December 15, 2009
If all I knew about African Americans was what I learned from the media, I might sound like Rush Limbaugh too.
Last week, Limbaugh demonstrated that he does not have his finger on the pulse of the black community by announcing that the triple threat of high black unemployment, the fact that Tiger Woods' bad behavior was played out with a host of white women and President Obama's inability to specifically address the high rate of black unemployment has wrecked havoc with our emotional health.
'The black frame of mind is terrible,' he announced on his radio show. 'They're depressed, they're down -- Obama's not doing anything for 'em. How is that hoax and change workin' for ya? They're all livid. I mean, they thought there were gonna be an exact 180-degree economic reversal and it's done nothing but get bad for everybody, but they're especially upset about it because they look at him as one of them, and now they feel abandoned. And I'm sure Tiger Woods' choice of females not helping 'em out with their attitudes there either.'
Black bloggers quickly poked holes in Limbaugh's analysis.
Over at Jack & Jill Politics, Baratunde Thurston took Limbaugh on point by point, included his assertion that African Americans personally blame Obama for the high unemployment rate and are furious.
'Bullshit. I'm black. I'm not livid. See how I just destroyed Limbaugh's logic? I'll go a step further,' Thurston wrote, going on to talk about a Dec. 6 poll that found Obama has a 91 percent approval rating in the African Americans community.
Danielle Belton at the Black Snob, pointing out that Woods had previously largely dated white women, including his present wife, noted that to be surprised at his preference in women was to have not been paying attention.
'But C'MON NOW, Rush. Taking that one poll of ya one black friend and applying to all Negroes is not working for me,' Belton wrote.
'But you're Rush. No one expected better. Personally, I expected worse. This is just lazy for you. You didn't even really make me sufficiently mad or anything,' she added.
As off base as his remarks were, if you look at the media coverage around that time, you can see how he might have decided that all was not well in the African American community.
Along with the story about the high black unemployment rate and the Tiger Woods scandal, other African Americans in the news news included Maurice Clemmons, accused of ambushing and killing four Washington state police officers, Desiree Rogers, the White House social secretary swept up in the controversy over the White House party crashers, and the Cleveland serial killer made one of what will surely be many court appearances.
No one is arguing that these are not legitimate stories. It's simply that they are far from reflecting the totality of everyday African American's lives, just as Ruby Ridge, the Aryan Nation and Mark Furhman do not reflect the totality of Idaho's population.
Unfortunately, while the events may change, it is not atypical that coverage of the African American community is focuses primarily on the problems.
Content audits continually show that African Americans are over represented in stories about crime, entertainment and sports and underrepresented in stories about business, politics and everyday life.
The not so surprising result, according to Robert Entman, a professor at George Washington University who studies the intersection of race and the media, is that the coverage leaves many white people ambivalent at best about black people.
To be sure, significant strides have been made and there has been some exemplary coverage of issue pertaining to African Americans. The problem is that those are the exceptions that don't do enough to blunt the steady diet of coverage depicting your average African American as a predator, victim or part of a race that is simply plagued with pathology.
Now we can all argue that as a member of the media himself, Limbaugh has an obligation to go beyond the stereotypes and actually get out in the world in order to determine whether he is giving his listeners accurate information. But Limbaugh has never purported to be a mainstream journalist. Nor does he report the news, he merely comments on the news he has consumed. As Belton suggests, that may result in some pretty lazy analysis, but until the media starts portraying the African American community in its totality, our problems and our everyday joys, we can probably expect to hear more of the same.
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