Actor Richard T Jones Embarrasses Himself at UMUC Commencement

As someone who has written a commencement speech for a celebrity and had ONE day to do it, actor Richard Jones’ improvisational turn at the microphone at UMUC is just inexcusable. There are plenty of speechwriters like me who will hook you up with something in your voice that matches your goals and values. I also have to say, I find it kind of appalling that someone would perform this badly at a commencement.

Public speaking is on the list of most people’s biggest fears, and commencement speeches are among the biggest honors. Most commencement speeches are boring and trite, but that’s better than uncomfortable and lacking respect.

One of Jones’ last films was “Why Did I Get Married” maybe next time he’ll star in “Why Was I Chosen to Speak in Public.”





Could Cory Booker Be America’s Most Media Savvy Politician?

Since 2006 when Oprah profiled Newark mayor Cory Booker, he has rarely been off the national radar. He’s gone on to win the affections of the President, black talking heads, and liberals across America. But this isn’t something you achieve by being a good mayor. In fact, great mayors and politicians can be taken out by bad PR strategy.  You achieve national stardom by working the PR machine like nobody’s business, and Booker is a master at this.

Take the latest snow falls in the the state of New Jersey. While Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie vacationed and then appeared to  grossly exaggerate his role in governing from afar, Booker was using twitter to find people who needed digging out.With every tweet, Booker won over more hearts and minds. And when he began to go out and shovel snow himself, you could hear some of his woman followers hyperventilate.

But people who work in politics know that mayors going out shoveling snow is akin to kissing babies during a political campaign–looks good, speaks nothing to the politician’s ability to govern. What it DOES speak to is how much that person understands media and American minds, and whether or not they believe catering to those sensibilities is an achievable and effective strategy.

To give a somewhat parallel example…as a resident of DC I supported the re-election of Adrian Fenty. Fenty, a no-nonsense type that is more likely to run past your snow-covered sidewalk during his morning exercise routine than he is to shovel you out if you look stuck, bears very little resemblance to Booker in terms of press handling. Fenty cared nothing for pleasing the media or appeasing constituents whose opinions ultimately mattered most. Fenty lost to Vincent Gray–a man with a spotty leadership record and zero charisma at all. The camera wasn’t kind to Fenty, but it hates Gray.

Continue Reading…


Will The Media Set Up Marc Lamont Hill Law Suit as Hero Vs. Hip Hopper?

Back in June I blogged about Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill’s allegation that he was harassed by the Philadelphia police. It was reported last week that Hill now plans to sue the Philadelphia police department for the incident he describes in the tweets that appear at the end of the post.

The reporting on this story seems to be headed toward a Hero vs. Hip Hopper storyline. Most outlets have emphasized Officer Decoatesworth’s past heroic actions and subsequent invitation to a joint session of Congress in which he sat beside the first lady.

Politico Photo of DeCoatesworth

The above picture was run by Politico.com. In their article they elected NOT to run a picture of Hill at all; rather to refer to him as “another black Ivy League Professor” having a run in with the law, an allusion to Professor Henry Louis Gates’  run-in with a police officer in Cambridge which ended in the infamous “beer-summit” at the White House.

Sidebar: The paragraph comparing Hill and Gates is misleading. Gates didn’t file a Federal civil rights lawsuit nor was his incident with the Philadelphia police as the paragraph implies.

Nevertheless, the decision to run a photo of DeCoatesworth without running a photo of Hill is interesting as was the decision to emphasize DeCoatesworth’s achievements without mentioning who Hill is beyond a black professor.

The Philadelphia Inquirer article on the Hill lawsuit was better but one thing bothered me–they repeatedly referred to the incident as a traffic stop. I suppose this is factually correct as Hill was in his car and driving; however, Hill alleges that the police told him to move his car as he was dropping a friend off, and then after he dropped off his friend, the same police officer’s later stopped him and did not explain why.

That sounds like more than a “traffic stop” and the use of that language sort of downplays the whole thing. Maybe I’m being nitpicky?

I perused a few more sites and most seemed to either follow the Politico route of treating this like a non-story with more details about the cop than the professor–and others spending the bulk of the text explaining the incident. Almost all the sites referred to Hill and hip hop–I suppose that’s fair since lots of his work is centered around the musical genre.

At any rate, if Hill wants to win the media war in this one he has an uphill battle. I think this casting of him as an Ivy League hip hopper who is accusing an 24 year old hometown hero of acting completely and utterly reckless will probably continue–that is until more details are released and a new storyline emerges.

