NPR

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  • Major News Outlets Fail To Identify The Hate Group Boycotting Target

    The American Family Association Has Been Designated An Anti-LGBT “Hate Group” By The SPLC

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Major news outlets have largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT "hate group," often only referring to the group as a "Christian" or "conservative" organization.

  • NPR Hosts Extreme Anti-LGBT Group To Defend Discriminatory Legislation In North Carolina And Mississippi

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday hosted an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to discuss two recently passed anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi. NPR did not disclose ADF’s history of extreme anti-LGBT legal work or push back against the group's mischaracterization of protections for transgender people.

    On the April 10 edition of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, host Rachel Martin invited ADF attorney Matt Sharp to discuss the passage of state anti-LGBT legislation, including a North Carolina law that repealed the city of Charlotte's nondiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people.

    Martin described ADF as “an organization that backs religious freedom laws,” but didn't mention the group's history of anti-LGBT extremism, including promoting the criminalization of homosexuality and describing the anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard as a hoax.

    During the segment, Sharp falsely claimed that the North Carolina law was passed to repeal ordinances that would allow “men to use the same restrooms as girls and women.” In reality, Charlotte's ordinance did not allow “men” to use women’s bathrooms but rather allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Martin failed to push back against this mischaracterization, responding only that in women’s bathrooms around the world “there is no exposure to anyone’s biological anatomy” because of bathroom stalls:

    RACHEL MARTIN (HOST): Can you explain what has been happening in North Carolina that you believe made this bill necessary?

    MATT SHARP: The primary motivation was the city of Charlotte passing an ordinance that would have allowed, in all businesses and public schools and other facilities, men to use the same restrooms as girls and women. That's violating their right to privacy. And so the North Carolina legislature and governor, seeing this and the impact this was going to have, took steps to reverse this and to make sure that across the state no individual would ever have to give up their right to privacy and be forced to share the same facilities as someone of the opposite sex.

    MARTIN: And I'm sorry to get into things that are so intimate, but it's an intimate law about very private issues. When you're going into a woman's bathroom, everywhere around the world, you go into stalls. So there is no exposure to anyone's biological anatomy.

    Sharp continued to provide misinformation, falsely claiming that Mississippi's new "religious freedom" law, which has been called the “most sweeping anti-LGBT” legislation in the U.S., is "in no way ... meant to allow the LGBT community to be denied goods and services." In fact, the bill does allow the denial of goods and services, as well as allowing medical professionals to refuse necessary treatment for LGBT people and employers to establish sex-specific standards regarding dress and bathroom use. The bill also allows state employees to refuse to provide services involved in “authorizing or licensing legal marriages.”

    This isn't the first time NPR has given an uncritical platform to an anti-LGBT extremist. In December, NPR's Diane Rehm admitted that her program had erred in failing to properly identify an anti-gay hate group fellow from the Family Research Council, saying, “We have to do a better job of being more careful about identification.”

  • NPR Highlights Public Citizen’s New Analysis On Lack Of Campaign Finance Questions In Presidential Debates

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    NPR’s Peter Overby highlighted new analysis from Public Citizen pointing out that presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle “have raised a combined total of around $1 billion,” but that out of 1,000 debate questions and 21 debates so far in this campaign, only 15 questions related to political money have been asked and none addressed “candidates' views of the system or ways they would change it.”

    Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, most news outlets still provide little coverage of the current impact of money in politics and possibilities for campaign finance reform. A lack of questions on campaign finance reflect a larger trend of debate moderators not asking about substantive issues or policies, such as the impact of -- or plans to combat -- climate change.

    In an April 8 article, Overby quotes Public Citizen’s Congress Watch director Lisa Gilbert saying, “There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front-and-center for most Americans as never before. They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions":

    The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.

    They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

    But when it's time for a TV debate, the candidates aren't so eager to expound on their fundraising, the big donors they court for superPACs, or the legal rulings that give the wealthy more avenues for giving.

    A new analysis by the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen finds that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump accounted for 92 percent of all commentary about political money and special interests in the 21 presidential primary debates through March 24.

    The analysis, called The Elephant in the Room, also found that Sanders, Clinton and Trump were also the only candidates to talk about repairing a campaign finance system that has unexpectedly become a flashpoint for voter anger in this election cycle.

    [...]

    Public Citizen criticizes the debate questioners. In the 21 debates, they asked about political money in 15 of more than 1,000 questions. The analysis found no questions on candidates' views of the system or ways they would change it.

    Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, said she was surprised that the candidates and questioners made only 13 mentions of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that has come to represent the surge in big-dollar politics.

    "There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front-and-center for most Americans as never before," she said. "They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions."

  • Bush Judicial Nominee Miguel Estrada Dismantles Conservatives' Smear That Merrick Garland Is A Threat To The Second Amendment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican lawyer Miguel Estrada dismissed the claims from discredited right-wing organization Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) that Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland's judicial record indicates a "bias against Second Amendment rights."

