An attack on the freedom to criticize religion

Yes, a free press was attacked in Paris when gunman slaughtered cartoonists at the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper. But it was not just a free press that was attacked, and not enough people are recognizing that.

The freedom to choose a religion, along with the freedom to choose NO religion, was attacked in Paris. The freedom to criticize a religion was attacked. The freedom to be unbound by the dictates of a faith you do not share was attacked. The statement made by the terrorists was not about foreign policy or domestic policy. It was not about the use of force or respect for state authority.

This was about a group of people who decided that the feelings of their omnipotent friend were hurt, and who took it upon themselves to commit murder because someone ELSE did not follow THEIR religion’s mandates.

And that is unconscionable.

Freedom of religion does not oblige ME to live by the restrictions imposed by YOUR religion (nor does it oblige you to live by the restrictions — or allowances — of mine). If your faith says you can’t spell out the name G-d, well, then, by God, YOU don’t do that. But you don’t get to stop me. You don’t get to stop me from drawing a picture of Mohammed. You don’t get to stop me from picking up sticks on a Friday night, or picking up chicks on a Saturday night (although my wife’s religion might have something to say about that). You don’t get to stop me from eating shrimp or cheeseburgers. You don’t get to stop me from officiating at the wedding of two atheists, two Christians, two Jews, two Scientologists, two men or two women. You don’t get to decide that. And I don’t get to make you eat cheeseburgers or shrimp. I don’t get to make you attend a gay wedding.

Freedom is awesome that way.My Pen

But what happened in Paris — that was an attack on freedom from religion. We were just told, violently, that some ideas are not to be criticized, that when someone is revered by an intolerant few, that person must be respected by everyone, under penalty of death.

No. To hell with you. Not how it’s gonna work.

I have no trouble being respectful of anyone’s faith. Tell me not to make fun of the pope, and I won’t. Tell me not to make fun of the pope or you’ll kill me, and I’m gonna make fun of the pope. Or Mohammed. Or the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society in Brookyn. Or Pat Batcrap Crazy Robertson.

Religion has a privileged position in our society. It’s considered uncouth to mock it unnecessarily. LACK a religion, and you can be presumed immoral. LACK a religion, and you can be presumed arrogant or rude or full of yourself.

Maybe, but we don’t go around gunning people down for questioning evolution by natural selection.

No one else gets the privilege religion does. If you’re a Democrat, you don’t get to demand that people not criticize the Democratic Party. Same goes for Republicans. Same goes for fans of TV shows, musical genres, movies or anything else. You like Star Wars better than Star Trek? LET’S FIGHT! Only in religion do we suddenly tell people, Thou shalt not evaluate and critique what I believe. No matter how ridiculous it is (his strength was in his hair? AYFKM?). No matter how debunked it is (how many animals were on that boat?). We’re supposed to be respectful.

Or die?

No. To hell with you. Not how it’s going to work.

The right time to take a stand

There seems to be an undercurrent of opinion in some circles that black people are not allowed to speak on any issue until and unless they address particular issues within their own community. Concerned about police brutality? You can’t address that until you address black on black crime. Distraught that a seemingly clear case of excessive force resulted in (surprise!) a decision not to indict a cop? You can’t address that until you address the dissolution of black families and the raising of black children without their fathers in the home.

Preacher [Click on photo for source]

This patronizing, condescending, paternalistic attitude toward our black brothers and sisters has to end. We do not get to tell people when to voice their concerns. This is not a matter of “You don’t get to go to the movies until you clean your room.” We’re not their daddies. We don’t get to tell them when to talk or what to talk about.

If LeBron James wants to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, he can and should, and he should be prepared to defend his decision to wear it. The exchange of ideas is how we improve society. Telling him he should wear a shirt that says “Be a better father” is condescending in the worst way. When pro-lifers march for abortion restrictions, do we tell them to take care of the pedophile priest problem first? When the Tea Party marches for limited government, do we tell them to take care of white-on-white crime first? No. Why not? Because it’s irrelevant, that’s why.

Black-on-black crime is irrelevant to police brutality. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. White-on-white crime is irrelevant to securities fraud and tax evasion. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. Latino-on-Latino crime is irrelevant to illegal immigration. You don’t have to fix one to opine the other.

Let’s call it what it is: It’s non-black people putting black people in their place by telling them when they can protest, what they can protest about, and what hoops they have to jump through in order to earn the moral authority to protest to their moral superiors – the non-black elite.

There’s a word for that.

