U.S. news media still can’t get it right on race

Reading time 5 min.

The information age in America provides citizens with a dizzying array of broadcast, print and web choices but it continues the practice of purposefully excluding information about minorities beyond crime, entertainment and sports – exclusions that perpetuate racial prejudice.

“Economic impacts” from BP’S Gulf oil well blow-out are “many and far reaching” ravishing seafood related businesses, the tourism industry and oil rig workers.

This sound like a news report however it is a sentence from the NAACP investigation entitled “BP Oil Drilling Disaster” that was released recently at the same time as that civil rights organization’s resolution calling out racism within the ranks of the Tea Party.

America’s news media (broadcast/print/web-based) pounced all over the Tea Party racism angle but provided practically no coverage to the NAACP’s thorough investigation probing the devastated plight of blacks, Native Americans, Vietnamese and whites living along the increasingly oil-soaked coastal regions of Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Most people don’t know what is going on down there. We’re glad the NAACP came in to investigate,” said Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia.

Bullard said it’s both ironic and unjust for communities of color in Louisiana and Mississippi to endure double pollution – from the well blow-out and BP dumping clean-up wastes in landfills situated in poor communities.

“These communities get the pollution but no pay, no jobs and no contracts,” Bullard said. “That is the story that isn’t being told.”
From a journalism practices perspective, Tea Party racism is ‘old news’ while the NAACP’s BP investigation plus its letter to that multinational blasting items like barring black businesses from clean-up contracts is ‘new news’ that advances that well blow-out story beyond damage to fish and birds.

But in America’s exclusionary news media environment standard practice routinely assigns low priority to matters involving race and/or racism. This is particularly true with the pernicious institutional racism that transcends individual acts of racial prejudice.

The recent assault/oh-we’re-sorry media coverage spectacle of the right-wing onslaught against black federal employee Shirley Sherrod is atypical of news media practice.

More typical is the uncritical coverage given to conservative star Sarah Palin who figured prominently in reportage announcing Tea Party rejection of NAACP racism charges.

Yes, the same Palin whose incendiary public statements during the 2008
presidential campaign stoked the racist rage now erupting at Tea Party rallies – incitement that the news media conveniently ignores when fawning over Palin’s every inane utterance.

The revelations of gross errors in coverage regarding Sherrod and the right-wings’ comparably manufactured New Black Panther Party voter intimidation scandal occasioned another missed opportunity for professed liberals in the U.S. to point out the fact that the paucity of minorities in the Tea Party “Movement” closely matches the paucity of minorities in America’s news media.

Telling parallels exist between the Tea Party’s white leadership ranks and the white decision-making hierarchy of mainstream media. Whites hold 88.9 percent of the supervisory ranks at U.S. newspapers according to the 2010 newsroom census released by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).

In 2009, a report released by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) documented a “discouraging lack of diversity in top tier newsroom management at seven of the nation’s major broadcast companies.”

Even surging web-based news entities evidence exclusionary minority involvement at supervisory and reporting levels. ASNE, earlier this year, announced its intent to conduct a diversity census of online news organizations – an area of concern noted during congressional testimony late last year by past NABJ president Bryan Monroe.

The misunderstandings percolating through American society on issues involving race and racism persist partly from the news media’s exclusionary practices on viewpoint diversity and fair employment.

Today’s misunderstandings mimic those existing when the 1968 presidential Kerner Commission on urban rioting harshly criticized news media practices for contributing “to the black-white schism” in America.

“The Commission’s major concern with the news media is not in riot reporting as such, but in the failure to report adequately on race relations and ghetto problems and to bring more Negroes into journalism,” the Kerner Commission’s Report stated over forty-years ago.

A 2002 study by a respected journalism studies institute stated that news about minorities’ accounts for five to seven percent of all news content despite African-American and Latinos comprising over a quarter of the nation’s population.

That March 1968 Kerner report noted that the “world that television and newspapers offer to their audiences is almost totally white, in both appearance and attitude.”

Those important Sunday morning news talk programs that peruse, parse and push public policy have despicable records on minority participation according to a report issued in 2005 by the National Urban League entitled “Sunday Morning Apartheid.”

That “Apartheid” report detailed 61 percent of all of those Sunday shows featuring no black guests during the nearly two-year long monitoring period.

Following issuance of that report the NUL sent numerous letters to the heads of CNN/US, FOX News, MSNBC and NBC urging them to increase racial diversity in news analysis, coverage and commentary.

A 2009 letter to those news managers, referencing an ignored 2008 letter, produced no reply from those network heads, according to Chanelle Hardy, the Executive Director of the NUL’s Policy Institute which issued that “Apartheid” report.

This lack of response from top broadcast officials conflicts with provisions in the Ethics Code of the Society of Professional Journalists. That Code states journalists should engage in “dialogue with the public about journalistic conduct” and should “encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.”

The NUL’s Chanelle Hardy sees the NAACP’s stance on the Tea Party as positive, a posture she doesn’t take on many mainstream news media practices.

“Lack of diversity remains an ongoing problem,” Hardy said. “The viewpoints being presented are not representative of the diverse country we live in.”

The Other Afrik  The Other Afrik is an alternative and multi-faceted information source from Afrik-News' panel of experts. Contributions include : opinions, reviews, essays, satires, research, culture and entertainment news, interviews, news, information, info, opinion, africa, african-american, europe, united states, international, caribbean, america, middle east, black, France, U.K.
Linn Washington Jr
Linn Washington Jr is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
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