    In a March 27 NPR story that refuted activists' criticisms of Garland's judicial record, Estrada -- who was nominated by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- explained that "the evidence that is being cited for the accusation that Judge Garland has some bias against Second Amendment rights is from thin to non-existent."

    The "evidence" dismissed by Estrada as "thin to non-existent" originated from the Judicial Crisis Network, which has been making this false charge against Garland since March 11, before he was nominated by President Obama, claiming that Garland's vote to rehear a 2007 case on handgun restrictions indicates he "has a very liberal view on gun rights."

    However, Garland was joined in his vote by the very conservative Judge A. Raymond Randolph, and legal scholars have explained that reading anti-gun bias in this vote by Garland is a "dangerous" assumption.

    As Estrada explained to NPR, voting to rehear a case does not indicate a judge's view of the merits of the case, but rather "the rules say that the full court may wish to rehear the case itself when the case raises a question, and I quote, 'of exceptional importance.'"

    Like several journalists who cover the courts and legal issued for national media outlets, Estrada dismissed the evidence presented by the JCN that Garland is anti-gun:

    [C]onservative activists see Garland's record as tilting distinctly to the left. The Judicial Crisis Network has already spent $4 million on TV and radio advertisements in 10 states insisting that he "would be the tie-breaking vote for Obama's big government liberalism."

    Proving some of these assertions, however, can be difficult.

    "The evidence that is being cited for the accusation that Judge Garland has some bias against Second Amendment rights is from thin to non-existent," says Miguel Estrada, a conservative Republican lawyer whose own nomination to the D.C. Circuit was stalled by Democrats during the George W. Bush administration.

    Estrada notes that the charge that Garland is hostile to gun rights stems from a case challenging the District of Columbia's ban on handguns. In 2007, a three-judge panel -- not including Garland -- ruled for the first time that there is a constitutional right to own guns for self-defense. Afterward, Garland was one of four judges, including a conservative Reagan appointee, who voted for the full court to rehear the case.

    Estrada explains that "the rules say that the full court may wish to rehear the case itself when the case raises a question, and I quote, 'of exceptional importance.' "

    The gun rights case certainly was of exceptional importance, he said, since no court of appeals had ever before ruled that there was an individual right to own a gun. Ultimately, Estrada notes, the Supreme Court, too, thought the case was of exceptional importance, since it agreed to review the lower court decision and, in a landmark opinion, sustained it.

  • Right-Wing Media Have Been Following Their Deceptive SCOTUS Nominee Playbook To A T

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    supreme-court

    On March 16, President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Before the nomination, Media Matters explained how right-wing media would respond: by following their deceptive conservative playbook against the nominee, regardless of who it was. And that's exactly what they did. Right-wing media resurrected the same tired tactics they've used before to oppose Obama's judicial nominees -- distorting the nominee's record to push alarmist rhetoric, purposefully taking past statements out of context, and lobbing attacks based on the nominee's race, gender, or religion. In the last week, we've already seen many of these plays put into action, with conservative media predictably propping up dishonest talking points and false claims dedicated to obstruction.

    Judicial Crisis Network Has Led The Pack In Pushing Debunked Misinformation On Garland's Record Into Media Coverage

    The discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) -- known as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the Bush administration, but now committed to opposing Obama judicial nominations -- has led the way in fearmongering around "one more liberal justice," attempting to re-cast Garland's record as that of an anti-gun, job-killing judicial extremist.

    JCN began its misinformation campaign well before Garland's March 16 nomination, pushing myths about the records of several potential nominees at the National Review's Bench Memos legal blog, in press statements and attack ads, and in media appearances by JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino. On March 11, Severino authored a post on the Bench Memos blog attempting to smear Garland as "very liberal on gun rights" by grossly distorting actions he took on two cases pulled from his nearly two decades of judicial service, one of which did not even concern the Second Amendment. Severino cited Garland's 2007 vote to rehear a case on D.C.'s handgun ban and his 2000 ruling in a case related to the national background check system for gun purchases to draw this baseless conclusion. But she failed to note crucial context -- voting to rehear a case in what's called an en banc review does not indicate how a judge might theoretically rule, and in both cases, Garland either acted in agreement with colleagues or other courts across the ideological spectrum. Veteran Supreme Court reporters and numerous legal experts quickly and summarily debunked these misleading claims, but other right-wing outlets have further distorted them, and JCN has pushed the myths in subsequent attack ads and media appearances.

    Following Garland's formal nomination, JCN released a series of "topline points" outlining its opposition, further misrepresenting Garland's guns record to falsely suggest he had "voted to uphold" D.C.'s handgun ban and "demonstrated a remarkable level of hostility to the Second Amendment," as well as contending Garland was "the sole dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation." Like its earlier attacks on Garland's supposedly "very liberal" guns record, JCN's newer claims about Garland's ruling in the 2002 EPA case also grossly distorted the facts.

