by Mary Ratcliff
Today’s Democracy Now show dramatized the crying need for a Black community perspective in the news when host Amy Goodman reported on the latest developments in the case of Chauncey Bailey’s murder by interviewing ONLY a representative of the Chauncey Bailey Project, a coalition of mainstream journalists whose goal, according to their website, “is to hammer home this point: ‘You can’t kill a story by killing a journalist.'”
Democracy Now, broadcast weekdays on 750 stations around the country, including KPFA, is to me an essential news source and I try never to miss it. While the show is generally respectful of the Black community, the lack of a Black perspective on this issue was painful.
Who else could Democracy Now have talked to? How about the person who worked most closely with Chauncey Bailey and knew more than anyone else what stories Chauncey was working on: Paul Cobb, publisher of the Oakland Post, where Chauncey was the editor.
Paul has said from his first utterance after Chauncey was killed that Chauncey had been investigating the Oakland Police Department. No one – certainly not the Chauncey Bailey Project team – followed up.
Paul also says Chauncey was looking into misconduct by Jerry Brown, the immediate past mayor of Oakland and currently the California attorney general. Again, no follow-up.
Both the Oakland Police Department and Attorney General Brown are investigating Chauncey’s murder; both apparently assume that Chauncey was killed to kill a story he was working on. But so far as I know, no one is considering the possibility that the stories Chauncey was writing about them – the OPD and AG Brown – may have given them a motive.
On Jan. 28, 2009, the Post published a front page story headlined “Police Chief Resigns” with the subheads “Chief Tucker: ‘We Made Mistakes’ in Bailey Case; Bailey Investigated Attorney General Brown, Police Corruption, Drugs and Murder” under the byline “Post staff.” Beginning with the eighth paragraph, the story reads:
“Former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, now the State Attorney General, is also [in addition to the OPD and Judge Henry Ramsey Jr., former Alameda County Superior Court judge and dean of Howard University School of Law] conducting an investigation into the Oakland Police Department’s handling of the killing of Bailey, who was editor of the Oakland Post.
“Brown is participating in the investigation, even though Bailey at the time of his death was investigating allegations of misconduct in the OPD, including murder, drugs, murder investigations, corruption and allegations of misconduct on the part of then Mayor Brown.
“Just weeks prior to his death, Bailey had written a story about Officer Bob Valladon. According to Post publisher Paul Cobb, Bailey reported that he had a ‘frightening phone call’ from Valladon that ‘scared me.’ He said it was the first time he had felt threatened by a police officer who warned Bailey to ‘not ask any more questions’ from him or his other officers.
“Bailey had also sought answers from Brown and City Attorney John Russo concerning Brown’s destruction of police and economic development records prior to his departure from the mayor’s office.”
In this story, Paul Cobb’s newspaper was implying that the OPD and Brown should be investigated as suspects in Chauncey’s murder, yet nearly three months later the investigation continues to focus solely on Yusuf Bey IV and Your Black Muslim Bakery.
Chauncey Bailey was probably the best known Black journalist in the Bay Area, yet his own Black newspaper is ignored by every agency investigating his murder. Justice for this Black journalist cannot be achieved by silencing Black journalism.
The Black public affairs show on KPFA that the Bay View has long championed could point out to a vast audience this critical disparity between the priorities of the Black press – both the Oakland Post and the Bay View, which has published many stories on this issue* – and those of the Chauncey Bailey Project, whose executive director, Robert Rosenthal, who happens to be white, was the only person interviewed this morning by Amy Goodman in her coverage of the Chauncey Bailey case.
By interviewing no one else or mentioning no other perspective on the case besides that of the San Francisco Chronicle, Democracy Now is implying that the Black press and the Black community has nothing significant to say about the murder of the Black editor of a Black newspaper. I wonder what Chauncey would say about that.
Ironically, Chauncey was fired after a dozen years as a staff writer for Oakland’s daily newspaper, the Tribune. Reportedly, Tribune management considered him too strong an advocate for the Black community. They also may have resented the fact that he wrote for a Black paper, the San Francisco-based Sun Reporter, during the years he was writing for the Tribune.
Democracy Now is implying that the Black press and the Black community has nothing significant to say about the murder of the Black editor of a Black newspaper. I wonder what Chauncey Bailey would say about that.
They also, I suspect, were uncomfortable with his frequent criticism of the Oakland Police Department. He often wrote about the OPD’s penchant for shutting down Black clubs and other venues. The Tribune is the lead medium in the Chauncey Bailey Project, which has not, unless I missed it, ever mentioned that the Tribune fired Chauncey.
A comment posted by a reader at the end of the Bay View story, “The Black Hole at KPFA,” which argues for a Black public affairs show on KPFA, asserts: “During the ‘70s there was a brief period of time when Black journalism was in vogue, but the White power structure did not want an informed and knowledgeable Black populace. And from the late ‘70s to the present, the destruction and suppression of Black news in the media has been ongoing. KPFA is no exception. …
“So even in the nonprofit world of media [such as KPFA and Democracy Now], if the program or commentator is too raw or gets too close to the inconvenient truth that no one wants to look at much less deal with or presents a view that is not part of the mainstream (read: socially acceptable), then that program or commentator will not make it to the airways but BE BLACKED OUT!”
*Stories and videos at www.sfbayview.com on the murder of Chauncey Bailey and the press coverage of it include:
Betraying the legacy of Chauncey Bailey
Chauncey Bailey on ethnic media
A journalistic critique of the Chauncey Bailey Project
One on one with Yusuf Bey IV: Part 1
One on one with Yusuf Bey IV: Part 2
Investigating the assassination of Post Editor Chauncey Bailey, Part 1
Investigating the assassination of Post Editor Chauncey Bailey, Part 2
Investigating the assassination of Post Editor Chauncey Bailey, Part 3
Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.