Thursday, July 24, 2008

Speaking Truth To Power

I actually really hate that phrase.

It is trotted out every time someone discusses journalism and I'm pretty tired of hearing it. I know what it means, I know why people use it, I just kind of wish they would stop.

But, I must say that some cat named Robert Pierre at the Washington Post has been speaking truth to power.

Check out that link. If you can get past the snarky tone of the author, you'll discover that Mr. Pierre let the fine folks at the Washington Post know that their decision to focus significant manpower and resources on reporting about Chandra Levy was ridiculous considering the fact that they've never spent that much money or time reporting on the death of one of the black men who has been slaughtered in D.C.

Pierre, who is a reporter on the Post's Metro desk, sent a memo to the brass at the Post letting them know exactly how displeased he was and challenging them to defend their decision to him.

I believe The Field Negro would call that field nigger behavior.

I respect Mr. Pierre for taking the stand he took. Just look at that article in the Washington City Paper and see how they handle his claims of racism. He can expect more of that now that his comments have hit the number one media gossip site.

As a black man in a mostly white world he risked some serious repercussions by attacking the power structure of the Post. That took courage and conviction.

All of us who work in corporate America understand the daily pressures we face as minorities in a majority world. There are many comments and emails that pass our desks that are racially unacceptable. There also are assumptions made about us and people who look like us.

If we take too militant a pose we run the risk of being marginalized and labeled as "angry." If we are too accommodating, we run the risk of losing our souls and our sanity.

I'm also in precarious position because I work as a journalist and in this business everyone prides themselves on being beyond issues of race. The entire media myth is built on the idea of objectivity, and most journalists are loathe to admit any personal biases.

Yet, the same problems that exist in the regular world exist in the newsroom. As gatekeepers and agenda setters, journalists understand the power our messages hold. Yet, our business is still one of the most pale in the nation and that's despite continuous calls for "diversity." Most American newspapers and television stations tell stories from the perspective of white people and frame issues based on what's important to white people. It's just a fact of life.

But, it's one of those facts that nobody likes to discuss. So, I have often found myself telling a colleague "Yes, what you just said qualified as racist" and "No, it doesn't matter if you contribute to the NAACP." I've had to meet with bigwigs and explain to them why they have an image problem with black folks and how their current actions aren't helping that image. I've had to defend black politicians I don't even like because when they accuse the media of being biased and unfair, sometimes they are right. Working as a journalist does not inoculate you against prejudice. It never has, and probably never will.

So, I applaud Mr. Pierre for taking the stand he took. There will be many who lob insults at him and question his intelligence. They will find "proof" that nothing about the Post is racist and the coverage flap has nothing to do with race. And then they'll move on, secure in their belief that the media doesn't have a race problem.

And Robert Pierre and I will keep chugging along.


WNG said...

blood pressure medicine is expensive...

Big Man said...

I think your blood pressure rises more when you hold certain thoughts inside. This cat has the right idea.

Kevin said...

As a journalist myself, I totally get and agree with you and with the brother from the post. By the way, what has been your take on CNNs Black in America series that was yesterday and today? Me, nothing new. But glad the conversation is out there.

Big Man said...

I've avoided the Black in America thing. I didn't think I would learn anything from a television show on the topic. TV lacks the ability to dissect a subject that vast and complicated. Plus, this week is Vacation Bible School at my church. lol.

A.F. said...

That phrase "speaking truth to power" annoys the living hell out of me because, unfortunately, power creates truth, and the white male patriarchy considers itself "objective" while all the rest of us are "subjective" and that just drives me crazy. Thanks for creating the venue to say that bc that sentence that has been driving me crazy for a very long time :)

the uppity negro said...

@Big Man

What is your (succint) definition of racism? And what is your definition of prejudice?

My friend was having trouble with this idea of "speaking truth to power" and I tried to make it make sense, and then I realised it didn't. It's an equally popular phrase when it comes to liberals even in the context of the church; many social justice advocates believe their preaching is "speaking truth to power."

I heard someone recently say, that we shouldn't be "speaking truth to power" but rather "speaking a truth that empowers."


Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

The story on that link was great. It reminded me of that ridiculous story of the bulimic, comatose woman on life support who was covered to the point that you wanted to puke.

Bravo for Pierre! I hope he doesn't lose his job. Milton Coleman, a black journalist, is the Deputy Managing Editor there. If you google his name with Jesse Jackson, you'll see what I mean.

Big Man said...

I know the story of Milton Coleman. You can't be black and in journalism without hearing that story.


I define racism as "a system of benefit based on race."

I define prejudice with the basic dictionary definition.

Raving Black Lunatic