Guess who discovered Who’s Who In Black Los Angeles after two years? Before you ask, I really wanted to feature a Los Angeles Times editor in Who’s Who in Black Los Angeles. Really. The problem is, there is not a single African American among those who make coverage decisions for the paper. In hindsight, it probably was a mistake not to include the one black man on the paper’s full-time Metro reporting staff. That brother deserves a special award for what I imagine he goes through everyday. Well, maybe next year. Now the Times wants to know “Who’s who” in the black community. I can’t say for certain the dearth of African Americans – or all people of color for that matter — on the Times staff is to blame for its recent shoddy coverage of a venture I manage.
But whatever the reason, over the last month, there has been some significant misreportingsabout the sponsorship support of Los Angeles County in the 2009 (second) edition of Who’s Who In Black Los Angeles (WWBLA). WWBLA is a client of mine. I was hired to manage the editorial content and build sponsorship support in the nation’s second largest city, which has the nation’s fifth largest black population. I don’t usually mix my clients’ business with my editorial commentary. I try to keep them separate, but the issue is too egregious to ignore. The sponsorship was purchased out of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ district discretionary fund for constituency support and community enhancement.
The sponsorship was to promote the plan for re-opening King Hospital and advertise LA County services. The biographies to “spotlight” county executives was a bonus ALL receive for buying certain levels of advertisement. It wasn’t asked for. Some sponsors take it. Some don’t. The Supervisor chose to highlight the hardworking, unsung heroes of County government.
The story started when the L.A. Times wrote a story on the discretionary spending of all the County Supervisors. The story somehow focused on Ridley-Thomas, who spent the least amount of the Supervisors called into question, and the Times misreported that Ridley-Thomas “paid $25,000” to put himself in WWBLA. Even after the facts were presented, the misreporting continued. Last week, the misreporting took a huge leap when Times columnist, Steve Lopez, jumped in the fray and thumped DWP for buying ads in the book. Lopez’s column was full of inaccuracies and he only built on the misreporting of the Times earlier stories. You could tell from Lopez’s commentary that there was an underlining slant here. So what’s really up?
The gross misrepresentation of Mr. Lopez’s commentary is the perpetuation that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas paid to get in the book. NOBODY paid to get in the book. In fact, I’ll pay Mr. Lopez $1,000 if he can find ONE PERSON who paid to get in the book. It’s free to get in the book. Not all submissions are accepted and there is no obligation to buy the book if selected. The real disappointment of the Lopez commentary is he tried to attack the integrity of the book on a simple(minded) premise that Will Smith or Lamar Odom aren’t in the book.
There are a million blacks in Los Angeles. Everybody can’t be in the book, nor does everybody want to be in the book, as one of his “interviewees” suggested. However, for your information, Mr. Lopez, Lamar Odom was in the first book. And we hope Will Smith will be in the third book, a tribute to black Hollywood. However, does that mean the other 800 persons in the first two editions don’t deserve recognition? Or that the book is not legitimate because one or two persons aren’t in the book? That is nonsense. WWBLA is about accomplishment of African Americans in all fields and on all levels, not just the celebrity or notoriety levels for people who keep their face in the news (despite what the Columbus rep said -- that is NOT a process for selection).
The company, Who’s Who Publishing, has been around for 20 years and is in 26 cities, with a database of 170,000 of the most affluent and influential African Americans in this nation. Not a “fly by night” company.
Mr. Lopez suggested that his principal interviewee, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, certainly should’ve been in the book because “he’s everywhere.” Well, as a social critic writing this weekly column for the past 20 years, I try not to criticize my colleagues but Hutchinson put himself in the line of fire on this one. Hutchinson was solicited and did submit for the first edition. It came after deadline. We couldn’t get it in the book. If Mr. Lopez wants to see Mr. Hutchinson’s bio, call me. I’ll show it to you. As for Lopez’s assertion that Mr. Hutchinson saw the book as a “hustle,” well, many consider Mr. Hutchinson’s advocacy “a hustle,” which is why he’s “everywhere.” Mr. Hutchinson is known for chasing the media with the fervor of an ambulance chasing attorney.
Many believe Mr. Hutchinson “hustles” expert commentary opportunities under the premise of being a “Ph.D.” when, in fact, he does not have one. His “mail-order degree” is from a defunct, non-accredited degree mill, not a real university. So, I’m not sure Hutchinson legitimizes Lopez’s story. Everybody else Lopez purportedly interviewed told him they didn’t pay to get in the book. Hutchinson suggested, according to Lopez, that he “wasn’t going to pay or find a sponsor.” He wasn’t asked to do either, a total misrepresentation. But Lopez needed SOMEBODY to validate this misreported story and he found in Hutchinson, a very sad commentary in and of itself.
Both L.A. County and DWP have public affairs/public information budgets to promote their services and educate the public. They place millions of dollars with ad placement agencies to strategically place agency service ads in newspapers, magazines, billboards and buses. Yet, those agencies rarely place paid ads in African American-owned publications. They say the same thing corporations, contractors and other public entities say, that they can’t find “qualified” blacks or black businesses or media outlets to spend dollars with. Well, WWBLA has taken that argument away.
DWP engaged in a multi-million-dollar ad campaign on water conservation last year. You mean to say the black community wasn’t supposed to get any of these ad dollars? DWP bought three (3) full page color ads at $5,000 each; one on water conversation, one on economic development programs, and one on supplier diversity opportunities. The agency spotlight of DWP executives was a throw-in for the multiple ad buy. THIS WAS BUSINESS. LA County and DWP advertised in a publication that sells ads and reaches an affluent population ($75,000 median income, 60% homeowners). The amount of money spent out of each of their budgets was less than one-tenth of a penny. If you gave a homeless person a penny on the street, they’d throw it back at you, or assault you.
Mr. Lopez should know something about that. He does not have to scour the bowels of Skid Row to find exceptional talents in our community. And Lopez must look further than his movie DVD player, the Lakers game, or the local bus bench to find “everyday” role models doing great things. But he wants to dismiss what WWBLA really means to our community in that regard because The Times is trying to find a story where there is none. We can always count on the L.A. Times to write stories that assault the dignity, and insult the intelligence, of the black community. This really wasn’t enough money to even write about.
Lastly, the L.A. Times and Mr. Lopez could find out how wasteful DWP, known as the City’s “slush fund agency,” really is -- if the story was about waste. WWBLA is not even in the top 1,000 of DWP’s most frivolous expenditures. You could also be heroes as government “watchdogs,” if you weren’t so disingenuous.
I’d give $1,000 to know what the real motives are. Or maybe I’ll insult your intelligence like you try to insult ours, and give you just a penny. That’s all your opinion is really worth here. WWBLA will continue to lift the many doing good work in our community. And Mr. Steve Lopez and the Los Angeles Times can continue to ridicule legitimate black business practices and the affirmation of African American people known and unknown.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com