It’s Complicated: Racism in Portland Media By Fred Stewart, edited by Theresa Griffin Kennedy


I want to share something with the Portland community, my family, personal friends and many Facebook friends who follow my posts and videos. September 5, 2017, something very interesting happened to me.

In the late morning, I ran into Mark Zusman who is one of the editors of Willamette Week Newspaper. I have known Zusman for at least the past twenty-three years and perhaps even longer than that. Over that time I have spoken to probably a dozen or so of his young white reporters who eagerly work for WW. I have spoken to Zusman and others about various political, social and economic issues and I have been quoted numerous times in their paper.

In 1992 when I first ran for office WW endorsed me over an incumbent state representative and they wrote about my campaign. Naturally, I was pleased they would support me, a man of color, a lifetime resident of Portland, and a real estate broker who has always been invested in the progress of my hometown and the progressive people who populate this great city.

On the fifth, as I was walking by Zusman, (at a gym we both belong to) Zusman, whom I didn’t recognize, because of his dusty white hair called out to me:“Is it Fred? I wanna to talk to you for a moment!” I was walking by after working out on some equipment and simply didn’t see him.  When he called out to me, I was surprised. I strolled over and we spoke for about ten minutes. The exchange was interesting and confirmed many things I had always suspected about Zusman.

Zusman seemed perplexed and troubled as he began addressing me. He said: “You know we’re Facebook friends. I’ve been reading some comments you’ve made on Facebook regarding me and my paper and your ideas that we are racist that I’m concerned with.” What Zusman was referring to of course was my open and well-known condemnation of the newspaper he runs. This includes my condemnation of him personally for running the paper the way he does, with a focus on people of color that I and many others find biased, racist and disrespectful to the many hard working people of color residing in Portland.

I have come to this conclusion based on many instances of WW publishing articles that are racially insensitive and downright mocking to some of the most accomplished black public and business leaders in Portland today! In Portland, a black person just can’t catch a break with this white owned and white operated newspaper.

Over the years, WW has made a point of publishing patronizing articles pointing out the minor shortcomings, and failings of some of the most successful and decent black residents of Portland. To see this done habitually is extremely disappointing for a person of color living in the “whitest city” in the nation.

This biased focus from WW does nothing to promote racial harmony in Portland or help promote the social and economic equity that is so needed here. Economic and social equity is needed to prevent more people of color from being pushed out of their hometown where they have lived their entire lives. This equity is needed to counteract things like “rent control” and the slow steady march of gentrification that leads to white Portland residents taking over entire areas, and pushing out black residents, as has happened in the Albina neighborhoods and elsewhere in North and NE Portland.

I have not come to this conclusion about WW easily and I have to add that it is quite humbling to admit how I did arrive at this conclusion. I refer to that epiphany as a “chicken George” moment. If any of you have ever seen the television series Roots then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

For years I ignored the mocking, elitist tone of the articles WW has published where they chose to focus on people of color. I let slide many of the trespasses and cruel insults WW have made against the black Community. I didn’t want to become known as a complainer and so I let my awareness of the institutionalized racism within their articles regarding people of color, slide.

I denied the truth. I avoided the ugliness of what they were doing. Granted, they weren’t calling black people the “N word” but they were doing other things, subtle things that are racist by virtue of their outcome. Today we call these subtle forms of abuse and racism “micro-aggressions.” They encompass not so much what an individual might say, as how they say it or what they may do. Remember the old saying “actions speak louder than words” that we all learned as children? It’s as true today as it was fifty years ago.

Much of my criticism of WW and what they do as an institution is not only what they choose to write about when it comes to people of color, but what they choose not to write about regarding issues important to people of color in Portland. They do not write uplifting stories, demonstrating real respect and regard for the successful business and political leaders of Portland who may be black.

There are countless stories that WW should write. There are countless stories that could offer a needed positive and empowering view of the people of color in Portland, other than which “Black-Owned Restaurants” you should frequent during their “Here’s Where to Eat During Support Black-Owned Restaurants Week.” Did WW ever get a black persons opinion on the condescension of that article? Did they confer with a black person over any part of the writing of that comical article? Why not support black owned businesses period? Is White Portland only supposed to support black-owned businesses for a “week” according to WW? This is what I’m talking about.

During our short conversation Zusman asked me if I could “…produce any bonafide evidence” that he was racist in his organization as an editor and journalist. In my opinion, his question regarding “evidence” is a classic tactic by white people who are secretly racist, or even openly racist but oblivious to their unconscious bias. These kinds of people don’t ask a black person why they feel they or other white people might be racist—because the perspective of the black person is simply not important. They demand to know if the black person has “any evidence.” By this I mean, evidence that could convince another white person (or perhaps even a court of law) that the black person is correct to suspect racist thinking in the white person.

