Sunday, July 27, 2008

UNITY Presidential Forum-- What Really Happened

Since my last posting, I had a chance to view in its entirety a tape recording of today's presidential forum at the UNITY Journalists convention. You sometimes get a completely different view of event after it has concluded than you get if you're reporting -- live blogging or posting as I was during or minutes after it is over.

You know, after watching this 43-minute affair, I've got to return to the same concerns I raised in my earlier posting two weeks ago about the value of an event like this for UNITY Journalists of Color.

During my live blogging this morning, I wondered if the four minority journalists groups were purposely rotating in asking questions. When it ended somewhat abruptly at 43 minutes after the hour, it was quite apparent why.

There was ONLY time for four questions from the audience. When you look at the tape and hear Suzanne Malveaux "tease" he topics of some of the four audience questions, it's quite clear that this was a carefully choregraphed, highly-produced forum, exactly the kind of event that many have criticized when it comes for live, made-for-TV campaign events.

Listening to some of the Barack Obama's answers, it was quite clear he was playing to the cameras, which took his message to the American voters instead of giving frank answers that he would have given in a closed-door, off-the-record session.

Presidential candidates don't have time to do off-the-record sessions, especially not after coming off a whirlwind trip to Europe and the Middle East. I doubt Obama would have bothered to show up if he was not going to be on in a live, televised event.

So, besides asking why John McCain did not agree to partipate, we have to ask what does UNITY Journalists of Color, Inc. get out of this?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, one of the four minority journalist groups participated in this alliance.

We can answer that question by looking at the topics that were addressed by the "questioners" (designated representatives of NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA)

Based on Brian Bull's question, we got one presidential candidate to articulate his position on reparations and apologies to minority groups.

Leonard Pitts' question forced Obama to clarify some of his positions on Muslims in the U.S.

It looks like at least one major newspaper has turned a story based on Pitts' question.

John Yang shined the spotlight on affirmative action and the presidential candidates' differeing positions on anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives.

And, Diane Solis' question about whether we should have more immigration allowed Obama to reiterate his position on immigration policy.

Besides these topics, many of which the hosts also asked follow-up questions, did we learn anything new?

Or, was that even the purpose of this gathering at the UNITY Convention? I'm trying to think if I had gone to the convention, would I have hung around to this forum on the last day of the conference and eventually come away feeling cheated?

The reality is most likely (and I have not spoken with officials at UNITY), CNN, by providing what it called "exclusive" live airing of this event, was in the driver's seat.

In reviewing the videotape, I noticed that Wolf Blitzer, host of the Sunday talk show, Late Edition (in which this program aired) had just enough time to do a quick "round-Robin" with his panel of reporters in the final 10-12 minutes of the hour. The show ended nice and neatly at 1 p.m.

As a TV producer, I am keenly aware of the timing necessary for a news broadcast.

But was that timing the BEST thing for the 6000 journalists of color? Our goal as journalists of color should not be to just ask the same questions that our colleagues ask, harp on the same issues over and over that our colleagues of the lighter hue address.

There's plenty of time for that. We've heard endless debates about immigration and the War in Iraq. The question about apologies for Native Americans began to go into NEW issues, which have received little or no coverage during the campaign.

Will there be a time for this kind of exchange?

Beyond the minority journalists' gathering, many of the American people are asking for more frank and honest exchanges between the candidates rather than made-for-TV network events (i.e. televised debate) that carefully orchestrated to only cover certain issues and, hopefully, win ratings.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

I was also not super impressed by the questions put to Sen. Obama.

You didn't mention Ms. Malveaux's questions in detail. I thought she spend too much time on Sen. Obama's recent trip, in light of all the attention and news scrutiny it had gotten over the previous week.

And at one point, the question was downright rude, asking if the candidate "had anything more to learn" about foreign policy. I mention this a bit more at http://dailybagel.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/prof-obama/ .