Obviously, journalists have to tell both sides of a story, and there’s no getting around the fact that DeCoatesworth is a hero. However, heroes can later make mistakes–something the general may not immediately recognize given the storyline.

As for Hill, I did note that his initial tweets didn’t sound as though the encounter was violent, so I was surprised to hear those details. That’s the downside of tweeting about something like this, you have to ask why he didn’t relay the juiciest part of the story the first time.


Christine O’Donnell Has The Best Campaign Ad So Far — And It’s Not Because of Antoine Dodson

I’m a political junkie, but even I avoid campaign ads at all costs. In fact, I usually don’t bother to look at them until it’s time for the Pollie Awards. But because I heard that O’Donnell’s latest ad is based on the most viral of viral videos (the Antoine Dodson clip), I was suckered into watching.

Sure the Antoine Dodson reference is genius…although I’m not sure if the people who would vote for O’Donnell would know who Dodson is or, even more importantly, find the raw video of his commentary outside his apartment building in Alabama charming.

But it doesn’t matter, the O’Donnell ad is gold without the Dodson allusions. The soundtrack is classic slasher film genre quality. The knife and prison door sound effects, the foot steps…it all works. The video is also seems to be shot in HD (or at least HQ) and starkly black and white. It feels super modern and relevant. Even the voice of the narrator isn’t the normal “Unsolved Mysteries” schtick that barely scares anyone anymore.

Typically there are two types of campaign ads: personal appeals–where the candidate and/or constituents speak directly into the camera with text-based information at the end. Or, the Contrast ad where a mixture of unflattering clips and text are used to draw differences between the candidates.

Both types of ads are overdone. O’Donnell’s ad is a modern “Daisy” ad–though obviously not as alarmist, she’s talking about taxes not nuclear weapons–still this a deviation from the status quo that portrays her opponent as inherently dangerous in some way. It works and ought to get her taken a tad more seriously.  She needs a good ad if she’s going to rise up from 38% in the pols. Still, she’s opened the door to producing different types of ads this campaign season. I hope other candidates walk through it.

Who knew the witchy woman from Delaware would give us the best gem so far of this (already-too-long) campaign season.


Jon Stewart’s Mocking of Rick Sanchez’s Firing Isn’t Funny–In fact, It Kinda Pisses Me Off

It’s true that I am a perennial party pooper, a consistent contrarian, a rainer on parades, if you will. There’s no reason for me to stop now.

Let me start by saying I’ve never seen Rick Sanchez’s show. In fact, I’d never heard of him until he was fired. I don’t watch much TV and I sure don’t watch cable news. What I’ve heard thus far is that Sanchez is a moron and his show is dumb.

But clearly he wasn’t fired for that reason. He was fired because…because…umm…well…what happened was he…


I read Sanchez statements and I interpreted them thusly: I am a Latino man and I believe I have suffered institutionalized racism at the hands of white liberals–many of whom are Jewish people. Jewish people are powerful within the entertainment industry and Jon Stewart is one of those people. I think that Stewart and some other people of his ilk look down on me.

I have to assume that CNN and others assumed Sanchez said something he didn’t. I could guess what that something was (insert anti-semetic implications here) but what does it matter? The fact is Sanchez didn’t say anything wrong and his firing sends a confusing message.

Not only can you be fired and ridiculed for what you say, you can be fired and ridiculed for what we think you might have possibly been alluding to vaguely in your comments. For the record, THAT’S BULLSHIT.

Jon Stewart’s childish mocking of someone who was fired for something they didn’t say rubs me the wrong way. Minorities struggle with institutionalized racism on a daily basis, and Sanchez’s comments, however impolitic or unwelcome, were a valid representation of what many routinely face. Hearing Stewart and many in the liberal contingent act as though Sanchez committed a grave offense while ignoring the fact that he clearly relayed a painful past and present experience shows two things: 1.  How off limits discussions about racial bias are–even from people who have their own platform from which to speak and 2. How completely out of touch some white people are with how minorities navigate this world.

Interesting that even after achieving the one thing that most journalists want—his own television show–Sanchez was still filled with enough resentment (certainly driven in part by Stewart’s mocking) that he mentioned racial inequity on air in a personal sense, something that almost never happens.  And now we know why it almost never happens.

