White On Top: Tea Party and News Media Aren't All That Different

Credit the recent NAACP resolution calling out racism within the Tea Party with producing at least one significant result – a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of black faces appearing in mainstream news programs as the media cover the latest ‘controversy’ triggered by America’s oldest civil rights organization.

While news coverage of this Tea Party racism controversy did increase the media’s typically limited use of black analysts, that use didn’t stray beyond the standard media practice of basically segregating black analysts/commentators into civil rights-related issues.

Typical of the news media’s standard practice of superficial this-side/that-side coverage, conservative star Sarah Palin figured prominently in initial reportage of Tea Party rejection of NAACP racism charges, without there being any mention of her own history of inciting bigotry in public statements made during the 2008 presidential campaign.

As happens routinely when it comes to stories involving racism in American society, no one pointed out that the paucity of minorities in the Tea Party “Movement” closely matches the paucity of minorities in America’s news media.

Telling parallels exist between the Tea Party’s exclusively white leadership ranks and the predominately white decision-making hierarchy of the mainstream media.

Whites hold 88.9 percent of the supervisory ranks at U.S. newspapers according to the 2010 newsroom census released by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).

In 2009, a report released by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) documented a “discouraging lack of diversity in top tier newsroom management at seven of the nation’s major broadcast companies.”

Even surging web-based news entities evidence exclusionary minority involvement at supervisory and reporting levels. ASNE, earlier this year, announced its intent to conduct a diversity census of online news organizations – an area of concern noted during congressional testimony late last year by past NABJ president Bryan Monroe.

This oft-documented lack of minorities reporting and supervising presentation of news content contradicts claims by conservatives that the news media is a bastion of liberals blighted by the cancerous affirmative action infecting American society.

Not surprisingly, while much of America’s mainstream media treats racism within Tea Party ranks as something hidden in plain sight the nation’s Black Press and the foreign media have repeatedly cited the bigotry within that disgruntled anti-tax movement.

For example, in November 2009, syndicated Black Press columnist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist and college president, wrote about the Tea Party’s having “introduced an acceptable racism into what might otherwise be reasonable criticism about policy matters.”

Coverage by the Guardian newspaper of London of the Tea Party’s first national convention earlier this year carried the headline: “Prejudice and principle brew at tea party meet.”

The misunderstandings percolating through American society on issues involving race and racism persist partly from the news media’s often exclusionary practices on viewpoint diversity and employment.

Today’s misunderstandings mimic those existing when the 1968 presidential Kerner Commission harshly criticized news media practices for contributing “to the black-white schism” in this country.

“The Commission’s major concern with the news media is not in riot reporting as such, but in the failure to report adequately on race relations and ghetto problems and to bring more Negroes into journalism,” the Kerner Commission’s Report stated over forty-years ago.

A 2002 study by a respected journalism studies institute stated that news about minorities’ accounts for five to seven percent of all news content despite African-American and Latinos comprising over a quarter of the nation’s population.

That March 1968 Kerner report noted that the “world that television and newspapers offer to their audiences is almost totally white, in both appearance and attitude.”

Those important Sunday morning news talk programs that peruse, parse and push public policy have despicable records on minority participation according to a report issued in 2005 by the National Urban League entitled “Sunday Morning Apartheid.”

That “Apartheid” report detailed 61 percent of all of those Sunday shows featuring no black guests during nearly two-year monitoring period.

A Washington Post article on the NUL’s “Apartheid” report quoted a network spokesperson defending guest selection practices as relying on those from top echelons of government which are mostly white men. No spokesperson offered any explanation for the lack of diversity in other guests and those questioning the guests.

Following issuance of that report the NUL sent numerous letters to the heads of CNN/US, FOX News, MSNBC and NBC urging them to increase racial diversity in news analysis, coverage and commentary.

A 2009 letter to those news managers, referencing an ignored 2008 letter, produced no reply from those network heads, according to Chanelle Hardy, the Executive Director of the NUL’s Policy Institute which issued that “Apartheid” report.

This lack of response from top broadcast officials conflicts with provisions in the Ethics Code of the Society of Professional Journalists. That Code states journalists should engage in “dialogue with the public about journalistic conduct” and should “encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.”

The NUL’s 2009 letter criticized the incendiary rhetoric of TV talking-heads Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs…all of whom laud the Tea Party.
Many in the media bash criticism of racism in conservative ranks by citing Free Speech. Yet many of those taking this knee-jerk approach possess poor records on diversity themselves.

In August 2009, The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia published an editorial blasting a group for seeking to “silence” Glenn Beck by organizing a boycott against firms advertising on Beck’s FOX television show. Left unsaid was that the Chronicle, according to an ASNE census, has a nine percent non-white newsroom staff operating in a county that is over 50 percent non-white.

The NUL’s Chanelle Hardy sees the NAACP’s stance on the Tea Party as positive, a posture she doesn’t take on many mainstream news media practices.

“Lack of diversity remains an ongoing problem,” Hardy said. “The viewpoints being presented are not representative of the diverse country we live in.”