04 April 2011

An open letter to Robert Vinson Brannum

Photo from Brannum for School Board.

Dear Robert Vinson Brannum:

You were robbed.

The City Paper named fellow Ward 5 gadfly Kathy Henderson "DC's Best Message Board Rabble Rouser."

That was your award all the way. You know it, I know it, Kathy probably knows it too. Let me tell everyone else why.

You write something called the "Ward 5 Examiner" for the examiner.com website, the online companion to the Washington Examiner newspaper. I would assume that means that this online column (the kids these days would call that a "blog," which we'll see later is somewhat important) would "examine" matters in Ward 5, but it's increasingly been a vehicle for you to rage against the machine, as it were. What machine is that? How about whomever is disagreeing with you, which seems to regularly be the Washington Post, or whatever other media bogeyman gives you the vapors.

Let's examine one of your most recent dispatches, shall we?


To Gray to Brown to Thomas to Lanier to Whiting
That's an interesting title. It makes me wonder where that chain starts (i.e., what goes "To Gray"?)
“Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. . . . The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . .Only as we rise . . . do we encounter opposition.” “Don’t be despondent…measure yourselves from the depths from which you have come…”

Frederick Douglas
Mr. Douglass spelled his name D-O-U-G-L-A-S-S. Not a huge deal, but that might be important later on. Let's keep that in mind.
Recent news articles targeting D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Chairman Kwame Brown, Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr., Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, and Ms. Cherita Whiting are clearly designed to send a message to District residents about political power and control.
That they are in power and in control?
Moving past the effort to inform the public, The Washington Post and several reporters have that evangelical feeling they know what is best for the people of the District of Columbia, particularly African Americans.
Who are these "several reporters" you refer to? It would be helpful to cite them and their work so we know what you're talking about here. I get the feeling, though, that you're about to get evangelical on us. Am I right?
Led by The Washington Post, reporters, along with their favorite "bloggers" are attempting to frame District's current political leadership as inept and incompetent. In a show of institutional arrogance, The Washington Post apparently feels it is best situated to explain and to define African Americans in the District of Columbia. The clear effort here by The Washington Post is to dilute, if not ignore the historical contributions of District African Americans and to sever its bridge to the future of Washington.
Are we talking about the bridge that African Americans are crossing to the future of Washington, or the bridge that the newspaper is crossing? Not clear where you're going here. If you mean to note that both are declining in clout, duly noted.

And could you name these bloggers you're speaking about? If you're going to use a public platform to accuse someone of misanthropy, you might as well call them out by name!
The Washington Post, several other reporters, and bloggers who cover District politics need to come to the realization people other than they can write with a flair and have it sting with wit.
I take it you believe that you're one of these other people, right? Bring on the wit, Mr. Brannum!
The particular challenge they have is to be accurate, fair, and consistent. How can reporters write Mayor Gray “sucks” and hope to retain credibility or expect to maintain respectability in the eyes of the public?
Good question. Again, please cite. This is the Internet. You can link to things.
Some reporters and bloggers new to the District of Columbia may be separated by birth and education; possibly unseasoned by life experiences; or uninformed of the rich legacy of the District.
In other words, if you're young or not a "Native Washingtonian," you don't have the right to comment on such things. In your humble opinion, of course, correct?
However, The Washington Post newspaper company should know better and have a greater respect for the positive legacy of the District's culture, community servants, and appreciation for the lessons learned from its troubled past.
I have a feeling that there was a modifier missing in here. Reading between the lines, I think you wanted to insert "African American" between 'District's' and 'culture,' correct? That was your thesis earlier—that the Washington Post wasn't respectful of African Americans. I just want to make sure that you're staying on-topic.
In marking the recent passing of Mr. David Broder, The Washington Post wrote Broder was,"... among the top four best and most influential journalists, ... "the most unpredictable, reliable and intellectually honest columnist working today," ... "while the journalistic pack is pestering a flack, Broder is out with the people; no one gets a better sense of the pulse of American opinion." Mr. Broder's high standard of reporting, respect, and professional dedication seems wanting in the current internet age.
Remember above where I mentioned that you misspelled Frederick Douglass' last name? That would be an example of where you could apply a "high standard of reporting" or "professional dedication." You really didn't, though. Food for thought while you denigrate what you perceive as flaws in the accuracy of others.
And I'm curious why you're knocking Internet-based reporting. That's the medium you operate in, right, which your Examiner blog and your Twitter feed? Is your work above that critique?
Budget reductions undertaken by management at The Washington Post have had a greater negative impact on retaining an experienced pool of editors and journalists. Staffing cuts seem also to have diminished its institutional memory on how the District has progressed as a government and a city with civic pride and diversity.
I'll mostly agree with you on this one. It's a critique that applies to all media entities these days, I'd argue. From national television networks down to community newspapers, the loss of experienced reporters is a shame, but there are many young reporters stepping up and doing great work on their own. A lack of institutional memory can also mean the media is looking at stories with fresh, unbiased eyes. 
The Washington Post proposes the idea older African Americans are incapable if clear comprehension, independent judgment, and are unable to progressive thinking to improve the quality of life in the District.
See, this is where you fall off the rails, Mr. Brannum. You talk about "clear comprehension" in a sentence that has typographical and grammatical errors. I think I get the gist of what you're trying to say here, but if you had proofread it, it might have made a little more sense to me and the readers you're trying to communicate with. The fact of that matter, though, is that the Washington Post never makes this assertion. Your fevered imagination just made it up.
In its coverage of District politics, and culture, The Washington Post has become too detached from the people of the District of Columbia to see truth.
Whose culture, Mr. Brannum, and which people? I'll gladly fault the Post for not covering DC politics in-depth enough for my taste, but I'm not sure that you or I are entitled to our own definitions of "the truth."
The disturbing and prevailing view of The Washington Post and its journalist consorts is “the old gang” Washingtonians are no longer relevant to the life, culture, and vibrancy of Washington.
I guess it would be disturbing if you're a member of "the old gang." If you're a fresh face, or someone who doesn't enjoy connections to the "old boys club," then I think you would feel differently. Either way, there is no one group that can claim to be THE culture of Washington. This is a large city with a diverse population. Washington, DC, has given us both go-go and hardcore punk—it's a multi-faceted culture here.
In their perspective, generations of Washingtonians, especially African Americans, who sacrificed and fought to bring to the District limited self-government, voting rights, worked to bring people and communities together, and did not abdicate the city during hard times should not be heard, seen, or respected.
If you can find me a Washington Post story that actually says that, or even alludes to that, it'll be the first time that I actually will have read it in the local press. I've never seen anyone even remotely say, "African American voices should be ignored." Find it for me, and I'll give $100 to the charity of your choice. I promise.
The Washington Post and reporters; for their readers and the public, demand professional standards, excellence in work, and a higher ladder of ethics for public officials. And they should. However, the public demands The Washington Post and reporters write to a higher professional standard, exercise a greater commitment to excellence, and have an equal high ladder of ethics.
I don't know a single reporter who writes about local issues that doesn't aspire to get the story right. It sounds to me like you're just angry that the people you support aren't getting a free pass when the news about and around them gets less-than-rosy.
(And what's this ethics "ladder"? Never heard that phrase.)

