Are "people of color" ignored by the media?

In the blog “Feministing” a writer, who goes by the name Rose, tell us that…

Mainstream media outlets ignore people of color

Mainstream newspapers, cable and network television, radio, and news websites do not care about the lives of people of color. According to The Pew Research Center’s latest analysis of news coverage,  African Americans had less than 2 percent of coverage, Hispanics had 1.3 percent and Asian Americans had 0.2 percent. This is so offensive considering the demographics of the United States.

The article goes on to compare overall population statistics, the implication being that if 40% of the U.S. population is “people of color” then 40% of news coverage should deal with “people of color”.  To a casual reader, who avoids thinking about it too much, this might seem like a legitimate complaint.  But let us delve a little deeper.  If we look at the original Pew analysis, this is what we find:

… These findings come from an examination of more than 67,000 national news stories that appeared between February 16, 2009 and February 15, 2010 in different mainstream media outlets, including newspapers, cable and network television, radio, and news websites.

Just 643 of those stories, 1.9% of the total newshole examined by the study, related in a significant way to African Americans in the U.S. [1] (To be considered a “significant” part of a given story, 25% of the content of that story must be about a demographic group and its race/ethnicity). However, this was more coverage than was given in the same time period to two other minority groups — Hispanics (1.3%) and Asian Americans (0.2%). As a percentage African Americans make up 12.9% of the U.S. population.

The press coverage that did emerge tended to be a reaction to events involving black newsmakers rather than to issues relating to African Americans more generally. The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, the Obama presidency, the death of Michael Jackson and the attempted Northwest Airlines terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab accounted for nearly half (46.4%) of all coverage that had a substantial mention of African Americans during this time period…

Clearly, what Pew is talking about is not the appearance of non-white faces in news media.  If a television program shows a group of school children, and 60% of those children were non-white, this would not count as “coverage” for non-whites.  It only counts as “African American coverage”, for example, if the news story specifically addresses the needs or concerns of the “African American community”.

After reading all the above, we might ask, “What kind of coverage does the European American (white) community get from the media?” Are there any programs that relate specifically to whites – not implicitly but explicitly, in the same way that “Black in America 2” relates specifically to blacks?  Although I do not watch television, I am fairly certain that if we conducted such a survey, we would find that such programs amount to 0% of all coverage.  The implication is that whites have no special interests, concerns or needs.

What about the total proportion of people shown on television who are non-white?  In his book, “The Development of Social Maturity“, David McClelland writes (regarding blacks):

Because of pressure from black groups, the current proportion of blacks on television approximates their number in the United States population; however, blacks are more likely than whites to be cast in minor roles (Hinton et al., 1973).  The formal social-occupational status of blacks has also been elevated since the early days of television.  While they used to be cast as servants or entertainers, blacks are not represented as “regulators” of society in positions such as teachers or law enforcers (Clark, 1972; Roberts, 1970).  Based on overall representation and formal status, a child viewer would be expected to respect blacks.  However, their character portrayals may weaken the overall impression.  Blacks are portrayed as good and likable but neither forceful nor powerful.

McClelland’s book was published back in 1982.  Since then, the chorus of demands has grown, not only by blacks but by every other minority group in America. Needless to say, a lot of thought goes into which, and how many, roles get played by persons of which race.  Those who work behind the scenes consider it their duty to portray minorities in the most favorable light possible.  In, we find Dana E. Mastro & Maria A. Kopacz, writing for the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media telling us…

Support for a Media-Based Model of Policy Reasoning

In an attempt to provide a comprehensive, media-inclusive model of racial policy reasoning, Tan et al. (2000) incorporate insights from research on media priming, heuristic models of decision making, and models of media use in the specification of their affective model of policy reasoning. Indeed, each path in their reasoning chain finds substantiation in empirical research.

Support for media use as an exogenous variable in the policy model can be anchored in the research on media priming. Examinations of the priming effects of the media link exposure to positive race-based exemplars with more favorable evaluations of racial and ethnic minorities (Bodenhausen et al., 1995), whereas consumption of negative stereotypes results in disadvantageous racial judgments (Johnson, Adams, Hall, & Ashburn, 1997; Peffley, Shields, & Williams, 1996; Power, Murphy, & Coover, 1996). From this perspective, stereotypes are understood in their capacity to serve as heuristics or structures for the organization of knowledge. Conceptually then, stereotypes do not necessarily carry negative implications.

When racial dynamics in media is reduced to a science, the inevitable result is that very little is left to chance.  Although the mainstream media attempts to give the illusion of randomness, in reality there is nothing random about the number of black/Hispanic faces shown at any given time on television or any other news outlet. When Obama gives a public speech, great care is taken as to the ethnicities of individuals visible behind him as he speaks.  If a company is casting for a commercial, they already know what race the candidates must be.

For those of us who have never personally experienced what goes on behind the scenes in the world of media, “Coloring the News” by William McGowan is a must-read.  It describes how decisions are made and why they are made.  Though most of his book deals with the coverage of crime, immigration and homosexuals, the underlying mentality he describes applies equally here.  The book was published in 2002 and things have certainly not improved since then.  Given the politics of our era, and the clout of special interest groups, any impression of racial randomness in the media is mere illusion.  If this is indeed the case, then the epitom
e of diversity – the black male – has certainly lost any claim to randomness.  If a black man is shown on television, or featured in a news story, it is because the bosses on high specifically called for a black man.  Even if his story is newsworthy for other reasons, the amount of coverage he gets will be determined based on the fact that he is a black man.  The only possible exception to this rule might be sports news – but even sports coverage might be tainted with racial politics.  I’ll let readers fill me in on this in comments; I am sports-illiterate.

This is the background I should have given prior to publishing my earlier post “Cleared by DNA“.  The media did not make up the story in order to further their racial agenda – but they did take advantage of it, slightly distort it, and leverage it toward this goal.

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4 Responses to Are "people of color" ignored by the media?

  1. Ladyfiaran says:

    I am unfortunately familiar with Feministing, I read it to see what the crazy broads are up too. This is a typical article for them, the gals who run it are white and they hate and are ashamed to be white, they are the typical, liberal, overeducated leftish trash. Don’t they watch TV and see all the nonwhites, oops, TV is for morons, they’re too sophisticated to watch it *rolls eyes* And this is typical of their crap:
    I kindly suggested that the ladies eat some burgers and listen to this band:
    Of course, they never posted my comment. Sorry if the latter link is a bit harsh, but I suggested they listen to that if they believe Nutcracker is racist. Keep up the good work, sir.

  2. Kiwiguy says:

    ***While they used to be cast as servants or entertainers, blacks are not represented as “regulators” of society in positions such as teachers or law enforcers (Clark, 1972; Roberts, 1970). ***
    Well that has certainly changed. You will regularly see doctors, Judges, or in Transformers & Die Hard, computer hackers!

  3. fred says:

    One is at the mercy of their television. They can’t turn it off. They can’t change the channel. They must only watch what they are told to watch. My heart bleeds for all those bound in straightjackets and forced to watch endless hours of “C-Span” and “Glee”.
    But seriously, as you’ve pointed out everything on TV is carefully calculated. And I don’t care for the calculations. So I’ve found another way to deal with it. I don’t watch it. I don’t have cable or satellite. I don’t even have an antennae.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Well, I have an idea. Why don’t they report properly on all the crime taking place. All the rape, murder and assaults that have become all so common in our day to day lives. If they did that, there would be now doubt that the evening news would be filled from start to finish with “people of colour.”

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