Shoddy Reporting, and Media Messaging

I am obsessed with fairness. I admit it. I am a “social justice warrior”; I want everyone to have the same rights and protections both legally and socially. Mea Culpa. I am also obsessed with accuracy and facts: AKA the truth. It drives me bananas to see either truth or justice subverted.

Needless to say, a lot of the media coverage of the Baltimore Protests (which are really about 50 years of systemic social oppression and rampant police brutality against poor people and poor people of color especially; Freddie Grey’s death was just the final straw) is driving me so bananas I am ready to start subcontracting to Dole.

First, let’s get right down to the “thug” thing. Thug is the new word for “evil/stupid/dangerous black man” and thus it is analogous to the word ni**er. When you call protests riots and protesters thugs, you are reinforcing the narrative that black people are angry and dangerous and animalistic in their lack of control. That is bullsquirt.

Secondly, lets set the record strait between those protesting and those rioting and those looting.There were more than 10,000 protesters in Baltimore who weren’t ‘rioting’ but the media has focused foremost on the opportunistic looting of a handful of individuals. This focus bolsters the cultural narrative of the “violent black urban youth”. It elides the vast majority of protesters who are concerned (with good reason) about police brutality toward the black community in Baltimore. The spotlight of the protests should be on the REASON there are people protesting; not the fact that some looting and vandalism has taken place.

The media’s concentration on black ‘misbehavior’ in Baltimore is part of a large problem of ‘blackness’ in media.  A study from 2013 by Dr. Robert M. Entman found that “images of African Americans in a thirty-day sample of videotaped news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and in a computer analysis of verbatim transcripts of ABC’s nightly news program for one year. Network news appears to convey more stereotyped impressions — a narrower range of positive roles — for blacks than for whites. Representations of whites in network news are more varied and more positive than of blacks, not because of conscious bias, but because of the way conventional journalistic norms and practices interact with political and social reality. The findings raise theoretical and normative questions about journalists’ ability to “represent” the “reality” of black America while adhering to the professional practices that currently shape network news.”

In short, due to the lack of media representation of the average black person, the images of black looters becomes the sociocultural construct of blackness. Whites are much less likely to be SHOWN looting even when they ARE looting:

white looters

english looters

surf riots one

surf riots two

Furthermore, the large percentage of ‘positive’ white images in the media makes it clear that white looters are deviating from normative white behavior. Keeping the limelight on black looting and failing to provide counter-images of ‘positive’ black people feeds the misperception that violence, law-breaking, and theft are normative behaviors in black communities.

Finally, there is the rampant misinformation being presented as “news” on right-wing media outlets. The latest is that Freddie Grey had already injured his spine prior to his arrest. That is palpably and provably false and many of the sites who ran the story have taken it down now. The poison has already been released, however. I am sure someone will eventually argue with me over the ‘fact’ Freddie Grey’s spine was already damaged before he was arrested and I’ll have to roll my eyes so far hard they might get stuck. Some other stories/rumors that have cropped up like mushrooms from a cowpat and been proven inaccurate at best and flat out lies at worst are that Freddie Grey severed his own spine,  Freddie Grey was a hardened criminal arrested for a specific reason and was resisting his arrest when he was injured, as well as that Baltimore gangs have come together and formed a pact to kill cops (especially white cops).

What the news media should be looking at, if they are to have any claim to being journalists, is the violence that sparked the outrage on the part of the protesters. As the Baltimore Sun reported:

“Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement. And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him”.

The only way to pare down or cease police violence is to make the few bad apples accountable for the actions and punish them. The only way the legal system will start taking steps toward prosecuting and firing bad cops is if they know the media will be all over it if they don’t. That’s why it is so important for the journalistic media to actually do it’s JOB and report news rather than sensationalistic twaddle.

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