By: MARK FITZGERALD
MEMO TO FUTURE presidential candidates: Beware of making promises to the NABJ that you might not be able to keep.
Four years ago at its annual convention, then-candidate Bill Clinton promised the National Association of Black Journalists that if he were elected, he would return to a future convention from the Oval Office.
Since then, however, Clinton managed only a snafu-ridden satellite TV transmission at Unity ’94, the joint convention of NABJ and three other associations for journalists of color.
When the White House declined an invitation to its 21st annual convention in Nashville late last month, NABJ officials were miffed. Association president Arthur Fennell, an anchor with WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, repeatedly criticized the decision during early sessions of the convention.
By the time Republican candidates Bob Dole and Jack Kemp addressed the group on Aug. 23, the White House had changed its mind about skipping the convention, and arranged to have Vice President Al Gore address the group.
That still did not stop the criticism.
At the end of the Dole/Kemp speeches, Fennell pointedly told Dole, “We’ll ask the same tough questions of Vice President Gore. We’ll ask him where his running mate is.”
Indeed, when Gore appeared the next day, Fennell immediately asked him this question: “You will of course recall that four years ago then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton addressed this convention and promised he would return . . . . My question is simple: Where is the president?”
A somewhat flummoxed Gore ? who found himself stopped from his usual journalism group warm-up lines like jokes about his stiff style and recalling the obituary prank colleagues played on him when he was a cub reporter on the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s ? blamed the scheduling pressures of arranging Clinton’s train trip to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago the next week.
The reception was ironic not simply because Gore’s politics are more in tune with most NABJ members or because the vice president is a former journalist ? but because Gore was clearly better briefed about NABJ than Dole or Kemp.
Gore peppered his remarks with references to specific members, to the convention’s Internet-oriented theme and to the achievements of black journalists in general.
“I congratulate the black journalists who helped focus America’s attention on what has happened to these houses of worship,” Gore said, referring to the rash of arson at black and white churches in the rural South. n
?(Vice President Al Gore was well received at the recent Democratic convention (left), but he got an icy reception a week earlier at the annual NABJ convention. The cold reception afforded him by the black journalists was ironic not simply because Gore’s politics are more in tune with most NABJ members or because the vice president is a former journalist ? but because Gore was clearly better briefed about NABJ than Bob Dole or Jack Kemp, who also made appearances.) [Photo & Caption]