Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Media isn't Fake, but it is Biased

In the late 19th century, yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. It still exists.  The dirty little secret: media is biased.

Its biases are exposed in story choices, headlines and even photos,  that lead readers to certain positions.  Media encourages concern about the things that the media, editorialists and opinion makers think are important.  It is one of many factors that helps to create a climate conducive to everything from conflict and influence overseas to the political and racial division at home.

The media has the power to capture the attention of a large audience and to influence public reaction…and it does.  It controls the minds of the masses.

In 1908, when  Black boxer Jack Johnson knocked out Tommy Burns and became heavyweight boxing champion of the world, it was the American press that called for “a great white hope to restore order to the world”. 

The Reconstruction period that followed America’s Civil War was one of the most violent eras in American history. Thousands of African-Americans were killed by domestic terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan. Black soldiers were lynched; some Blacks were burned at the stake by white mobs.   Newspapers generally condoned mob violence, and at their most extreme promoted it. 

From the October 3, 1919 issue of "The Gazette", Arkansas:

This small article, proven totally untrue, influenced one of the deadliest massacres of Blacks in the nation’s history.

The racial bias doesn’t only exist in print media, but on television; in weekly serials; in movies and on the news.  During the 1950s, when most whites had little exposure to Blacks, they learned about their culture through comedic offerings like slow-moving Stepin Fetchit and Amos ’n Andy.  Amos was a naive, but honest hard worker, while Andy was a lazy, gullible dreamer.  Later, Sapphire would be added as the pushy, overbearing, “angry Black woman”.  It is a stereotype that persists even today.

Like millions of people, I learned about Africa through Tarzan and the National Geographic.  When I first traveled to Africa, I expected to see half clothed, happy-hunter savages and babies with flies on their faces, but I didn’t.

Recently, Trump referred to African immigrants as people who came from “shithole countries”.  He went on to say  “when Nigerians see America they never want to go back to their huts”.  I visited homes that would be the envy of any American, with flooring and cabinetry of gorgeous exotic woods, hand-carved moldings and countertops of colorful granite slabs.  

No doubt, there are countries and areas within countries that suffer economically, just like Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta in good old rich America.  But Africa isn’t a country…it’s a continent made up of 54 countries, each with its own economy, character and culture.

Clearly, Trump does not know that of all the immigrants who come to America, the Africans are best educated.  They are educated in science and math and technology. and  hundreds of Nigerian medical doctors are helping sustain the U.S. medical system. I never met an African that didn’t speak multiple languages, while most Americans manage only basic english. 

One would think a man who considers himself the “trade king”  would know that in 2015 U.S. agricultural exports to Nigeria were worth $667 million, while Nigeria's agro exports to the U.S. were a mere $32 million, giving the U.S. a favorable trade balance of more than half a billion dollars! By his standard, America is ripping off Nigeria.

But we have been programmed to believe that Africa is nothing more than elephants, safaris and dancing savages.  And while the media rightfully criticized Trump’s comments, they never bothered to set the record straight or educate.  

Searching for Africa in LIFE is a collection of 2,128 covers of the all-photographic news magazines between 1936 and 1996. Despite Africa's vast cultural, religious, and historic treasure, the continent of one billion-plus people, was left out of the magazine’s editorial picture.

As artist Alfredo Jaar explained, 
"Searching for Africa in LIFE reflects historical American attitudes about culture and race - attitudes that continue to reverberate today."
Earlier in the year National Geographic acknowledged that for decades their coverage was racist...

For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.  This story helped launch a series about racial, ethnic, and religious groups and their changing roles in 21st-century life.

In matters concerning law enforcement, the media includes information that is unnecessary, but assures a negative response to the victim, if the victim is minority. For example, when the media told the story of a Black woman who was pummeled by an officer on the side of the highway, many accounts referred to her as “a 51-year-old great grandmother”.  That revelation immediately conjures the idea that she is irresponsible; her whole family is.  The media could have described her as a 51-year-old homeless woman with bipolar disorder, but not a single one did.  And it turned out she was merely a grandmother.

Not long after the inauguration, Trump was interviewed by former 'Today' Show host Matt Lauer. Lauer asked Trump what he thought about the recent surge in violence.  Trump responded that he just didn’t understand it. “You know, I just met him”, he said (crediting the violence to President Obama), “he seems to be a nice guy.”  

I thought Lauer would tell Trump that a church member in Mississippi had set his church on fire and written “Vote Trump” on the side of the building.  But he didn’t.  

I waited for Lauer to say, “But sir,  a football player’s home was vandalized and among other graffiti, Trump was spray painted on his wall.  But he didn’t.  He allowed his inference to stand.  In fact,  the brief story in The New York Post made no mention of the Trump graffiti at all,  but ended the article with:  The player is currently serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL drug policy. 

The media influences the public, not just by what they say, but what they omit.