It pains me on a personal level to see Geraldo Rivera, someone I once considered an ally in the fight for equality in America and for fair coverage of racial issues in the media, become such an apologist for racist attitudes masquerading as deeper social concerns.

No one is excusing black-on-black crime. No one is excusing the deterioration of the family unit (among all races). But no one, NO one, has the right to tell black America “you can’t complain about this until you take care of that.”

Who the hell do you think you are?

Where’s THAT T-shirt?

Note: This post was written on my time and expresses my opinion. It does not reflect on my employer or my previous associations in any way.

Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

I was going to write a post on the Baked Alaskan, but I don’t think I could do a better job than Jeff Winbush. For the record, he and I appear to have come up with the “Baked Alaskan” moniker independently.

Zero Tolerance For Silence

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?

The…

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Time to hold Fox and Friends to a lower standard

Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy stuck their foots in their mouths again on “Fox and Friends” Monday.

For those who missed it, here’s the rundown: Kilmeade, Doocy and Anna Kooiman were discussing the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator when the conversation segued into the message sent by celebrity victims of domestic violence who stand by their men.

Click on this link for the video: http://www.sportsgrid.com/nfl/fox-friends-on-the-ray-rice-elevator-video-take-the-stairs/

So Kilmeade’s takeaway from all this? “I think the message is, take the stairs.”

Say what?

And Doocy’s response: “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”

Say what?

FoxFriends
The comments are an embarrassment to the public discourse, even for a show like Fox and Friends, which exists on the border separating journalism and commentary from entertainment and mind-boggling stupidity. Kilmeade and Doocy crossed that border Monday.

There they were, making a serious point and raising a serious question (why do so many abused women stay with their abusers, and what message do they send?), then failing to explore the serious question they raised with an ounce of substance. Finally, they cap it off with two tasteless jokes, undermining the seriousness of any point or question that they raised.

Disgraceful.

I note with some amusement that professional journalism associations have not condemned the comments. I’m pleased with that, because to criticize the comments would be to confer journalistic legitimacy on Doocy and Kilmeade, and this exchange is Exhibit A for anyone who wants to make a case that these two are not journalists.

To hold Doocy and Kilmeade accountable to the standards of professional journalism is as foolhardy as it would be to hold the Ringling Brothers Clown College to those same standards. They are what they are — buffoons who should be ostracized by real journalists.

Kilmeade has made a number of gaffes that have required explanation and apology in the past. My only interaction with him, which was indirect and not private, was in 2009, when he somehow managed to equate interracial marriage with bestiality. As Dave Barry would say, I swear I’m not making this up. At the time, I was president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, and I called for two things from Fox: An apology, which we got, and a chance to begin a dialogue with Kilmeade and the show’s producers, which was ignored.

And that’s the shame of it, because a dialogue then might have helped. Well, it would have helped a journalist interested in getting better at his job.

But Brian Kilmeade is not a journalist, as he has demonstrated repeatedly. No sense holding him to a journalist’s standards.

Oh, yes, Kilmeade kind of sort of — okay, didn’t apologize for his Ray Rice comments on Tuesday. He said: “Comments that we made during this story yesterday made some feel like we were taking the situation too lightly. We are not. We were not. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us, I can assure you.”

Mr. Kilmeade, you were taking the situation too lightly. And you are. Domestic violence is a very serious issue, but not to you. You have assured me of nothing other than your failure as a commentator and communicator.

But look on the bright side; it’s not like anyone expected any better from you.

Carry on.

Restoring NAHJ will take more than words

I made a donation today to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

I did it because NAHJ needs the help of every member to meet its immediate and  long-term goals. Members want an effective website, a responsible and responsive staff (of more than just one overworked person), increased training and networking opportunities and a voice that will be heard and respected within and beyond our profession. It costs money to provide what NAHJ members deserve.

Renewing our membership and paying our dues is the least we can do to meet NAHJ’s financial need. Those of us who can do more, must.

I am a lifetime member of NAHJ. I never have to “worry” about paying dues again. But NAHJ still needs to operate and to build on the foundation laid by previous presidents and boards. This has never been true more than it is today. The last few years have been rough on non-profits, and NAHJ met the challenge with a series of difficult and painful but necessary decisions that kept the doors open and poised us for growth. But, as NAHJ President Hugo Balta said during his campaign, the decisions that saved NAHJ were not decisions that could be repeated. Simply put, there’s nothing left to cut.

