OUT & ABOUT: Why Steele Stood Us Up

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BY DENISE CLAY/ My original intention was to write a column about seeing Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele at the National Association of Black Journalists in San Diego last week.

Steele was to be interviewed by CNN pundit (and the best self-promoter since P.T. Barnum) Roland Martin and asked questions about the RNC, his rough-and-tumble tenure as its chair, and how the party plans to move out of its minority status in 2010.

But Steele didn’t show. Frankly, I was surprised he had even consented to be interviewed by a panel of African American journalists in the first place. Republicans, even Black Republicans, tend to stay away from large groups of Black people, especially ones armed with notepads. They’re afraid they’ll have to justify some of their more heinous stands.

So when Steele’s people told NABJ Convention officials food poisoning was the reason he was taking a pass on our clambake, the general opinion among NABJ-ers was “Yeah, right!”

In fact, most convention attendees believed the real reason why Steele decided to bail on us, instead of taking a shot of Kaopectate for his rumbling tummy, was the woman who had visited NABJ the day before he was to appear. That was Shirley Sherrod.

Sherrod was the Dept. of Agriculture official who was fired after being caught on tape “being racist” at an NAACP meeting by Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger intent on chastising the organization for calling the Tea Party out on its racist element.

Only problem with this video was it was incomplete. While the tape did feature Sherrod talking about her own racism she had to overcome to help a white farmer keep his land, it didn’t include the fact she managed to overcome it and helped that farmer keep the land he works today.

(She also gained a fan in country singer and farm activist Willie Nelson, who wrote a piece in support of Sherrod on Huffington Post.)

Sherrod came to visit NABJ bright and early Thursday morning to talk about the part played by the media in her story and to announce two things: (1) if you’re a reporter from Fox News, don’t even bother coming to ask her for an interview, and (2) she’s going to sue Breitbart.

It’s the second part that probably kept Michael Steele from visiting NABJ. You see, the Republican National Convention is hosting a fundraiser featuring, you guessed it, Andrew Breitbart. It was a sure bet whatever message Steele hoped to deliver to the 1,600 journalists at the convention would be totally eclipsed by questions regarding the RNC’s relationship with Breitbart.

Being forced to explain the boneheaded actions of the people you’re using to raise money can be a little bit much. I guess that’s even true for Michael Steele, in spite of the fact that explaining the boneheaded actions of people is a large part of his job.

Next year, NABJ brings its annual convention to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will play host and hopefully (if he’s still RNC chair by next August), we can get Michael Steele to come and talk to us.

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