Saturday, December 30, 2017

Black Propaganda

The  organizations, Color of Change and Family Story, commissioned a research team at the University of Illinois that studies media patterns to examine what an average news consumer might have “learned” about black families (and white families) during the last election cycle. The results were disturbing.
The study found that, at best, media outlets promoted racially biased portrayals and myths that pathologize black families and idealize white families with respect to poverty and crime. At worst, media outlets amplified those inaccurate depictions for political and financial gain. Such reporting reinforces debunked narratives, helping to justify actions from police brutality to economic policies that will hurt not just black families but all families for generations.
The research team examined more than 800 relevant stories published or aired from January 2015 through December 2016, encompassing coverage from national broadcast and cable news outlets such as ABC, CBS and MSNBC; national mainstream newspapers like The Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today; and online news sites. In both written and television reporting, the researchers found that the news media systemically misrepresented black families.
When the media outlets examined in the study reported stories about poor families, they chose to feature black families in their coverage 59 percent of the time, even though only 27 percent of families living below the poverty line are black. Similarly, in coverage of welfare, 60 percent of families portrayed were black, even though only 42 percent of families receiving welfare are black. This pattern was widespread across numerous sources — among the worst offenders for networks were Fox News and CNN, and the New York Times and Bretibart for national print and online news organizations.
The news media habitually reinforced the myth that black fathers are less involved in their children’s lives. We found that photos and videos in the study showed black mothers, white mothers and white fathers interacting with their children at the same rate. Black fathers, however, were shown with their children half as often, and the news media regularly perpetuated the conventional wisdom that missing black fathers explain social inequity. On “CNN Tonight,” for example, conservative commentator Larry Elder said, “The primary problem with the black community in this country is absentee fathers.” Though black children are disproportionately born to single mothers, that does not mean fathers aren’t involved. A 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that black fathers spend more time engaged in parenting than fathers of other races, participating more often in bathing, diapering, taking their kids to activities and helping them with their homework.
 Media outlets reinforced the idea that black families are sources of personal, cultural and societal instability — that responsibility for poverty and crime lies with them, rather than with those who shape the economic and social environment they live in. On “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly commented, “The root cause of poverty . . . as ‘Talking Points’ has reported over and over again, that is the dissolution of the African American traditional family.” There is no evidence to support this claim and much evidence to debunk it. At the same time, the news media promotes white families as the model norm, a source of social stability. This extends beyond the loud claims of O’Reilly to a steady stream of reporting, including the images that mainstream news producers, editors and reporters choose to include when covering families and family life.
 Prior research has shown that when the news media constantly associates black people with crime, it increases racial stereotypes among viewers, leading the public to disproportionately favor punitive criminal justice policies. In addition, when the poor are depicted as overwhelmingly black, it leads the public to support heavier restrictions on welfare because of a perception that undeserving black people benefit from it. Backers of corporate and right-wing policies gain when the news media blames black families for social conditions, while their own role in destabilizing society remains invisible.
Federal poverty solutions such as welfare, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income and earned-income tax credits were not stigmatized when white people were correctly understood to be the main beneficiaries of them. This was especially true during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As Martin Gilens documents in his book, “Why Americans Hate Welfare,” this started to change in the 1960s following the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty. Reporters who had covered Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights continued to follow him as he turned his attention to abject poverty in both rural and urban areas where blacks and others were deeply affected. This turn toward urban black poverty became an obsession of the media, over time leading to a distorted view of who is poor in our country. Over time, the media and politicians began “othering” the poor by putting a black face on them to undermine the promise of the New Deal and justify policy changes. Today, we continue to see politicians deploy coded racism as economic populism to distract and inflame the public, and to create cover to further right-wing and corporate interests. News outlets are their best partners, echoing these myths in ways big and small, exceptional and routine, serving as validators.

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