- HALF-BLACK? That's what D-G reporter sees.
Last February, conservative commentator Ann Coulter made headlines when she said of Barack Obama, “He really seems to have been coasting since his first big accomplishment of being born half-black.”
Coulter frequently makes comments, seemingly without thinking although I fear the alternative, meant to shock and drive book sales. But the description of Obama as “half-black” showed up in one article by a staff reporter on the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the morning after the election. Another headline on the same page called Obama the “first black president.”
The “half-black” description is accurate. Obama's father was a black man from Kenya, his mother a white woman born in Kansas. But why half-black, instead of half-white? Probably because it's custom.
Obama once told Charlie Rose, “If I'm outside your building trying to catch a cab, they're not saying, ‘Oh, there's a mixed race guy.'” In a similar vein, comedian Chris Rock recently said, “Everybody knows that there is no such thing as half-black in America.”
“I suppose, if we wanted to, we could make the case that he's as half-white as he is half-black,” says Frank Fellone, deputy editor of the Democrat-Gazette. Fellone characterized the “half-black” description of Obama as, “pun intended, colorful and descriptive.” He says the difference in the adjectives used was the result of the individual decisions made by reporters.
“I don't think there is any essential difference between the two articles,” Fellone says. “You know Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There's no hidden meaning here. I only see a latitude in the language of journalism.”
In other election-related news, the Benton County Daily Record made a much-talked about endorsement of now president-elect Barack Obama. According to editor and general manager Kent Marks, the paper, located in one of the most conservative parts of the state, has never endorsed a liberal candidate for president.
The pick raised some eyebrows because the Record is owned by WEHCO Media Inc., a communications company owned by Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The D-G, along with the paper's Northwest Arkansas edition, were, not surprisingly, in favor of McCain editorially. WEHCO papers in Texarkana, Camden, Magnolia, El Dorado and Hot Springs did not make a presidential pick.
The Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville, another WEHCO property, came out in favor of no one. Scott Shackelford, editorial page editor, says the paper's editorial board was “deadlocked so we felt we probably shouldn't make an endorsement.”
Marks says the Record's decision was made just as quickly. “We spent a lot more time on a couple of city council races in Bentonville and Rogers than we did the president. I was surprised how quickly it went,” Marks says.
Marks says he did not talk to Hussman before, during or after the process.
Hussman says no one person dictates which candidates each WEHCO paper endorses, but he doesn't rule out the possibility of an owner stepping in.
“I think most newspapers have concluded that local editorial boards are in the best position to make those decisions,” Hussman says. “That doesn't mean that the owner of the newspaper shouldn't make a final decision if they feel very strongly about it or could possibly overrule them, because ultimately the owner is responsible for everything that goes into the newspaper.”
? Initiated Act 1, to ban adoption and foster parenting by unmarried couples, drew the support of Arkansas voters despite a media campaign urging voters to vote against the measure. Arkansas Families First spent about $165,000 on mass media including television ads and a 10-minute video featuring former and current foster children, social workers and others.
Supporters of the ban, led by the Family Council, went with a grassroots effort that included distributing leaflets to churches and e-mail appeals, but no media buys.