tv Dorothy Gilliam Trailblazer CSPAN April 24, 2019 10:07pm-10:59pm EDT
they are ugly or you and what about the him there is some nonlogical argument going on and it's very terrible. it affects people's opinions of the whole process. and that is even worse in some ways than the other and people don't get to the other side it all. >> hodge this weekend on booktv on c-span2. you're watching tv on c-span2. for complete television schedule is a booktv.org. you can follow along behind the scenes on social media booktv on twitter, instagram and facebook. >> , coming up next, former washington post reporter talks about her life and career as portrayed in her memoir true blazer. later matthew preston's book on press takes a look at the role on the industry. >> is everybody ready? speagreat.
we have a great pleasure, i have a great pleasure to introduce to speakers this evening. before we start let me just sa say -- if you could please send later cell phones that would be great. you may have noticed the book for sale outside. it is our honor to have two of her writers, dorothy butler gilliam, she became the first black woman reporter for the washington post in 1961, working there until her retirement 2003. beginning in 1979 she wrote a
popular discussing education, politics. her work is featured in two different documents. the children's washington school media and the public affairs. as she worked towards metrics and inclusion. she was president of the national association of black journalists in 1993 to 1995 in 2010 they awarded her the lifetime achievement award. she is an award-winning journalist who spent ten years in the journalism factor here
new york university. our article exploring race and african-american culture has been published widely including the new york times, washington post, and the nation. her third book, black journalists, white media, one oppressed award. her 2016 book, it's on sale up front, the library is grateful to have her book. please join me in welcoming dorothy butler gilliam. [applause] >> thank you, and thank you all
for being here. this is a great honor for me as a legendary journalist i've known my entire career, but i've never had the opportunity to have a conversation with you. i told her, i would see her accomplices but she was dorothy gilliam and i was not. so i looked on with all and greatly respect and admiration. >> is a great pleasure to be here. in conversation with you. >> thank you for writing this book. this book not only chronicles your remarkable career but some of the really momentous events in u.s. history. you were there for so much of the time. what i was particularly struck by, my first book looked at the entry of african-americans and mainstream journalism, but most of them came after the urban and
like 1965, 1967, the riots in the national advisory commission, and then after that, many newsrooms opened the door for the first time to african-american journalist, but the newer, 23 at the washington post in 1961. tell us what it was like being in segregated in washington, d.c. where you were the only african-american reporter. >> was the only female african-american reporter simeon booker had been there almost ten years before. he lasted about a year end a half. >> tell us what it was like. >> it was very challenging. on the one hand, i grew up in the segregated south, so i had
known the humiliation of black-and-white bathrooms, black-and-white waterfronts, and a lot to cope with. but i just did not picture the nation's capital would've been such a racially segregated place. and because it was, it made my job are difficult. for example, the daily newspapers our time and successes. see you get your assignment in the morning unless you're doing a special feature and you go out and you write the story and you come back for deadline on the next day. in getting taxicabs was one of the hardest things. >> a little thing like that. >> i would sit out there for hours but it was a long time ago, trying to get a taxicab and sometimes they would slow down and they would see my brown face and hit the accelerator.
and that was really a big issue. i managed to get my stories and underline the most of the time because in part i and learned that ursuline college, catholics women college and at the time when women were expected to be secretary, so showing that i learned putting good status. i think the other difficulty was the way i was treated by a lot of these people who work there. >> yes something that you wrote that just really got to me. you said, i was sometimes experience panic attacks when i was walking to work.
fearing what was happening at the office. what i was encountering there, who would not speak to me, i would feel humiliated by not being acknowledged by my coworkers. i felt rejected, helpless. >> it was particularly painful because these can be coworkers and colleagues that might have a conversation with you in the newsroom. but when they sell you on the street, there is a non- acknowledgment. it was a turn of the head, just doing so many things that were negative, humiliating things that were against my race and my gender. >> how different was it coming from the segregated south? you're raised in the south, tell us a little bit about that. how different was it coming. >> this out to me, leaving new york going to d.c., it's kind of a southern city. but what was different about d.c. >> there were differences
because in louisville kentucky and memphis thomas under tennessee, things were separated. a white waterfront look better than a black one. a black restaurant looked worse than a white one. floors sometimes not mopped in all things that were designed to make you less them. i think what was different about washington, i came with a different expectation, i thought this is the nation's capital. and it had so many things that were reminiscent of the south which that was really painful. i persevered. >> obviously persevered for a very long time. why did you stay, because many as you know african-americans like simeon booker, he cannot
take it. i think when he was there even the restaurants were segregated at the washington post. listening to these hard-working episodes that you experienced day in and day out, what made you stay? why did you stay? because it sounded like you battled depression for part of it? >> one of the reasons i stay, especially the early years before you outside, the commission kind of blamed the media and part for the rights because it said, you know, in effect, you are not giving the public the knowledge of the black community. you are only seeing america through white eyes. >> so the current report was the one commission by president johnson after the urban arrest. in one of the questions was what role did the media play in the unrest? and he basically said the media was reporting on america to a white man's world and it was not really looking at the problems
in inner-city communities and why there was an arrest. the underlying reasons for unrest were not being articulate by the media. so it was a very important to me coming before the report. it was in the early 60s. to make way for another black woman. i knew that if i came in every day until the editors what happened to me and i didn't because i couldn't. i knew that the biden's succeed, it was going to be harder for the next black woman. >> so they were, 1960s, john f. kennedy. you were -- i mean you were around so many legends of that period. what was it like being in washington, d.c. just as a journalist ? >> as a journalist there was a level of excitement.