    Some mainstream outlets have uncritically echoed JCN's debunked "topline points" and attack ads on Garland's record, and these reports -- in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio -- lend an air of undeserved legitimacy to the group's misinformation campaign against Garland.

    National Review Has Served As The Right-Wing-Media Source For Misleading Talking Points

    National Review's Supreme Court coverage to date has continued its tradition of injecting context-free talking points into mainstream reporting on the nominee. Its legal blog, Bench Memos, has served as a testing ground for new smears against Garland, hosting several misinformation-filled posts from JCN's Severino that eventually made their way into mainstream reporting and broadcast coverage. In giving space for JCN and other right-wing legal pundits like contributor Ed Whelan to distort Garland's record, Bench Memos quickly made it clear that a lack of evidence is no reason to avoid making sweeping claims about the nominee.

    Before Garland was nominated, National Review featured posts from both Severino and Whelan that attempted to smear several potential nominees. On March 7, Whelan questioned the intelligence of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson absent any evidence to suggest the accomplished federal judge was anything but qualified. That same day, Severino attempted to smear Judge Jane Kelly for fulfilling her constitutional duty of providing legal representation for an unsavory client while working as a public defender. In subsequent posts, Severino attacked Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul Watford in a series aimed to undermine their reputations as "moderates" by misrepresenting a handful of their past decisions as "extremist."

    Attacks on Garland, too, began before the March 16 nomination announcement; Severino's March 11 post on Bench Memos first floated what have since become widespread and false conservative talking points on Garland's record on guns. In the post, Severino claimed that Garland's vote to rehear a 2007 case related to the D.C. handgun ban and his joining of a ruling in a 2000 case related to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases together indicated "a very liberal approach" to the Second Amendment and a desire to overturn the 2008 Heller Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. These attacks, which legal experts quickly and repeatedly debunked, continue to pervade media coverage of opposition to Garland's nomination.

    Fox Figures Have Parroted Debunked Claims, Reporting Misinformation As Fact To A Wider Audience

    Fox News figures have predictably latched onto conservative talking points to oppose Garland, broadcasting already debunked claims about Garland's record.

    On March 16, Bret Baier, host of Fox's Special Report With Bret Baier, claimed in an interview with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that Garland "opposed Justice Scalia's take on the Second Amendment in the Heller case," misrepresenting both Garland's 2007 vote to rehear the D.C. handgun case and the case's relationship to a Supreme Court decision issued the following year. On Fox's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly further distorted JCN's talking point, incorrectly stating that Garland had "voted to keep the guns away" from private citizens in D.C., another claim about the Supreme Court nominee that PolitiFact labeled false.

    The NRA Has Launched An Opposition Campaign Based On These Recycled Talking Points

    As Media Matters warned, the National Rifle Association (NRA) quickly began pushing these right-wing media claims to justify its involvement in obstruction efforts and to fearmonger about Garland.

    Immediately following Garland's nomination on March 16, the NRA declared him "bad on guns." In a series of tweets reacting to the nomination, the NRA linked to the debunked March 11 Severino post on Bench Memos to claim that Garland would "vote to reverse" the Heller decision, and a Washington Times article pushing the same discredited claims with quotes from Severino, a spokesperson from the opposition research group America Rising Squared, and the extremist group Gun Owners of America.

    Later that day, the NRA formally announced its opposition to Garland's nomination. The move predictably mirrored the NRA's efforts to distort Sonia Sotomayor's record and to launch an unprecedented and largely ineffective ploy to threaten senators' records over their votes to confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009. Days later, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action explained the group's opposition in an op-ed in The Washington Post, regurgitating JCN's dishonest claims about Garland's 2007 en banc vote in the Parker case to fearmonger about the moderate judge.

    The NRA's opposition to Garland helped elevate JCN's long-debunked talking points on Garland all the way to Senate Republicans leading the obstruction efforts. In a March 20 appearance on Fox News Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explicitly cited the NRA's opposition to Garland as a sticking point for ongoing Senate obstruction, explaining that he "can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association."

  • Obama Photographed With Che Guevara In Background, Right-Wing Media Freak Out

    Flashback: Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, And Richard Nixon Have All Been Photographed In Front Of Communist Leaders

    ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Right-wing media rushed to attack President Obama over a photograph from his trip to Cuba in which he appears in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución, with a mural of Che Guevara visible in the background -- apparently forgetting that Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush have all been photographed in front of images of communist leaders while on trips abroad.

  • Reminder To Media: The Judicial Crisis Network Is Still Not To Be Taken Seriously

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the weeks leading up to the March 16 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, media outlets uncritically featured discredited conservative group the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) and its debunked talking points attacking Garland and other potential nominees. Following Garland's nomination, some mainstream outlets continue to credulously cite the group and its false claims, even though JCN has a history of injecting misinformation into judicial nomination fights.

