TAMPA — 2008's hot topics of race, religion, politics and media coverage drew a crowd to Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus Thursday night to listen to a panel discussion and give their opinion about how the media is doing.
In general, the sentiment of the evening was that coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was overblown and unnecessary.
"In the end, it was really irrelevant because we're not voting for Jeremiah Wright," said Chris Parra, 29, of Bradenton.
The Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, NAACP and Council on American-Islamic Relations organized the forum featuring local religious leaders and news people to open a dialogue with the public about the tough issues surrounding the coverage of the upcoming presidential election.
At the center of the two-hour conversation was Sen. Barack Obama's historic run for the White House, and the depiction of the Rev. Wright.
A panelist and longtime friend of the Rev. Wright, the Rev. Art Jones, pastor of Bible Based Fellowship Church of Carrollwood, said what the media failed to do was check the sourcing of the clips to see who's agenda it served to only use certain clips of Wright's Sept. 11 sermons.
"It was unfair and unbalanced, the way they crucified that man," he said.
Islamic relations was also a hot topic of the night.
Panelist Bill Keller, pastor of Liveprayer.com, had to stop himself midsentence from adding Obama's middle name, Hussein, while he was referring to him.
Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa-Hillsborough Human Rights Council and panelist, said he is offended that Obama must publicly declare his Christianity constantly because his name may sound Muslim.
"So what if he was a Muslim?" Bedier said. "He's not running to become imam or rabbi or pastor of America. He's running for president."
But the big question of the night came from Otis Anthony, host of WMNF 88.5's Sunday forum, who asked after the evening was over how communities could start to build upon these conversations and keep the dialogue open.
"We can't blame the media for everything because it is a reflection of us," Bedier said. "We've got to educate ourselves and become informed if we want to stop going down the path we're on."
Moderator and St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans offered a quick solution.
"You've got to diversify your media diet," he said. "If all you do is watch TV, you'll only have part of the issues covered."
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.