important to them, Kaine said. “I think Gibbs just expressed that natural frustration that while we’re impatient, let’s at least acknowledge the progress that’s been made.”

That’s the kind of soothing — though hardly exculpatory — explanation of Gibbs’ harsh words that gives Democrats reason to believe they can keep their coalition together long enough to fend off GOP efforts to win back control of both houses of Congress in November.

Kaine said the DNC will spend about $50 million to get out the party’s message that the nation was in a ditch when Obama took office and that the president’s policies are slowly lifting it out. Kaine points to the passage of the health care bill and financial reform legislation — talking points straight out of his party’s election campaign playbook — as proof of that movement.

That might be a good message in a one-front political war. But to make sure that message is heard, Kaine will have to drown out the sounds of the second front Gibbs opened less than three months before voters go to the polls.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black movie star's daughter hopes porn film will make her famous

By DeWayne Wickham

While most aspiring actresses try mightily to avoid the casting couch, Montana Fishburne is jumping onto it, proving once again that fame is a drug far too many people seek at any price.

In this case, the 19-year-old daughter of Oscar-nominated actor Laurence Fishburne hopes to become a Hollywood A-lister by launching her film career among the industry's bottom feeders. Her decision to "star" in a pornographic movie being released this month will test whether the path she's taking could be the new low standard for celebrity stature.

Until now, that "honor" belonged to those whose home video of sex with a lover became available for public viewing, often just in time to hype a reality show or rejuvenate a flagging career. "I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became, and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me," Fishburne told TMZ.com.

Kardashian catapulted to fame after the 2007 release of a sex tape she made with rapper Ray J, a onetime boyfriend. Though she tried to block the tape's release, Kardashian quickly benefited from the widespread distribution of the salacious video. She has appeared in Harper's Bazaar and on the cover of Playboy.She now has an online shoe company, her own perfume line and the top talent website.

But there's a big difference between the sex tape Kardashian made and Fishburne's purposeful venture into the underworld of porn.

Kardashian made a private sex tape with her boyfriend. Fishburne made a pornographic movie, with a male actor, that is specifically intended for mass distribution. Kardashian stumbled into the murky realm of sex tapes; Fishburne jumped headlong into adult moviemaking. Kardashian is a victim who turned her exploitation to her advantage. Fishburne is a troubled young woman who hopes people will see her as something more than a professional sex peddler.

"I'm impatient about getting well-known and have more opportunities, and this seemed like a great way to get started on it," Fishburne said.

Today, it seems - from YouTube to Twitter to the many faces of reality TV - too many young people will sacrifice their dignity and more for a fleeting shot at fame. This young woman is taking that well-worn path.

Understandably, Fishburne's father is devastated. Though he hasn't spoken publicly about her descent into the adult movie industry, he has apparently signaled his displeasure. "My dad is very upset" and "very hurt," she told TMZ.com.

I understand Laurence Fishburne's pain. His daughter's movie puts her in league with porn stars Linda Lovelace and Jenna Jameson, not A-list actresses such as Angela Bassett, Glenn Close and Sandra Bullock. Montana Fishburne almost certainly will be best remembered for her public acts of debauchery, not the Hollywood career she hopes will follow.

Though the sex tape boosted the celebrity status of Kardashian, she didn't let it define her. But while Fishburne longs for that same celebrity magic, she is taking an even lower road.

"I am not in porn to get into acting," she told People magazine. "I am in porn because I wanted to be in porn."

Fishburne might, for a time, become the darling of the adult film industry. But precious few women who enter that swamp emerge from it unscathed. Sadly, I suspect, Montana Fishburne will be no exception.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Obama goes on The View, bypasses "serious journalism"

By DeWayne Wickham

The simmering debate over whether Barack Obama did the right thing by going on “The View” centers on whether his foray into the murky ground of daytime television besmirches the dignity of the presidency.

But this concern is a shallow one that turns our attention away from an issue that is deeper and far more troubling.

Nearly 7 million people watched Obama wedge himself onto a couch between Barbara Walters, the show’s creator, and the program’s four co-hosts. The five women, an irascible, eclectic mix of estrogen, didn’t make him squirm during an hour of questioning on the popular program, which resembles more of a coffee klatch than a news show.

Of course, that’s why Obama decided to go on “The View.” With his approval rating sagging badly and his Democratic party hoping to stave off a drubbing in the mid-term congressional elections, the president needs to rally female voters, a critical part of his political base. And “The View” is a good place to go hunting for their support. Women are nearly 80% of the show’s audience.

Obama won 56% of the female vote in the 2008 presidential election. But recent polls show his approval rating among women has dropped below 50%. So as a matter of political strategy, it makes sense for the president to try to reverse this slide on “The View,” rather than on a TV news show.

I know coming from me such an acknowledgement sounds like treasonous talk to those who think presidents should regularly subject themselves to the questions – and judgment – of serious journalists. Even Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Democratic Party chairman, objected to the president going on the show.

“I think the president should be accessible, should answer questions that aren’t pre-screened, but I think there should be a little dignity to the presidency,” he said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Rendell compared “The View” to “The Jerry Springer Show,” and then added: “I think the president of the United States has to go on serious shows.”

But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find truly serious journalists to populate television news shows. The lines between “serious” journalism and news-entertainment has been blurring for years.In 1994, while promoting his latest book, then-CBS news anchor Dan Rather went on the ”Late Show with David Letterman” and exhibited his tobacco spitting skills.

Before being picked to anchor the “CBS Evening News” in 2006, Katie Couric was a guest host of the ‘Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” After taking the job she went on Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central faux news show and joked about giving a free colonoscopy to viewers of her CBS show to beef up its audience.

In 2007, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams hosted “Saturday Night Live,” the network’s long-running comedy show. And earlier this year, Christiane Amanpour played a TV journalist in the movie “Iron Man 2.” This month she takes over as host of “This Week,” ABC’s real-life Sunday morning news show.

Given this cross-dressing, it’s not surprising that Stewart, the comedian, was ranked right alongside “serious” network anchors in 2008 when Americans were asked which journalist they admire the most.

You can expect the confusion over who’s a real journalist – and what’s a serious news program – to grow as more and more news organizations try to do journalism on the cheap. Using untrained people to provide video to broadcast news outlets and newspapers’ reliance on “citizen journalists” to help fill the void created by the downsizing of their news staffs blurs the line even more.

The short-term financial gain news organizations get from this watering down of the practice of journalism will, in the long run, make it harder for Americans to distinguish the difference between programs like “The View” and a network newscast.

And it will make it increasingly easy for savvy politicians like Obama to avoid answering tough questions from this nation’s dwindling number of truly serious journalists.