  • Media Claim GOP Debate Was "Substantive," Ignore That "The Substance Was Wrong"

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media are lauding CNN and the Republican presidential candidates for a "surprisingly substantive" March 10 debate that "focused on jobs, the economy, education, Cuba, Israel and even ... climate change." Despite this praise, fact-checkers are pointing to the candidates' "bruised realities" and "wrong" policy claims, saying the "debate was very substantive. Too bad that substance was all wrong."

  • Media Figures Highlight The Contrast Between Two Of Trump's Statements On Media Practices

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media figures are spotlighting the contrast in Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's various statements on the media and media processes. They note that days after Trump vowed to expand libel laws so it would be easier to sue the media, he claimed to have too much respect for the press and its off-the-record process to release the controversial record of an off-the-record meeting he had with The New York Times' editorial board.

  • This 1968 Report Highlights Exactly Why Reporting On Race Is Still A Disaster

    Fifty Years Later, The "White Perspective" Still Dominates Media Coverage Of Race, Racism, And Violence

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    In 1967, responding to a number of riots in black neighborhoods of cities including Detroit, Los Angeles, and Chicago, President Lyndon Johnson convened an investigatory commission to figure out how and why the riots had occurred.

    Seven months later, the commission published the informally named Kerner Report, spotlighting how institutional and explicit anti-black racism, police brutality, concentrated poverty, and political disenfranchisement had come together to spark the riots.

    The report also strongly criticized major media's shoddy coverage of the riots, warning that a "significant imbalance" between reality and news reports of the riots was exacerbating the schism between the country's "two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal." The report concluded:

    Along with the country as a whole, the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now. They must make a reality of integration--in both their product and personnel. They must insist on the highest standards of accuracy--not only reporting single events with care and skepticism, but placing each event into meaningful perspective. They must report the travail of our cities with compassion and depth.

    Fifty years later, mainstream media continues to be defined by the "white perspective" that the Kerner Report hoped to challenge. And the media circus that surrounded the protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, in August 2014 and Baltimore, MD, in April 2015 shows how little has changed in the broken way the mainstream media talks about race, violence, and systemic inequality.

    Exaggerating The "Scope And Intensity" Of Protests

    The Kerner Report criticized media coverage of the 1967 riots for exaggerating the "scope and intensity of the disorders," which created "an impression at odds with the overall reality of events":

    ... there were instances of gross flaws in presenting news of the 1967 riots. Some newspapers printed scare headlines unsupported by the mild stories that followed. All media reported rumors that had no basis in fact.

    [...]

    This is not "just another story." It should not be treated like one. ... Reporters and editors must be sure that descriptions and pictures of violence, and emotional or inflammatory sequences or articles, even though "true" in isolation, are really representative and do not convey an impression at odds with the overall reality of events.

    Following Michael Brown's high-profile death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, and Freddie Gray's death while in the custody of Baltimore's police department, protests over the use of excessive police force and racial discrimination erupted. Though protesters clashed with police at times, the demonstrations largely consisted of civil rights leaders, activists, politicians, and residents coming together to mourn the injustices and raise awareness of the circumstances.

    TV and print media flooded their coverage of the Baltimore and Ferguson unrest with incendiary imagery, misleadingly casting the demonstration sites as war zones. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News rolled videos on loop of Baltimore buildings ablaze, police cars destroyed, and protesters in gas masks. Print newspapers led their front-page coverage with "fiery images of angry protesters attacking police vehicles, looting and burning buildings ... police in riot gear and tense moments between law enforcement and demonstrators," according to American Journalism Review. Online publications continuously posted incendiary pictures showing lawlessness and destruction.

    (Photo courtesy of American Journalism Review)

    But the sensationalized images that dominated cable and print media coverage of Baltimore and Ferguson painted a misleading picture of the crises there. As many commentators noted, the scenes in Baltimore and Ferguson were significantly calmer and less sensational than media watchers would likely have realized. ColorOfChange.org warned reporters covering Ferguson that "stories coming out of many major media outlets [painting] a picture of total lawlessness ... could not be further from the truth." The Daily Show also mocked the breathless media coverage of disorder in Baltimore.

    Baltimore resident Danielle Williams also called out this type of selective reporting during an on-the-street interview with MSNBC's Thomas Roberts, saying "when we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we've burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us."

    Media also often printed exaggerated headlines that were unsubstantiated by the article body. An April 2015 Economist article describing the Baltimore protests was headlined "It's Chaos" and said the demonstrations were "best described not as a riot but as anarchy."

    But the article noted that "few protesters or people [were] fighting the police or hurling stones" and that "people standing around [were] mostly taking photos on their phones." What was first labeled as "anarchy" was then chronicled as "groups of young men, boys really, wearing bandanas and hoodies ... staring at anyone passing, and occasionally throwing projectiles at cars."

