“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.
The WHCA will not invite a comedian to speak at the 2019 dinner due to "unusual moment" in history when Trump's threats to freedom of the press aren't funny.
According to The White House Correspondents' Association, tensions between the press and the Trump Administration are nothing to joke about. This year's annual fundraising dinner, which traditionally invites a comedian to roast the president and the press corps, will instead feature Ron Chernow, noted biographer of Alexander Hamilton, as its speaker.
Oliver Knox, the association's president, announced Chernow's selection on Monday, stating, "As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history."
Town & Country Magazine
Ironically, it's Trump's expected absence from the event that worries the association. Another facet of the annual tradition is for the seated president to speak first, jest with the press corps and perhaps poke fun at himself, and then the comedian parries back in their own speech. However, Trump has declined to attend the last two years, giving no indication that he plans to appear at the April 27th event with Chernow. Knox has noted that the president's absence can skew the tone of the room into feeling antagonistic toward the current administration, rather than a good-humored acknowledgement of differences.
In fact, last year's event (sans Trump) featured Michelle Wolf, who incurred the president's wrath and general backlash for her remarks. For instance, Wolf singled out White House reporters for empowering Trump, stating, "You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him." Later Trump took to Twitter to denounce Wolf as a "filthy 'comedian'."
CNN - The Blaze
This year, Chernow is clarifying that "he's never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian," but he's aware of the "unusual moment" Knox speaks of, in terms of the fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the press. High points of tension include the widely publicized legal battle between CNN and the White House after CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass was revoked and then reinstated by a judge after his network took the matter to court.
Stuck in the middle, Chernow released a statement, "The White House Correspondents' Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige. Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory."
The White House revokes CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass with "fraudulent accusations" of assault.
Trump's vilification of the press as "an enemy of the people" reached a crescendo on Wednesday when CNN's chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta was banned from the property "until further notice." The dismissal followed a heated exchange between him and Trump during a press conference.
Acosta first shared on Twitter that he'd been barred from the White House grounds.
I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit— Jim Acosta (@Jim Acosta) 1541637988.0
During a press conference earlier that day, Acosta questioned Trump's description of the migrant caravan approaching the US border from Central America as an "invasion." He then baldly asked about Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election, to which the president opted to lob insults at Acosta and CNN, including calling Acosta a "rude, terrible person."
Trump prevented the reporter from asking follow up questions, declaring, "That's enough" and, "Put down the mic!" A female aide approached and attempted to physically wrestle the microphone away from Acosta. This was the contentious point that Press Secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders referred to on Twitter after confirming that Acosta's press access had been revoked. Sanders claimed the decision was the result of him putting "his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."
President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We… https://t.co/XxV2eSklwK— Sarah Sanders (@Sarah Sanders) 1541638103.0
Shamefully, Sanders followed up by posting a clip of doctored footage from the incident. Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the infamously fallacious Infowars website, edited and shared the video on Twitter before Sanders posted it, stating, "We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video."
Acosta simply posted his response to the accusation as "a lie," as accurate footage of the press conference clearly shows his lack of aggression towards the intern. CNN has responded on Twitter by condemning Trump's "disturbingly un-American" attacks on the press and asserting that they "stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere." They've also posted undoctored footage of the exchange "for the world to see."
Here is a video of the interaction for the world to see: https://t.co/us8u5TWzDz— CNN Communications (@CNN Communications) 1541642564.0
In addition, CNN denounced the White House's decision and Sanders' "fraudulent accusations." In a statement, they asserted that Acosta's ban "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better."
While Fox News reporter Chris Wallace agreed that Acosta's actions were "shameful," the White House Correspondents' Association finds Acosta's ban "unacceptable." In a statement, they urge the White House to "immediately reverse this weak and misguided action."
Trump and his administration have an infamous history of combating the press. In October, the writers organization and free speech advocacy group PEN America filed to sue President Trump in federal court "to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes."
Neither Sarah Sanders nor the White House has made further comment on Acosta's press credentials since Wednesday.
The press is under siege, but it hasn't stopped great journalists from doing their job.
Last week, Luke O'Brien, a writer for the Huffington Post, penned an article which revealed the person behind the Twitter handle @AmyMek (real name: Amy Jane Mekelberg), an account dedicated to peddling racist garbage predominantly aimed at Muslims. O'Brien's story itself quickly gets muddled in minutia (albeit interesting minutia), revealing various details about Mekelberg's life. As one can imagine, the article was met with scorn from Mekelberg's many fans, but things took a distinctly violent turn over the past few days, with O'Brien receiving death threats online. Over the course of Donald Trump's presidency, rhetoric against the mainstream press has become increasingly malignant.
Political criticisms are touted as un-American and there's a rapidly growing sentiment that our freedom of the press is under siege. But, while direct threats against journalists are frightening, there's an argument to be made that we're entering a new golden era of American journalism.
Here is an example of what I received after Mekelburg orchestrated a harassment mob against me. pic.twitter.com/qIThLoU9Cl
— Luke O'Brien (@lukeobrien) June 5, 2018
A Brief History Lesson:
The rise of newspapers in this country runs directly parallel to the adoption of our two party system in the late 18th century. Following the end of George Washington's second term, political groups rapidly began sponsoring papers to curry favor with the general public and to support their candidates. In this way, the press is directly responsible for stoking the fires of American partisanism. Still, these early papers were little more than pamphlets, and there were no pretenses surrounding unbiased reporting. These political newspapers were essentially used as a means of smearing the competition. The press as we know it began with the invention of the Linotype Machine, a device that rapidly industrialized the newspaper business by allowing papers to be printed at astonishing (for the time) speeds. It's important to remember though,while freedom of the press was baked into the fabric of the constitution, there were no rules prohibiting newspapers from distorting the truth, or in some case, outright lying in their publications.
In the late 19th century, the yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer pushed us into the Spanish American War. Throughout the early 20th century, the news slowly became more and more fact-based, eventually reaching what many consider to be the "Golden Age of Journalism," that brief period during the Vietnam War when the press core took on the U.S. government and won. Unfortunately, this period was little more than a blink, an exception to the rule of American media. In the decades following journalism's golden age, the 24-hour cable news circuit coupled with the Internet, rendered print newspapers obsolete.