Paul Delaney, a veteran print journalist, spent 23 years with The New York Times as an editor, reporter, and foreign correspondent. He began his career at two black-owned newspapers, the Baltimore Afro-American and the Atlanta Daily World, before moving on to a succession of other newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News in Ohio and the now-closed Washington Star. He was a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists and served as the chairman of the journalism department at the University of Alabama from 1992 to 1996.
At the very beginning of the new administration, and probably in a moment of hubris, Omarosa Manigault, an aide to President Donald Trump, promised that the first newspaper interview with the new president would go to a member of the black press. Nobody took her seriously. In fact, such a meeting has yet to occur, prompting me to think that, given the disastrous encounters with other black groups—such as black college presidents—perhaps it is best that such a meeting never happens.
As someone who began his career working for a black-owned newspaper, I’m well aware that those of us who have toiled in the black media are used to being ignored or mistreated by public officials. I never expected President Trump to meet with the black press. Like the community that spawned them, black journalists have always felt the sting of second-class citizenship.
The recent to-do between White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and April Ryan—the White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, a consortium of black-oriented radio stations—is an example. Spicer chided her as he evaded her question about a white man killing a black man in New York. “Stop shaking your head again,” Spicer hectored Ryan. There is nothing new about such patronizing, bordering on racist, behavior.
From the beginning—slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, lynchings, and discrimination of all types—reporters and editors from the black press took on the racism and the racists of the world, shining a bright spotlight on such evils as most of their counterparts in the white media took pains to ignore. In some cases, especially in the South, white reporters and editors encouraged the racist views of the day. At a conference of journalists a few years ago, keynote speaker Hodding Carter III observed that in the South during the 1960s, “the average Southern newspaper was … bigoted.” He should know. His family owned the Delta Democrat-Times, a rare liberal newspaper in Greenville, Mississippi.
Although black media was the stepchild of American journalism, it focused attention on many newsworthy acts that downtown dailies ignored. Black reporters working for black publishers and broadcasters tackled some of the worst cases of violence—and at times led the charge. I remember the pride of fellow staffers at the Atlanta Daily World after a campaign by the paper saved a black man from Georgia’s electric chair. And who can forget the chilling coffin photos of the mutilated body of Chicago teenager Emmett Till—who was lynched in Mississippi—published in Jet magazine.
During the current newsroom downturn that has seen dwindling numbers of readers, listeners, and revenue, the black press has taken a heavier hit than its white counterparts. How bad is it? One black publisher agonized over whether to accept advertising from the Trump campaign. She ended up rejecting overtures—and ad money—from the campaign.
“I could not in good conscience take the money,” she explained during a private dinner that I attended last year with a group of black journalists.
President Trump and most African Americans are off to a terrible start, not surprising given the heavy black vote against him and the atrocious gaffes he and his appointees continue to make regarding nonwhite folks. Given his actions and appointees thus far, black people have reason for deep distrust.
The few occasions of personal contact between President Trump and African Americans have been awkward and/or disastrous, enough to assume he will keep such intercourse to a minimum. During a White House meeting last month, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said he informed Trump that “his language describing African-American communities has been ‘hurtful’ and ‘insulting.’” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was one of first leaders to publicly call for Trump’s impeachment. What’s more, Waters was among a handful of members of Congress who refused to attend his inauguration and refused to join fellow black congressional leaders in attending the White House meeting.
Black media have kept up a constant drumbeat against the Trump administration; we can expect that to continue, and possibly intensify. One issue sure to bubble up repeatedly—meetings with President Trump. As a former colleague at The New York Times, E.R. Shipp, wrote in The Baltimore Sun:
So with nuts, neophytes and revisionists running the Trump asylum, one might wonder why 70 or so presidents, chancellors and advocates for historically black colleges and universities—HBCUs—accepted a “getting-to-know-you” White House invitation.
I suspect the same sentiment will apply to members of the black media, if they’re ever invited to meet with the president.
Paul Delaney is a former print journalist.