I explained to Zusman that I had read his articles about Baruti Lateef Artharee and his articles about Derek Foxworth and his articles about Lew Frederick and other black people in Portland and I was not impressed. In those articles, all I saw was a heavy focus on racial bias. The truth of the matter is that there are mirror situations of misconduct among white politicians and white business leaders in Portland that WW could write about, but more often than not, they choose not to.


Instead of writing positive articles about good black leadership in the whitest city in the nation, WW seems to enjoy writing articles that make prominent black leaders in Portland look corrupt, stupid, lazy, and dishonest. They take some of the most successful black leaders in Portland and reduce them to racial clichés. The only time they do write about black folks in Portland is generally when a black gang member has just killed one or more people or there has been a rash of gang shootings among documented black gang members.

With other black folks in Portland WW goes even lower in their tactics, for example engaging in obvious yellow journalism; such as they did with me in the 2016 article they wrote about my relationship with my very independent daughter Hunter Stewart.

WW’s article, titled in true yellow journalism fashion, “City Council Candidate Fred Stewart “Pinned” His 16-Year-Old Daughter Against a Wall. Then He Sued Her.” had head writer and Nigel Jaquiss depict me being violent with my teenaged daughter and trying to poke her eye out when I had done no such thing. Jaquiss accused me of having been arrested for “nonpayment of child support” when I had never been arrested for that charge. Later, they had to retract the statement on their website. Nigel Jaquiss lied to me when he told me he would not write about me, after visiting my home after I had sprained my ankle, explaining it would be no problem for him to come to my home. Then later, after he’d lied to me, he published the smear article insinuating I had a history of domestic violence with my ex-wife, and even going so far as to accuse me of violently abusing my only child when I had not.

For their article, they had one source; my young and angsty daughter Hunter Stewart. They had no concern for the damage this might inflict on my daughter. They had no issues coming between a father and his daughter. That is yellow journalism

I am a man who has never been arrested for domestic violence though police officers have been called to my home when I had two loud disagreements with my assertive young daughter. I am a man who has never been charged or convicted of the crime of domestic violence. Why? Because I do not enjoy hurting women. That does not bring me joy. And my mother made it a very important part of raising me to instill a clear understanding in me that there is no one “lower” than a man who will overpower or hurt a woman smaller than him.

Of the dozens of relationships I have had in my life with women, there are only two women who have ever accused me of being violent and abusive and those are my ex-wife and our daughter. Considering the manner that my ex-wife swore she would turn my daughter against me, to my mother Dorothy Stewart and to my sister Tracy Stewart, and even to me, beginning when Hunter was barely five-years-old, this is not surprising to me.

There is no documentation anywhere that can support WW’s false claim I ever abused my ex-wife or my daughter. There are no hospital records, no school reports of abuse, and no written police records claiming evidence of any abuse. How many other men have been accused of being violent by their ex-spouses when they were not? History shows us that there have been a lot.

I told Zusman he has not ensured his working environment at WW is racially inclusive. The truth is that WW does not hire black people to write for them. Why? Because as white men and women, the issues of black folks in Portland are as remote to them as if black people were from another country or another planet.

Bottom line is that WW has never made it a priority that their news outlet reflects the concerns or challenges that all of the residents of the city of Portland, face. And all the residents includes the vanishing numbers of black folks who still reside here and who have lived here their whole lives. WW have intentionally ignored the development of black writers within their newspaper because they’re not interested in embracing, supporting or understanding the black community. They’re white, so why should they care? It really is as simple as that.

Looking back on every instance where I’ve been interviewed for political office by WW, and I’ve been asked to meet with them, I have always been confronted by a large group of white people, with never a black person in sight. This has usually meant meeting with white men but sometimes a white woman or maybe two were present. Still, when you are black and surrounded by people who don’t look like you, it can feel very unwelcoming and isolating. When you’re a man, and a big man at that, it can feel even more unwelcoming.

When I discussed my concerns about the black community in those meetings, it was evident they at WW had not done their homework. Their scope of understanding the black community and its challenges was humiliatingly shallow and simplistic.

It was not important to them because they are not black. 

Because I belong to a very prestigious gym, which I will not name, they do their best to try to make sure only conscientious, decent and enlightened people become members. Because I told Zusman during our short conversation that I considered him to be racist in his policies and behaviors with regard to WW, he challenged me on the spot to inform the membership board of the gym where we were both standing. I found his suggestion manipulative and aggressive; akin to saying, “Hey kid, you want me to call the police?!” 

