by Akeya Dickson
NNPA News Service
ATLANTA – "Get Out the Vote," a panel discussion at the National Newspaper Publishers Association annual convention, should have been renamed, "Get Out the Anger" as African-American newspaper publishers expressed strong displeasure over what they deemed the failure of President Barack Obama's administration to accommodate the needs of the Black Press.
"We don't think the president has ever spoken to us. He's spoken to the Latino community and he's been specific," said Robert W. Bogle, publisher of the Philadelphia Tribune and a former NNPA president. "This is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt that has not invited the Black Press to the White House (for an interview)."
Although President Obama has met several times with African-American newspaper publishers at the White House, he has never addressed an NNPA convention. The NNPA News Service has made repeated requests for a one-on-one interview with the president, but those requests have been denied.
Other African-American media outlets have had similar experiences. Heart & Soul magazine, a health and fitness magazine for women of color, offered to place Michelle Obama on the cover but they, too, were denied an interview with the first lady.
African-American media executives, many of them strong supporters of President Obama, are puzzled by President and Mrs. Obama's frequent appearances on late-night comedy shows yet his staff can't – or won't – find time for them to be interviewed by the Black Press.
Dorothy Leavell, immediate past president of the NNPA Foundation, which operates the NNPA News Service, and BlackPressUSA .com, said the last time the NNPA was granted an interview with Mr. Obama was before he assumed office.
"I have made several requests that we be allowed to have an interview. All 200 of us cannot get an interview with the president, that's unreasonable," she said. "But for a national organization such as NNPA to not be allowed to interview the president, that's unacceptable."
Disillusionment with the president and his staff is not limited to the Black Press.
"They feel that they're being taken for granted, they don't feel included," said Jaime Cain, publisher of the Times Weekly newspaper in Joliet, Ill. "I'm hearing, 'So when President Obama loses...' This is what I'm hearing in the community."
President Obama will certainly lose if he does not maintain a firm grip on the African-American vote.
That much was conceded by the panelists — Broderick Johnson, a campaign senior adviser to President Obama; Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP; and Julie Greene, deputy political director for the AFL-CIO.
"I also honestly won't apologize for defending the president's record," Johnson said. "So I'm Ok with people saying you're being kind of defensive about his record because I want to defend his record, that's my responsibility.
"And I hope that I'm conveying that there's a lot that the president is doing that needs to be articulated with your help in ways that your readers and your communities hear and appreciate," said Johnson. "So I hear you."
But some publishers said that record is not being effectively communicated.
Sonny Messiah Jiles, publisher of the Houston Defender, said: "We're trying to give you feedback from the ground up, this is not an attack. We're trying to educate you on how to shape our message because right now your message is not coming through to our readers or to the community. And in some cases, some of us aren't clear on what your message is."
Jiles wasn't the only one unclear about the message.
"Where's my information that you brought to me today? There are 200 newspapers here. What I'm saying is this is a public relations nightmare that you're hearing in terms of communication," said Jim Washington, publisher of the Dallas Weekly.
"Who is responsible in any of your organizations dealing specifically with the press in this room? You need to go back and say, 'You missed the opportunity.'"
Shelton, who said that he is on Capitol Hill and in the White House at least once a week, said that he has also witnessed a breakdown in communications.
"They don't know how to talk about all of the great things they've done. We do a better job at the NAACP of talking about what (President Obama) has done for us," Shelton said. "We talk about the health care bill. The first bill the president signed into law around health care was S-CHIP. Four million children added to the health care roll, 35 percent of them were African American. They should have claimed that victory. We did.
"I know Broderick (Johnson) gets it, but there are a lot of people in the White House press office who don't," said Shelton. And they're going to have to fix that problem."
Leavell said the problem has to be fixed from the inside.
"They need some of us in the campaign. I don't see anybody from my community in Chicago involved in the campaign downtown," said Leavell, publisher of The Crusader in Chicago and Gary, Ind.
"You better get out there. You better get us involved," said Leavell. "I'm going to vote, because I understand the importance of it. I know the sacrifices that were made. But our young people don't know, and will not come out if they are not involved. You need to get on the case."
(Akeya Dickson is a Washington correspondent for the NNPA News Service)