The president of the National Association of Black Journalists is criticizing columnist George Will's claim that President Obama may be re-elected because he is black, calling the assertion "narrow-minded."
NABJ President Greg Lee, who is also executive sports editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, reacted to Will's October 1 column, in which the Washington Post scribe wrote that President Obama's "administration is in shambles, yet he is prospering politically."
Will suggested that the explanation for this alleged contradiction may be that Americans seem "especially reluctant not to give up on the first African American president."
"I think it's a slippery slope, you are making a broad sweeping suggestion that the only reason why Obama would be given a second term is because he is black. I think that's very narrow-minded and not looking at the totality of what Obama had to go through his first four years and what Mitt Romney has said during his campaign and also his resume in the past," Lee told Media Matters by phone Tuesday. "To make a broad sweeping generalization, it is a very dangerous thing to do, to just use race an excuse in this election. It's not an overall fair assessment if you are going to use that as a litmus test to decide a president because of their color."
In the column, Will sought to compare Obama's election as the first African-American president to that of Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball:
A significant date in the nation's civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues' first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson -- who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams -- showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
After being fired by the Indians, Robinson went on to manage three other teams, and won the American League Manager of the Year Award in 1989. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
Lee contends Will's claim of a racial preference for Obama underestimates the ability of voters to choose a president based on merits and record.
"If you look at the two candidates who are running for office, people still vote for who they want based upon what they see," Lee said. "Race will also play a part in this election, because of the nature of Obama as the first black president. But also at the same time, people, Americans, I think are smart enough and have the perspective of what Obama as president has been able to accomplish or not accomplish in the hand he was dealt.
"We had 42 other presidents who were white, that has never been a factor," he added. "Do you ever say, 'Oh I voted for George Bush because he was white?' That has never come up. You can have your opinion that he may not be qualified for the job, but don't use the race factor in terms of why people keep him in the job because he is black."
As a longtime sports journalist, Lee also contends Will is making a poor comparison of Obama and Robinson.
"I don't understand how you make a leap from someone managing a baseball team, whose record is very objective, if he has a losing record, that is something you can hang your hat on," he said. "It is subjective to say Obama has a losing record. People who evaluated Frank Robinson are paid CEOs and general managers. It is a sad comparison, it is apples and oranges."
Lee also found a contradiction in Will's Robinson comparison, noting that the fact that Robinson was later fired for supposed poor performance means voters would gladly vote Obama out for supposed poor performance.
"He contradicted his own point, the main premise of his column," Lee said. "I don't know where he is going with his column."