He said: “Because this organization doesn’t offer memberships to racist people Fred, why don’t you contact them and tell them what you think?!” I attempted to make the distinction between a blathering mad-man racist, yelling and screaming in a crowd, or on a street corner, much like Jeremy Joseph Christian was—the Max Train killer, and the kind of controlled, calm and calculated racist who people would never suspect of being racist. The kind of racist who runs a newspaper and only writes about black people in negative and stereotypical ways and focuses on his white special interest stories, with his white writers.

I said “Mark, you may not be a David Duke, Hood wearing, Nazi saluting type of racist. But you are a passive type of racist. Or a passive aggressive racist. You have a bias against black people in Portland. I see it in the incomplete stories you allow to be written about black people and the ways you depict them. And honestly anyone can see it in that article Nigel Jaquiss wrote about me and my daughter.” Zusman did not respond to my accusations of covert racism in his newspapers practices in not hiring people of color and in only focusing on mocking the most accomplished black residents in Portland and just shook his head no.

I pointed out to Zusman that in 2006 he allowed an article to be written about Lew Frederick’s family, in which WW poked fun at the great grandfather of Representative Lew Frederick. Lew Frederick’s great grandfather was born a slave! This great man grew up to watch his son, (Lew’s father) graduate from college as an educated man several years before and then later become a professor! The photo was taken at Southern University in 1954 after Lew Frederick’s father had completed his PhD and taken a position in the Biology Department at Southern University. This former slave, Lew Frederick’s great grandfather, was reduced to a joke because the top portion of his zipper was slightly undone in a family photograph and WW felt it was their sworn moral duty as journalists to point this out. They poked fun and mocked a former slave.

A former SLAVE. The great grandfather of Oregon Representative Lew Frederick!

A former SLAVE. 

The group photo was taken at a family celebration some sixty years ago, of that moment in time, when this former slave was wearing his Sunday best suit to celebrate his son’s achievement at completing a PhD! Instead of WW addressing the incredible accomplishment for that entire family—that Lew Frederick’s father had completed a PhD and was now a professor in a university, WW felt it was important to point out that this former slave’s zipper was partially open. They poked fun at a former slave; a man who had faced more oppression, despair, and abuse than most people will ever experience.

Considering that Mark Zusman is Jewish and has Jewish ancestry, we can presume that he too knows how damaging racism and discrimination can be. We may also presume that Zusman knows people who have died in the Holocaust of WWII because of their racial heritage. So, why would Zusman allow this kind of mocking article be written, about a former slave? Why would he allow the sickening slight be included, in which a former slave is ridiculed in such a sophomoric and childish way?

I pointed out to Zusman that WW was very unfair to Baruti Lateef Artharee and that they misrepresented him, helping along his departure by painting him as an out of control lewd animal. Ultimately, Artharee lost his job because he complimented Loretta Smith, a black woman, and WW treated it as some sort of perverted act. The rumor I have heard is that they may have had a history together. Whether or not that’s true, Artharee’s many contributions to social justice, and civil rights were destroyed by WW and he was reduced to a comical stereotype.

However, to anyone in the know regarding politics in Portland, they know how often Commissioner Nick Fish has done the same thing, calling Smith “beautiful” and complimenting her repeatedly on her physical attractiveness. That double standard sends a very clear message to black folks in Portland and particularly to black men. The message is that it’s okay for a white man to compliment a black woman in public, but it is not okay for a black man to compliment a black woman in public. If a black man compliments a black women, and they are in city council or public office, then that man is labeled a pervert or troll.

I pointed out to Zusman how his paper mistreated Derek Foxworth when he was the chief of Portland Police Bureau by the articles they wrote about him during his 2006 troubles. In those articles WW published harmless love letters they called “Horney emails.” The emails were exchanged by Foxworth and Angela Oswalt. Both Foxworth and Oswalt had an intimate and consensual relationship for several years. This revelation came years after the relationship had ended (while Foxworth was still chief of police) and it became clear Oswalt was looking for big money.

I told Zusman I know of similar situations within the Portland Police Bureau involving white police officers and white chiefs. I told him I had heard through the grapevine that WW knew of those situations, too, but chose not to report the same behaviors committed by white people within law enforcement. In some of those cases the sexual misconduct was far more egregious than the simple lovey dovey “Horney emails” that ended Derek Foxworth’s fine career of service to Portland citizens. Derek Foxworth was singled out because he was a black man in a position of power in Portland; the nations “whitest city.” That’s why WW went after him.

