- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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.

While the two wires were up front, Bloomberg News, which travels in every tight pool alongside AP and Reuters, was stationed in the second row. Of the networks, only CBS made that row. All but one of the others - ABC, CNN and NBC were in the third (while Fox News’ Major Garrett was dispatched to the fourth row, far to the right of the presidential podium).

Seated in that prime front row, though, were some newcomers. Along with reporters from NNPA and BET were Sam Stein of the archly liberal Huffington Post and Ed Schultz, star of the “Ed Schultz Radio Show,” an unabashedly liberal talk-show host, who boasts 3 million listeners dubbed “Ed Heads.”

Asked how he garnered the piece of prime real estate, Mr. Schultz said with a shrug: “I don’t know. They told me it was a random thing.”

“But it’s not bad being up front,” said Mr. Schultz, whose book “Straight Talk From the Heartland,” is touted on his Web site as having “laid a road map for the progressive wave that’s sweeping America.”

Although the packed East Room held 166 seats - with more than 100 others standing around the perimeter - two of the nine front-and-center seats were empty throughout the hour-long press conference. For some reason, no reporter from el Nuevo Dia, which Wikipedia says is “a newspaper written in Spanish based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico and distributed daily throughout Puerto Rico and some parts of the mainland United States,” bothered to take their seat next to Miss Thomas.

Salem Radio, a conservative radio station that is also part of the tight pool with the big wire services, also checked in and then never took their seat.

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