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Does the media accelerate the racial divide in America?

Does the media accelerate the racial divide in America?
WRITTEN BY
06/23/20
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William (Yes)

Though it's taught that 'everything has a bias,' many fail to realize how objectivity can still be found. However, objectivity often fails to stretch beyond historical documents into the world of modern media. When it comes to race, the press never forgets to mention it in an objective light. 

In our current social climate, it is very easy to divide by racial barriers, most notably black and white, and the media have played a significant role in achieving that. The world is headline-driven. The New York Post titles a noisy female's wrong decision quickly into 'White Woman Accused of Calling Cops On Black Woman Standing In Doorway In The Rain.' Meanwhile, Fox writes about a protestor saving a man in chaos with the headline 'Black Protestor Carries White Man Through Angry Crowd […].' As the journalism industry slowly declines in the modern, digital era, these types of titles appear more and more. Although all four individuals were labeled by their correct racial identity and actions, this type of headline journalism is proven to drive up clicks, ad revenue, and other interactions, building wealth for the corporations and disconnect amongst the people. Labeling individuals by their race or ethnicity is a successful, but ethically questionable, attempt to boil current racial divides. Many engage with media to engage with the current controversy, chaos, and conflict going on both around the world and in our back yard. These provocative headlines ensure consumers stay hooked on these news services that link the race of individuals with their actions, whether positive or negative. Economics—not ethics—is the primary incentive for any corporation, and that is certainly true for the media.


Jennifer (No)

The racial divide in America has not been “accelerated” by the media. That fire has been burning since Reconstruction.  

One might say that online media – social platforms, for example – has been responsible for a distorted narrative, forwarded by thousands of accounts across multiple platforms, dedicated to exacerbating race relations. That ignoble fight has now been brought to the streets of our cities by groups like the Boogaloo Bois. But it’s clear that traditional media – television, news organs – are merely reflecting the state of a nation in turmoil.

George Floyd’s killing at the hands of the police was a watershed moment. In this instance, the media in question – a video – was provided by a 17-year-old bystander who filmed the police action and its tragic result. The video’s contents undoubtedly inflamed the situation because it exposed the truth – that law enforcement is too often willing to use lethal force against Black men. The video is, in fact, a document which testifies to this fact.

The media is reporting on an explosion of public fury, occasioned by Mr. Floyd’s death but he was not the first, by any means. And race relations in the USA were in decline prior to his murder. John Sides, who teaches political science at Vanderbilt University, notes that Americans are increasingly pessimistic in this regard, pointing to a recent Gallup Poll. Black optimism with respect to race relations dropped from 66% in 2013 to 40% in 2018.

The media’s mandate is to hold up a mirror. The reflection isn’t always pleasing.

Fact Box

  • Consumers around the world spend an average of 463 minutes or over 7.5 hours per day with media. American consumers tend to average more time than most, as media is a major part of their daily lives. 
  • The top 10 USA news websites are CNN, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Fox News, USA Today, Reuters, POLITICO, Yahoo News, NPR, and Los Angeles Times. 
  • 32% of adults trust news media channels as of 2019. 
  • In 2013, 50.2% of journalists were Independent, 28.1% Democrat, 7.1% Republican, and 14.6% Other. 
  • New York Post columnist Charles Kesler’s June 19, 2020 article “Call them the 1619 riots” links the current national defamation of statues to American heroes - including Founding Fathers such as George Washington - to journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 project (published by the New York Times in 2019). Hannah-Jones responded to the article on Twitter saying “It would be an honor. Thank you.” The tweet was later deleted. 
  • Popular media can have a negative impact on whites’ perceptions of people of color and racial stereotypes, which can exacerbate preexisting racist fears. One study finds that popular media depictions of nonverbal features of people of color, including facial expressions and body language, influence racial biases for white viewers. 
  • After the horrific death of George Floyd, movements have been initiated across the country: reform of the police force, removal of Confederate monuments, condemnation of racism by physician groups, approval of Juneteenth as a paid holiday, and removal of certain movies and shows from paid services, etc.
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