    Likewise, a Wall Street Journal article was headlined "Arrests in Baltimore as Freddie Gray Protests Turn Violent." But the piece mostly hyped what was otherwise non-violent protesting, including an "impromptu 'die-in'" and "a small group [throwing] cans and plastic bottles in the direction of police officers."

    Newsrooms covering Baltimore and Ferguson also disseminated misinformation that often originated from local city and police department officials. On April 27, 2015, The Baltimore Sun reported that a mass police presence had been pre-emptively convened near a Baltimore mall because of a "flier that circulated widely" among students online advocating a "purge," referencing the 2013 movie The Purge that dramatized a night of lawlessness and anarchy.

    After Baltimore students finished school and headed toward the mall, they were greeted by police in riot gear. Because of the purge rumors, the police allegedly shut down the subway and blocked buses from leaving, leaving hundreds of students on the streets unable to get home. A violent clash ensued. Baltimore Police Department Capt. Kowalczyk said the police would identify and arrest "lawless individuals with no regard" for safety.

    But the purge rumor was immediately disputed. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) tried tracing The Baltimore Sun's account of the flier's distribution and said the evidence was "murky at best." FAIR noted how the Sun's shaky reporting ended up "creat[ing] a perception of actual danger that the proffered evidence doesn't substantiate." Mother Jones poked holes in the police's narrative that they responded to a "rumored plan" of students executing a purge, noting that "many of the kids, according to eyewitnesses, were stuck there because of police actions" -- not because they wanted to fight.

    Such shoddy reporting does more than run counter to journalistic ethics and best practices. Back in 1968, the Kerner report said the commission was "deeply concerned that millions of Americans, who must rely on the mass media, ... formed incorrect impressions and judgments about what went on in many American cities." 

    Ignoring Systemic Inequality Behind Unrest And Protests

    The Kerner Commission also harangued media for failing to investigate how systemic and institutional racism contributed to the riots:

    The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man's world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro's burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed.

    [...]

    The media--especially television--also have failed to present and analyze to a sufficient extent the basic reasons for the disorders. ... [C]overage during the riot period itself gives far more emphasis to control of rioters and black-white confrontation than to the underlying causes of the disturbances.

    In 2014, Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation analyzed over a thousand national and local newspapers articles and cable television news transcripts to determine what percentage of race and racism coverage was "systemically aware" -- meaning it "mentions or highlights policies and/or practices that lead to racial disparities; describes the root causes of disparities including the history and compounding effects of institutions; and/or describes or challenges the aforementioned."

    The study concluded that "most of the mainstream media's racism content is not 'systemically aware,'" finding that "about two out of three articles on race and racism failed to include a perspective with any insight on systemic-level racism." It also concluded that "very rarely" did media "feature prominent, robust coverage of racial justice advocacy or solutions."

    Media coverage of the events in Baltimore and Ferguson similarly failed to investigate the role systemic inequality and institutional racism played in creating unrest, denying audiences the ability to understand those news events in context.

    A second Race Forward analysis examined media's race coverage specific to the Ferguson protests, seeking to determine "how much attention [race is] actually getting in the coverage."

    The study found that media overwhelmingly failed to contextualize the Ferguson protests in a broader discussion of racist policing practices. The Race Forward report found that although nearly half of the articles included "terms such as 'race,' 'racial,' 'racism,' 'racist,' and 'diversity,'" "only 34 of 994 articles analyzed led with a minimally systemically aware perspective."

    During a contentious interview with Fox's Sean Hannity, Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, explained how this kind of reporting skewed understandings of the protests in Baltimore:

    ADAM JACKSON: The fundamental problem with the coverage of these stories is that it's mired with racist subterfuge, because to talk about the violence that's going on in Baltimore, and not talking about the systemic inequalities and racist policing practices that have led us to this point, it posits a situation where we're talking about either high violence in our communities or racist police when ... the task should be to fix both.

    Following unrest in Ferguson after Darren Wilson was not indicted, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans noted that cable news coverage of Brown's death had largely avoided a broader discussion of systemic issues like "poverty, urban gangs, aggressive drug enforcement and more":

    [T]ackling a difficult story about race in a panel debate format doesn't serve the issue and distracts from the serious questions at hand. It only serves television news networks' need for conflict among well-known opinionators.

    Trying to talk about systemic racial issues during a crisis is always much harder.

    Lack Of Diversity In Newsrooms And Reporting

    The Kerner Commission also attributed media's distorted race coverage to a lack of diversity in the newsroom:

    The journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training, and promoting Negroes.

    [...]

    If the media are to report with understanding, wisdom and sympathy on the problems of cities and problems of the black man -- for the two are increasingly intertwined -- they must employ, promote and listen to Negro journalists.

    The lack of newsroom diversity is just as germane and dire in 2015 as it was nearly 50 years ago. In 1967, "fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business" were black, according to the Kerner Report. In 2015, 4.74 percent of newspaper employees were black, according to the latest data from the American Society of News Editors. Since 2000, the number of black journalists in newspaper newsrooms -- including supervisors, copy editors, producers, reporters, and photographers -- has dropped 52.3 percent.