i remember the first time i was sent to the white house to cover a very routine story. a young reporter would be sent to cover. i almost fainted when i saw john f. kennedy. [laughter] i thought i had been prepared for that, at columbia. i did not move. [laughter] >> almost fainted. >> but the reason i think it been somewhat prepared was because at columbia, they would have top leaders coming in and we would interview them. little by little by little and i began to say, i do these people, not personally but in a way tha- >> you are exposed to important leaders. >> exactly. but kennedy was different. and that was one of the excitements of washington.
that he was coming and talking about a new frontier. he was also talking about race as a moral argument. >> right, he was the first one to use the term affirmative action. >> and his sense, the nation had to embrace the great evil that had existed with 250 years of slavery. with 100 years of segregation and jim crow. he didn't stated in that way but he was aware of it and he positioned himself to make a difference. unfortunately, he was assassinated. but president lyndon johnson took over after that and bought two solution some of the bills that president kennedy had introduced.
>> before working, before going to columbia university you had worked for the black press right? >> i work from us for years in the black press. >> what was the difference now, you said that you wanted to go to what we call the white press, the mainstream because you thought that is the beach true you could help seein change the perception to african-americans to white americans for you that you can make a difference in how african-americans were perceived. what was the difference in how you approach your work as a journalist ? >> the black press really help me understand the role of journalism in a deep way. and that was because the way black reporters for the black press actually covered the south. they were willing to risk their lives to go behind the cotton curtain and they often did risk their lives. for example, they would hide their old part of her
typewriters and all close and make it look like as if they were hammering along with all close on. some of them pretended to be preachers. they would have a bible. they were so intent on telling the larger nation about the brutality that was taking place in the south. and so, that was such a real experience in it gave me a lot of understanding of the country. and i think even when i got to the post, and help me to it know that you know, journalism is not for the sam faint of heart. >> not at all. >> in on the front ranks. >> anything can happen. >> it help me to it prepare me. and part of the reason help to prepare me is because of two
events, i was able to cover a little bit of central high school integration in little rock. and i later with some of the post to cover, as part of the larger team, to cover the integration of the university of mississippi. in the experience in little rock help me to it understand more of the role of black reporters. in these ritual under reporters would talk about what they had to go through and to keep the story out. and that help me when i went to mississippi. it was a very dangerous time, it was integration of mississippi and one brave man named james meredith, he had the audacity to say, i'm going to integrate a white supremacy.
so to go into mississippi, i was really helped by the experience of the black press. >> you talk about the danger of the job. and something that a lot of people don't appreciate as an african-american journalist working in the mainstream newsroom, you go out there and you are, engaged in battle. then often times you go in the newsroom and you have to fight to get some of the stories in. as a columnist, i think you may have had a little more leeway than the average reporter, but did you have any uphill experiences trying to cover issues that you felt were really important that they be your editors clinic? >> i did. i think unfortunately a lot of black reporters are still having those challenges today. and that is because very often the stories that are pitched to an editor. a white editor hearing a story idea from a black reporter male or female, was often rejected. it was often said, nobody cares
about that. so to me, it was very, it was a relief when i started writing a column. because i did not have to clear my ideas with editors. in one of the things was i worked in the south section as an associate editor. as an assistant editor rather. i reached out and brought in more black reporters and we were able to bring a lot of the culture of black americans into the mainstream media. >> not an easy seat. >> and not an easy seat even today for black reporters who are still trying to get stories into the newspapers that are so crucial to our understanding of each other as americans. >> that brings me to it jenna cook.
