Does the intense news coverage examining the tragic massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. and coverage exposing the travesty of the white woman who claims she’s actually black mean the mainstream media has finally ‘got it right’ regarding reporting on race and racism?
Short answer, an emphatic No!
Yes, the mainstream media has provided detailed coverage of the carnage inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church where a 21-year-old professed white racist slaughtered nine blacks – six women and three men – including the South Carolina state senator who pastored that church and three elderly congregants aged 70 to 87.
And, yes, the mainstream media exposed the litany of fraudulent behaviors of Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane, Wash. resident who one London newspaper labeled a “serial liar” and whose white biological parents have rejected her proclaimed born-blackness.
But this news coverage of the Charleston church shooting and Dolezal shooting off her mouth does not mitigate deficiencies in mainstream news coverage identified decades ago in the 1968 Kerner Commission Report on racial strife in the United States.
A “fundamental criticism” of that 47-year-old presidential panel report was the news media had “failed to analyze and report adequately on racial problems in the United States.”
Yes, today’s mainstream media does a better job of accurately reporting on race/racism related matters than it did decades ago. Today newspapers do not carry front-page announcements promoting lynchings. And, today, newspapers do a better job covering police brutality, the systemic abuse declared a new form of lynching in a petition sent to the United Nations in 1950 seeking sanctions against the U.S. government for genocide against blacks.
Yet, the mainstream news media still does not report adequately on racial problems rampant across America, particularly institutional racism – institutional racism that also infects the news media. A Wall Street Journal editorial, reacting to that Charleston shooting, declared institutional racism “no longer exists.”
Many, for example, have questioned the reticence of some media outlets to apply the term terrorist to Dylann Roof, the man arrested for the church shooting when that term is so quickly applied to fatal actions by non-white Muslims.
Two examples provide graphic evidence that the mainstream still has blind spots regarding coverage on race/racism. Those blind spots evidence a Kerner finding that “media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world.” In that ‘white world’ too many issues of import to blacks (and other persons of color) get lost in the mainstream media that the Kerner Report stated, “repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.”
Two days before that Charleston church massacre, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush formally entered the 2016 presidential race. The overwhelming majority of the extensive news coverage of this announcement by the brother and son of former U.S. presidents omitted one salient fact: Jeb Bush was at the center of one of the most deviously racist acts of the early 21st Century – an act that undermined the very democracy that America extols.
During the 2000 presidential race, Jeb Bush oversaw the calculated removal of tens of thousands of blacks from Florida voter rolls on the fraudulent assertion that those voters had criminal records. In Florida and many other mainly southern states, law bars convicted felons from voting for life – a restriction rooted in racist retrenchments enacted after the Civil War. Stealing voting rights from thousands of blacks by Jeb Bush helped secure the White House for Jeb’s older brother, George W. Bush, who won that 2000 race with a victory in Florida by a razor thin margin of 537 votes.
Receiving all rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution has historically been an important issue for black Americans, including those who founded Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 1816.
Mainstream U.S. news media failed to adequately report on Bush’s voting rights theft in the wake of that 2000 race – although that theft was big news in England and other countries. Today questions again arise about news media failures to reference Jeb Bush’s rights robbing particularly given the fact that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had made news a dozen days before Jeb’s formal announcement when she called out GOP presidential hopefuls – including Jeb Bush – for their voter suppression practices.
Another issue of historical importance for African-Americans is reparations for deprivations lingering from slavery and post-slavery legalized segregation. Reparations is also a matter of import for blacks in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe where the focus is colonial and post-colonial era deprivations.
However, in April 2015, when dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City for an international reparations summit none of NYC’s mainstream newspapers or broadcast stations saw coverage merit in that event held at a historic black church in Harlem where participants included ambassadors, legislators, luminary activists and legal experts.
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century, the research/advocacy organization that convened that April summit, sent press releases and press advisories to every major mainstream news outlet in NYC, according to the Institute’s Communications Director. “Not a single one was interested in covering this historic [event] which attracted delegates and observers from 22 countries and 17 states across the USA,” the Director noted.
Two weeks after the close of that summit the New York Times – America’s newspaper of record – did publish an article on reparations albeit reparations demanded by Armenians from Turkey for an early 20th Century genocide.
The mainstream news media are not responsible for the cancer-like racism rotting all sectors of American society from governmental policies to practices of major auction houses regarding African art. As the Kerner Report stated, the news media are not the only influence on public attitudes.
But, as the Kerner Commission noted, while biased news media practices are understandable such practices are “not excusable” from an institution with the mission to inform and educate “the whole of our society.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.