    Some media leaders have sought to justify, or at least explain, these dismal numbers on newsroom diversity. Former Slate editor David Plotz said the recession caused newsrooms to go into "survival mode" and prioritize "saving ... jobs" over ensuring diversity. NYMag.com's Ben Williams said, "It's well-established that, in part due to economic reasons, not enough 'diverse' candidates enter journalism on the ground floor to begin with. So the biggest factor in improving newsroom diversity is getting more non-white male employees into the profession to begin with."

    But these arguments and others that invoke a so-called pipeline problem are "hollow," in the words of the Kerner Report. "The number of minorities graduating from journalism programs and applying for jobs doesn't seem to be the problem after all," Alex Williams wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2015. According to his study, non-white graduates who "specialized in print or broadcasting" were 17 percent less likely to be hired by print and broadcast journalism organizations than non-minorities. "The problem," he wrote, "is that these candidates are not being hired."

    The Media As "Instruments Of The White Power Structure"

    The Kerner Report determined that the sweeping failure of media's race coverage in the 1960s had fostered a far-reaching sentiment of "distrust" in the black community for the media:

    [Persons interviewed] believe ... that the media are instruments of the white power structure. They think that these white interests guide the entire white community, from the journalists' friends and neighbors to city officials, police officers, and department store owners.

    Fifty years later, similar distrust of mainstream news media persists. A September 2014 survey by the American Press Institute found that 75 percent of African-Americans thought the press accurately portrayed African-American people and issues "moderately," "slightly," or "not at all." The authors posited that the "news ecosystem itself" -- one where the black community has scant access to black-centered news sources -- "is uneven, potentially creating uneven perceptions."

    Another survey, by the Pew Research Center, found that nearly 60 percent of African-Americans "say that news coverage of blacks is generally too negative." Conversely, 75 percent said coverage of whites was "too positive" or "generally fair." And a majority of African-Americans said the "amount of coverage news organizations give to race relations" is "too little."

    The media's flawed race coverage has real consequences. The Kerner Report warned, "If what the white American reads in the newspapers or sees on television conditions his expectation of what is ordinary and normal in the larger society, he will neither understand nor accept the black American." Today's flawed reporting continues to pose an obstacle to educating broader audiences about the realities of racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic inequality. 

    It Doesn't Have To Be This Way 

    The media hasn't always provided such skewed coverage of race, racism, and violence. During the 1950s and 1960s, the press played a key role in bringing to light the systematic discrimination of black Americans, helping to galvanize widespread reform.

    As detailed in Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff's book The Race Beat, a history of reporting during the Civil Rights era, Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish economist and sociologist sent by the Carnegie Corporation to the American South, reported in the 1940s that the plight of black Americans could be improved only if white Americans in the North became aware of their struggle. Consequently, Myrdal wrote in the book An American Dilemma, "the future of race relations ... rested largely in the hands of the American press" exposing these racial crises.

    As the civil rights movement swept the nation, the press listened. Roberts and Klibanoff explained that the way the white press reported on race conspicuously improved over the next two decades, with newspapers opening new bureaus in the South, assigning full-time staff to cover the movement, and hiring black reporters. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a prominent civil rights leader during the time, told the authors, "If it hadn't been for the media -- the print media and television -- the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song."

    But when the demonstrations turned violent in the latter half of the 1960s, the authors write, the improvements in coverage slipped away. Whereas "white journalists" reporting on civil rights in the South "were threatened by white mobs and found safety in black neighborhoods," the journalists investigating rioting in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965 "fled black mobs" and reported on the strife "from a distance, from outside the ghetto looking in." As the riots raged on, according to the book, black people saw the news "portray[ing] the militancy of black power" and "'simplistically' focusing on the violence and mayhem of the riots" without examining the underlying problems, leading to the problems detailed by the Kerner Commission and the way the media continues to report on race now.

    Fifty years ago, the Kerner Report urged the American media to begin the "painful process" of fixing its racial justice reporting. The fact that its criticisms are still so pertinent, and the historical example of responsible reporting throughout the civil rights movement, point to the need for higher standards in accurate, appropriate, and inclusive race coverage.

  • Media Really Don't Want To Declare Clinton The Winner In Iowa

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media dragged their feet in acknowledging Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's victory in the Iowa caucus, calling the race "still too close to call" and smearing Clinton as a liar, despite the fact that the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus results show Clinton has an insurmountable lead over Bernie Sanders.

  • This Powerful Reporting Uncovers The Reality Of Racial Segregation In Schools

    "A Story Of The Staggering Educational Inequality We Are Willing To Accept"

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Last year, reporting from The New York Times Magazine's Nikole Hannah-Jones showcased a disturbing trend in American K-12 education: the resegregation of schools across the country and its negative impact on all students and communities. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it's worth revisiting Hannah-Jones' work for WBEZ's This American Life program, and her previous reporting on modern-day school resegregation for ProPublica and The Atlantic.

