There’s a price for taking on Mayor Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, Calif., and the Sacramento News & Review is now paying it. The small weekly paper has consistently taken the lead in exposing Johnson’s abuses of the public trust—and now, for its troubles, finds itself in a bizarre racism controversy contrived by the mayor’s cronies.
Two weeks ago, Betty Williams, a vice-president of the Sacramento chapter of the NAACP, sent out a press release on the group’s letterhead blasting the News & Review for “racially biased news coverage” of Johnson. The statement, which you can read in full here, focused on a caricature the paper ran in which the former NBA star—now dealing with yet another in a long run of scandals involving a variety of sexual, financial, and ethical improprieties—reads critical N&R coverage. “The NAACP is outraged at the racist SN&R cartoon lampooning Mayor Johnson,” it read. (The cartoon in question can be seen at left.) “Caricaturing images of the Mayor with a crazed and violent look reinforces what many believe is the persona of many African American males.”
Williams, a former president of the NAACP’s Sacramento chapter, then fronted an anti-News & Review publicity campaign. “It’s almost like the blackface and the Sambo look,” Williams said on KFBK, a local news radio station. The group has since threatened a boycott of the paper.
All of this has, so far, worked out just fine for the mayor, who would surely much rather have people talking about cartoons than his legal issues. As is often the case when it comes to how Kevin Johnson is covered in Sacramento, the facts—that Williams is a Johnson agent in long standing; that her campaign is straight out of a playbook written up long ago by Johnson operatives; and that local activists are incredulous at the idea that the N&R did anything wrong—don’t seem to much matter at all.
A well-timed break for Kevin Johnson
Betty Williams’s charges came right as the News & Review was, as it has been, rightly hammering Kevin Johnson for using public resources for personal business. On July 1, apparently seeking to slow down coverage of the scandal, Johnson filed a lawsuit against the paper and its top political reporter, Cosmo Garvin, naming his own city as a co-defendant. That suit, which is still pending, seeks to prevent the release of emails from the mayor’s office related to Johnson’s self-styled “coup” against the National Conference of Black Mayors, an Atlanta-based non-profit. (Johnson is now also suing and being sued by NCBM officials.)