"Will race be an issue in this campaign?"
Hearing the cable talk-show host solemnly pose the question, I could not suppress a belly laugh.
For the anchor was fearful that some white folks might reject Obama because he is African-American — even as a Rasmussen poll was reporting that Barack is beating McCain among black voters 94 to 1.
What, other than race, explains how Barack rolled up 90-10 margins among black voters while running against Hillary Clinton, wife of the man novelist Toni Morrison dubbed "our first black president"?
Indeed, so one-sided was the primary coverage in favor of Barack as the first African-American with a real chance to be president, even "Saturday Night Live" took to mocking the mainstream media.
As for black radio, on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," "Michael Baisden Show" and "The Steve Harvey Morning Show," which together may reach 20 million folks, there is "little pretense of balance," writes Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times. "More often than not the Obama campaign is discussed as the home team."
Black Entertainment Television plans to carry Barack’s speech to the Democratic convention live, but has no plans to carry McCain’s. Barack’s speech "is an historic occasion," says BET Chairman Debra L. Lee, "so that demands some special treatment from us."
As the mainstream media have moved left and talk radio right, and cable is breaking down along political and ideological lines, there is something else afoot now — the racial Balkanization of the newsroom.
Consider. On Sunday, 6,800 folks showed in Chicago for the 2008 quadrennial convention of UNITY: Journalists of Color. McCain declined an invitation. Bush had been booed at UNITY 2004, while John Kerry got a standing ovation. Featured speaker: Barack. Major concern of the journalists running the show: that their colleagues would lift the roof off the McCormick Place convention center when Barack arrived.
Said Luis Villareal, a producer of NBC’s "Dateline," "I don’t think it’s such a bad thing if for 15 minutes you take off your reporter hat and respond to (Obama) as a human being at an event where you’re surrounded by people of color and you’re here for a united cause."
And exactly what "cause" might the 10,000 members of UNITY be united behind? The hiring and advancement of journalists of color in all major news organizations in America.
For, as its emblem depicts, UNITY comprises four alliances: the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists.
"A New Journalism for a Changing World" is UNITY’s motto. And the title of its July 22 press release reveals what the "new journalism" is all about. "Aim of New UNITY Initiative Is More Diversity in Top Media Management."
"With more than 50 percent of the population projected to be people of color in less than a generation," says UNITY President Karen Lincoln Michel, "the nation’s news organizations continue to generate dismal diversity numbers year after year. … ‘Ten by 2010’ is a significant step in the right direction."
What is Ten by 2010?
UNITY is demanding that 10 major U.S. news organizations, by mid-2010, elevate to a senior management position in the newsroom at least one journalist of color and provide "customized training to help prepare them."
The journalist may be Asian, African-American, Native American or Hispanic, which rules out journalists of Irish, English, Polish, Italian, German or Jewish ancestry, since they are white.
Is this what we have come to 50 years after the triumph of the civil rights movement? Flat-out demands, by American journalists, for the hiring and promotion of colleagues based on race and color?
Is there any evidence major news organizations in this country have engaged in systematic discrimination to keep out men or women of color this last half century? The reverse seems true. They have bent over backward to advance minority journalists.
And if journalists have been hired and promoted based on ability and merit, why in the 21st century should these criteria be thrown out as the standards for advancement — in favor of race and color?
Isn’t this what they did in the days of Jim Crow — hire and promote based on race? What UNITY is calling for is a return to the old rules but with new beneficiaries — blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans — and new victims, all of whom will be white.
On Sunday, McCain came out in favor of an Arizona civil rights initiative that would outlaw any state discrimination either for or against folks, based on race, gender or national origin. Barack said he was "disappointed" with McCain and told UNITY he favors affirmative action "when properly structured."
The Arizona referendum banning preferential treatment based on race is also on the ballot in the swing state of Colorado. It won in California in 1996, in Washington in 2000 and in Michigan in the great Democratic sweep of 2006. It has never lost, and may just win McCain Colorado, and with it the nation.