    In April 2014, investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones published a comprehensive exploration of racial resegregation in an Alabama city school district previously under a federal desegregation order. The report, released as part of an ongoing ProPublica series in collaboration with The Atlantic, focused on the state of segregation in American society and coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education civil rights decision outlawing racial segregation in schools.

    The three-part series featured images from historic segregation efforts, submissions from students detailing their own experiences with racial segregation in schools, an interactive timeline on the trajectory of integration efforts nationwide, a short companion film, and in-depth reporting focused on the first-hand experiences of a black family in a highly segregated district in the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The project's editors at ProPublica described its scope:

    The presentation includes: Hannah-Jones's extraordinary 9,000-word article; a beautiful and arresting collection of photographs taken by students in Tuscaloosa high schools; a partnership with Michele Norris's "Race Card Project" and NPR's Morning Edition; an interactive timeline tracing the arc of segregation, integration and resegregation; a feature that will provide the first-ever opportunity for readers to look up whether their districts remain under federal desegregation orders and just how integrated their school districts are today; and a moving, short documentary film by the award-winning Maisie Crow.

    Hannah-Jones' reporting -- featured as the May 2014 cover story for The Atlantic -- connected the stories of three generations of the Dents, a black Tuscaloosa family, to the complicated realities of racial dynamics in schools across the country (emphasis added):

    Tuscaloosa's school resegregation--among the most extensive in the country--is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes. It is a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight. It was facilitated, to some extent, by the city's black elites. And it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil-rights aims it had once championed.

    [...]

    In the hours after the parade, James Dent sat back in a worn wingback chair in the cramped but tidy house he and his wife rent in the West End. As dusk brought out the whirring of cicadas, he quietly flipped through a photo album devoted to D'Leisha's many accomplishments. She's the class president, a member of the mayor's youth council, a state champion in track and field. Later that night, she would be named homecoming queen as well.

    Dent never went to college. One of 13 children born into the waning days of Jim Crow, he took his place in the earliest of integrated American institutions: the military. He served four years in the Air Force, including a year in Vietnam, before returning to the West End to spend the next 40 mixing cement for a living. The work was steady, but the pay meager.

    Thin, with chestnut skin, and seldom seen without a Vietnam-vet cap, Dent is a reserved man, not prone to soapboxes. But after a long silence, he gently suggested that maybe his granddaughter deserved a little more than a 12-car salute at a brief and sparsely attended parade. When D'Leisha graduates this spring, she will have spent her entire public education in segregated schools. Just like he had.

    "I think about it all the time, and ain't nothing I can do about it," he said. "It ain't going to get no better." He said he just hoped she was learning as much as the city's white students were, then grew quiet again. If integration was going to prove so brief, what, he wondered, had all the fighting been for?

    Hannah-Jones' storytelling around the Dent family -- grandfather James, who attended segregated schools in Tuscaloosa; mother Melissa, who attended the high-achieving, integrated Central High School there; and daughter D'Leisha, a current student at the overwhelmingly black, failing Central High of the present-day -- wove through historical context about federal desegregation orders, local politics, and extensive research on the benefits of integrated education for black and white students alike. She concluded:

    For black students like D'Leisha--the grandchildren of the historic Brown decision--having to play catch-up with their white counterparts is supposed to be a thing of the past. The promise was that students of all colors would be educated side by side, and would advance together into a more integrated, equitable American society. Polls show Americans embracing this promise in the abstract, but that rarely translates into on-the-ground support for integration efforts.

    [...]

    A few months earlier, D'Leisha had talked about how much she looked forward to meeting people from different cultures at college and sitting in a racially mixed classroom for the first time. But her college hopes are thinner now than she'd expected then. As of this writing, they largely hinge on the tenuous promise of a coach at a small, historically black college outside of Birmingham, who has told her that the school will have a place for her despite her score. No official offer of admission has yet arrived.

    At the end of 2014, Hannah-Jones' work on school resegregation appeared again at ProPublica, this time focused on the segregation of the Normandy school district in Missouri, where Michael Brown had graduated days before his fatal shooting by a white police officer. This work informed more in-depth, first-hand reporting on segregated schools for a piece in New York Times Magazine and a two-part investigative series for WBEZ's This American Life program last summer. The series was entitled "The Problem We All Live With" in reference to a famous Norman Rockwell painting depicting Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school in the South.

