When Mayor Marion Barry announced his decision Wednesday not to seek reelection, he made a special gesture to blacks by conveying his message exclusively through the black media.
While other reporters lingered outdoors awaiting a glimpse or an interview with the mayor, Barry announced his decision on Howard University's WHMM-TV station.
Barry, who had met earlier with six representatives of black-owned newspapers, characterized the exclusive interviews as a symbolic gesture toward black institutions.
Media representatives and some acquaintances of Barry said they viewed the move more as a tactical ploy than an indication of racial pride.
One former Barry aide, who asked not to be named, speculated that by restricting his media contact to black outlets, the mayor was able to avert tough questions from the general media.
Those who attended the meeting said they welcomed the rare opportunity to scoop their larger, wealthier competitors.
"He said it was another meeting with the family," said William Reed, business editor of the black-owned Capitol Spotlight, who attended the session, which he said Barry requested. "He also said it was a way of empowering the minority media so the general media has to come to us to get" the story.
For black reporters with minority-owned and general media, Barry's move revived concerns about the nature of their relationships with black leaders such as Jesse L. Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose treatment of the black press and minority reporters have been questioned.
Some black journalists say many black leaders seek them out only in their times of need.
"Generally, when they are in battle, they will play the race trump card," said George Curry, the New York bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune.
In 1984, Jackson rankled many black journalists who said he snubbed them by announcing his presidential campaign on a CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast. Several black reporters who covered that campaign said Jackson had promised them an exclusive announcement.
"We all found out at the same time. When we turned on '60 Minutes,' " recalled Curry, who covered Jackson's campaign in 1984. "Whenever there was an important story of substance, Jesse went to the white press."
More recently, Farrakhan annoyed members of the local black press by granting lengthy interviews -- for the first time in memory -- to The Washington Post and the Washington Times before giving interviews to black-owned media outlets.
Followers of Farrakhan, who has been criticized by whites for public comments perceived as racist, arranged interviews in an effort to smooth over the conflict, said Reed.
Barry also has had some scrapes with the black press. The former aide said representatives of black-owned media complained in a 1987 meeting with Barry that they were being snubbed by the mayor.
Since then, Barry's relationship with the black media has improved. In March, when he returned to the District after receiving treatment for alcohol and prescription drug addiction, Barry granted detailed interviews with three black-owned newspapers.
At the same time, Barry told other media that he could not discuss details of his case.
Bishop H. Hartford Brookins, a Barry friend, said the mayor views the black press as a bastion of support against the general media and the white establishment.
Barry has said his Jan. 18 arrest at the Vista Hotel was orchestrated to drive him from office.
"I think he's always felt his strongest support base was the black community, and as a result he wanted to go to the black press first," said Brookins. "He has consistently said he was not getting a fair shake from the white press."
Kevin Chavous, a Ward 7 Democratic State Committee member, speculated that Barry took his announcement to the black media first to ensure more positive treatment.
Barry's announcement was trumpeted in sympathetic headlines in black weeklies. The headline in the Capitol Spotlight said, "The Struggle Continues."