Commentary: Barack Obama and Chauncey Bailey
The Tribune has won two Pulitzers for photographic excellence — Bill Crouch’s 1950 photo of two airplanes nearly colliding in midair, and the Tribune’s coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Now the Tribune has launched The Chauncey Bailey Project, whose leader-of-the-pack investigative reporting of Bailey’s death has graced this newspaper and is worthy of Pulitzer consideration.
I worked with Bailey at the Tribune. Besides being a diligent around-the-clock reporter in the print and electronic mediums, he was a lover of life and a devoted father to his son.
In late July 2007, I was interviewing legendary Tribune cartoonist Lee Susman about turning 90. And who popped into the same downtown Oakland sandwich shop but Cobb, publisher of the nearby Oakland Post. Cobb, a former Tribune delivery boy, then got Bailey, by then editor of the Post, to join us along with Post photographer Gene Hazzard.
Photos were taken and plans were made for Bailey to interview Susman at his Emeryville residence the following week — the same week that Bailey, 57, was gunned down. His shocking Aug. 2, 2007, death then received national and international attention.
With my mind on Oakland homicides, I phoned Cobb, 65, Monday morning to see whether he felt that Obama’s potential presidency would make a difference in lowering crime rates among African-Americans, and Americans in general.
“I don’t think it would stop all violence,” Cobb said that afternoon at the Post, “but I do think it could have an immeasurable impact on black-on-black crime as well as crimes related to drugs and poverty. Obama is talking about jobs and hope and education, and he’ll be a symbol of authority, inspiration, pride and dignity.”
Cobb noted that Obama came from a single-parent home, with a mother on public assistance, and look how far he has risen. Thus he represents to Cobb “a futuristic view of opportunity” for disadvantaged Oakland youngsters and needy youngsters everywhere.
Cobb then shifted to Bailey and one of his last projects at the Post: “Silence The Violence.”
“He knew the families of a lot of the kids who were killed,” said Cobb. “He had his hand on the pulse of the community. He was a one-man media machine.”
Cobb then mentioned that Bailey had an “exclusive interview” with Obama in early 2007, long before he announced his candidacy for president.
“The first question that Chauncey asked Obama was about violence,” said Cobb, “and what hope did he offer to Generation Xers. And what would he do about ex-offenders and jobs?”
Cobb recalled Obama replying that he saw a future in “green jobs” — job training for the new fuel alternatives — and he also wanted to put more money into education to prevent kids from becoming, in Cobb’s words, “street corner pharmacists.”
Bailey had his share of exclusives. Besides being a journalist, he was a watchdog of Oakland. Just before his death, he was working on a movie script about “all this anti-violence stuff,” said Cobb, “and those enmeshed in the hip-hop culture who don’t appreciate the value of education. He was agitated about that.”
Two Bailey photos hang inside the door entering the Post, and he’s still listed as editor on the Post’s masthead 15 months after his death.
“There hasn’t been a single day — not a single day — since Aug. 2, 2007 that we haven’t thought about, talked about, and been motivated by Chauncey,” Cobb said of his Post staff. “We can see where he was shot from the window of our production room — we can see the tree where his body lay. Three, four times a week, I physically go by that site.”
Cobb continues to receive articles about Bailey from around the world, plus messages from various Bailey families who’ve named their sons Chauncey.
“It’s global,” Cobb said of the Bailey tragedy’s impact.
All the more reason for The Chauncey Bailey Project to soldier on.
Dave Newhouse’s columns appear Monday, Thursday and Sunday, usually on the Metro page. Know any Good Neighbors? Phone 510-208-6466 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.