By: M.L. Stein
Study asserts that the mainstream media’s coverage of people
of color is riddled with old stereotypes, offensive
terminology, biased reporting and myopic interpretations sp.
RACIAL STEREOTYPING continues to crop up in media ? from the Dear Abby column to the New Yorker magazine ? according to a new study released in San Francisco.
Also faulted for alleged racial insensitivity were the Washington Post, Sacramento Bee, Vanity Fair, New York Times, ABC-TV and the St. Paul Pioneer Press among others.
The study, “News Watch, A Critical Look at Coverage of People of Color,” was produced by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. Headed by the center’s director, Jon Funabiki, the project was conducted in conjunction with the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.
The four groups recently met in Atlanta in an historic Unity ’94 convention a week after the study was released.
The 56-page News Watch report asserts that “the mainstream media’s coverage of people of color is riddled with old stereotypes, offensive terminology, biased reporting and a myopic interpretation of American society. In day-to-day coverage, minorities often are ignored except for certain categories of stories ? notably crime, sports and entertainment.”
A Dear Abby column in the West County (Calif.) Times is cited for reinforcing the “exotic sexual stereotype of Native American men” by its title, “Indian men’s love secrets aren’t for sale.”
The column was reportedly prompted by a letter from a man who wanted to know if Native American males made better lovers than white men.
Assistant Style editor Richard Leiby of the Washington Post was faulted for his first-person account of the 1993 National Association of Black Journalists convention.
Leiby, who is white, wrote that he used black dialect in speaking to conventioneers, explaining, “You want to establish your cross-cultural bonafides . . . and so you start dropping the ‘g’s’ on your ing-verbs in a phony jive ? ‘Like I was sayin’ to him’ ? and even trying out ‘dis’ and maybe even ‘yo.’ “
“The use of dialect and references to drinking and dancing echo the stereotype of blacks as stupid, feckless and carefree ? or Sambos ? that date bask to slavery,” said News Watch.
A Newsday headline: “When Asian kids are caught between old and new world cultures, they often turn to youth gangs as an alternative family” drew a rebuke as a purported example of “how freely the gang label is used to apply to entire classes of minority youths . . . “
The Houston Chronicle, on the other hand, was complimented for a story in which a University of Chicago professor told a Congressional panel that gangs have their origin in early American emigration and the key factors in their formation are poverty and community disorganization. ABC-TV’s “Good Morning, America” was taken to task for dusting off the “mysterious Orient” notion in a report from Hong Kong.
The judges said the dialogue referred to “strange and mysterious things” and asked: “Strange and mysterious to whom?”
Indirect marginal stereotyping also was flagged in the report.
While metaphors “can be perfectly harmless and enhance a story,” they also can perpetuate racial stereotypes “or put a spin on a story,” the report said.
News Watch noted that the New York Times used the term “circle the wagons” at least five times last year in headlines for content ranging from a story about Attorney General Janet Reno’s efforts to curb TV violence to a photo of a New York Giants game.
“Asian invasion” as applied to immigration is another persistent metaphor, the study observed.
And although Islam is among the fastest growing religions in the U.S., Muslims often are portrayed as “fanatical terrorists and Middle Eastern dictators,” the report concluded.
It cited the arrest and trial of the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing as tending to “perpetuate stereotypes of Islamic people as Middle Eastern, anti-American, violent and sinister.”
A Washington Times headline, “Muslim Arrested in NYC Bombing,” was considered harmful by News Watch but Times copy desk chief Bill Walsh thought it was “relevant.”
Islam, the report continued, is a global religion embracing more than one billion people, most of whom do not live in the Middle East.
Time magazine was criticized for a 1993 story headed “The Dark Side of Islam” with a subhead: “With terror, Muslim radicals declare war on Arab states that stray from the religious path.”
Cartoonists came in for a share of blame for supposedly keeping racist stereotypes in circulation.
Sacramento Bee cartoonist Dennis Renault’s previously debated drawing of a Ku Klux Klansman using the word “nigger” in a left-handed compliment to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was held up again with arguments on both sides. Bee management has apologized for the depiction but Renault stands by it and charges the paper with caving in to community pressure.
When Pioneer Press cartoonist Jerry Fearing lampooned a no-smoking rule at city hall, he crossed the line in the of some News Watch advisers, but not all.
The picture showed smokers chasing a ban supporter with bats, pitchforks and mallets. And a huge statue of a pipe-smoking Indian is being doused with a bucket of water. Fearing explained that he frequently uses a large statue in city hall named “Indian God of Peace” in his drawings.
Another citation is a New Yorker cartoon by Sam Gross that portrays an Hispanic woman sitting beside a sleeping man in a sombrero and saying to another man, “There’s absolutely nothing going on between us, Manuel. I’m just sleeping with him.”
The cartoon, News Watch claims, maintains the stereotype of Mexican men as being lazy and indolent and Mexican women as being of easy virtue.
News Watch distributed kudos along with complaints.
The Los Angeles Times was praised for a series on immigration and health care that was called “generally fair, balanced, careful, comprehensive and responsible.”
Time received overall compliments for its 1993 special issue on immigration, although the magazine was accused of accepting the “unsourced statistic that” the net cost of immigrants to the government could reach into the billions.”
Newsweek got high grades for its cover story on gangster rap and Richard Harrington of the Washington Post was credited with “good reporting” on the same subject.
There were 32 “news watchers,” including working journalists, journalism professors and researchers for CIIJ.
News Watch offered these “Tips for Journalists”:
? “Apply consistent guidelines when identifying people by race. Are the terms considered offensive? Ask individual sources how they wish to be identified.
? “Only refer to the ethnic or racial background of people when it is relevant. When it is, the sensitive needs to be sensitive.
? “When deciding whether to mention someone’s race, ask yourself: Is ethnic/racial identification needed? Is it important to the context of the story?
? “Consult a supervisor if you are unsure of the offensiveness or relevance of a racial or ethnic term.
? “Use sensitivity in descriptions of rites and cultural events. Avoid inappropriate comparisons. For example, Kwanza is not “African American Christmas.”
? “Be specific when using ethnic or racial identification of individuals. Referring to someone as Filipino American is preferred to calling that person Asian. The latter term is better applied to a group.”