By Hazel Trice Edney
ABOVE POTO: NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, Colin Powell in the Press Room of the 42nd NAACP Image Awards at Shrine Auditorium on March 4, 2011 in Los Angeles, CA.
(Photo by Shutterstock)
WASHINGTON – On the 184th birthday of the Black Press this week, March 16, an odd debacle is underway. The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, is under fire from Black newspapers around the country over an issue of economic injustice.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous admits that “a grave mistake was made” right under his nose when advertising inserts were placed only in White newspapers on the eve of the organization’s annual image awards, which aired March 4. Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers, is demanding justice.
“If the NAACP desires to advertise with the white press, they need to understand and experience the repercussions of going outside of their “house” (The Black Press). The NAACP needs to know that by ignoring the Black Press they are ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face,'” Bakewell said in a March 7 letter to NNPA publishers, obtained by the Trice Edney News Wire. “We have marched side by side with them and been their voice in the African American community. It is truly disheartening to be on the battlefield with someone and not be able to share in the spoils.”
In his first public response to the issue, Jealous released a statement on Sunday after he was contacted by the Trice Edney News Wire.
“This year’s NAACP annual Image Awards television show was a great success,” he wrote in the statement. “However, on the eve of the show, a grave mistake was made: circulars that were supposed to appear in both the mainstream press and Black community newspapers only appeared in the mainstream press.”
The advertising debacle has sparked a firestorm of criticism from the Black Press family of which Jealous has long been a member. Jealous is a former NNPA executive director and a former editor of the Jackson Advocate, an NNPA Newspaper. NAACP insiders said he is set to meet with NNPA leaders and members this week during the organization’s annual trek to Washington for Black Press Week activities.
“I am very sensitive to the need to support Black community newspapers. They are the only way to assure Black readers in a given community that you actually want your ads to reach them directly. In the past, I personally have both sold and purchased ads in Black community newspapers across the country. Moreover, I dedicated years of my life to working for them directly,” Jealous said in the statement.
Notwithstanding, Black newspapers across the nation have long fought advertising discrimination from mainly White corporate communities which ignore the economic worth of their readers – Black consumers, who spend billions on goods and services. Therefore, Black publishers have expressed shock at finding this kind of omission associated with the 100-year-old NAACP, which has a rich history of fighting alongside the Black Press for racial and economic equality.
As a unified response to the omission, Bakewell asked NNPA members to refrain from writing anything about the Image Awards in the weeks following its airing on FOX.
Scathing articles and editorials joined Bakewell’s letter.
Robert W. Bogle, publisher of the Philadelphia Tribune, said in a March 3 Tribune story reprinted by Target Market News: “In (Thursday’s) Philadelphia Daily News, the 42nd NAACP Awards Magazine was inserted and not one copy was inserted in the Philadelphia Tribune, America’s oldest and America’s largest daily newspaper serving the African-American community.”
He continued, “This action is an insult to the men and women who work at the Philadelphia Tribune and should be an insult to Black Americans in this country. The very right of full inclusion and participation of African Americans has been denied by the organization that purports that African Americans should be fairly included in all aspects of American life.”
New York Beacon Publisher Walter Smith, president of the 17-member Northeast Publishers Association, wrote in an editorial, “We credit our leaders of the NAACP with good sound judgment and common sense at least. What were they thinking when this decision was made? Who were they trying to attract, and or who were they trying to impress?”
Due to legalities, according to the NAACP, Jealous withheld the name of the advertising agency, which has distributed the guide for five years. But, his statement sought to explain how the omission occurred:
“The advertising company originally conceived the guide and presented it as a fundraiser to the NAACP. It is solely responsible for selling the ads and handling the distribution. It pays the NAACP a licensing royalty which is used to support our ongoing diversity efforts in Hollywood,” Jealous states. “Accordingly, I requested and received assurance from the advertising company that their distribution plan included Black community newspapers. However, the advertising company has failed to follow through. This year, when the guides came out, they did not show up in any Black community newspapers.”
He concludes, “The NAACP does not condone the agency’s decision to exclude Black community newspapers. It is contrary to our explicit instruction, and we were not aware of the agency’s decision until after the guides hit the papers,” he said. “Nonetheless, it was made for a publication that bears our name, and as CEO I take ultimate responsibility for it. For that reason, I have apologized to the NNPA and promised their leadership this will not happen again.”
Jealous added that the distribution will be put out for bids next year with assurance that Black newspapers will be included.
“We have also let the agency know that we will not tolerate their abuse of the trust the NAACP has placed in them, nor that which Black community newspapers place in the NAACP,” Jealous wrote. “If this company wants to do business with the NAACP again, they will need to make things right with Black community newspapers in the markets where the guide was distributed, and convince us they are capable of keeping their word.”
Whether his explanation will end the controversy remains to be seen. Smith, who is also NNPA’s budget director, concludes his editorial, “Stay tuned, there’s much more to come.”