My neighbor watched as the news reported yet another mass shooting.  This time, 26 people were killed at First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas. When she asked who would do such a thing and I answered, “some crazy white man”, she was annoyed, “You don’t know that!”
“Sure, I do," I said.  "If he was Black they would show his body lying on the ground. “  I reminded her,  “The shooting happened yesterday.  They already know the shooter, they just haven’t found a head doctor to say the nice young man was confused or a nice enough headshot to display…by the time they do, his identity will not be as urgent and people will have moved on to another tragedy.”  It took three days.
The media has criminalized Blacks since the beginning of time.  After passage of the Thirteenth Amendment which made it legal to enslave criminals, Blacks became guilty of every conceivable infraction in order to continue to promote slavery and white superiority.  That has not changed.  In the 1800s Black men were regularly referred to as “hulking brutes”.  It is the exact same terminology some reports used to describe Michael Brown of Ferguson, more than a hundred years later.

If one examines the truncated FBI statistics, most arrests are of whites, but who would ever come to that conclusion?  Almost all you see on the news and read about in the paper are Black criminals.  In Chicago, until an ordinance was passed forbidding it, police officers forced Black arrestees to pose for the cameras, while they shielded whites from view, even if it meant covering their heads with their police jackets.

When police shoot an unarmed Black man, we are given his name age and police record.  The media immediately begins to exonerate the police officer, by criminalizing the victim.  When the media  was unable to criminalize 12-year-old Tamir Rice, they focused on his father’s arrest record.  It matters.  A young white man commenting on the untimely death shrugged his shoulders, “He just would have done something else.”

The effort to discredit the victim is swift and the media is ready willing and able to promote the discrediting narratives.  

In 1989, the infamous Central Park rape was treated as an extraordinary  front page story for seven days.  Several nights later in Brooklyn,  a 38-year-old Black woman, making her way home from work, was forced at knife point to the roof of a four-story building. The two men raped, sodomized and beat her. They then threw her off the rooftop, 50 feet to the ground. She suffered two crushed ankles,  fractured legs, a shattered pelvis and internal injuries.  She didn’t merit a headline.  The New York Times carried the story in a few paragraphs in Section 2, below the fold. In fact, in the week of the infamous Central Park rape, 28 other victims suffered the humiliation of rape…and that just accounts for those who filed a police report.

This is the front page covering one of the accused Central Park rapist.  The headline indicates that he is charged with rape and murder.  Fortunately, the victim, Trisha Melli survived and went on to write a book, run a marathon and today, lectures on how to overcome life’s obstacles.

The same paper covered the murder of nine Black parishioners who were executed in their church during prayer service by Dylan Roof.  Look at his headline.

The young men arrested for the Central Park rape were called a “wolfpack”,  while their roving activities were called “wilding”.

The same week, in Queens,  a Black man on his way home from work, stopped to buy a snack and was confronted by a mob of about 30 young whites armed with baseball bats.  The man was dragged into the street and beaten nearly to death in broad daylight.  No one called them a “Wolfpack” or referred to their behavior as “wilding”.  

The media has the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent.  It isn’t fake, but it is clearly biased.  According to a study by Media Insight Project,  roughly 6 in 10 people don’t read beyond the headline. 

On September 7,  news articles carried some version of the following headline and picture:
Dallas Police Officer to be Charged with Manslaughter After Shooting Man in        His Own Apartment

He isn't the Dallas police officer, he's the victim.

On October 3, 2018,  newspapers printed some variation of the following headline:

They all carried this picture:

It is a picture of the fallen police officer.  Wouldn’t you think him the shooter?  He was a 30-year veteran of the police force.  Think they could have found a picture of him in uniform?
In each case the shooter was white.  Where is their picture?

The selection of what is newsworthy, the tone of the story and it’s placement all influence the subconscious decision about what is important and how we feel about it.  In many ways, the media is responsible for the stereotypes that are ingrained in white American culture and its influence is universal.

Years ago, I sat in a hotel room in Thailand, the television blaring in the background.  When the television suddenly went silent, I looked up thinking the electricity had once again gone awry.  But the television was working fine .  On the screen a rotund Black Hottentot Venus with big red lips and hair scattered wildly about her head slowly shuffled toward a big black boiling cauldron. She stepped into the cauldron and submerged herself, emerging seconds later, a shapely white woman with sweeping blonde hair.  No sound, just white words appeared on a black screen:  Oil of Olay.

That was many years ago, but today in response to calls for diversity in the television and movie industry,  there are suddenly lots of interracial commercials; always with a white man and Black woman.  The woman will usually be fair-skinned enough that whites will think she is white, but Blacks, of course will know better. 

That’s because Whites are eager to embrace the whiteness of mixed race people, especially if they are successful.   There is competition to claim tennis champion Naomi Osaka, football player Colin Kaepernick, and dependent upon whether one approves of him or not, President Obama.

Naomi Osaka identifies as Japanese-Haitian, so that is what she is.  Colin identifies as Black as does President Obama, therefore they are Black.  Many may recall that Tiger Woods refers to his ethnic make-up as "Cablinasian" (an abbreviation he coined from Caucasian, Black, American Indian, and Asian).  So be it. But if these were just “folks in the hood”, they would all be Black, automatically, because of their skin color, or hair or swagger.  But in the face of success, the one-drop rule is null and void.  

There is only one race, the human race.  Race as we use it is a social construct. What would society be if throughout history the media had simply referred to people as Americans?

Instead, the media does a masterful job of creating an us-and-them dichotomy between Blacks and whites.  In most ways it is subliminal and covert, at other times it is unapologetically in-your-face racism.
Remember this? 
And this?

The media isn’t fake, but it is biased.
“If you’re not careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” ~ Malcom X

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