Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama as Jackie Robinson of our era?

It's an Unusual Sunday morning for me. I'm on vacation and not in church as I would normally be heading at this hour-- Sunday School to be exact.

But today I will be watching the live transmission of Barack Obama's forum at the UNITY Journalists convention. What was originally billed as a forum with both presidential candidates has turned out to be an appearance by one of the candidates as the one of the culminating events of the convention.

I commented earlier on the concept of having a live televised forum versus an off-the-record session with minority journalists.

Now, the Associated Press this morning has moved an interesting advancer on the ethical dilemma facing minority journalists-- do we cheer or remain dispassionate, objective observers?

The article posted on Editor & Publisher's Web site quotes Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts (who was honored this week by the National Association of Black Journalists) as saying the following in the A.P. story:

"Barack Obama is the Jackie Robinson of our era," said Pitts, the columnist. "There's no getting around that, there's no asking people not to respond to that. ... Journalists are recruited from the human race. And as long as they're recruited from the human race they're going to have emotions, and they're going to have feelings."

Yes, I know who Jackie Robinson- the baseball player is. But, does the fact that an African-American making history allow us as journalists to step out of our role as reporters and writers, fair and balanced as we cover one of the biggest stories of 2008 or our lifetime?

I say NO, even for those of us who are not working in daily journalists. While some of my professor colleagues- at the university have actively campaigned for one of the presidential candidates, as a journalist teaching students how to objectively cover the news, I can't afford to be a groupie or a political advocate.

I would suggest my colleagues at the UNITY convention, even if they are not turning (or publishing) a story on today's Obama forum, will be wearing their professional journalists hats at today's forum. It's not a pep rally for Obama.

But the issue of race once again has introduced an interesting dilemma for journalists of color-- who might personally carry some pride in seeing a black candidate make it this far while at the same time recognizing the candidate deserves the same objective vetting as any political candidate to be the leader of the free world.

We'll see what happens today.

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