"Obama Watch" On Imhotep Gary Byrd's Show Ended: Let's Support Independent Black Media And "Speaking Truth To Power"

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Imhotep Gary Byrd

[Publisher's Notebook]

Last night was the last broadcast of the "Obama Watch" show on Imhotep Gary Byrd's Global Black Experience (GBE) on WLIB radio after almost eight years, for those of you who may have missed Sunday's program.

Byrd will continue with other shows on WLIB/WBLS minus "Obama Watch."

During the weekly program, I joined Byrd, the host and producer, together with two other reporters, Cash Michaels, based in South Carolina and Bankole Thompson, based in Michigan, to discuss and analyze major developments in national and international news. In the early years the iconic journalist and historian Herb Boyd was also a member of the show; in recent years, regular guests have also included Rep. Gregory Meeks, reporter Felicia Persaud, and veteran reporter and editor George Curry.

Gary Byrd's "Obama Watch" was an invaluable source of weekly news analyses. It had been a strong complement of "Like It Is" on WABC, which had been produced and hosted by the late legendary journalist Gil Noble. It was the surviving voice after Gil Noble suffered a stroke in August 2011 and never returned to the show; he died later on April 12, 2012.

On "Obama Watch" we all brought a distinctly and unabashedly African American perspective to the discussion. It was a critical anti-dote to the whitewash of the news we get from dime-a-dozen middle-aged-and-old White males who dominate the broadcasts on the nation's corporate media outlets such as: CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS, not to mention newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and many of the online media outlets.

The "Obama Watch" program has been on since 2008 when we started following then candidate, Senator Barack Obama's bid for The White House, and his eventual historic victory against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and his even more historic victory when he defeated John McCain in November 2008 and became the nation's first Black president.

I don't believe there was ever a plan for the "Obama Watch" program to last for so long. In fact, I personally thought it would end after the election of Obama as president; when it continued every week after the November 2008 vote, I thought perhaps it would end after Obama's inauguration in January, 2009.

But of course the story of Obama's presidency became bigger with each and every passing week. The nation's first Black president faced serious malicious personal attacks from the get-go even before he was sworn in when Republican icon Rush Limbaugh declared "I hope he fails."

Attacking the president personally became a Republican obsession even as the nation was threatened by a Great Recession and the economy was shedding anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 jobs a month and the Dow Jones index was dropping rapidly. Many people believed in 2009 that the auto industry and several of the major banks would collapse.

It was national panic time.

While the president pushed through with the $787 billion stimulus program to bail out the institutional pillars of the economy --which was opposed and derided by Republican lawmakers, even while they wrote to the administration to make sure some of the money went to their districts-- he also faced personal attacks from Republicans, especially the right wing elements. He became a target of open racist attacks, especially after the emergence of the Tea Party and the so-called "Birthers" who challenged his citizenship, claiming he was a Kenyan and therefore an illegal president. (The same "Birthers" haven't said a word even though Rafael Ted Cruz whose father fought alongside Fidel Castro in Cuba, was born in Canada). During his first term a Republican Congressman even had the temerity to interrupt Obama's State of the Union speech to declare: "You lie."

Even First Lady Michelle, and the president's young daughters Sasha and Malia weren't spared from the ugly attacks.

Despite all his detractors, President Obama pushed through and scored several victories: the affordable care act (ACA) which still faces challenges, including in the U.S. supreme court, was passed; the auto industry was rescued and has been enjoying record profits; the major banks, pillars of this capitalistic economy, were saved --much to the chagrin of many critics who contend Wall Street was rescued while main street, regular folks, were ignored-- and many repaid back the billions in loans; $4.4 billion fund for competitive grants for states' education reforms was created; there was increased funding for U.S. Veterans; $4.6 billion settlement for Black farmers discriminated against was signed; increased visibility of Africa as more than a continent of crises, conflict and diseases by hosting of first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., in 2014; troop draw-downs occurred in both Iraq and Afghanistan; and eventually the unemployment level cut from nearly 10% to under 6% by the end of 2014. Millions of new jobs have been created over the past five years.

The president also pushed for relief for student loan debts and consumers' credit cards protection.

