Thursday, February 05, 2009

Race or reality?

I read this column by Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, and the events it described bothered me. Quick synopsis -- Warner Saunders, an NBC 5 news anchor, accused Robert Feder, a former Chicago Sun-Times columnist, of bias in his columns against black journalists in Chicago. Saunders didn't accuse Feder in private. He accused him in front of everyone at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists meeting. Saunders even brought a speech prepared just for the occasion.

Now, I will admit that I never read Feder's columns. I may have read them at some point in the past, but not enough to remember that it was his column I was reading. But I read many of the comments to Rosenthal's column, and commentors who were regular Feder readers stated that Feder wasn't biased. He gave the business to everyone, white or black. I also read the same thing expressed in other blogs (you can find them by typing in "Warner Saunders" and "Robert Feder" in Google, too many to link here).

I started to wonder -- what this really a case of race or was it reality? If a white person criticizes a black person, is it automatically a case of race? What if the criticism is true?

I've watched Saunders on NBC 5, and he is not good. He may have been once, but he at times can't even read the teleprompter accurately. He makes mistakes. He mispronounces words. That is not a race-based criticism. It is the truth. And those criticisms were also expressed in comments and blogs I read. If Feder expressed the same in his columns, does that make him biased? Even if Feder was biased and picked on journalists of color, if he pointed out Saunders' shortcomings, he was on point. I think many NBC 5 news watchers would agree. And if Feder was so biased, why in the past had he praised Saunders (mentioned in Rosenthal's column)?

This being the case, it bothered me that Saunders not only blamed the criticisms on Feder's bias, instead of recognizing his own poor performance, but that he confronted Feder is such a public way. Saunders said,
"I simply wanted to confront him, face to face. I just spoke my truth in front of a person who I felt has been unfair to me and to black journalists in this city. … Very few people who are not in our skin can understand this."
If Saunders wanted to confront him, there were other venues to do it. Call Feder on the phone perhaps. And no, I don't understand it. I don't understand the need to humiliate a fellow journalist in front of other journalists in order to cover up my own mistakes. But not understanding that has nothing to do with race. It's just reality. I won't be watching NBC 5 news in the future. The station can thank Saunders for that.

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