Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not reach out to black media until August when senior campaign adviser Tara Wall called and offered Black Enterprise an exclusive interview with the candidate. The interview made Black Enterprise the only black media outlet that Romney spoke with on the record, said April D. Ryan, White House Correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks.
Oprah Winfrey interviewed Romney. And he spoke off-the-record to several members of the black press. But he broke promises, including to Ryan, that he would later speak with them on-the-record, she said.
“Whether you like it or not, black media is just as important as mainstream media. The black press is important particularly when you have a community that’s part of the United States of America that still suffers disproportionately in almost every facet of life. It is important to talk to that community,” Ryan told Poynter by phone, right before she was to interview President Barack Obama inside the Oval Office. “It’s unfortunate that it was just one interview, and I applaud Black Enterprise for that interview, but we need more. We need to see and hear more. These candidates have to answer our questions.”
Derek T. Dingle, Senior Vice President and editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise, said his magazine’s interview with Romney is important because many voters feel there was no prior African American outreach from the Romney campaign.
“In the context of our mission, which is business development, career advancement and wealth building for African Americans, my questions were focused on those areas. But in the same breath, I think the questions were expansive enough to deal with those issues that are of concern to African Americans in general,” Dingle told Poynter in a telephone interview. “Those questions were derived from not just conversations I’ve had with our editors, but conversations I’ve had with small business owners, our readers in general, as well as black Democrats and Republicans.”
The interview with Romney was initially published in the magazine’s September print edition, a month after the magazine published an interview with President Obama. The article on Romney was posted online, where it received the most attention, this week following the final presidential debate. Dingle said the intent of the interview was not to sway African American voters, who overwhelmingly support Obama, but to offer insight into Romney’s positions on issues important to black entrepreneurs specifically, and black Americans in general.
During the 20-minute interview, Dingle spoke with Romney about bank regulation and tax policy, but also about minority business development, diversity recruitment during the candidate’s tenure at Bain Capital, and black unemployment, which is nearly twice the national average.
Some website commenters feel Romney’s statements in Dingle’s interview were insubstantial. At the same time, Dingle said, readers appreciate that the publication has the kind of influence that provides them with access to both presidential candidates, especially when both have been criticized for not doing or saying enough to address concerns unique to African Americans. It also shows that the candidates view Black Enterprise as vital in reaching professional African Americans, and those interested in business and economic issues, Dingle added.
Though it may not sway black voters, getting the interview is still a major coup because neither candidate has directly addressed the concerns of black voters in the same way that they have reached out to Latino, gay and women voters, not even during the three recent debates. When the Commission on Presidential Debates failed to name a black debate moderator, frustrated black journalists submitted their own questions (none were asked), and even made unsuccessful attempts to get the candidates to participate in a separate debate or forum similar to the one for Latino journalists and voters.
It’s understandable that the Romney Campaign would want to reach out to Black Enterprise, said Dr. Michael K. Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia. To the extent that there is a connection between African Americans and Republicans, you can argue that such a connection lies in business and finance. “In that regard it makes good sense to me to do that,” Fauntroy said. “But I don’t know that [Romney’s] going to get very much out of it because that pocket of black America is relatively small compared to the rest of the black population.”