The Washington Times ran a story yesterday by columnist Joseph Curl entitled: Obama Snubs Black Press. The Huffington Post unfortunately chose to trumpet these gossipy grumbles as well.

I watched the primetime press conference. There were certainly more black folk in the audience than I’ve ever seen before plus some black photogs in the back. DC is a status-oriented town and the article spends a lot of words on who was seated in which row. Yawn.

After the first black president completed his first prime-time press conference, the black press was red hot.

“We were window dressing,” said Hazel Edney, a reporter with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press of America. “We were nothing more than window dressing.”

As the media filed into the stately White House East Room on Monday night, the reporter was shocked to find herself in the front row. Alongside her were the top news agencies, Associated Press, Reuters; also up front, 86-year-old Helen Thomas, who started covering presidents 50 years ago.

Alongside the most prominent journalists in America was Tiffany Cross from Black Entertainment Television. Like Miss Edney, she didn’t know why she was in first-class while all the television networks – every single one – was exiled to the steerage compartment.

“I really don’t know why I’m up here,” Miss Cross said with a shy smile.

While most on the front row got to pose a question to President Obama, the two reporters from the black press did not. Nor did any other black-press reporter, for that matter.

“This was like Reagan, when he’d put all the blacks up front,” said another prominent but visibly peeved black-press reporter who asked to remain anonymous. “He oughta’ be ashamed.”

The new seating arrangement miffed a lot of reporters. In years past, the front row, usually nine or 10 seats, was peopled with the three main wires, the five big networks, Miss Thomas and, sometimes, a big newspaper, like the New York Times or USA Today.

From my perspective, this is poppycock. Obama’s team is clearly experimenting with shaking up the status quo and working to integrate the White House press corps with some new energy and representatives from key constituent outlets. That’s right on. There was also a good ratio of female to male journalists especially those that were called upon by Obama. According to the article:

The president ticked through all the usual suspects, calling on the three wires and all five networks before hitting The Washington Post and New York Times, both of whom sent black reporters. The only other question from outside the box was from NPR.

What the article fails to say is that Obama did call toward the end on Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post who happens to be black. That was cool. Less cool is that Fletcher used his question to ask about A-Rod’s drug use. This was a primetime press conference about the economic stimulus package and the crisis it is designed to ameliorate. I do not care about A-Rod or baseball right now and Fletcher didn’t represent. As a people, we are as engaged as any other American in this conversation and frankly are hit harder than other demographics by some of the trends. So that was an eye-rolling disappointment for me at least.

So I’m not sure what this article is really about and what it’s trying to achieve. The “black press” was not snubbed but in fact honored by receiving front row seating and through receiving an opportunity to ask a question. Guess it depends on how you define “black” and “press”. Trying to sow controversy and division among black folk? Homey don’t play that.

I was pleased to hear questions allowed from Huffington Post and NPR. Here’s a slice of the HuffPo question on whether the Obama administration is going to go after crimes committed during the Bush regime:

While Mr. Obama didn’t call on Mr. Schultz in the front row, he did skip giant national newspapers like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal in favor of the Huffington Post, which didn’t disappoint.

“Sam Stein, Huffington Post. Where’s Sam?”

“Right here.”

“There. Go ahead.”

“Today, Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that before you turn the page, you have to read – read the page first. Do you agree with such a proposal? And are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?”

The first post-partisan president paused, then answered. “My view is also that nobody’s above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.”

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