Clinton asked right questions by journalists of color

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When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed black and Hispanic journalists Friday in Washington, did the journalists ask the right questions, critiquing colleagues asked out loud afterward?

Heck yeah, says this 35-year member of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Those who were able to ask questions displayed news judgment and awareness of a pivotal moment. Want visual proof? For 72 hours, there’s the image of Clinton speaking in front of the back wall display of the joint NABJ-National Association of Hispanic Journalists logos. 

Both associations gained lasting exposure on the national media stage and did not repeat a grave error when another Clinton visited the convention 19 years ago.

Last week some journalists asked Hillary Clinton whether she accurately and truthfully characterized FBI Director James Comey’s assessment of her handling of sensitive State Department emails. On Friday, she said she did answer truthfully, but acknowledged that she may have misspoken to journalists on two occasions.

“I may have short-circuited and I will try to clarify,” the candidate said last Friday. 

Clinton’s concession was noteworthy because the previous week on the Fox News Sunday program she gave a tortured answer that earned her four Pinocchio’s from fact-checkers at the Washington Post.

It had been many months since Clinton gave a news conference and on Friday she participated in a news conference-like setting since 3,500 news people of color were present and eager to ask questions. Yes, the journalists had race- and ethnicity-specify questions to ask the candidate, yet a big political question was dangling, unanswered. Praises to the journalists who spoke up and closed the loop.

 NABJ-NAHJ was rewarded with lavish coverage because they scored a scoop. Cable networks, bloggers, and mainstream media had to attribute its reporting to our event.

My colleagues basked in victory – or at least doing their job well – instead of hanging their heads in defeat, like in 1997.

That year President Bill Clinton spoke at the NABJ convention in Chicago, attended by a record 3,300 delegates. Four journalists, including a student, asked questions, such as one about affirmative action and education. What wasn’t asked was whether the U.S. government was about to apologize for slavery. U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, raised the issue that summer.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the question for the second-term president was anticipated, but not asked. Some members of the Trotter Group – columnists who met twice with Clinton at the White House in 1996 and spring 1997 – were beside themselves, I wrote in Rugged Waters, my book about NABJ. Trotter colleagues concluded that the interviewers did not prepare well.

To err is human, but to repeat a mistake and miss a historic opportunity is inexcusable.

Kudos to the colleagues who on Friday affirmed that when newsmakers come to NABJ and NAHJ, they will face the scrutiny of many of the best journalists in America, if not the world.     

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About Author

Contributing writer Dawkins is a professor of journalism at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University. He is author of "Black Journalists: The NABJ Story," and "City Son: Andrew W. Cooper's Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn."

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