The Color Of Journalism p.11

By: Allan Wolper THE 20 African-American faces along the courthouse wall were waiting patiently to reclaim their seats when they spotted some reporters strolling through the front door.
"Here come the manipulators," jeered one man, who identified himself only as Shango. "The white media. You here to misinterpret things?"
"The white press was part of the cover-up," added John Joyner, a Brooklyn man standing with Shango. "They haven't told the truth about what happened."
The African-American contingent is a daily presence at the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., state Supreme Courthouse where Steven A. Pagones, an assistant New York state attorney general has filed a $150 million defamation suit against the Rev. Al Sharpton, C. Vernon Mason and Alton H. Maddox Jr.
The black courtroom spectators start their trek at 7:30 a.m. on a chartered bus in Brooklyn, a 90-minute ride to state Supreme Court when the roads are clear, as a show of support for Sharpton, Mason and Maddox.
Pagones sued the three black activists after they repeatedly accused him 10 years ago of being part of a group of white law enforcement officers who abducted, raped and sodomized Tawana Brawley, then a 15-year-old black high school student.
Brawley was found on Nov. 28, 1987, outside a housing complex in Wappinger Falls, N.Y, curled up inside a plastic garbage bag with dog feces and racial slurs scrawled over her body. Her charges stoked New York City's smoldering racial fires and created revulsion and front-page headlines here and across the country.
Bill Cosby offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to Brawley's captors. Prize fighter Mike Tyson pledged $50,000 to pay for her college education.
But a seven-month grand jury investigation found that Brawley and her advisers had orchestrated a hoax. It exonerated Pagones, then an assistant Dutchess County district attorney.
The grand jury's conclusions were apparently shared by some of the most influential African-American journalists in New York and throughout the country. But the black courtroom spectators don't believe the reports in the mainstream press ? even when written by minority reporters ? so they are attending the trial to analyze "the true facts" of the case for themselves.
"Tawana didn't do it to herself," Pearl Hutchinson of the Bronx said, dismissing the grand jury report. We can't trust the white press to tell us what is going on."
Her suspicions, and those of her neighbors and friends who trek to Dutchess County, are reinforced by black newspapers and radio stations, many of which saw the grand jury investigation as a coverup that victimized Brawley a second time.
Wilbert Tatum, CEO of the weekly Amsterdam News, one of the nation's most influential African-American newspapers, contended that the case has exposed black journalists as highly paid fronts for mainstream papers intent on attacking Brawley and her advisers.
"The white press was bad enough, but black reporters on white newspapers were even worse, believing that they had to legitimize their presence as reporters on white newspapers by becoming the meanest, toughest, most critical reporters on and about this sordid case that has shaken Black America," Tatum wrote in a recent Page One editorial.
Tatum refused in a subsequent interview to identify the black journalists he was criticizing, but claimed they attacked Brawley simply to survive in white journalism.
"I know a lot of them put their names on things that they don't believe in," Tatum said. "The trial has either been underreported or misreported. "There would be no need for black papers if the white ones reported things fairly and accurately."
Tatum said blacks don't believe the grand jury report that cleared Pagones because it was produced by a criminal justice system they don't trust.
"I think something terrible happened to Tawana Brawley," Tatum said. "I believe her when she said she was raped. But there is no proof one way or the other."

Columnists Line Up
Minority columnists in the New York City area, however, have judged Brawley and her advisers guilty of concocting a tale of abduction and assault that hurt only those accused of the alleged attack.
Stanley Crouch, a Daily News columnist, believes New York's black media should have been more skeptical of Brawley's story when it first surfaced.
"No one raised a serious question," Crouch wrote. "The lie got all the support it needed which I found ? and still find ? a serious disservice to the Afro-American community," Crouch wrote.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the trial was a "revival of the festival of ignorance and hate that had its first long run in the 1980s. Herbert concluded that Brawley's advisers "sacrificed her own interests in favor of their own reckless desire to exploit our tragic and pathetic obsession with race."
He refused, however, to respond to Tatum's attacks on African-American journalists who ridiculed Brawley's claims.
"My feelings about the case were in the column that I wrote," Herbert said in a telephone interview. "My feelings about it couldn't be clearer. I am not interested in all that other stuff about [the black role in mainstream media] and have never been interested in it."
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Daily News columnist and former Times reporter, is pained that the case is being rehashed again.
"The story especially resonated among many older blacks for whom it conjured memories of their own experiences or those of people they had known, in a time when Klansmen and other rabid racists raped, tortured and lynched blacks at will in rural Southern towns," Shipp wrote.
Shipp, one of six Times reporters who collaborated on a 1990 book, Outrage: The Story Behind The Tawana Brawley Hoax, went to the trial's opening to see whether Maddox could back up his claim of new evidence. "But for naught," she wrote.
Vanessa Williams, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, recalled how black journalists who had embraced Brawley's story eventually distanced themselves from it. "As more information came out, people began feeling uncomfortable about it," said Williams, a Washington Post reporter. "It was a story that was made up that just got out of hand. Right now, no one around here is talking about it."

