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article imageIs there racial bias in the media? Special

By Carol Forsloff     Sep 6, 2009 in Lifestyle
Governor Paterson claimed racial bias in the news? Was he right or was he simply covering his inadequacies? Is racial bias or racism prevalent in news; and if so, how is it manifested?
Paterson’s complaints of racial bias according to Albany’s Star Gazette came at a time when he is struggling in the polls. He doesn’t have strong poll showings in New York where he has been Governor since Eliott Spitzer was forced to leave the office after a sex scandal. Paterson has had a few of his own scandals with extra marital affairs. So some say, as noted in the Star Gazette, the Paterson claim of racial bias is not supported by the evidence. But are there examples where it occurs, and what damage does it do to public opinion especially in a climate of political stress and controversy?
Trevor Coleman, editorial writer for the Detroit Free Press, takes strong opposition against some members of the media who tend to pick out African American figures in the news for racially-biased reporting. He maintains reporters select news that is particularly negative regarding blacks in an effort to get readers or attention or to manifest an agenda. He found that 87% of respondents interviewed on the issue of race were white in a survey of news media, far ahead of blacks at 8%. Even in news specifically about blacks 60% of those surveyed were white, 29% black. Coleman underlines how important skewing facts and opinions are to black journalists, particularly since many racially-biased editorials can be harmful to reporting and to the public at large.
Coleman also points out how newspapers and other media tend to utilize either black conservative columnists or speakers to speak about racial issues or those very much in the mainstream media. The bias is shown on the pages of newspapers frequently. Furthermore, when countering racial opinions for a perspective from the black community, Coleman says very often provocative individuals are used to express opinion from the black community. He points out that black conservative columnists such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and Armstrong Williams are countered by “liberal” black columnists like William Raspberry, Clarence Page or DeWayne Wickham, which Coleman considers absurd. That’s because Page, Raspberry and Wickham are not nearly as “liberal” as their counterparts are conservative.
Coleman concludes: “Editorial page and op-ed editors are free to construct their pages as they see fit. Those choices, however, reflect the political bias of those editors who seek to define what constitutes black conservatism based upon their personal politics, not the black community's political sensibilities or reality.
Thus, the breach between black America and the mainstream media.
Of course, that does not mean white editorial page editors and other journalists are consciously racist or that they deliberately attempt to undermine the dignity or integrity of African Americans. But it does mean the bias perceived by African-American journalists and other minorities is not just a product of their collective imaginations.”
But is Coleman alone on these issues? Coleman uses the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting to buttress is arguments. The group A group by the name of Media Tenor conducted a study for FAIR , studying ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news programs. Results of the study made last year showed that 92 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed on matters of race and politics were white, 85 percent were male and, where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican. Media Tenor found specifically one third of the US public is portrayed negatively, and these are immigrants, blacks and other minorities.
Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton are often singled out to give their opinions on racial issues of the day. For Randy Stelly, publisher of a local newspaper in Natchitoches, Louisiana and President of an independent progressive political party in Louisiana these two don’t represent the black community well nor his views in particular. Stelly maintains, “Sharpton or Jackson don’t speak for me” He wonders aloud why these are the two people often cited in the news or used for opinions publicly, when they have had personal problems that create strong judgment. “There are many African Americans who are quite capable of talking about race and politics.” Stelly says. “In fact, real scholars and serious commentators are overlooked for those who are the most extreme in their views or who present information in a way that gets people upset rather than shining a light on the problems.”
But what of those who use racial issues negatively in the news to defend themselves, as Glenn Beck does? Media Matters points out how Glenn Beck called Hurricane Katrina victims scumbags and related how he hates 9/11 families. Furthermore, Media Matters points out how liberal writers are silenced by the shrillness of the conservative media and moguls that profit from the negative. In fact it points out the media is far from being liberal, given the specific selectivity of certain news items and the support for conservative opinions voiced without challenge, such as those of Mark Halperin.
Selectivity in reporting, according to Media Matters, was also demonstrated during the hearings of Sonia Sotomayor where it was found “On July 14, five major newspapers reported on Jeff Sessions' opening statement at the confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor without noting that, in 1986, Sessions' nomination as a U.S. district court judge was rejected following allegations that Sessions had a history of making racially charged comments.” These comments, Media Matters relates, were specifically related to African Americans as Sessions prosecuted three civil rights advocates, a case later thrown out and claimed to be directed specifically to intimidate black voters.
Journalists learn in training, in materials like Writing and Reporting the News by Carole Rich, that certain issues should be treated with sensitivity. Keith Woods, a professor of ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, pointed out in her book as saying the problems involved with reporting race must be dealt with by editorial decision which may help to overcome what Woods declares is a history of poor and destructive coverage of minorities.
Matters of race in the media have been shown to create discussion about the news and its bias, as observed by information found for this article. If there is racial bias in reporting, what does it say for a nation where a minority individual is President of the United States? The watchdogs of the press maintain that matters and therefore continue to assess the issues to determine how the public is ethically served by those assigned, or who assign themselves, to report the news.
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