Saturday, May 15, 2010

Media Bias in Black and White!

May 20, 2010

During the first week of May every major news organization in America focused on the 1970 Kent State University shootings remembering that on May 4 the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War. A total of 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds. Four students were killed and nine students were wounded. All of the students wee white.

But only ten days later, on May 15, two more students were killed on a college campus by the Mississippi National Guard and the local police department. It happened at Jackson State College, now Jackson State University, in Jackson Mississippi, and the students were African American, but this incident did not receive any national media coverage. Apparently no one remembered.

The Jackson Police Department and the Mississippi National Guard fired continuously on a group of students at Jackson State, killing two and wounding 12 others.

According to a 1970 report from the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, police fired more than 150 rounds. And an FBI investigation revealed that about 400 bullets or pieces of buckshot had been fired into Alexander Hall, a girl’s dormitory. Was not this unpleasant incident worth remembering? Was this not worthy of a news story? Was it not reported because of the race of the victims?

The only group to have involuntarily immigrated to the United States, to have been forcibly stripped of its culture, African or black Americans has as a group yet to receive its fair share of the American dream, even in news coverage.

Professor Henry Lewis Gates wrote ‘during the sixties, even before students on white campuses demonstrated against the Vietnam War, students on black campuses raised the issue of whether their institutions of higher learning were "relevant" to the needs of the black community”.

The Atlantic Online column “Race in America” said ‘Race, (meaning, mostly, the relationship between Caucasians and African-American descendants of slaves) is commonly described as the most difficult, troubling issue in American life. This is nothing new: the race issue was even more troubling in the nineteenth century, when it was the cause of our bloodiest war.” He said ‘the century that is now ending began with a proclamation by W.E.B. Du Bois. "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line", the prescience of which not many people would dispute.’

Do media hold some people to one standard while using a different standard for other groups? Were the Jackson State shootings less important than the Kent State shootings?

We know and understand that there is hardly any race and gender diversity in national news outlets compared to the African American press. Media have tremendous power in setting cultural guidelines and in shaping opinionated dialogue. It is essential that the white news media, along with other institutions, are challenged to be fair.

News outlets should require their reporters, news director and editors be compelled to take courses in cultural diversity. Diversity encompasses not only racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, but also diversity of socioeconomic contexts, cultural perspectives, national origins, sexual orientation, physical ability, and educational backgrounds, because the differences among us have historically formed the basis of fear, bigotry, and even violence.

The so called ‘major media’ is unscrupulous in presenting a one-sided picture such as devoting several minutes, features and programs to the May 4 Kent State massacre, while ignoring the Jackson State bloodbath, and this bias is revealed in the Kent State –Jackson State news coverage. Or should I say exclusion of news coverage?

There is an irrefutable and significant bias in a number of mainstream media that will not allow them to be devoted to promoting accurate, full and balanced media coverage of African American issues and events.

A review of news media sources identifies stereotypical depictions of students at Kent State and at Jackson State and that is unfortunate because these stories have implications for public attitudes and behavior.

We know and understand that there is hardly any race and gender diversity in national news outlets as there is in the African American press.

How many producers, editors or decision-makers at news outlets are women, people of color or openly gay or lesbian? In order to fairly represent different communities, news outlets should have members of those communities in decision-making positions.

If there had been, we would have known or heard about a tragic day in May on both campuses; one in Ohio and one in Mississippi.

For more information on both incidents, read book ‘Lynch Street published by Kent State University Press (October 1988).

“Lynch Street is not, as one might assume, named after lynching’s, rather it is identified with John Ray Lynch, an emancipated slave and Mississippi's first black congressman. Lynch Street is the site of the black Jackson State College, where two black men were killed during antiwar and civil-rights protests in May 1970, 10 days after the Kent State University incident where four white students were slain by National Guardsmen. According to Spofford, a writer for the Albany Times Union , the Jackson State killings have been largely forgotten in contrast to the Kent State deaths. In his account, Spofford relies mainly on interviews with the wounded students and the families of the dead. He traces the mounting tensions on Lynch Street between blacks and whites and maintains that Jackson State students were not known for their political activism; yet a mini-riot, fueled by an atmosphere of racism, escalated, and the police panicked, called for extra help and began shooting. Spofford successfully recalls the moment with primary sources. His reportage is rigorous but somewhat repetitious and not particularly analytical. The evidence of the killings was studied by a presidential commission, two grand juries and a civil court but, as Spofford demonstrates, the racial strain was not settled by a court of law and has yet to be resolved.”

Also watch the movie or the DVD “Fire in the Heartland - 40 Years Since Four Dead in Ohio".

Please listen the Bernie Hayes radio program Monday through Friday at 7am on WGNU-920 AM, and watch the Bernie Hayes TV program Saturday Night at 10pm and Friday Morning at 9 am on KNLC-TV Ch. 24.

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