Obama snubs black media

by Betty Pleasant, Black Agenda Report

"Obama's people believe we black publishers should be promoting Obama's candidacy for free."

Owners and operators of African-American media outlets throughout the country have just about had it with the Barack Obama campaign.

Yes, they acknowledge the Illinois senator to be the darling of the race - the exalted Great Black Hope, the charismatic champion of change who is making history for the ages as he mounts a formidable bid to become the nation's first black president. But they chafe at his campaign officials' insensitivity to, and total disregard of, the folks who brought him this far and whom he needs to take him through the White House door: Black people.

Publishers and editors of African-American newspapers - the beacons who live and breathe the blackness of their communities and who regulate the pulse of black America - are fighting mad at what has now become blatantly clear to them: The Democratic Party doesn't give a damn about them. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign doesn't give a damn about them and, alack and alas, neither does the Barack Obama campaign.

Harboring decades of discontent about being ignored by Democratic presidential candidates (going back to Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry), the National Newspaper Publishers Assn. met on March 13 with the alleged shot-callers of the Obama, Clinton and even John McCain campaigns to vent their frustration at being constantly denied advertising revenue from and editorial access to the candidates. Speaking virtually in unison, the black publishers argued before Michael Strautmanis of Obama's campaign and Tracey Blunt of the Clinton campaign that the white media gets the campaign ads but the black doesn't; the white media gets interviews with the candidates, but the black doesn't.

"During the meeting, both Democratic camps acknowledged that their spending in the black community was anemic," said Pluria Marshall Jr., publisher of Los Angeles' Wave newspapers. "They admitted the need to spend money toward the African American market and that we were a good way to reach that market. Both camps agreed that they needed to start ads with us as soon as possible to reach the audiences that the black papers serve. I asked for the names of the people who are in charge of making decisions on advertising in our papers, and they assured us that we were looking at them; that they - Strautmanis and Blunt [both of whom are African Americans] - had the authority to make decisions about advertising in our papers," Marshall said.

"But they lied to us," said Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader and the Gary Crusader in Indiana. Leavell, who chairs the NNPA Foundation, said the meeting of which Marshall spoke was followed up with a smaller conference with Obama's guy, Strautmanis, who made a vow to hurry up and spend money on black papers in crucial states facing primaries in Pennsylvania on April 22 and North Carolina and Indiana, such as hers, on May 6.

"He promised he would get in touch with me in a couple of days to map out an advertising campaign and I haven't heard from him yet," Leavell said. "He gave us his cell number and I've called it repeatedly and gotten no response from him. I've even called the Fuse agency in St. Louis which is supposed to be handling Obama's advertising, but I have gotten no response from them either.

"They are the worst liars," Leavell continued. "Our papers are supportive of the Democratic Party but they have always taken us and our readers for granted. They spend millions on the white media and won't even spend petty cash on us."

Leavell said this present snub is the second time during this year's primary season that her newspapers have been rebuffed by Obama's campaign: "For the Illinois primary, they didn't spend a dime in my Chicago Crusader and here they're not doing it again - after promising they would - in my Gary Crusader. Gary is 90 percent African-American and we could be the margin of victory for Obama in this state, but his people believe we black publishers should be promoting Obama's candidacy for free."

Ernie Pitt, publisher of the Winston Salem Chronicle in a state also facing a crucial primary on May 6, has received no ads from Obama either. He said he, too, has made numerous unreturned calls to Strautmanis and to the Fuse agency about the promised advertising campaign. "Both the Clinton and Obama people made commitments to us and broke them. If they are making promises to us now and are not going through with them, what can we expect if they get to the White House?" Pitt asked. "This is an easy promise to keep," added Pitt, who is also the president of the North Carolina Black Publishers Assn.

Like the black publishers, this black reporter has left three days worth of messages for Strautmanis and Blunt and has received no response.

Lenora Carter, publisher of the Forward Times in Houston, is absolutely livid about what she characterizes as Obama's "total disrespect for the black press," and she takes it personally. "I have bills to pay!" Carter exclaimed. During the run-up to the Texas primary, Obama's campaign ran full-page ads in Houston's white-owned daily newspapers. "I raised hell about it and went through all the channels that resulted in the Fuse agency reluctantly buying two-1/2 page ads with us, but at a reduced price!" Carter said. "I was really mad when I learned my ad salesman cut our price to get that little action from Obama. We have bills to pay, just like white people," Carter continued. "You could see the money he was spending on TV ads. Every time you flipped the channel, there was Obama. They think that we as black people are so anxious to get a black president that we'll support him no matter what. So why waste money on us?" Carter said.

The Houston publisher also decried the lack of black access to Obama. "He came here in early March and nobody black could get to him," Carter said. "Blacks set up a headquarters for him here in the 3rd Ward at their own expense and he never visited it, and he ignored requests to visit the black radio station, which was located just six blocks from where he was staying. I'm incensed about all of this."

Gordon Jackson, editor of Molly and James Belt's Dallas Examiner, is deeply troubled by Obama's failure to interface with the black press. "It's been very difficult to get into the same room with the man," Gordon said. "Early in the campaign, we had a conference call with Obama and he committed to keeping in touch with us. He has not. He came through Dallas twice and each time we tried to gain admittance to his events, we were told it was private and no media was allowed. Yet, the white media reported it. Evidently, they were allowed.

"We were denied admission to two Obama events and one event with his wife," Jackson continued. "Shortly before the March 4 primary, I e-mailed all four of the Obama contact addresses ... for an interview with the candidate and never got one," Gordon said. "What I did get, however, is the sense that Obama's campaign does not see the importance of his talking to the black media. If he had come to the black media first," Gordon continued, "We might have been able to smooth over the Jeremiah Wright controversy somewhat, since Wright was scheduled for a Dallas event when that controversy hit the white media."

Gordon summed up the general consensus of the 15 black publishers interviewed for this story that Clinton's snub of the black press "does not surprise me." The broken advertising promises of the Clinton camp are not as painful for the black publishers as Obama's because they are aware of her limited campaign war chest; she doesn't have any money and, according to the white press, Obama has money and money's mama. Secondly, the black publishers tend to think Clinton is ceding the black vote to Obama and is aiming her limited funds toward winning the Latino vote, so she's getting a virtual pass on the publishers' rancor.

But Obama, on the other hand, is the full-body target of the publishers' unrelenting wrath. "I believe they have blacks in the Obama campaign who have no power," said Leavell. "I believe that somebody else - not Strautmanis, as he claimed - has decided Obama need not waste his time and money on obtaining the black vote," Leavell said. Gordon agrees, adding that "the Obama campaign is predominately white and they don't get it. His campaign officials do not have a clue as to the need to develop a relationship with the black media. They just don't get it."

Leavell fears that "If we're treated like this in the primary, there is very little hope that we'll be treated any better in the general election. With flagging enthusiasm, coupled with the growing sense of being ‘unnecessary' and ignored by the candidates, many of our black communities may not turn out to vote in November, no matter who's running."

While Obama and Clinton trade barbs about the bitterness of small-town white people, the whole Democratic Party may have to honestly address the growing bitterness of every town blacks.

article originally published at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=599&I....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey