The Black Press must keep on keeping on
By Hazel Trice Edney, National Newspaper Publishers Association
Editor’s note: In the aftermath of the murder of Chauncey Bailey, a journalist and editor of the Oakland Post, Paul Cobb — publisher of the Post, urged the African American press to continue to tell the stories that need to be told.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The publisher of the Oakland Post is calling on black newspapers across America to not only stay the course, but “step up” when uncovering injustices and speaking truth to power despite the assassination-style murder of his paper’s editor, Chauncey Bailey, allegedly by a man that police said confessed he didn’t like what Bailey was writing.
“Especially with the demise of our national civil rights organizations like the NAACP, the Black Press is going to have to step up. They should not shrink back and give a free pass to either suspected corruption or wrong-doing or inequities in society,” says Paul Cobb, who says he too has received hate mail as publisher of the Post.
But Cobb vows not to allow fear, threats or intimidation to stop his paper from continuing to uncover truths: “If you don’t cover something that needs to be covered just because you’re afraid for your life, you don’t need to be in the business. If you know there’s wrong-doing and you sit idly by; then who are you? If we turn the other way, we shirk our responsibility.”
The Post is a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Black Press of America, a federation of 200 black-owned newspapers.
“While I did not know Chauncey Bailey personally, I am saddened to learn of his death and in such a violent way,” says Dorothy Leavell, chair of the NNPA Foundation, which has a national news service. “He was a member of the Black Press family and we extend our condolences to the Oakland Post newspaper staff and Mr. Bailey’s personal family. We hope that justice will prevail and the perpetrator who stilled a strong voice of the Black Press will be apprehended.”
Oakland police said Devaughndre Broussard, a handyman at Your Black Muslim Bakery, told police that he killed Bailey because he was angry about stories the journalist had written about the business and its employees and about future stories he might be working on concerning the bakery’s finances, according to reports. Arrested Saturday, Broussard was booked on murder and weapons charges, and was being held without bond. Broussard was on probation for a San Francisco burglary, according to reports.
Police said Broussard, wearing dark clothing, went around looking for Bailey the morning before the shooting after learning he had not arrived at work. He allegedly began driving around in a van until he spotted him in the 200 block of 14th Street. There, he confronted him and shot Bailey at least three times with a shotgun.
Despite police and witness accounts, Cobb is also cautioning that people not rush to judgment as details of the shooting and motives are publicized, but rather wait for facts to come out through the process.
“These are the same people that said Jessica Lynch had shot her way through the hospital. The same police said that football player had been killed by enemy combat.”
Cobb was generally referring to systemic police corruption and cover-ups, such as the case of U.S. Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, who now says the U.S. military lied about her heroism, and NFL star Pat Tillman, who officials now admit was actually killed by his fellow U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
In the past four years since Bailey was hired, the Post had received numerous “threats of violence,” Cobb says. “He and I both have received hate mail.”
He says the paper is now taking on former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, now state attorney general, after some records in his former office were taken or destroyed by his aides. The move has apparently violated California’s freedom of information laws. “We’ve been dogged on that. We’ve been told by a lot of people, ‘Why don’t you leave that one alone?'”
But Bailey was relentless, said Cobb.
“His sacred cow was equity, fairness, openness of government, just general principles of decency,” he said. “Chauncey was a champion cheerleader for the black community and self-help groups.”
He said the paper had also worked on stories “related to criminal activity, totally unrelated to stories on the Black Muslim Bakery … He was investigating some stories about crimes that were committed and the people who committed them.”
In addition, “We’ve been presently investigating people in the police department,” Cobb says.
Therefore, he said, hate mail came from all sectors of the community. “I’ve had hate mail from skinheads, I’ve had hate mail from blacks.”
Walter Riley, a lawyer for the newspaper, says the threats – sometimes verbal and in person – would frighten Post employees.
“They have gotten them from people walking in the door and they’ve gotten them by phone,” Riley says. “But, [Bailey] didn’t run and hide and was not easily frightened.”
It was apparently that fearlessness in his writing and his speaking on radio and television that caused the paper to flourish in the community. Cobb said the circulation skyrocketed from 5,000 when Bailey was first hired four years ago up to its current audited and verified circulation of 60,000. That’s a 1,100 percent increase in less than five years.
Threats of violence against black newspapers are not unusual. They have happened throughout history, but usually without such tragic results.
The late Charles Tisdale’s Jackson (Mississippi) Advocate was called ‘the most firebombed newspaper in America.’ Tisdale, who moved from building to building after vehement attacks on his newspaper offices, died last month from a diabetes-related illness.
Bailey was a seasoned journalist, who had covered the Black community for the daily Oakland Tribune for more than 20 years. But he had also written for the Detroit News, UPI, and the Hartford Courant. He had been a popular reporter for KDIA radio and Soul Beat TV. Recently, he co-founded, produced and hosted OUR-TV, (Comcast Cable Channel 78).
Just two months ago, Bailey was promoted to editor-in-chief of all the Post Newspapers – Oakland, Berkeley Tri-City, Richmond, San Francisco and South County.
Riley says some security precautions have been put in place at the Oakland paper. “There are people who have volunteered…And offered to do whatever they can to help,” he says.
But, Cobb, while declining to talk about his personal safety or fears, would only say that his papers will not back down from truth.
People who have known Bailey for years know what that means.
“Chauncey was the consummate truth teller, no matter what the forum,” recalls radio talk show host Joe ‘Black Eagle’ Madison, who has known Bailey since the 1970s.
“He would never allow journalists, editors or reporters to undervalue, underestimate or marginalize the black community. He was fearless when it came to speaking truth to power. Chauncey was the type of journalist that would ask God the tough questions and demand an answer.”