Saturday, November 14, 2009

Media virus!

There appears to be a full-on war against anything approaching diversity at News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s media machine, an H1N1 source of the virus of misinformation and fabrications that thoroughly infects today’s public discourse. Sadly, it may be more catching than we thought.

Murdoch was interviewed Nov. 6 by Sky News Australia (a NewsCorp tentacle) for his reactions to on-air comments by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck that President Obama was a racist.

"He [Obama] did make a very racist comment about blacks and whites and so on, which he said in his campaign he would be completely above," Murdoch said.

“That was something which perhaps should not have been said about the president but if you actually assess what he [Beck] was talking about, he was right.”

Murdoch’s statement came a few weeks after Sandra Guzman, a Latina editor at the New York Post, was fired — reportedly because the section of The Post Guzman edited was being discontinued.

Damnedest thing: Guzman was the one who, in February, blew the whistle on the crude, racist and toweringly unfunny Sean Delonas editorial cartoon depicting President Obama as a renegade chimpanzee shot to death by police officers. Coincidence is a funny thing.

Richard Prince’s excellent Journal-Isms column reported recently that Guzman isn’t going quietly, firing back at The Post “with a lawsuit against the tabloid that, if it is to be believed, validates every suspicion uttered over the years about the newspaper's racism and sexism.”

From the lawsuit:

"[D]espite the great diversity throughout New York City, only a handful of individuals of color or women have ever been allowed the serve as editors at the Post, and very few Black, Hispanic, Asian or female reporters currently work there."

"The Post's blatant acts of race and sex discrimination and/or harassment have not been directed solely at its own employees. … Rather, the Post has also repeatedly targeted people of color and women outside of the Company with its racism and sexism through racially and sexually offensive news headlines, news stories and humiliating, insulting and degrading cartoons."

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It would be tempting to look on this as just another case of Rupert going off the rails again, showing his true colors. But News Corporation and Fox have company in the racial insensitivity department: other news organizations that ought to know better.

In October, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer apologized for confusing civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Brewer goofed while introducing Jackson during a segment on homelessness. After the introduction using Sharpton’s name, Jackson, interviewed from Burbank, Calif., looked into the camera and said, “I'm Rev. Jesse Jackson.”

Brewer said that according to her script, she was to introduce “the Rev. Al Sharpton.”

“We all know who you are, Rev. Jackson,” Brewer said. “I'm so sorry.”

An innocent mistake? Maybe. Even probably. But this followed MSNBC newsman Peter Alexander’s more intellectually processed (and therefore more disturbing) on-air gaffe in February, on the day of the NAACP's anniversary.

Alexander was ending an interview with Benjamin Todd Jealous, the NAACP's new president. Alexander called the centennial "a huge honor today, 100 years, the anniversary of the beginning of that organization. Congratulations to you, to Muhammad Ali, who is receiving the [NAACP] President's Award today as well, as the president honors this country's … colored people. Thank you very much, we appreciate your time." Alexander was profuse with apology less than two minutes later.

This preceded the dismissal of MSNBC midday news reporter Carlos Watson, one of the two visible African Americans in the network’s daily on-air operation. Watson, a former CNN standout who anchored MSNBC’s 11 a.m. hour, was pulled from the slot in September, officially because of poor ratings (despite the lackluster performance of some other MSNBC programming). He got the position in June.

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Prince’s column, part of the Web site of the Maynard Institute, is a valuable resource for its scope and range on matters related to journalistic diversity. Prince frequently looks where the mainstream media generally fears to tread.

Late last month, Journal-Isms parlayed original and previously-published reporting into a dispatch exploring a story that’s largely gone under the MSM radar: an apparent pattern and practice of racial bias at National Public Radio, the private-public nonprofit populist darling of the left.

No less than the National Association of Black Journalists, a leading advocacy organization for minority journalists, publicly questioned NPR’s commitment to diversity in a letter to NPR brass. The NABJ leadership took a shot after NPR cashiered Greg Peppers, a longtime NPR employee and one of two black men in NPR’s management structure. Prince reports that Peppers was escorted from the building on his last day.

"Who are the managers of color at NPR?" NABJ President Kathy Times and Vice President/Broadcast Bob Butler asked NPR president Vivian Schiller, in the letter.

“Your organization benefits from listener support, corporate donations and tax dollars from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and should reflect the diversity of the community you serve.”

Prince offers the necessary historicizing background:
“African American men, particularly, have had a checkered history in the NPR corporate culture. The network once had an African American chief executive, Delano Lewis, who served from 1994 to 1998, and an African American vice president of information and news, Adam Clayton Powell III, who joined in 1987 but left in 1991.

Blair Walker IV of USA Today wrote in 1993 of Powell's moves to create more diversity at NPR: "Among other things, displeasure with Powell's efforts prompted 'racist comments about new (minority) hires before they even arrived,' he says."

A number of African American men on-air, ranging from former hosts Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon and reaching back to Sunni Khalid, the former Cairo bureau chief who in 1997 filed a $2 million discrimination suit against the network, have also had issues with NPR. Khalid and NPR reached a settlement in 2003.”

It all points to an insensitivity, deliberate or otherwise, that stems from a monochromatic view of the world by media executives. MSNBC’s gaffes wouldn’t have happened with more diversity in the control room, and the boardroom. NPR wouldn’t be under fire now if the Birkenstocked, inclusive populism of its public image dovetailed with its newsroom realities.

And the properties of News Corporation wouldn’t be such obvious targets for protest if News Corporation cared as much about its public image as its bottom line.

It’s a sad irony: that more than a year after a transformative presidential election held out the hope of putting the brakes on media’s tone-deaf aspect re race and ethnicity, black and minority media professionals are fighting many of the same battles as before.
Image credits: Murdoch: Sky News. Chimp cartoon: New York Post. MSNBC logo: © 2009 MSNBC. NPR logo: © 2009 National Public Radio.

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