Because they could.

That is the racism I talked about with Zusman, but he just couldn’t get it. He refused to consider that white people who offend and do equal or worse than black people have an advantage: Being white is their pass; their get out of jail free

*The last point I made to Mark Zusman, editor of Willamette Week was that the article he okayed, and that “The Muckraker” Nigel Jaquiss lovingly put together, as an exciting and titillating example of the best yellow journalism many people have yet to see, was also extremely hurtful to my daughter, Hunter Stewart. Zusman was nonplussed. He was unmoved. Why would he care about my only child, Hunter? She’s not important to him. She’s just some black man’s black daughter. Zusman smirked then and said, “Well, Fred, your daughter sure seemed happy when I told her we were gonna run the story. She smiled a big smile!” His reply to my comment was surprising, revealing and I was pretty much stunned by it. It showed me the kind of person he is. Zusman enjoys hurting people. He gets off on it. The grin on his face proved that to me. What kind of person enjoys destroying relationships for people?

I stated to Zusman that the article about me, throwing around the false claim that I had been abusive toward my daughter was a hatchet job and profoundly not true.

Throwing out the image to the mostly white population of Portland of a black man who beats on women is a classic negative stereotype. This stereotype is often expressed by racist white people who wish to frighten other white people into supporting white candidates for public office. It is as old as the hills as a political tool. And people need to be reminded that not all black men abuse women, just like not all white men abuse women.

The article was also a reprehensible affront to everything I’ve worked hard for in my life. It was their attempt to paint me as the archetypal Negro savage. The kind of out of control black man who cannot be trusted around white women, or even his own biracial child.

Black men have lost their lives over such false accusations of abuse, particularly when a white woman is involved! WW did not take the time to verify more than ONE single source. And that source was my angsty, opinionated, and ambitious young daughter. That is not what even mediocre journalists do. A serious article, written by a professional journalist, to be considered real journalism must have THREE sources that are reliable. WW went against the most common edict of simply journalism that has existed for decades and when that happens what you have is classic yellow journalism.

WW decided to publish their tawdry example of yellow journalism before Election Day, to squash my chances at public office. And they were successful. But they also exposed the very racism many people have suspected them of harboring towards people of color. My conversation with Mark Zusman confirmed for me everything I have ever said about WW, Zusman and Nigel Jaquiss—that they are racist and hide their racism behind the veil of being liberals in a progressive town.

How does a man answer the serious accusation of being physically abusive toward the women who are important to him? How do you not appear guilty, especially if a small town newspaper like WW decides to write an article depicting you in a dishonest way? It is not easy to prove your innocence, but I have tried and with some help and support of family and many friends, I think I have made a good impression.

I told Zusman WW needs to hire black reporters’ not black interns’ but black reporters. This includes staff writers’ who black folks can come to, and address issues relevant to racism and the Black Culture in general in Portland.

I told Zusman, “Next year when WW event is interviewing candidates for their endorsement for elective office, you should make sure those people who are running for office don’t sit down in a room filled with only white people staring across the table from them.”

Zusman did not acknowledge anything I said and seemed incapable of accepting my perspective in any way. He was blind to everything I said. He shook his head no, and disagreed with everything I said about my experience as a black man in white Portland. I was wrong about everything. He was the expert on my blackness. His stubborn insistence on rejecting everything I said was revealing. It told me everything I will ever need to know about him, and his failing print newspaper.

Next March or April several white people will sit down with WW and WW will face off with the interracial mix of candidates running for elective office in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon. This interracial mix will face a room full of intimidating white people who are often impersonal and unfriendly. These white people will sit in judgement of them and of the issues that are important to them. They will ask them where they live, whether they own or rent their home, how much money they make and whether they drive or take the bus and which health clubs they frequent.

Whether Zusman plans to consider what I said in our impromptu conversation that he instigated is uncertain, but I’m not holding my breath.

If any changes occur at WW, it will happen only because other people in other cities outside of Oregon are watching Portland, WW and my social media and my website. It will be because those outside people watching shake their heads in disapproval of Willamette Week, realizing that WW has enjoyed their insular country club atmosphere long enough, while wearing the badge of Enlightened White Liberal.

Zusman ended the conversation. In control as ever. He denied ever harboring any racist beliefs or practices at any time in his life and said, “Fred, we will have to agree to disagree.” I responded to Zusman and said: “Fine, we can do that. But you know what you are and I do, too.”