UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 10, 2009

OBAMA PUTS BLACK REPORTERS IN FRONT ROW, THEN IGNORES THEM

Joseph Curl, Washington Times - 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. . .

Obama called reporters from a list on the podium, and reporters buzzed afterward about how he didn't seem to know a single reporter he called on - at least in the front row.

"And let me go to Jennifer Loven at AP," the president said, looking to his left, and then back a row or two before finding the AP reporter front and center, about eight feet from the podium. "Ah, there you are."

"Caren Bohan of Reuters?" he said after finishing a long economics tutorial. He looked left and right before finding the red-headed reporter - right next to Miss Loven.

"All right. Chuck Todd. Where's Chuck?" Mr. Obama said before finding the goateed reporter in the third row. "Ed Henry. Where's Ed? CNN. There he is," he said shortly after Mr. Henry stood up. "Major Garrett. Where is Major?" he said before finding the reporter back in the cheap seats. . .

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