If this week taught us anything, it’s that media literacy is important, as Evelyn Woodsen tweeted following Hollywood Unlocked’s misreporting that Queen Elizabeth II’s had died. Hollywood Unlocked’s fake news report is an example of media irresposbility, and sadly, they are not an anomaly.
Livingston Allen, better known by his stagename DJ Akademiks, was the subject of much fuss when he challenged DNA evidence in Megan Thee Stallion’s ongoing legal battle with Tory Lanez. On Twitter, Allen wrote: “WHERE ALL MY HOT GIRLS AT????? …. meg.. idc what u n tory had. but dont address big ak unless u talking what the DNA report said. Holla at the DA and figure out what they said and if i Lied. If i Lied.. File the lawsuit babe.”
Many users pointed out that Allen’s internet tone was very aggressive, although he did not take the same tone when Vic Mensa called him out on his biased coverage of Chicago’s drill scene.
Although Allen does not cover hard news, he is a member of the media by way of entertainment news, and his actions speak to a bigger problem that the media faces: supporting bigotry. Allen publicly supporting Tory Lanez after Lanez allegedly shot Meg Thee Stallion is one example of the news media and its complicity in oppression. The coverage of Donald Trump is another.
During Trump’s presidency, the media was complicit in the rise of facism by consistently giving airtime to Trump’s hate speech; CNN has dedicated a whole section of its website to Donald Trump and his lies. Yet, this is not new.
The Republican candidate [Donald Trump] got a high volume of coverage even before his polling numbers justified it. Not only that, but a majority of the coverage was positive in tone, according to the Shorenstein Center research.Fortune.com
Historically, American media has acted as a fascist mouthpiece. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Mussolini was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932, most neutral, bemused or positive in tone.”
They added that outlets including the Chicago Tribune were more comfortable admonishing the far left than critiquing fascism. They wrote, “From [the newspapers’] perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.”
The New York Times said that fascism would turn Europe back to normal. Other outlets began punishing journalists who were too critical of Germany. For example, Edgar Mowrer had to be transferred out of Germany after he called it an “insane asylum,” Smithsonian Magazine reported.
While initially underestimating Hitler, Dorothy Thompson eventually recanted and joined the anti-Nazi fight, writing: “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”
Then came Donald Trump.
In a way, he does “stand for everything traditionally American.” He is volatile and unfiltered. Although some would call this bravery, I prefer to call it what it is: racism. A bootstrap theorist and alt-right sympathizer (to the extent that it benefits him politically), Trump is a fascists’ wildest dream, and the media supported him.
Nonetheless, this is not an Op-Ed about Donald Trump. It is about the role that legacy media plays in people’s oppression. The support for injustice is not always covert, either. Recently – as in just this week – the anti-union New York Times (NYT) caught flak for calling Nazis “a group carrying Nazi flags.”
The reluctance to acknowledge Nazism is intentional; it is reminiscent of a practice by newsrooms to use the passive voice instead of calling things what they are: bigotry. The NYT’s actions bear semblance to newsrooms calling police killings “officer-involved shooting,” although the Associated Press has discouraged the use of this passive terminology.
Yet, the tweet is still up with its original headline. Why would an outlet that defines itself as seeking “the truth and help[ing] people understand the world” be unable to help people understand why we should call Nazis by their chosen ideology? It is because they are part of legacy media and its complicity. This complicity has been addressed but unchanged.
Last week, the Baltimore Sun issued an apology for supporting segregation over the years, and the apology was empty because it was not met by practice. According to Lisa Snowden-McCray, who reported on The Baltimore Sun’s newsroom, Baltimore was over 60% Black in 2018, but the newsroom was just 20% people of color (there was no specificity on whether these were Black people of color).
As a result, you get White people writing Black stories – such as the high profile police killings of Freddie Gray and Korryn Gaines. Snowden noted that the Sun referred to Gaines’ death as a standoff between her and the police, although Gaines was shot and killed and her son was shot and injured.
This is a problem we have seen time and time again with the media. The solution, in my view, is to not only staff newsrooms with Black people but also put Black people in leadership positions with editorial direction to diversify the news coverage. This way, we can emphasize that like Black lives, Black stories matter too. ~ℝ