The nation observed the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington” and Dr. Martin Luther King’s prolific “I Have A Dream” speech. To date, it is the biggest civil protest held in the history of the United States. Throughout the anniversary, news organizations took a look at what has changed since 1963. But it is just as important to remember what happened in the five years AFTER 1963. The nation was in turmoil and violent outbreaks occurred over the country. A landmark report known as the “Kerner Commission Report on Civil Disorders” accused the news media of being somewhat of a conspirator in creating an environment that infuriated thousands of people. White Americans didn’t understand why Black folks were so “angry.” African Americans were rarely mentioned by the news media except when negative events occurred. There were literally few Black journalists on the front line of coverage of the riots and community breakdowns that happened. As one of my closest news colleagues said “People won’t buy or read the newspaper if they can’t use it. And if they don’t see themselves in the newspaper, they can’t use it.” Many people believe that 1968 was the turning point in the civil rights movement.
But what has happened in the media in the past half a century. In many ways, the news climate is not much better. Representation of journalists of color in key decision making positions in the media is marginal at best. Veteran journalists with 25 or more years experience are discarded. Media has been greatly influenced by the incredible explosion of technology. Now, almost anyone can be their own media outlet. Traditional media outlets have also changed in pursuit of larger audiences. These audiences are now very segmented because of the availability of alternative forms of information. The traditional media have now become “agenda driven” because that is what the powers that be believe will attract a larger audience and make more money for them. Some of the so-called news organizations have, in fact, become pseudo propaganda outlets.
I am an old school journalists and I am able to discern truth from fiction, but I am concerned that the majority of Americans are not able to distinguish the two. The tenets of journalism such as attribution, verifying facts through at least three independent sources and quality writing have been tossed to the side. To most media outlets, there is more competition to be “first” rather than be “right.”
As I watched and read the coverage of several key issues over the summer, it became apparent to me that the majority of today’s so-called journalists don’t have a clue. They have no institutional memory, don’t do their homework and fail to think deeply enough to explain major topics and their ramifications to their audiences. We are not “speaking truth to power”. Here are some of those taboo subjects.
Why are there no open, honest and effective discussions about the state of race in America? This trend started during the civil rights movement and continues to today. We face sometimes painful realities about how we, as a country, have failed to correct many of the injustices of the past. We have created new injustices and we have remained silent.
A recent poll on race shows that white Americans are less likely to have non-white friends. The Reuters poll said about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans “surround themselves exclusively with friends of their own race”.
To no surprise, the South had the lowest percentage of people with friends from a different race. And naturally the greatest race mixing occurred in the Pacific states. .
Reporter after reporter, anchor after anchor questioned the feelings and the realities of life in the Black community following the decision. What has changed today? Why is it so hard for people to understand the pain and suffering that a lot of African Americans started feeling when the Zimmerman verdict came in. News commentators just didn’t get it when they questioned the outrage that many people expressed.
They had the same incredulous look of Zimmerman’s brother who said on national television, “black people in Chicago kill black people every day and no one is arrested.” Really?
The lack of understanding and interpretation of the ramifications of the following stories on all media platforms was apparent in the dissemination of information on the following issues:
- Gay Marriage Issue-The two decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, known as SCOTUS, carried tremendous weight when it relates to the fabric of America, regardless of which position you support or oppose.
- Voting Rights Act-Ironically, the accomplishments from 50 years ago are under attack today by the decision on the Voting Rights Act and Voting ID Laws. Congressman John Lewis almost choked up while speaking about the “little bit of blood he spilled” in Alabama fighting for these rights and he vowed not to give up now.
- Travon Martin verdict-News reporters couldn’t understand why so many people were shocked by the decision in the Travon Martin case. Because of their myopic vision of the world, the people who are front and center in the media were dumbfounded when they heard stories about life in the communities they never visit. Few stated the reality that 30 states have the “stand your ground” law that became the centerpiece of the Zimmerman case. Now we have the “stop and frisk” issue to address in addition the years of dealing with the infamous “Driving While Black” cases that happen every day to young Black men.
- Texas abortion battle-The “sneaker” of these stories could be the battle over funding for abortion programs in Texas. While the case has not reached the U.S. Supreme Court yet, if you follow the path of the legal procedures, it could put the milestone Roe versus Wade case in front of the SCOTUS in the very near future.
The news business and media industry is not an easy place to thrive and prosper. I have noticed a degeneration of understanding from some of my media colleagues that I find disturbing. It’s time to take our profession back to the basics in order to fulfill our primary mission as distributors of information. We are society’s and government’s watchdog. We are supposed to give our citizens the information they need to know in order to make educated decisions. We must speak truth to power. On one one episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” a character says “We don’t have the trust of the American public any more. I don’t see a lot of that going on right now.” The owner of the network says “Let’s get it!”
Despite Dr. Martin Luther King’s declaration “I have a dream!”, right now it is a dream deferred.