Making an Invisible Minority Less Invisible
by brasch, Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 08:17:17 AM EST
The establishment media did a poor job of covering race issues in the 2008 campaign. Award-winning journalist Walter Brasch explains why.
by Walter Brasch
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was called mentally unstable; his supporters were called unpatriotic. At Sarah Palin rallies, in newspaper letters-to-the-editor, on conservative radio and TV talk shows, supporters spewed hatreds, resorting to the Bush tactics of fear mongering to support their own candidate.
At many rallies, the word "kill" was often shouted. The ultra right wing, which infiltrated the McCain campaign, told us Obama is a (gasp!) Muslim, not understanding that not only isn't Obama a Muslim, but that the Constitution prohibits religion as a test for federal office. Falsely linking Muslim to terrorist, these ultra-patriots said that Obama pals around with terrorists. They said Obama is a thief, a liar, and a scoundrel.
Not so subtly disguised beneath a lot of the hatred is the reality that Obama is multiracial, and that means he isn't White. Some of the racism isn't even covert. In comments to newspapers and on radio, Obama was called "Monkey ears" and other terms that would denigrate every person of color. At one rally, a McCain-Palin supporter waved around a stuffed monkey with a blue-and-white headband with one word: Obama. It didn't even take an investigative journalist to find supporters who brazenly claimed they just couldn't vote for anyone who's "colored"; many even used even more derogatory terms.
Ironically, although the establishment media did an admirable job of covering speeches, they did a poor job of covering the racial hatred present at rallies. It was up to sites like Keystone Progress, which videotaped numerous rallies and posted them on You Tube, to help a nation better understand not only the political division but the racial hatreds that still exist in the country. Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress says that he noted a significant difference not only between the Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin rallies--"hope versus fear"--but more racist anger in the rallies where Palin was the primary speaker.
There is still that anger and fear among a part of the conservative movement, but, something changed with the election.
On television, you'll find there are more Blacks in TV commercials. More Blacks are being interviewed. The news media have developed a fascination with Blacks who were in the Civil Rights movement of the '60s. Blacks whose parents were in the civil rights movement. Blacks who were first time voters.
Barack Obama's campaign and election have not only revitalized America's Black population, they have revitalized media interest in minorities.
For a couple of centuries, most newsrooms were staffed only by White men. And then there were a few women. And then a few other minorities. Blacks. Latinos. Asian-Americans. Native Americans. Jews. And an occasional Buddhist or Muslim. Staffing has come a long way. Almost 14 percent of newsrooms have at least one minority, up from 4 percent 30 years ago, according to studies conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. However, one-third of America is composed of minorities, so there is still a long way to go. Even today, four decades after Martin Luther King's murder, and with a heavy campaign by several journalism organizations, about 40 percent of all newspaper newsrooms still have no minorities.
In many rural and suburban cities, just about the only time a newspaper reader sees a minority in a picture is not for an achievement, with the exception of the sports pages, but during an arrest.
For a long time, radio believed that a white male voice was more authoritative than a female voice, or a voice that sounded Black. For most of TV's first 20 years, there were no Blacks on air. And when the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s shocked America to realize that Blacks might be just as competent as Whites, TV reluctantly hired Blacks--as long as they looked, acted, and spoke White.
We're now seeing more coverage of Blacks About Blacks. If it isn't a "fad," if the media, especially TV, don't return to their never-ending focus upon celebrities and fluff, maybe in four years there will be more minorities in our newsrooms, and Americans will understand that most Blacks aren't on welfare, in gangs, or in prison.
[Dr. Brasch is the author of the recently-published Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and numerous independent and chain stores. He is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]