Cosby's suddenly camera-shy

The Baltimore Sun

Bill Cosby comes to town tomorrow to speak at a Park Heights block party. Should we expect the genial actor/author/Jell-O pitchman or the tough-talking, black self-reliance preacher?

Or perhaps someone else entirely: the camera-shy celeb.

"NOTE FOR MEDIA: Video photography will not be permitted during Mr. Cosby's remarks," reads the news release from Mayor Sheila Dixon's office. "Still photography will be permitted during the first 3 minutes."

What's with the attempted media blackout? (Whether it will be observed is another question. Cosby is speaking at a public event, on a public street, the 4500 block of Park Heights Ave., in front of St. Ambrose Church.)

The Cos wants it that way, said Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford.

"The important thing is for him to be there with the community," Clifford said. "So we're more than happy to respect his wishes with regard to the press, not that we don't love you."

Cosby's visit came about after Dixon's office asked if the star would participate in next year's Black History Month festivities. "He said, 'Sure, but let's also do something now,' " Clifford said.

That "something" is a block party, part of the mayor's "Operation Protect Neighborhoods" program. The idea is to offer help from virtually every city department to some of Baltimore's more distressed corners.

"He feels a special urgency about what's going on in Baltimore," said Cosby spokesman David Brokaw.

So Cosby's doing a good deed. Why not let the cameras roll?

Cosby got frustrated with the news media in 2004, when he gave a speech accusing poor blacks of squandering the gains of the civil rights movement. So much so that two years later, he rang up columnist Clarence Page to vent.

Reporters "have focused too much, in his view, on his sarcastic language," Page wrote in 2006, summarizing Cosby's complaints. "Too little attention has been given to the problems about which he was speaking: crime, violence, school dropouts, out-of-wedlock births and other self-inflicted troubles."

Cosby told Page: "The media love to choose what they want to use."

Tomorrow, for better or worse, Cosby does the choosing.

"This is an old-fashioned, grass-roots, local discussion of major issues, and he wants to stay on message on these things," Brokaw said. "And he doesn't want to do anything that would turn this into a circus. This sort of sound bite or other kind of misinterpretation of what he's saying, you just figure, let them have their fun, but we're talking about a catastrophe."

Not that he's been asked, but he'll step aside

On WTOP yesterday, host Mark Plotkin tried unsuccessfully to get Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to talk about his prospects for becoming Barack Obama's running mate.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, another guest on the show, jumped in to save Kaine from the grilling.

"Mark, I think I can make some news today," O'Malley said. "In deference to Tim Kaine's candidacy, I'm willing to pull myself out of consideration."

Plotkin, sarcastically: "Now, who did you back in the primaries, Governor O'Malley?"

Kaine: "Uh-oh."

O'Malley: "I am wholeheartedly backing the candidacy of Barack Obama for president of the United States."

Connect the dots

Like a good politician, Governor O'Malley knows how to pass buck - even to his mom. A caller to WTOP wanted help with a citizenship issue. O'Malley referred him to Sen. Barbara Mikulski's office. "There's a wonderful woman that'll answer the phone named Barbara O'Malley." ... Someone off-screen tried to steal the spotlight at Little Italy's outdoor movie Friday night: the guy driving around with the pickup with the big light-up "Bring Back Ehrlich" sign. (Sure sounds like Bob Ehrlich fan William "Ziggy" Cirigliano, though I never did reach him.) "Half yeahs and half boos," reports one of my spies. "After movie, everyone found an [Ehrlich] sticker on their parked car. Disgraceful!!! Outrageous!!!!" writes another. The real scandal was the film itself: My Big Fat Greek Wedding. C'mon! Fun movie, but let Greektown screen it. ... In its annual "Best Of" issue, Baltimore magazine crowned Gutter Magazine the city's best "Counterculture Media Experience." Which should be troubling to Gutter editor Joe Giordano, since the edgy online mag regularly savages its glossy society counterpart. "The funny part is that B-mag ACTUALLY thinks that they are hip and down wit what the city is up to ... albeit 6 months too late," reads one typical bit. Does the B-mag honor mean Gutter is so six months ago? "If anybody read Baltimore magazine I would worry," Giordano said. ... Full disclosure. I'm in Baltimore magazine, too. "Best Obliterator of H.L. Mencken Legacy." Or something like that. And no, if you've seen the picture, I'm not getting fresh with the Sage of Baltimore. It just looks that way.

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