The president's major mistake was to support the NATO invasion of Libya, leading to the destruction of the country and the assassination of its long-term ruler, Muammar al-Quathafi; it was a policy pushed much more aggressively by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Black voters should ask her about this if and when she does run for president. Now that Clinton is no longer Secretary of State, President Obama has resisted demands to support an invasion of Syria in similar fashion to the attack on Libya, knowing full well that it would help install extremist killers into power.

Given where the country was in 2009 and where President Obama has been able to steer it today, he would be hailed today as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents if he was not a Black man.

Instead President Obama faces the kind of disrespect that would be unimaginable if he had been a White male, including the recent assault on the office of the presidency itself by Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, who invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without informing The White House or the U.S. Department of State.

Netanyahu is an opponent of the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear energy program and an opponent of an independent state for the Palestinians as he recently announced before his re-election during which he played the race card  by warning that Arabs would be "voting in droves" to imperil his hold on power.

During his second term, Obama has been pushing plans that would also benefit more low-income communities, including African Americans, such as a proposal for tuition-free community college enrolments.

More recently President Obama took executive action to provide protection from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants and to normalize relations with Cuba.

Still, unemployment levels at 11% remains way too high in African American communities, at double the rates of White unemployment; this is the same discrepancy gap that existed 50 years ago.

These are just some of the many stories that "Obama Watch" on Imhotep Gary Byrd's GBE on Wlib has been there to document on a weekly basis.

The demise of "Obama Watch" even as the president still has two years in office, with many more stories to come, once again shows the critical need for independent Black media outlets.

We must stop complaining when good African American oriented programming disappears and instead take action. There are many multi-millionaire Black professionals, entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers. If they are serious about creating and supporting and maintaining independent Black media this is the time for them to step forward and talk to a person like Imhotep Gary Byrd who has been "speaking truth to power" for decades.

These wealthy individuals wouldn't only be doing the right thing; they would also make money at the same time, after all, WBLS/WLIB are profitable operations which means others can also create successful media outlets.

In the era of escalating killings with impunity of young African American males like Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, Eric Brown, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and several others, we can't afford not to have independent African American media outlets.

Even though the program ended officially on Sunday night, March 29, it actually died just over a year ago when Emmis Communications Corporation (Nasdaq: EMMS) which already owned  WQHT, HOT 97 in New York, announced in a press release on February 11, 2014 that it had bought "urban adult contemporary WBLS 107.5 FM, the No. 2 radio station in New York, and its sister station, WLIB 1190 AM, New York's first African-American targeted station offering an urban gospel format" for $131 million in cash.

"Today's announcement is indicative of our belief in the US radio industry and our desire to increase our footprint in the nation's largest market," Jeff Smulyan, President & CEO of Emmis Communications, was quoted saying in a statement at the time. "Emmis has deep ties to the New York African-American community, and it is with great pride we take the helm of these iconic stations."

Clearly the "deep ties" were not deep enough to ensure the survival of "Obama Watch."

The statement last year also said the payment for the stations to YM Media, whose CEO was Deon Levinstone, also the general manager of WBLS/WLIB, was to be in two installments.

"The first payment of approximately $55 million will occur promptly after the initial grant of the FCC's consent to assignment of the station's FCC licenses, expected to be in the summer of 2014," the statement announcing the deal last year said.  "The second payment of approximately $76 million will occur in February 2015. "

Presumably that second payment was made last month; and one month later the announced cutbacks by Emmis Communications includes "Obama Watch" on Imhotep Gary Byrd's GBE.

The statement last year by Emmis Communications also revealed the profitability of WBLS/WLIB.

"During calendar 2013, WBLS and WLIB reported approximately $31.9 million of net revenues and approximately $16.5 million of station operating expenses, excluding depreciation and amortization, resulting in approximately $15.4 million of station operating income," according to the press release last year announcing the acquisition.

So we no longer have "Like It Is" and now we no longer have "Obama Watch" on Imhotep Gary Byrd's GBE.

This is the time to get serious about creating an independent outlet to ensure that we can continue to "Speak Truth To Power."

The community deserves it.


Author's Note: Please send me your comments to mallimadi@gmail.com  Remember to listen to my weekly comments on the news every Tuesday at 7.10 am on "The Morning Show" with Michael G. Haskins on WBAI radio @ 99.5 FM or on www.wbai.org  Support  www.blackstarnews.com

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