Stewart gets to mock Sanchez’s “meltdown” while ignoring the crux of his point. Privilege anyone? This is the very thing that Sanchez was talking about. It’s difficult to know that no matter how much you accomplish there are certain people who will never respect you simply because you’re (insert disadvantage here), and then, after disrespecting you they can take you down, and then kick you while you’re down. Stewart may not see himself as one of those people, he may not think that his disdain for Sanchez is racially motivated–and perhaps it’s not. But that doesn’t make Sanchez’s experiences any less valid or Stewart’s na na na boo boo’ing any more appealing.

I’ve said it many times before, but Christopher Hitchens is one of my favorite thinkers and has heavily influenced my own work. I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the Sanchez situation in Slate magazine and agreed with his characterization of Sanchez’s comments as “uncontroversial.” Hitchens also suggests that Stewart lead a charge for Sanchez to be reinstated, and I think that would be the mature thing to do.

But Stewart doesn’t seem to be interested in approaching this subject maturely. And yeah, it kinda pisses me off.


Bishop Eddie Long: Sometimes a Headline and a Photo Make The Story

Pastor Long Preaching pre-sex scandal

The New York Times ran the photo to the left with this headline:

“Sex Scandal Threatens Georgia Pastor’s Empire”

That sentence is why I love the old gray haired lady. What a powerful 6 words. And the photo is a great complement.

Anyone care to discuss what makes this photo and headline so striking?

*For the complete Times story, click on the photo.


The Problem With Defending Kanye West

We all defend people we like. If we think we identify with someone, we’ll always find a way to defend their actions. If you’ve ever seen me in a debate about Harold Ford Jr., you’ll know that’s true. I’m a big fan of Ford and am notoriously skillful at finding some right in all of his wrongs.

But there are some instances in which I have to give it up. Like when Ford wanted to run for Senate in NY but neglected to ever once file his taxes there. Or, when asked about whether or not he’d been to Long Island, his answer was that he flew over it once in his helicopter.

Talk about out of touch.

Those are exactly the words I would use to describe those who defend Kanye West’s actions. West is 33  in celeb years, which probably makes him more like 36. Still, at his age he, last year, jumped on stage to snatch an award out of Taylor Swift’s hand and inform her and the rest of America that MTV was entitled to their little opinion but really she needed to sit her ass down because Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was the greatest video of all time.


Yes, better than Thriller, better than Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” better than the Eurthymics “Sweet Dreams,” Missy’s “Rain” video, Korn’s “Freak on a Leash,” and anything ever made by Madonna, Lady GaGa, Duran Duran, or anyone else.

Obviously, that was the alcohol talking. A bottle of alcohol that he apparently passed around to others who, thankfully, were able to remain in their seats despite whether or not they agreed with who won subsequent awards.

Continue Reading…


When It Comes to Dr. Laura, Why Are We Upset?

By now you’ve heard that Dr. Laura was heavily criticized for saying nigger 11 times on air. You probably also know that she announced she was ending her long standing radio show and found a convenient excuse to do so. An excuse that will only lead her to more money and glory among her audience.

What I wonder about this “controversy” is what really upsets us when these things happen and whether there is a point (i.e. positive result) to the outrage. When Mel Gibson threatens that his girlfriend’s provocative wardrobe will get her raped by a “pack of niggers” or when Imus calls a group of young female basketball players “nappy headed hoes,” we go through the same dramatic steps: outrage, minor consequence, and rebirth or redemption.

Imus, who I was fan of (and remain a fan of), was back on the air the following year. Gibson’s most recent outburst wasn’t his first. Since we enter this rinse, wash and repeat cycle ever so often, I have to ask, what matters more, the words or the point of view? And what is it we want from these language-offenders?

Clearly, Dr. Laura has said any number of racist and homophobic things over the last 20 years without uttering slurs in the public sphere. There’s also any number of people expressing racist, homophobic, and sexist perspctives that take to the airwaves every day. Is it okay for them to spew their hate as long a they use accepted language?

Continue Reading…


Michael Jackson’s Unreleased Music Should Remain That Way

It’s been a year since Michael Jackson passed away. And, on this anniversary of his death, I am thankful that thus far only one or two of his unreleased songs have been leaked on the internet–one of them an eerie ode to the prescription drug demorol.  Unfortunately reports are heating up that Jackson’s previously unheard songs may be released.

The rumor is that the number of songs could be in the hundreds.  This is not a surprise. For at least 10 years we have seen footage of Michael Jackson in the studio with various artists ranging from Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas to Akon to R&B singer Ne-yo. At various points over the past decade Jackson announced that he was close to a comeback and had done a lot of recording and was in the process of choosing the right songs. Obviously, the comeback album never came to fruition while he was still alive. The songs he recorded were never released to the public.

