PBMF disappointed in Post-Gazette’s cancellation of meeting on slavery column

UPDATE (Oct. 9, 2015) —The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation is disappointed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s cancellation of a meeting to discuss the publication of a column about slavery that was rife with misinformation. 

PBMF, seeking to discuss with Post-Gazette management the outrageous and historically inaccurate claims in Jack Kelly’s Sept. 13 column “Remnants of Slavery” – and PBMF’s subsequent statement denouncing the column – requested a meeting with the newspaper’s management. Inaccuracies in media too often are mistaken for truth once they are published.

A meeting was scheduled to take place this week with PBMF board members and P-G opinion page editors. 

 The day before the scheduled meeting, the P-G requested that PBMF agree to not record the meeting, or attribute comments to or quote Post-Gazette employees in any reports of meeting dialogue. PBMF also was asked to not issue a news release or post on social media anything regarding the meeting. PBMF’s board agreed to the requests regarding attribution, recording and quoting, but refused to allow its methods of communication to be censored.  Despite PBMF’s compromise, the P-G canceled the meeting. PBMF is disappointed with that decision.

It is unfortunate that an opportunity to have a frank conversation about the column — along with the larger issue of newsroom diversity and racial education — was lost over an attempt at censorship from a media outlet whose role is to accurately and fairly inform free of undue restraint. The PBMF board’s duty is to serve a membership that will not relinquish its voice about how it and the larger African-American community are portrayed in the mass media. Further, PBMF is a trade and advocacy organization of journalists and other media professionals whose work is inextricably intertwined with the pursuit of truth, accuracy and openness. 

 PBMF owes the public truth, honesty and integrity.  So does the Post-Gazette.


PITTSBURGH (Sept. 14, 2015) – Normally, the type of propaganda and twisted thinking evidenced in Jack Kelly’s column “Remnants of Slavery,” published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 13, should not be dignified with a response.  However, its content is so egregiously ignorant, its premise so flawed, and the platform that lends it credence so public that it must be addressed for the sake of truth and accuracy.  

Outrageous excerpts from the column are as follows:

  • “The words ‘slavery’ and ‘benign’ ought never to appear in the same sentence, but slaves in the American South and the British Caribbean (usually) were treated less harshly than in most other places where slavery has been practiced — especially in ancient times.”
  • “Slavery was horrible, but no black American living today has suffered from it. Most are better off than if their ancestors had remained in Africa.”

Historians, sociologists and psychologists across the globe agree that U.S. slavery was uniquely pernicious in its practice and long-term debilitating effects on slaves and their descendants, a disgraceful legacy that still has adverse impact today. Some of the racial disparities that persist in educational achievement, access to quality housing and livable wages, and other areas have been linked to the lasting effects of slavery.

The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation calls on all columnists, reporters and other media professionals to responsibly discuss salient issues.

Before sitting down at his computer to write, Mr. Kelly should consider the professional and ethical mandates of responsible journalism. In this case, learning the facts about U.S. slavery and institutional racism before articulating an opinion likely would have resulted in a more legitimate expression of opinion and provided an important public service to P-G readers.  

To that end and for future reference, we are glad to furnish experts from every ethnic group who can educate Mr. Kelly about the myths, fallacies and erroneous assumptions that undergirded his column.  We also would be delighted to introduce him to journalism ethicists who can remind him why an opinion piece is not a license to revise history.  

The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation strongly condemns the column as a blight on journalism. Shame on Mr. Kelly, and shame on the Post-Gazette for printing something unfit for a serious newspaper.