“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Media Musings: Supreme Court and covering court cases
Court cases you should know about
The Supreme Court's term ended with several huge decisions in cases dealing with abortion, affirmative action and immigration. With several hot-button issues being examined, the Supreme Court has been front page news for several days.
Two colleagues discuss mistakes made in reporting on court cases and how to avoid them.
L: The Supreme Court just ended its term for the year and handed down some pretty big decisions on abortion, affirmative action and immigration.
J: Covering Supreme Court cases along with other federal cases tends to be the bread and butter for a lot of newspapers and media organizations because that can affect the way people live their lives. However, sometimes cases get misreported on. Either because a journalist doesn't have the knowledge to cover a case correctly or people just simply re-report what other media organizations report on.
L: And one of the most common areas that mistakes are made is in misinterpreting what the Court is actually doing. So the Supreme Court either decides to hear a case or it doesn't decide to hear a case. And if it doesn't hear a case, the lower court decision just stands for that Circuit — for that part of the country. It doesn't apply to the rest of the country.
J: Another way journalists can mishandle the reporting of court cases is in the verbiage they use. Legal jargon can tend to be high brow and sometimes in attempts to simplify the language, they can end up using the wrong words.
J: Another trap that news organizations and reporters can fall into is not reading through, or far enough into the opinion. There was two parts to that decision, in one part they struck down the health care mandate based on the commerce clause, but they also upheld it under the taxing powers of the government. So, the individual healthcare mandate is legal and constitutional. And in not reading through that whole opinion, people ended up misreporting what the Supreme Court actually decided.
J: Journalists can end up paying way too much attention to the drama and the hype that surrounds the case and use that as filler in the reporting, rather than referring to the facts.
L: That's a good point especially because the Supreme Court often consolidates cases that have a similar Constitutional question or concern. So like the contraceptive mandate part of Obamacare was under review this term and they consolidated eight cases that dealt with the same issue. So it's important to realize that even though somebody's name is in the case title, they might not be the best person to put a face on the story.
J: Some tips for court reporting would definitely be: know the case and all of the facts of the case, understand legal jargon, understand how the court handles specific types of cases. A grand jury is very different from a regular trial. Where it is in the Supreme Court process can significantly differ.