You might remember Jesse Washington: He's the Associated Press editor who last year issued an ill-conceived ban on Paris Hilton news that, after much to-do, was lifted in less than two weeks. Within a year, the AP went entirely in the other direction, telling staffers "everything involving [celebrity] Britney [Spears] is a big deal," a reversal Washington awkwardly, and overenthusiastically, joined, again making waves with the announcement that the wire had already written Spears' obituary amid the singer's psychiatric breakdowns. He also rather rashly said in a video interview that "if you want to know that it really happened [in celebrity news], then you're going to have to go to AP... If we put it out, you can bet the house on it that it really happened." That hyperbolic claim was undermined a few months later, when a source claimed "the AP misquoted me" as saying actor Paul Newman had cancer. Having displayed such a nuanced touch, what might Washington's future be at the wire service? Why, covering the sensitive topic of race and ethnicity! In fact, Washington beat out 448 other applicants for the position of national writer on such matters, according to an AP staff memo from U.S. News Managing Editor Mike Oreskes:
Few subjects permeate every corner of American life more fully than issues of race and ethnicity. So, few assignments have more potential to expand our understanding of America than writing about race and ethnicity.
That is why we have conducted an extensive search for a new national writer to cover this important and complex territory.
That search, ably led by John Affleck, brought in 449 applicants. There were many strong candidates.
It turned out the top choice-and a very exciting one-was right here at home. I am very pleased to announce that our new national writer on race and ethnicity will be Jesse Washington, currently the AP's Entertainment Editor.
Jesse Washington is a journalist of insight, passion and considerably varied experience. Reporter, magazine editor (twice), publisher, novelist, shooting guard. A native New Yorker, Jesse graduated from Yale in 1992 and joined the AP in Detroit. He came to the National Desk in New York the next year. He also served as assistant New York bureau chief.
He left in 1997 to become managing editor of Vibe magazine, and later served as founding editor of the Vibe spin-off Blaze, a magazine focusing on hip-hop culture. That experience suffuses Jesse's first novel, "Black Will Shoot," published earlier this year. He also started a company that published two coffee table books about African-American artists, Romare Bearden and Elizabeth Catlett, and founded the street basketball magazine, Bounce.
He returned to the AP in 2003 to become entertainment editor, supervising our expanding team of journalists covering film, music, television, theater books, pop culture, celebrities and even video games.
''Jesse has been essential in building AP's entertainment coverage,'' said Lou Ferrara.
Jesse brings to this new assignment more than just a resume of achievements. He has lived the subject of race and ethnicity every day of his 39 years.
Son of an interracial marriage, Jesse is, as he puts it, "a kid from the projects who went to Yale and married a doctor. I'm a person who fits in everywhere and nowhere." He and his wife live in suburban Philadelphia with their four children.
Since the subject can't wait, he begins a week from Monday, traveling the country and, of course, looking at the role of race in this presidential election year.
A search for Jesse's replacement as entertainment editor is under way, Lou reports
Sometimes, as they say, the person you're searching for is right there under your nose. Banning stuff.