WAPO Article Is a Needed Expose of Media Racism
Earlier this week The Washington Post published a superb piece about racism in the news media. It’s a must read, especially for reporters and bloggers.
From The Washington Post
Scholars have long documented how news and opinion media warp public perceptions of gender and race by reinforcing myths and stereotypes about women and people of color. And they play a dangerous role in spreading debunked stereotypes about black families.
Our organizations, Color of Change and Family Story, commissioned a research team at the University of Illinois that studies media patterns to examine what an average news consumer might have “learned” about black families (and white families) during the last election cycle. The results were disturbing.
The study found that, at best, media outlets promoted racially biased portrayals and myths that pathologize black families and idealize white families with respect to poverty and crime. At worst, media outlets amplified those inaccurate depictions for political and financial gain. Such reporting reinforces debunked narratives, helping to justify actions from police brutality to economic policies that will hurt not just black families but all families for generations.
The research team examined more than 800 relevant stories published or aired from January 2015 through December 2016, encompassing coverage from national broadcast and cable news outlets such as ABC, CBS and MSNBC; national mainstream newspapers like The Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today; and online news sites. In both written and television reporting, the researchers found that the news media systemically misrepresented black families.
When the media outlets examined in the study reported stories about poor families, they chose to feature black families in their coverage 59 percent of the time, even though only 27 percent of families living below the poverty line are black. Similarly, in coverage of welfare, 60 percent of families portrayed were black, even though only 42 percent of families receiving welfare are black. This pattern was widespread across numerous sources — among the worst offenders for networks were Fox News and CNN, and the New York Times and Bretibart for national print and online news organizations.
On Twitter writer Jamil Smith related this article to Erica Garner’s family’s recent request that only Black journalists contact them at this time. Smith makes the point that there are very legitimate reasons why the Garner family would be distrustful of white reporters.
I understand that there are some white reporters that have done great racial justice reporting. I understand that if you’re a white reporter it is not fair to get stereotyped if you’re doing the right thing.
Timothy Snyder makes clear in his recent book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century” that institutions, like the press, must be defended from bad actors who seek to delegitimize them in order to remove threats to their power. I agree, and in this time reporters are reflexively defensive given the amount of bile and slander they put up with. I also understand that the news media is being delegitimized by the Trump Administration and his movement to try and tap down on some necessary and truthful reporting. I get it.
This however should not prevent us from fixing the very real institutional problems with the news media. The press, like other institutions, has by and large not done right by Black people. It needs to do better, and the first step is acknowledging that.
Part of that acknowledgment is to respect the Garner family’s wishes. Some black journalists have rightly brought up the issues of newsroom diversity that the failure to fulfill such a request would illustrate.
We can simultaneously defend a free press and ask for a better press. The media should be exposing injustice and racism, not perpetuating it. Building trust by making substantive changes is essential, and that leaves no room for white fragility in the face of a needed call out.
Change should come by way of making sure accurate, non-racist coverage becomes the standard and eliminating the kind of harmful coverage The Washington Post piece describes. Newsrooms should make hiring a diverse staff a priority. These needed changes can be the beginning of rebuilding trust, and trust is something that needs to be rebuilt here.