MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2021
Justice denied, dream(s) deferred: Michele Norris has been a prominent mainstream media figure for the past several decades.
Today, she's an opinion columnist for the Washington Post, but she worked for several prominent news organizations before she came to the Post. The leading authority on her career offers this capsule account:
Michele L. Norris (born September 7, 1961) is an American journalist who currently works as an opinion columnist with The Washington Post.
From 2002 until 2011, she was co-host of the National Public Radio (NPR) evening news program All Things Considered. Norris was the first African-American female host for National Public Radio.
From 1993 to 2002, Norris was a news correspondent for ABC News, winning an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award for coverage of the September 11 attacks.
Norris joined the National Public Radio (NPR) evening news program All Things Considered on December 9, 2002, becoming the first African-American female host for NPR. In 2015, Fortune described Norris as "one of [NPR's] biggest stars."
Norris announced on October 24, 2011, that she would temporarily step down from her All Things Considered hosting duties and refrain from involvement in any NPR political coverage during the 2012 election year due to her husband's appointment to the Barack Obama 2012 presidential re-election campaign. On January 3, 2013, NPR announced that Norris had stepped down as a regular host of All Things Considered and would instead serve as an occasional host and special correspondent.
The profile continues from there.
Norris has had an extremely high-profile career. More specifically, she has had a high-profile mainstream career, working for several of the nation's most respected upper-end news orgs.
One more point. Throughout her career, Norris has been a good, decent person. Most significantly, she remains a good, decent person today.
Yesterday, Norris published a lengthy opinion essay in the Washington Post. In her essay, she made a somewhat dramatic proposal:
We're not entirely sure that her proposal makes sense.
On its face, her proposal may seem to make perfect sense, at least within the conceptual frameworks active here in Our Town. In yesterday's lengthy essay, Norris said that we should have a "national conversation about race."
That's a very familiar type of proposal here in the streets of Our Town. Briefly, let's note this relevant point:
Even as Norris advanced this proposal, that very type of conversation seemed to be underway in the Washington Post. Yesterday's edition was heavily clogged with such discussions—or possibly, in some instances, with such pseudo-discussions.
That included a lengthy front-page report about an ongoing movement to change the racist names of quite a few species of birds. Before the week is done, we'll list the many news reports and opinion columns on related topics which appeared in yesterday's Post.
Whether it's real or whether it's faux, some such national conversation does seem to be underway at this point in time. That said, Norris imagines a long conversation. Indeed, it may last for decades, she says:
NORRIS (6/6/21): When Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, there was an expectation that he would lead some kind of national conversation about race. We don’t place the same expectations on White leaders for some reason, but we should. President Biden was in Tulsa to mark the 100-year anniversary of one of the most vicious acts of racial violence in U.S. history...and he spoke directly about white supremacy in a way few presidents have...
That is a start. Biden should keep his foot on that pedal and launch an official inquiry about uncomfortable historical truths, and do it in a way that ensures that it will extend over years, if not decades. Because it is time for the United States to convene its own version of a truth and reconciliation commission and fully examine the horrors of slavery and their continued aftermath...
...[T]he collective American narrative needs a strong dose of truth. We need clear eyes and a firm spine, and then we need to chart a new path forward. That kind of step would also launch re-examinations of the treatment of America’s Indigenous peoples, the eugenics movement and the internment camps of the 1940s for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent.
And yet we are in a moment when hard truths are not just inconvenient, they are challenged and dismissed with great fanfare...
In Norris' vision, we wouldn't simply examine the horrors of slavery and their continued aftermath. We'd also conduct a national conversation about the historical treatment of Native Americans, and about the internment, during World War II, of citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent.
Also, about the eugenics movement of the early 1900s! We need to have a national conversation about that!
The conversation Norris envisions would be quite extensive. Given the various topics involved, this national conversation could last for decades, she says. The conversation should invest our collective narrative with "a strong dose of truth."
Here in Our Town, this suggestion may seem to make perfect sense. That said, questions arise:
As a giant continental nation, are we capable of having such a discussion? Indeed, are we capable of doing that ever here in Our Town?
Is our upper-end, mainstream press corps capable of holding such a discussion? How about our legions of assistant, associate and adjunct professors? Are we up to this challenge even here in Our Town, where the people are all above average?
For ourselves, we're a bit of a sceptic on that point. In various ways, Norris' essay helps reinforce our doubts.
Norris has always been a good, decent person, and she's had a big career. But can a giant nation like ours really conduct some such "conversation?" And how helpful are Norris' contributions likely to be at this fraught point in time?
Norris has had a very strong, very high-end career. She has always been very presentable.
She hasn't rocked a whole lot of boats, nor was there such a requirement. That said, within the past year, it has seemed to us that Norris, like many upper-end journalists, has been emerging with a new tone and a new point of view.
She now seeks a "national conversation" which could last for decades. All week long, we'll be asking a question:
What can happen to the strength of our journalism in the aftermath of justice denied, in the wake of a dream deferred? What can happen to our most basic understandings, even here in the streets of Our Town?
Tomorrow: A bit of snark right at the start