The people of the District of Columbia deserve better from the media and The Washington Post. So too do Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown, Councilman Thomas, Chief Lanier, and Ms. Whiting.
One last thing—when has the press coverage of Chief Lanier been anything but fawning? The press loves her. The people of DC love her. Outside of the head of the police union, I've never seen anything overtly negative written about her, so I'm not sure why you lump her in with the group of folks who have been in the news lately for ethical missteps.

In the end, Mr. Brannum, your complaint boils down to one thing—the Washington Post isn't fawning over your preferred set of elected officials. You have a blog where you can promote a differing opinion. Yet you rail against people who dare to hold an opinion that differs from yours, often on blogs, just like how you communicate with the world. It's bizzarely circular logic, and it's ultimately hypocritical.

You were robbed.

01 April 2011

Strange logic in the Current's endorsement

I've sung the praises of the Current Newspapers before. But last week's endorsement in the at-large council race was baffling, to say the least.

The editorial discussed five candidates for the office (Vincent Orange, Patrick Mara, Joshua Lopez, Sekou Biddle, and Bryan Weaver), and for the most part discussed the positives that they felt each brought to the table. Using a process-of-elimination-style rubric, they came to the decision that Bryan Weaver was the best candidate of the bunch...

...and then proceeded to endorse Sekou Biddle.

What would make them endorse a candidate they don't think is the best for the job?

The "logic" was that Bryan Weaver, though having the best grasp on the issues and being "the most knowledgeable challenger [they] have interviewed over the past 16 years," is not well known outside of his home neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Because of a higher profile, they endorsed Biddle. Not because of any belief that he'd actually be a better council member.

The Current distributes their papers in every neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park, as well as most areas west of Georgia Avenue east of Rock Creek Park. From Logan Circle, north to Shepherd Park, west to the Palisades, and back down to Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, the paper reaches many neighborhoods and many potential voters.

The Current's website claims a weekly delivery of 52,874 papers, and also claims that "over 95 percent of the adults who receive the Current on their doorsteps read it, one of the highest levels our circulation auditors have found in the entire country." If that's true, then upwards of 50,000 people read the editorial written last week. That would mean 50,000 people are now at least somewhat familiar with Bryan Weaver, and that's more than enough voters to win an the upcoming special election.

Of course, not everyone who read their endorsement will agree with it, and not all will even vote. But what is an endorsement if not a persuasive article? One can persuade without the object of the action being intimately familiar with the subject matter. In fact, a good persuasive argument would lay out facts for the uninitiated in such a way that they would feel both educated and convinced that the right conclusion has been reached by the one doing the persuading.

Either the Current's editorial board didn't really believe that Bryan Weaver is the best person for the job, or there is some other reason for making their choice. Claiming that he's not well enough known really isn't a sufficient excuse for declining to endorse. Part of the paper's job is to make the candidates known to the public.

Sekou Biddle's campaign has had a full-column advertisement opposite the paper's editorial for many weeks. As of the March 10th campaign finance filling, the Current had earned over $4,000 in advertising from the Biddle campaign. I'm not accusing the paper of a quid pro quo, but it's interesting that the they would sing the praises of one candidate, then turn and endorse the candidate whose campaign has spent more money than all others in their paper.