President Bush Fails to Face Members of the Black Press

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President George W. Bush has rejectedinvitations to be interviewed by reporters from the NationalNewspaper Publishers Association News Service, which providesstories to more than 200 African-American newspapers, BlackEntertainment Television (BET), which reaches 80 million householdsand the ”Tom Joyner Morning Show,” the most popular program onBlack radio.

“It doesn’t make political sense not to talk tovoters,” says Robert L. Johnson, president and CEO of BlackEntertainment Television. “I think this doesn’t supportthe rhetoric I hear from the Republican Party that they want tocompete for the Black vote and they are trying to reachAfrican-Americans.”

The NNPA News Service contacted the Bush campaign in September,requesting an interview. As directed, the reporter submitted aformal request in writing to Susan Whitson, a campaign aide.Receipt of the request was later confirmed and NNPA was told thatsomeone would get back in touch with the news service. After no onefrom the Bush camp followed up, the campaign office was contactedagain by the NNPA News Service and again told the reporter that shewould be contacted. To date, NNPA hasn’t even been affordedthe courtesy of a reply.

The NNPA News Service operates under the NNPA Foundation. BrianTownsend, president of the NNPA Foundation, says: “IfPresident Bush values each potential voter, as he proclaims, heshould be eager to address our readers. It’s unfortunate thathe would pass up these opportunities in what is expected to be aclose election.”

Although Bush has refused to be interviewed by members of the BlackPress, his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, has granted twoexclusive interviews to Hazel Trice Edney, the WashingtonCorrespondent for the NNPA News Service, sat for a 30-minuteinterview with Ed Gordon that aired on BET and appeared three timeson the ”Tom Joyner Morning Show.”

Bush, like Kerry, did accept an invitation from American UrbanRadio network to speak to Black America without fielding anyquestions.

“We did pretty much what Bob Johnson at BET did. On the 27thof September, we extended an invitation to both Kerry and Bush.Kerry accepted first, and then Bush accepted,” states JerryLopes, president of Program Operations and Affiliates for AmericanUrban Radio Networks. “Each candidate will deliver anunabridged 15- minute message answering the question: ‘Whyshould Black American vote for you?'”

American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent April Ryanwill host the special, which was made available for airing fromOct. 28 to 31. She was joined by Juan William of Fox News and NPRand DeWayne Wickham, a columnist for USA Today, to analyze theremarks.

If Bush could answer questions from White reporters for the twopresidential debates, he should be able to answer questions fromBlack journalists, Johnson says.

“We wouldn’t do our show the way American Urban RadioNetworks is doing theirs because we think our viewers want to havean interactive discussion,” explains Johnson. “I wouldnot give my airtime to someone to simply make a speech. Iwouldn’t let my airwaves be used that way.”

Johnson sent a letter to African-American members of the Bushadministration, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, NationalSecurity Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Rod Paigeand Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson,requesting that they ask Bush to change his mind about beinginterviewed on BET.

“To our disappointment and after 35 days of waiting, we wereinformed this week that President Bush will not make room in hisschedule to appear on BET to share his vision with African-Americanvoters,” Johnson’s letter says. “Contact with theBush campaign further instructed us to ‘ask again after theelection.'”

It continues, “As leading African-Americans appointed byPresident Bush…I urge you to ask the president to reconsider.While we have applauded your appointment to such a key role in theBush Administration, political appointments are not enough when itcomes to communicating the president’s plan of action toaddress issues that African-Americans find important.”

After turning down the Black media outlets, Bush gave an exclusiveWhite House interview Univision, the Latino television network.

With today being election day, some Bush supporters are seekingto appeal to Black voters by distorting the positions of JohnKerry.

One anti-choice political ad appearing on Black radio stationsasserts, “Democrats say they want our votes. Why don’tthey want our children?” The ad was sponsored by theconservative America‘sPAC.
Another ad sponsored by the group boasts of Republican-sponsoredtax-cuts that went to members of the Black middle class.

“The Democrats in Congress opposed these family tax cuts.Only nine voted for it,” says the ad. “Instead,Democrat leaders support equal benefits for gay or lesbian couples.So, if you think
America needsmore gay lifestyles, you ought to vote Democrat. But if you thinkthe traditional family needs a break, vote Republican.”
William Marshal, Director of African-American media for theDemocratic National Committee (DNC), says misleading adswon’t win Bush many Black votes.

“It’s clear that this president and this administrationcan’t run on their record when it comes to African-Americans,so of course they can’t talk to Black media,” saysMarshal. “They [the Bush administration] thought they couldby ads and that would be enough, but people know the truth. Povertylevels have risen for Blacks since Bush has been in office as wellas jobless rates. John Kerry speaks to African-Americans because hetruly cares and he’s dedicated to doing something aboutit.”

Johnson, BET’s top executive, says he is not surprised byBush’s decision to avoid taking questions from Blackjournalists.

“I don’t think we were surprised because we’vetried on other occasions to get him [president Bush] tospeak,” Johnson explains. “It leaves one wondering werethey [the Bush administration] only paying lip service when theysaid they wanted the Black vote.”