Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Maynard Institute: Spurned Columnists Question Selection Process for Obama Meeting

President Barack Obama's move to reach out to African-American columnists brought nothing but anger and resentment to members of tghe group who had their invitations to the meeting revoked, Richard Prince wrote today for the Maynard Institute.

The role of the White House in selecting the interviewers, and whether group representatives were complicit in granting the White House such a role, has been called into question.

President Obama met Friday in the Roosevelt Room with 10 members of the Trotter Group as part of his effort to shore up his African American base for the midterm elections next month.

The meeting was fraught with symbolism. The Trotter Group was named after activist Boston editor William Monroe Trotter, a militant figure of the early 20th century. Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson explains on the Trotter Group site:


On Oct. 8, Trotter Group co-founder DeWayne Wickham, a columnist for USA Today and Gannett News Service, told Trotter members that Obama wanted to meet with the group on Oct. 15.

The group has 40 members, and Wickham, who negotiated the meeting with the White House, told members later in the day, "The White House has just asked me to limit the number of Trotter members taking part in the meeting with President Obama to 16. So I sent to the White House the names of the first 16 Trotter members who responded."

The Journal-isms author, who is in Washington, was among those on the list of 16 and had planned to invite readers to suggest questions. Other columnists on the list made preparations for a trip. On Monday afternoon, however, Wickham messaged, "Unfortunately, the White House has asked us to reduce the number of Trotter members who will attend Friday's meeting with President Obama from 18 to 10 — and to limit it to the founders and newspaper columnists." There was no explanation of how the number had risen to 18.

Wickham and another co-founder, retired Newsday columnist and editor Les Payne, pared the list, Wickham said.

It was unclear how much the White House participated in vetoing or approving certain members. Kevin S. Lewis, who started as White House director of African American media only a week ago, did not respond Monday to questions from Journal-isms.

What was clear, however, was that not all members were involved in the decision and that those who were suddenly cut were disappointed, embarrassed and inconvenienced.

An e-mail from George E. Curry, a veteran journalist who opines for the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, which serves black newspapers, and for the Philadelphia Inquirer, indicated that the White House did play a role in shaping which members were invited. That would be contrary to the practice in pool-reporting situations, where the news organization, not the White House, determines who is in the pool.

In an electronic discussion among those who were not invited, Curry said:

"I am also deeply dismayed over how an announced selection process was abandoned in mid-stream, evidently because the names of certain people were not included on the list.

"When DeWayne initially announced that participation would be limited to 18 people and they were selected in the order in which they replied to the invite, I thought it would be unfortunate if all of us could not attend, but that was a fair way of deciding who should attend.

"However, fairness was quickly thrown out of the window when DeWayne said he and Les decided on a list of names that he sent to the White House before even letting us know of their decision. As one of the first to reply, I was pleased that I was on the first list. However, it was no fun learning that I had been deleted from the list because, according to DeWayne, he and Les wanted to make sure the founders were included in the group.

"Like Richard, I did not know there [were] two separate but unequal membership levels in the Trotter Group," Curry continued, referring to this columnist.

"DeWayne first told me I was being eliminated because the White House asked him to 'limit it to the founders and newspaper columnists.' I doubly qualify as a newspaper columnist: 1) As a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and 2) As a columnist for the NNPA, a federation of more than 100 Black newspapers. When I questioned the decision, I received a different explanation: The White House 'expressed a lack of interest in having an NNPA person in our reconstituted group since the president is planning to meet soon with the NNPA and other units of the black press.' It stretches the imagination that a White House that is finally reaching out the Black community would specifically ask that the person whose column is syndicated to more Black newspapers than anyone else in the country should be specifically excluded from participation.

"Furthermore, I do not work for the NNPA and therefore will not be included in any meeting Obama has with the publishers. If in fact that were the case, I still would qualify by virtue of my writing a column for the Inquirer and being among the first to respond."

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