as a main reporter in albany new york, my first newspaper job, only black reporter in the newsroom. when jenna cook and african-american journalist wrote a story that won a pulitzer prize and was exposed as being totally fabricated. jimmy's world. i re- member a wall street journal editorial saying that all editors should check the resignation of black reporters and make sure they are who they say they are. but i wanted to know from you, what do you think episodes say about race in american journalism? because he certainly was not the only person that fabricated the story and was exposed. >> i think at that point i was not fully conversed with how many would've been published. but i think the greatest impression about jenna cook was my fear that because of her
device and her herbal cause, once again was going to affect all of us. it was going to be harder to bring other black journalists and and it was going to raise the specter that you decided. the every black journalists has to be double checked and has to be triple checked because of one person and that is not something that happens when one white person has a problem. >> what i so interesting, she fabricated the perfect mainstream journalism story in other words she was writing for the district weekly she concocted a story that she knew could make a one, a story of a young black boy who lives in urban area whose parents shoot them up with heroin before a black journalist. it was a sensational story. it's going to be in a one story.
>> she knew what she was doing, and it was a sad day. and i heard the poet true. but to postpone under bounce back. it was very sad and i remember the leader wrote on the story. it is not something -- i don't remember many leads. [laughter] but i wanted to say that janet cook was a reporter who happened to be black. i was trying to take away the stigma that was going to impact anybody as it did. >> and it continues to. janet cook story reverberates in ways that other plagiarists don't. there been so many plagiarist, white plagiarist and their names are not as remembered as janet cook. in the poet's kind of helped
write. >> i believe in redemption and i would like to see her move forward somewhere else in journalism. >> that's the point. >> not in journalism. >> diversity has been such a big part of your work as a journalist, you have advocated for diverse newsrooms, in 1978, the american society of newspaper editors pledged to have newsrooms that reflected the proportion of minorities in the population by the year 2000. come to the year 2000, the civil rolled back to 2025, why has this been so protracted do you think customer. >> it's been protracted in part because most white editors have not wanted to really show the power. you know, let black people feel part of the decision-making process.
which is still so crucial to americans -- truly, understanding each other. but what can make that change is what i often ask myself. where can we begin to face some of the realities of america so we can move forward as opposed to taking one step forward into step backward. >> are you surprised where we are now customer. >> i have to admit that i am a little surprised by the top leadership of the nation. >> people of color are close to 40% of the national population in newsrooms about 60 to 70%. that includes, agents, africans, americans, native americans, all people of color. so that is really, the underrepresentation. >> the underrepresentation is dramatic. and one of the things that has
made it even more difficult is the fact that newspapers and media in general are undergoing so many changes with social media. with the recession in 2008, it really made a big difference in terms of the future. >> a lot of layoffs. >> a lot of layoffs, a lot of bias. so there are many reasons right now, but that does not change the reality that we really must continue to diversify the media. and to make the appropriate. unfortunately, many media companies are saying, we have diversity fatigue, but that is unacceptable. >> is seen that in the 80s there was a lot more energy around diversity than there is now. like now, i don't see it as much
of a big push in the industry. remember in the 80s, yet all kind of job fairs and there is a lot of energy around diversity. what's gonna take? >> i think that's a good question. what will it take. i think one of the things that has to change his attitude of editors. they have got to realize the importance of their role, the importance of making sure that they are not distraint is the americas their bright eyes. they have to make an understanding importance of gender issues differences in racial differences and there are so many that run through america that we have to examine as we present the news.
as we try to, that calls for everybody being a part of that. >> and there are so few top editors of color. >> absolutely. the overwhelming majority is the white man. not even women. that is very true. i think that some of the exceptions are the executive editor of the new york times, he is very much an exception. >> so, you were instrumental in starting so many initiatives to improve journalism, ige, the young journalist developer program, and tell us about those and what they're doing. >> the most dramatic, early change was the fact that the institute for journalism education that founded the main person behind that was a man named robert see maynard who is a giant in the industry.
>> absolutely. >> he was one of the first black publishers in the mainstream. but when he helped start this which is in institute, he was still at the washington post. he gathered groups of us together and said, let's join together to make a difference. because what happened at that point, we need more black reporters, the editors would say to us, we cannot find any that qualify. and we knew that was not true. so our answer was, we are going to start training some and we did, we trained over the years since we started in 1977 we have trained more than a thousand journalist, as reporters, first it was a summer program for journalists. then we added training for editing and editors. and lastly we started training for managers.