Balta and the board of directors are already hard at work turning a campaign agenda into a concrete strategy for growth. By making my donation, I am sending him and the rest of the NAHJ board a message: I am inspired by you. I expect you to deliver on your promises. And I want to be a part of it.

Help me amplify that message today by making your own contribution to NAHJ. For those who, like me, are lifetime members, I ask that you make whatever donation you can. Balta has asked for $20 as part of NAHJ’s “1,000 Voces” campaign. If you can make that donation, it would be a huge help. But I would go further by asking lifetime members to give at least $75, the same amount we are asking first-time members to give when they join NAHJ. It’s the least we can do.

I am excited and proud to be a member of NAHJ, and I hope you can join me in giving this board the support it needs to follow through on its promises. It’s your move, members. GIVE HERE.

 

A suggestion for the #UNITYJournalists alliance partners

 

Congratulations on another UNITY convention receiving high marks from those who attended. I’m sorry I missed it, and I vow to be with you at your next convention.

About that…

What’s say we do this again in 2014? Hear me out. I know this idea has been floated and rejected before, but that was a different time. A lot has changed in the three years since that decision was made, within UNITY and within our profession. We’ve lost one ally and gained another.

I suggest (it’s just a suggestion coming from a lowly member) that each alliance board weighs the pros and cons of coming together under the UNITY banner in 2014 and votes on it this fall. The votes will give the UNITY board direction to begin planning when its new leadership takes office in January.

Realistically, if you do this, NABJ will not be in the mix. You would have to plan the conference with the assumption that our former (and future?) ally will not participate. I submit to you that this won’t pose much of a problem because we’re starting with their presumed absence (unlike the Las Vegas convention).

As another blogger suggested, UNITY would probably need to hire an event planner rather than (or in addition to) an executive director to make it happen on such an abbreviated timetable.

Yes, it would take a lot of work to pull this off, but it’s the same amount of work you would be expending on planning individual or combined conventions in 2014.

Think about it. I think you have a chance to do something great here. I’d love to be a part of it. And I suspect I’m not alone.

My comments on the #NAHJ board meeting Twitter controversy

One of the challenges one faces when granting an interview with a reporter is recognizing that not everything he or she says will be used in the article. The trick is to measure everything you say so that no matter which quote is pulled, it can stand on its own without confusing anyone. It is an art I have not mastered.

Today I was quoted accurately in an article in UNITY News about NAHJ blocking student reporters from tweeting and recording during a board meeting. I stand by that quote, but I wanted to add a little bit more context than the reporter had room to provide.

For those who don’t know the back story, click here to read the article. I’ll wait.

Now that you have the story, here’s the context to my statement.

Has Been

I was president of NAHJ at a time when Facebook was still emerging as a force and Twitter was in its infancy. I did not have to contend with the kind of instant reporting that the current NAHJ board faces. As such, my board and previous boards did not have a policy barring social networking during meetings. We did not block reporters from covering meetings in the traditional manner, and (speaking solely for myself) I would have been personally and professionally offended had someone tried to implement such a policy. Yes, NAHJ is a private, non-profit organization (rather than a government). But we are also an association of journalists, and as such, we have a responsibility to recognize the message we send when we implement policies.

Current NAHJ President Michele Salcedo (whom I endorsed and voted for) is dealing with a different set of realities than I faced, and if NAHJ legally implemented a policy blocking tweeting and live reporting from board meetings with her support, then I have no choice but to defer to her leadership and judgment. That doesn’t mean I agree with the policy. I don’t. I think it’s wrong, and I call on the next president and board to repeal it as its first official action this weekend.

I am familiar with the type of board training that Salcedo mentioned in the UNITY News article, having sat through it multiple times and played a key leadership role in it at least twice. I am familiar with the advice that only the president and the executive director should speak for the organization. For the most part, I agree with that. But the advice ignores a significant reality when it comes to NAHJ: The representatives on the NAHJ Board are elected by the members, and as such, they are accountable to the members. As far as I was concerned, any member of the NAHJ board could grant an interview to any reporter, with the understanding that the board member was speaking for himself or herself, not necessarily for the association. I understand that this may conflict with the principle of the board speaking with one voice, but blocking such communication conflicts with a greater principle in my eyes. Board members are elected by the association’s membership and are entitled to communicate with members any way they see fit, including by blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or talking to reporters. True, they may not speak for the association, but no one has the right to stop them from speaking for themselves in their capacity as elected officers.

NAHJ must adjust its policies around its principles, not the other way around.

I am a member of NAHJ, and I am speaking for myself.  Thanks for listening.