National and local news media lavished accolade-filled coverage on Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter last summer when Nutter harshly lashed irreverent trouble-making teens and their irresponsible parents during a Sunday morning church service address.
Nutter’s remarks, a mixture of accurate and disingenuous, fit a favored news media narrative: aberrant behavior among Blacks arises principally from personal deficiencies not perverse reactions to structural inequities ingrained in American society.
Given the command of news media coverage narratives, irrespective of narratives so often contradicting fact, it’s no surprise that the news media blithely by-passed serious analysis of an action by Nutter weeks ago inflaming the inequities undergirding the matrix of behaviors the mayor castigated during his pulpit outburst.
The persistent failures within too much of the white news media — mainstream and alternative — to provide probative coverage of racial realities in America is not a new phenomenon.
These failures are American as apple pie and old as the news media’s beginnings in America according to detailed findings contained in the insightful new book “News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” (Verso 2011).
Mayor Nutter’s announcement of exclusive employment deals (Project Labor Agreements) with local building trades unions — infamous for racism — condemns qualified minority construction workers and contractors to years more of exclusion from publicly financed projects with consequent damage to the already tattered economic fabric in non-white communities across Philadelphia.
Mayor Nutter promises that his supervision of PLAs will ensure inclusive opportunities for non-whites and city residents.
But the mayor’s promises will require more than a few miracles to make real based on the lack of inclusion by the building trades unions and major contractors under previous PLAs.
“The majority of the population of a large American city has just been sold-out once again,” stated National Black Chamber of Commerce head Harry Alford in a commentary carried in the Black Press including The Philadelphia Tribune condemning the PLAs announced by Mayor Nutter.
Alford, citing facts ignored by news media coverage, noted that past PLAs in Philadelphia and everywhere else have been a “total disaster in terms of diversity” for Blacks, Hispanics, other non-whites and women.
The awareness-expanding “News For All,” book examining both the development of the news media in America and the role of race in news content, is co-authored by Juan Gonzalez, who began his award-winning journalism career at the Philadelphia Daily News in the late 1970s.
“Why have stereotypes been so persistent in American news, given the nation’s founding commitment to freedom of the press and its many struggles over slavery, territorial expansion and civil rights?” Gonzalez and his co-author Joseph Torres ask in the book’s introduction.
“For more than 250 years the nation’s news media, no matter how politically liberal, conservative or radical, no matter what class they purported to represent, remained the press of its white population.”
Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News and co-host of the nationally/internationally syndicated TV and radio show “Democracy Now,” was in Philadelphia last week to talk about his latest book.
In full disclosure, Gonzalez is a professional colleague and personal friend of mine from our days at Philly’s Daily News. The first journalism award we won at the Daily News was for a 1979 investigative series on housing gentrification in Philadelphia.
Gonzalez and I were founding members of that paper’s Third World Caucus which pushed for more inclusive coverage, hiring and promotion practices at that paper.
Caucus efforts contributed to the Daily News hiring its first Black executive editor in 1985, Jay Harris…an event noted in “News For All.”
Harris hired a Wall Street Journal reporter named Michael Days who eventually became the first Black to lead that paper…one of the few Blacks to ever head a major urban daily newspaper.
Gonzalez, during his remarks last week, presented little known history about the U.S. news media like how the U.S. Postal Service during most of its first one hundred years of operation distributed more newspapers than personal letters.
“The federal government played a pivotal role in the distribution of information because the Founders felt that information was critical to the development of democracy,” Gonzalez said during a talk at Temple University’s Center City campus that followed a reception held in his honor by Al Dia, the Delaware Valley’s largest Hispanic-owned newspaper.
“News For All” also examines some of the news media’s dirtiest laundry — the media’s active roles in lynching Blacks, exterminating Native Americans and brutally harassing Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
“News” recounts the little known Wilmington, N.C. uprising of 1898 where a racist mob, egged on by an influential newspaper editor, overthrew that city’s elected government suffering no reprisals from state or federal officials.
A prime target of those racist rioters was the South’s most successful Black-owned newspaper — forcing that paper’s editor to flee to Philadelphia.
Another of the many interesting stories in the book is that of Pedro Gonzalez, a Latino broadcaster in Los Angeles whose opposition to the racist deportation of Mexicans in the early 1930s led to a false rape conviction and deportation.
“Here is a hero who stood up to oppose mass deportation and was struck down — and no one knows about him,” Gonzalez said.
“A lot of minority journalists were targeted and jailed for fighting for a free press…”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.