again just trying to fill all the needs. in that was a very exciting time in it was a hopeful time. but as you said, the pigeon the american swings from conservative to a little more, a little less liberalism, some liberalism. >> let's talk a little bit about today's times, the state of journalism in the state of america. >> you pick which one you want to address first. >> i think there is a joining of those two things. when we look at the way the media is being criticized today as fake news, being criticized
and when black women journalist in particular cover the white house are being called stupid, there are so many dangers and what is happening now for example, we know that, how many times can i say this, how many different ways can i say this, we know that one has to have, to have anything approaching and democracy, one has to have a lot of light, you've got to have people who are talking about issues, you have to be discussing subjects, all of a sudden, that is what has not been happening. there has been a whole kind, so much polarization is occurring. >> does the media have a role in that? has a media contributed to the
polarization? i think so, and part the lack of diversity, it the racial diversity, among managers, all of that is very much a part of the overall picture. that does not mean that there is a problem with fake news in the media, that is a distortion, that is the kind of thing that is very detrimental to the democracy. in one of the reasons i find very disturbing, because it doesn't just challenge the media, and the democracy internally, it reverberates externally. and no matter what we can say about the need for the american democracies can be real, which is what those of us who fight for diversity in conclusion continues to say.
we know that america still is considered the democracy in the world. and if that is attacked by the people at the highest level then that is very destabilizing. in that is part of the concern at the moment. and i think given this climate diversity takes a backseat because right now journalism is under attack. the first amendment, all of it is under attack. diversity seems like an issue. >> for them to say, we do not have time but i am pleased to know that increasingly all over the country we are having more diversity and inclusion committee, i know we think and other committee, but i think
another committee, another diversity door, and number diversity. but i think if you don't do that there would just be backward movement. there won't even be a stabilization of where we are. we have had backward movement, a number of african-american journalist and mainstream has actually declined. and part of that of course the media itself has been fighting. and the internet, which change so much, a lot of newspapers started laying off people, offering buyouts,. >> cbs when they announced the public reporters to the 2020 election, not one was african-american. >> one of the sad things about that is a sense that we have latinos and if you check the
diversity box with one group, you do not have to check it with anybody else. in that is wrong. when you look at who is disproportionately affected by voter suppression, income inequality, you go down the list of criminal justice, reform. there are so many obvious places where racism still exist and i think i would agree is a mass incarceration which is a real problem there really gets rid of our talked about. except in books and from historians. >> we had so many issues right, and they're still brought to life, written about and change. which is why you need diversity. >> absolutely. >> what is next for you, what
you do for an encore, this book is amazing. what to do after this? >> i have had some questions about to be doing a book with some of my columns. if that is on the horizon. >> let's see if their questions from the audience there were a few hints. >> now that you're a free agent to feel free to talk about. [inaudible]
>> i don't feel unfree. [laughter] my issue is that i have been so busy trying to finish the book in now out to promote the book that i have not done all the research that i would like to do i think before i speak. i think that is one thing about journalist, we try to really do the research into the digging so we have come from some position of credibility. so at this point, i'm not prepared to speak about that. >> you wrote the book about so many legends. and i was wondering if you could talk a little bit about putting herself at the post.
[inaudible] you come into segregated community what was it like there, under? >> to the changer asking? >> i think it started changing in the 70s. in part because after african-americans as a freedom movement started, the riots, the kerner commission report, after that, the women's movement started. gloria simons first article of at the black power, woman power. and that really also change the newsroom. because women started suing.
