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Media Circus

While Rome Burns

By Tom Chalkley | Posted 11/15/2000

My two cents on Topic A: I suspect we've witnessed the first of many ultratight elections. Technology permits ever-closer calibration of voter sentiments, ever-finer analysis of the electorate, ever-narrower projections. It allows campaigns to microcast microadjusted messages to micromarkets. Thus candidates can parry each other, demographic by demographic, stacking up voting blocs like so many checkers. Eliminate such messy intangibles as principles, ethics, and personality, and voila! The Permanent Gridlock State, a two-party system locked into absolute equilibrium. Or not. The next election could be a landslide.

If I had a national political column, I'd have taken this 2-cent idea, tricked it up to 1,500 words, and taken my piece of post-election pie. Wonder why all the pundits seem so cheerful about this calamitous election? For them, it's a bonanza. For me, it's back to the minors.Good Times...

Two months ago I devoted an entire column to a profile of The Baltimore Times, which I contrasted favorably with The Baltimore Afro-American (Media Circus, 9/6). I praised the Times for its political independence, its challenging columnists, and its newsstand price, which is 0 cents. I neglected to mention that the Times has three sister publications serving Prince George's County, Annapolis, and the Eastern Shore. Give publisher Joy Bramble credit for ambition. And now, she has tapped somebody with talents to suit her expanding media fiefdom, hiring Anthony McCarthy to serve as the Times papers' associate publisher.McCarthy recently went through a short stint as editor of the Afro, followed by a shorter stint as top aide to City Council President Sheila Dixon. He's quite a catch--sophisticated, literate, politically adept, and experienced with media on many levels. Plus, as he joked in an interview, he loves Baltimore "to the extent that it causes many of my friends to be concerned." McCarthy moved here seven years ago, pursuing a seminomadic career in politics and journalism that has included service on the staffs of former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, now lame-duck U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and in the White House press office. In view of his brief tenures in his last two jobs, I asked McCarthy if the Times can count on him to stay a while. "I am here for the long haul, come hell or high water," he said, adding what might seem a subtle dig at his recent employers: "I've actually found a place where I feel at home . . . where I feel respected."

In his new post, McCarthy oversees both the editorial and business sides of the Times publications. He says he has bought into Bramble's vision (and the papers' slogan) of "positive stories about positive people," which he interprets as "empowering news about [the African-American] community...things people can use to improve their lives." He also wants to see bigger papers with expanded op-ed sections: "Our editorials are going to become much more exciting for people...These publications will call them as they see them, regardless of relations with politicians."

In the near term, however, McCarthy says he's focusing on the commercial side of the business. "I recognize that to go to the next level...to improve the quality of the publications, we have to expand our advertising base."

...Bad Times

Heartening as I find the McCarthy hire, I was disappointed to read, in The Baltimore Times' Oct. 20 edition, a column by staff writer R.B. Jones that began, "I am tired of white folks." mHaving seized my attention, Jones went on: "There are individual white people who are fine and fair-minded. There are white people who are anti-racism. . . . [B]ut in terms of a cultural group and ethnic segment of a pluralistic society, I am tired of white folks." As a life member of that demographic, it didn't soothe me to learn that the writer acknowledged that I might be "fair-minded" or "anti-racism." I just took offense.Brother Jones is entitled to his feelings. God knows I've had strong feelings, particularly in traffic, that cause me to momentarily blame the entire subdivision of humanity represented by the driver who just cut me off, tailgated, etc. Women! Punks! Geezers! Rednecks! But before I put such chemical reactions into words, much less print, I consider whether anyone's paying attention. I certainly don't say stuff like that to get attention, which is what Jones did. Maybe he drafted the offensive paragraph in the heat of the moment, but he kept it in the column for shock value. It added nothing to what followed, which turned out to be a wide-ranging screed against The Sun, something Jones could have accomplished without indicting the race to which most Sun brass belong. Jones was mad that Baltimore's paper of record dissed a friend of his, Kenneth Jackson, owner of the Eldorado Lounge strip club on West Fayette Street. Jones accused The Sun of racism for its treatment of Jackson, his criminal record, his political connections, and the nature of his business in its coverage of stories on the controversial west-side redevelopment.

Alas, to the extent that Jones had valid points to make, he lost them on readers (black or white) who are--to use Jones' terms--"fair-minded" and "anti-racism" and thus might have gotten stuck on that first paragraph. In the same stroke, he reinforced the prejudices of less thoughtful readers, including any white readers who are looking to validate their own racial resentments. Must I raise the obvious question? How far do you think I--or any other white writer--would get with a column that began, "I'm tired of black people"?

More obviousness: The basis of all racism is the impulse to make judgments about entire categories of people--that they're dumb, or lazy, or greedy, or lacking soul, or that, as a "cultural group and ethnic segment," they are racist. I won't call R.B. Jones a racist; I don't think he is one. I will even refrain from staying he's stupid; he's not. He just wrote one stupid-ass paragraph, to his, and his paper's, discredit.

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