And they shouldn’t be released now.

Since Jackson’s death, his image has improved tremendously. Through the trial of Conrad Murray ( the doctor who gave Jackson his last lethal dose deprivan) and through various news reports, the public was able to get a deeper look into Jackson’s everyday life. What we found was a man who was so troubled that he couldn’t sleep at night. Through his well-behaved and eloquent children we see that Jackson was a great father. Through the words of his brothers and sisters we see he was a model sibling albeit one so head strong with addictions so consuming he couldn’t be saved despite their most valiant efforts.

Jackson’s estate is more profitable than ever. The shadow over his image–the child molestation rumors, the now-infamous interview with British journalist Martin Bashir in which Jackson climbed a tree and declared himself Peter Pan, and the dangling of baby blanket off the balcony of a hotel overseas–has all but vanished.  What people mainly remember is a man who had great talent and an even greater spirit.

No matter how badly Jackson’s PR became during his life, nothing could ever diminish the quality of his music. The music is the only thing relative to the late superstar that has yet remained untarnished. Should previously unreleased music be distributed to the public, it could begin to chip away at the stellar reputation Jackson had for choosing to release only quality products to the public. Not to mention his reputation for only making quality products in the first place.

When rapper Tupac Shakur died, his previously unreleased music was distributed in droves. Much of it didn’t meet the standards of the music that Shakur released prior to his death. Unfortunately, we got to see more “bad” music from Shakur posthumously than we ever did while he was alive. However, hip hop is a different animal. Listeners are well aware that rappers routinely make lots of music dropping verses here and there on various beats and all of it isn’t worthy of or meant for public consumption.

On the other hand, the expectations for music by Michael Jackson is astronomically high. If you saw the movie “This Is It,” then you know that Jackson was a perfectionist. There is something unseemly about hearing music that Jackson didn’t himself choose to release. Since Jackson’s estate is making money hand over fist, there’s really no logical reason to release music that didn’t have his personal stamp of approval. We’ve heard how great Jackson can be, we don’t need to hear how bad.

All of Michael Jackson’s life was fodder for public discussion. I hope whomever is in control of his catalogue makes the right choice and allows something of Michael’s to finally remain private.


Image Watch: Philly Police Harass TV Personality Marc Lamont Hill?

This morning I logged on to twitter and saw some discussion about Columbia Professor and TV personality Marc Lamont Hill being harassed by the Philadelphia Police. The story he recounts is interesting to say the least (click on each photo to enlarge it):

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I find Hill’s story to be problematic.  Briefly, I’ve never heard of the “illegal discharge of a passenger” charge, and a quick google search of the phrase in quotes turned up results that led only to Hill’s twitter page and to pages related to his stream. Further, the dialogue between Hill and the officer sounded contrived, in particular the part where the officer expresses disbelief at Hill’s Ph.D. Philadelphia is a city with many educated minorities and is home to some of the most prestigious universities in the country: University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Drexel, Saint Josephs, and Villanova. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for the police to run into educated minorities.

Because minorities (successful and not) are still victims of harassment by police and many true stories sound implausible initially, Hill’s claims cannot be dismissed out of turn. I made calls to both the police department and the Mayor’s office and will update when and if I receive a response.

When I last checked Hill’s twitter mentions/replies were full of support for him and many expressed hope that he obtained the officers’ badge numbers. Sherri Shepherd, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” immediately expressed her sympathy for Hill. It will be interesting to see if she mentions the incident on her show.

Hill is frequently tapped to comment on race issues. If he doesn’t take action in this situation, it could be damaging to his reputation. Certainly, someone who was calm enough to release a stream of tweets shortly after an incident would be expected to be calm enough to request an officer’s badge number especially given his knowledge of these situations.

The Philadelphia police are not without their image problems. Recently, in 2008, Philadelphia police were caught on tape beating a suspect and the video became a sensation on YouTube. The city’s police department image issues are not new–people are still discussing the case of Mumia Abu Jamal and the city’s bombing of a Philadelphia house in 1985 in connection with the “Move” organization. In fact, the 25th anniversary of the bombing was recently covered in the media–though not extensively.

I will update this post once the story plays out and I hear back from the Police department and/or Mayor’s office. If this story gets picked up, I think it is a good opportunity to analyze the way a media personality and a city and police department handle a difficult issue.

MediaSTRUT is an analysis site that aims to analyze how public figures handle the media and, conversely, how the media handles them.




Video Tips


Ask a Question