the women at the new york times sue, the women at the washington post suit. the black people at new york times daily news sued so there was the change people took action when they saw and recognize the reality that there were women managers, they were not black editors, they were not latino editors. so i think a lot of the change was pushed by those people who decided they were going to do something about it. that definitely changed the atmosphere inside. and i remember one african-american reporter was working for the near post, and i thought he'd be a great
reporter. bradley interviewed him and said what to think about working for a racist newspaper. and he said if i was worried about looking for a racist newspaper i would not be in the journalism business. [laughter] and bradley, had ways that he could pull things out. i remember that no matter what he thought about what i wrote, and a lot of the editors did not like it. but there was only one time that i remember him, bradley ever personally saying to me, something about a column. and that is when the ku klux klan marched in washington and it was just such a you know, demonstration of power for people in washington and at that
point and i believe the black population was majority. so there was a lot of protest and people were angry and i wrote a column in which i supported a protest. and the thing was they did destroy some private property. and that is something that you don't do and a white newspaper. so, he got lots of letters and people were demanding more from and i get fired and all that. and so bradley just said, if i had been here, because it happened on a sunday. he said if i did here, i have a rethink that. so he was that kind of editor. you know how newspapers are, we as a people in different roles, there are some people -- >> you have an interesting recollection of donald graham. you knew him shortly before the
publisher who committed suicide right? >> not donald. >> which graham was it? >> philip graham. >> you talk about donald graham walking in the newsroom and giving a pep talk and encouraging you? >> that was his father philip graham. >> what was that like? she says you knew legends and there were so many. >> there were many, many legen legends. at that point, catherine graham had not emerged obviously as a publisher. that happened once or committed suicide. i talked some about this, but in those early days, he was the one who had helped to hire simeon booker and he knew what he was facing it and so philip graham
chose simeon booker you know, if anybody makes you mad, don't talk them in the eye, come up into my office and cool off. but he never gave me that kind of specific advice. but he would sometimes, he would come to the office and sometimes you would not see him for a long time. but then sometimes he would come through and he would every now and then, perched on the side of the desk and asked me how i was doing. and as i said, because we didn't discuss race and we didn't complain about how i was being treated or any of that. i would say fine and he would chat for a few minutes and it was a bit of a morale lifter. but the people ask about mrs. graham and again, i'm certainly not in her inner circle. [laughter] but i remember once i was waiting to get on the elevator
and she was bringing some important people through and she said something to the effect, you know, i'm trying to think of exactly how she put it. how she said it, but it would indeed -- would be cool or what which in turn rich white woman say? [laughter] to stop into the newsroom. so we didn't think of it being whatever that word is that i'm not remembering but you know, she was very elegant in her way and as an editor, and a columnist i would certainly on a regular basis go to the luncheons and things that you have. so, but you know, it was just a fascinating place to work.
but a tough place. and i was grateful looking back for those early experiences. what happened was, i was at the post in 1961 until about 1965. after i got married and started having children, it was before the women's movement. and so i finally said, can i possibly work 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., four days a week and have one day off to take care of my children or to spend time with my children. in his assistant editor said no. no, you cannot do that. we don't do that here. but i finally, i begged and i didn't know, i thought i worked hard for them that i thought for myself. and i said, please may have a special day off.
he finally said, okay. i think it lasted about a month. and he said you are lowering the morale in the newsroom. he said with plenty of men here who want to write the great american novel and if we give you a four-day week then schedule we will have to do it for them. >> jill abramson got a big backlash of the new york times which was managing editor for saint women, you need to suck it out, it's your job and your family thing, that your personal business. but it is the reality of the newsroom, is in a ? >> it is the reality of the newsroom but also the reality of much more than a newsroom. and that is why the women's movement was so important to really come in and begin to bring those issues to the forefront. and then you know help bring about change. >> we talk so much about the problem, challenges, what were some of the high point of your
career? >> i think the column writing years, those were high point years. >> any specific stories you covered are people he wrote about? i saw you hanging with a lot of heavyweights. >> that was part of the joy of the job. you know meeting nelson mandella. sitting across the dining room table when he was there. but they were also high points when you know, challenging people like during the time in south africa which is so totally segregated and there was so much absolute determination not to change that. and we had a very highly placed official from south african, africa and it was a pretty small
luncheon. he talked and i thought he was throwing all the sample questions. and i just finally said, when will you have one man, one vote? and he was gasping for air. and he said who is this girl? this is supposed to be a high-level conversation when we are going to talk about subterfuge and you know, to be able to write that kind of story and write that kind of column, that was an important thing and that was interesting that the south african embassy called and said, she interviewed him, where did you get this, are you plagiarizing? and it was very amusing to tell him that i was attending or i attended the luncheon where this highly placed official had said
these words and i had you know many people to prove it as well. >> what do you missed under miss most about being in the newsroom >> well, i think right now, i would not like to be in the newsroom. [laughter] it's a job where you really have to work 24/7. so under even the happiest of times and the most stressful times, it's challenging. but i think she really be under the stress the journalist right now. >> any advice for young journalists today? >> i certainly encourage those who really want to be journalist to come aboard. because i think we still need that. my advice is to first of all, prepare well, work hard and you
know, understand that is going to be, it's going to be a challenge. but it can make a difference. it can make a difference in the society, it can make a difference in the way people think, you can't penetrate the consciousness of people who don't want to understand. there are a lot of people that don't really want to understand what is happening in america. >> apparently. >> but there is the opportunity to always be a part of making change. a part of taking action. a part of sparing action. in a part of having some different perspectives and so when people are so concerned right now about the current polarization that each of us has to do some critiquing. but people have to do some, white people had to do some, how have i been part of this white
privilege that has defined america for 400 years questioning how have i benefited from it and own that. and black people also have to talk about what they've experienced the also see it in the context of the larger society. >> thank you so much for your legendary career. you placed the path of people like me and i'm so grateful. >> thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
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