Brawley Testimony?
Brawley, who refused to cooperate with the original grand jury investigation, encouraged speculation she would end her silence when she returned to New York two weeks after the defamation trial began.
"If I had read everything I heard about said about me in the last 10 years, I would think it was a hoax too," she told 800 people crammed into the Bethany-Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Dec. 2. "But it happened to me. I'm not a liar. I'm not crazy."
Pointing to the reporters and photographers clustered in the church, she said: "For 10 years, they were lying to you. You should feel that the hoax was pulled on you. They write that it didn't happen, that it's a hoax. Then why are they here? . . . They know that something happened, and they know who did it."
Pagones sued Brawley, in addition to her advisers, and won a judgment against her by default when she refused to answer subpoenas for her testimony. He promised to withdraw his claim if she testified at the trial, but so far there was no indication she would.
"It would be fantastic if she would testify," said Michael A. Hardy, the attorney for Sharpton, standing outside the courtroom after a day of testimony. "But I don't think she will because most rape victims don't like to go through cross-examinations.
"I don't know why Steven Pagones didn't take the grand jury report that exonerated him and gone on with his life. This is just about going after Tawana's advisers, rather than finding out what happened to her over a 90-hour period 10 years ago."
William P. Stanton, Pagones' lawyer, said Brawley would have to volunteer to testify because she lives out of state and cannot be subpoenaed.
"If she would just come in and tell the truth, it would certainly be helpful to us," Stanton said. "It would vindicate my client."
Glenn E. Rice, a 33-year-old police and urban affairs reporter for the Kansas City Star, says Brawley's "testimony is essential" to African Americans consumed by the case. "People are dying to find out what happened," said Rice, an NABJ board member. "They don't trust the criminal justice system. It seemed far-fetched to think she made it up, but at the same time folks do lie."
Roxanne Jones, a senior editor at ESPN Magazine and a former police reporter in Danbury, Conn., suggested Brawley testify by videotape.
"I'm not sure what happened," said Jones. "I'd like to see it resolved once and for all. As a reporter, I want her to testify. The media have already decided which way the story is going to be written. But the community still has a lot of questions."
Clem Richardson, a deputy metropolitan editor for the Daily News who covered the story for Newsday 10 years ago, sees no reason why Brawley would testify. "She can't change her story now," he said. "She said what she said, and now she has to live with it."
Her advisers, now accused of defamation, have a lot more to worry about, Richardson says, adding, "What they said happened to Tawana clearly did not happen."
Robin D. Stone, NABJ's vice president/print and a senior editor of Essence magazine, says mainstream papers owe it to the black community to keep abreast of the Brawley story.
"A large number of blacks still believe her," said Stone, a former New York Times lifestyle editor. "The media shouldn't dismiss that. If nothing else, you owe it to your readers to explore that so you can determine why so many of them believe that Tawana is telling the truth."
Brawley, now 25, changed her name to Maryam Muhammad in a Chicago Muslim service presided over by Louis Farrahkan, head of the Nation of Islam. She is reportedly living around Washington, D.C.

Mostly white newsrooms
Black journalists angrily deny Tatum's contention that they curry any special favors from their mostly white editors ? while acknowledging they still have to fight newsroom stereotyping of minorities.
"Bill Tatum's complaint is an easy spin to put on things, an easy accusation to make," said Robert Anthony, a senior writer for PC magazine and a former president of the Deadline Club, the New York Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "But you have to be a good journalist to survive."
Roxanne Jones agreed and noted that minority journalists offer an important perspective in mainstream newsrooms. "It takes a lot of courage to speak up, but it is the best chance of finding your own way," she said.
But Clem Richardson of the News says the increase of minority faces in mainstream newsrooms has peaked.
"No one thinks that there is any racism anymore," Richardson said. "So they treat you any way they want to. The number of black reporters are going down, here, and everywhere else. It's frustrating. But I can't complain. I love my job and I'm well paid.
In 1990, Tawana Brawley attended Howard University, where she was greeted with front-page headlines in the student newspaper. But this time around there hasn't been a single story. "Students aren't talking about it," said Natalie Moore, editor of the Hill Top, the campus newspaper.
Moore, meanwhile, has interned at the Detroit News and plans to join a black newspaper after getting some experience in mainstream journalism.
"I think integration has hurt the black community," she said. "We all got caught up in the American dream. I think as a black person. I think as a black journalist. I want to make a difference."
?(Allan Wolper, professor of journalism at the Newark, N.J., campus of Rutgers University, covers the student press and
more for E&P.) [Caption ]
?(E&P Web Site: Htt://www. mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 7, 1998) [Caption]


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