- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

The National Association of Black Journalists is giving new meaning to the term “affirmative action.” Immediately after the verbal assault on the Rutgers basketball team following the women’s NCAA tourney, NABJ spoke out about the Don Imus affair, which became both the eye of a storm over political correctness and a new front in the culture war. If NABJ actually follows through with its ambitious plan to push the media toward taking a leading role to “really transform America” on the issue of race, then God bless us everyone.

The last time America had a national discussion on race was 1997, and it was at the behest of Bill Clinton. Prior to that was 1968 and the Kerner report, which concluded that there were two Americas: “one black, one white, separate and unequal.”

Today, with (legal and illegal) Hispanic populations growing at a rate that surpasses black America’s and white America’s, the need for further dialoguing might end up proving that how our “communities” speak to and speak about one another just might be, to borrow a popular euphemism, in the mouth of the beholder.

We can’t all just get along.

The year after the Clinton initiative, only one-third of us said that race relations had improved, accordingtoaCNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. Equally insightful was that 52 percent of us said relations are about the same, while only 34 percent of us weren’t even paying attention to the Clinton race initiative.

It should go without saying that we aren’t born of this world hating or even disliking other human beings. We usually reach a certain level of maturity and come to understand that some things — race, ancestry and nationality — are beyond our control.

Yet as Americans continue to mistakenly use quotas to battle imaginary discrimination, we must ask whether we, Americans, are helping or hurting ourselves.

Ignorance and lack of moral clarity can easily distract.

When people like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh use racially offensive language, we are morally obligated to speak out.

When people like Rosie O’Donnell and Snoop Dogg grab their crotches and say something offensive, we are morally obligated to speak out.

We can’t all get along, but we can all speak our minds like the civilized human beings we are.

That’s exceptionally true for journalists. Individually and collectively we should speak truth to power.

If I understand a recent column by the president of NABJ, Bryan Moore, that’s what the organization is encouraging journalists of all races and nationalities to do — seek and speak the truth. NABJ “will devote significant time to a major plenary” on race relations at its convention this summer. The heads of CBS and NBC have been invited, Bryan said. But not Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News Channel and chairman of its TV stations group. Why not Fox? If Fox — the most-watched cable news channel — isn’t invited, NABJ runs the risk of being accused of bias. What goes around comes around.

NABJ also will partner with the Maynard Institute on a project that will look at journalism in major markets — including Washington, Chicago and Houston — and “how the media covers African Americans.”

The power of the press is undeniable. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man and improving him as a rational, moral and social being.”

Coverage of the Imus affair has been viewed by too many as overblown. “Get over it” and “What about the rappers?” have been common critical threads. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has put in his 2 cents, and he received considerable media coverage after doing so. Mr. Simmons is urging recording and broadcasting industries to clean up offensive utterances. In other words, if the celebrities themselves won’t do it, then the bosses should do it for them.

Bill Cosby initially was greeted with silence when he said we weren’t holding up our end of the social redemption bargains delivered by the civil rights movement. Not long after speaking the truth that evening in May 2005, he drew heavy criticism. But, by the time the media had enlightened the minds of Americans, he had drawn the attention of people everywhere who are trying to do the right thing.

The power of the press.

The coming weeks and the next several months should be horrendously busy for NABJ, Bill Cosby, Russell Simmons and other culture warriors if they stand their ground.

News organizations don’t always see eye-to-eye with each other. Yet that’s one of the awesome aspects of journalism — disparate points of view. It’s one of the reasons my father, an artist and a libertarian, designed the logo for NABJ.

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