    The program drew from Hannah-Jones' scholarly expertise on and personal connections to racial resegregation in schools, then pivoted to report on starkly different desegregation efforts in Normandy (bordering the city of Ferguson, Missouri) and Hartford, Connecticut, where a school district was actively integrating and facing an uphill battle to gain support from local parents. The series also featured a smaller vignette told from the perspective of a black student taking integration into her own hands, and an interview with then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan conducted by Hannah-Jones and This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt. Hannah-Jones described the project as an effort to tell the story of Michael Brown's school district and "what happens to those children left behind" compared to students who are "given a chance to escape failing schools" (emphasis added):

    I teamed up with Chana Joffe-Walt, a producer for the radio program "This American Life," to tell the story of Michael Brown's school district through the students who remain there. It is a story of children locked away from opportunity, what happens when those children are given a chance to escape failing schools and what happens to those children left behind. It is a story of how powerful people decided to do something only when the problems of the worst district in the state were no longer contained. And above all, it is a story of the staggering educational inequality we are willing to accept.

    The first part of the series, framed around the death of Michael Brown, detailed an unintentional integration program instituted in his school district in Normandy, one year before Brown's death, when the district lost its state accreditation and students were allowed to transfer to neighboring, overwhelmingly white schools (emphasis added):

    NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I stumbled on this place by accident. I was watching the coverage of Michael Brown, almost a year ago, like the rest of America. There was one moment that I could not get out of my head. It's news footage of his mother, Leslie McSpadden, right after he was killed.

    LESLIE MCSPADDEN: This was wrong, and that was cold-hearted.

    HANNAH-JONES: She's standing in a crowd of onlookers, a few feet from where her son was shot down, where he would lie face down on the concrete for four hours, dead. And this is what she says.

    MCSPADDEN: You took my son away from me. You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. 

    HANNAH-JONES: I watched this over and over. A police officer has just killed her oldest child. It has to be the worst moment of her life. But of all the ways she could've expressed her grief and outrage, this is what was on her mind: school. Getting her son through school. Michael Brown became a national symbol of the police violence against youth, but when I looked into his education I realized he's also a symbol of something else, something much more common. Most black kids will not be shot by the police, but many of them will go to a school like Michael Brown's. It took me all of five minutes on the Internet to find out that the school district he attended is almost completely black, almost completely poor, and failing badly.

    [...]

    Schools in Missouri get accredited by the state. Almost every district is accredited, but if you're doing really bad, you get put on notice. That's called provisional accreditation. That's supposed to be like a warning, but Normandy had provisional accreditation for 15 years. That means there are entire classes of students, nearly all of them black, who came in as kindergarteners and graduated twelve years later without ever having attended a school that met state standards. In the St. Louis area, nearly one in two black children attend schools in districts that perform so poorly, the state has stripped them of full accreditation. Only one in 25 white children are in a district like that.

    The second part of the series, reported by Joffe-Walt, expanded on Hannah-Jones' segment by providing a contrasting story of the Hartford, Connecticut city school district which is using sophisticated marketing strategies to gain support from white parents in its efforts to prioritize racial integration in its schools (emphasis added): 

    CHANA JOFFE-WALT: When you drive around suburban Hartford now, occasionally you'll see a sign on someone's lawn that says 'I Heart Magnet Schools.' Neighbors will ask, 'Hey, where does your kid go on the bus every morning?' The few-minute conversation that follows is the most powerful marketing tool available. It's what Enid or any marketer dreams of: a conversation where one parent goes to another, 'Oh, I think I've heard of that place. Does she like it? Is it safe?' Neighbor to neighbor, white person to white person. It is the same potent tool that, three decades ago, helped create segregated neighborhoods, repurposed to do the exact opposite.

    [...]

    Hartford parents, right now, are frustrated for the exact same reason parents were frustrated with Hartford schools in the 1980s, when [civil rights lawyer] John Brittain sued: their schools are inferior. Magnet school kids do great. They go to integrated schools, and 80 percent of them pass state tests. Hartford public school kids go to segregated schools. Less than 40 percent of them pass state tests. Magnet school kids can explore space on the first floor of their school. Hartford public school buildings have gotten better, but they're not like that.

    For the 50 percent of Hartford families who can't get their kids into the beautiful, integrated magnet schools, things are exactly the same as they've always been. Only worse, because now there's a school with a planetarium down the block that they can't get into. That school with the planetarium, by the way? The environmental sciences magnet? It used to just be Mary Hooker Elementary before integration. It was just a regular public school. And back when it was a regular public school, it was almost entirely Latino, there was no planetarium, no Lego lab or butterfly vivarium. Those came when it went magnet. Those came with the white students.

    The argument against 'separate but equal' was never that separate schools couldn't be equal, theoretically. Just that it never, ever happens.

    "The Problem We All Live With," along with Hannah-Jones' previous work, brings the first-hand stories of students and parents to the forefront of America's ongoing racial conversation, and connects these experiences to data highlighting the failures of persistent segregation in schools and the complicated strategies used to address it. This powerful reporting, weaving personal experiences from different communities and generations with the facts of school segregation's lasting impact, warrants another look today.

  • Media Fall For Paul Ryan's Sham Poverty Forum

    ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."