Archive for February, 2009


February 24, 2009


 If anyone needed more proof that we don’t live in a post-racial society, they should probably look at the picture above. It was printed in the NY Post, one of the three remaining newspapers in the city. While the New York Times has managed to survive on its reputation, liberal slant, and elderly readership, the Post has resorted to sensationalist crime stories, revealing photographs of celebrities, and absurd headlines (on Eliot Spitzer case, “Ho No!”).

In any case, the cartoon that ran in the post is a clear example that the election of Barack Obama did not end racism.

CNN covers the story:

The cartoon is exemplary of the current media attitude towards race. The NY Post has always been a questionable news source with a specific target market. The paper wouldn’t have printed the cartoon without knowing that at the very least, it’s core market would read it and in fact, laugh at it. Regardless of the fact that the cartoon is highly dubious, a huge risk for an editor, it was still printed because the readership is assumed to enjoy it. This is an example of what is commonly called within media studies as “social fragmentation.” As we develop more mediums of expression and communication, we develop more news outlets. However, people who are conservative, probably wont read this blog, even if they do stumble across Walt Kowalski or Michael Steele’s name. Furthermore, some liberals will read this and some wont. Even though there are new outlets, and different voices, people will still stick the beliefs and values they hold. That’s why the Post thought they could get away with this.

            The CNN coverage is an example of social fragmentation, but also of the illusion of the post-racial. One can’t help but notice that CNN might be trying to subtly point out how the Post is inferior. Firstly, they call the Post a “tabloid” which the Post wouldn’t admit. Secondly, notice the multiracial team that’s covering it? It’s a pretty good example of CNN’s coverage of race stories. You’ve got your attractive and racially ambiguous anchor who tells the story, followed by the token light-skinned black man with the in-depth analysis. Thirdly, the multiracial crew doesn’t seem to be that offended by it. So, knowing their market, CNN is centrist, the network can’t have this story told by white people, and furthermore, it can’t have the people of color to be that upset by it. But the truth is,  just because someone is black and is saying something on TV, something that someone else probably wrote for them, does not make them an authority on the issue.

 The correspondent says that there are two sides, and there certainly is. There’s the explicit reminder that racism is just a problem of the South anymore, and there’s the “post-racial” coverage, which tries to make us forget about it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot something too. I hate Glenn Beck

Did he really just speak in pidgin?





Reinventing Post-Racial Journalism

February 17, 2009

In the past two blog posts I’ve given examples of how the media can frame minorities to perpetuate commonly-held stereotypes. The news has portrays Michael Steele as the Republican party’s token model minority, and Roger Barnett’s justification in threatening immigrants with guns and dogs. The question posed is “why do news networks do this, and how do they get away with it?” The answer lies is in the ratings and markets that news networks are constantly trying to improve upon.
In a 2002 Pew Research Center study broadcast news saw a large decline in viewership from 1993-2002, the largest decline was in the in the 18-24 year-old demographic. In 2004 the Pew Research Center conducted another study, which found that this demographic gets most of its news from late night talk shows. Noticing this trend, news networks have taken a turn towards what some might cal “news lite,” news that is fuses entertainment with informational content. This has led to great performances by Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rachel Madow, Chris Mathews, and of course, Bill O’Reilly. (see talking points 2/16)

However, the greatest performance, and perhaps the most interesting example of news entertainment is the Daily Show host by comedian Jon Stewart.
In his article The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism, George Baym explains how the structure of the show as “joke news” gives the program a unique opportunity. The nature of its structure as “fake news” allows the program “interweaves two levels of discourse, borrowing from equally from traditions of authoritative nightly news and the entertainment talk show.”
This structure of a news program that is comedy makes the show inherently a satire of news media. Interviews conducted by bored and stupid Daily Show correspondents are commentary on the way reports are conducted. In this way, The Daily Show plays a crucial role in keeping the media in check and uncovering the post-racial rhetoric that other networks might embrace. For instance, for segments that deal with Black History Month they have a “senior black correspondent.”

In doing so the Daily Show displays the transparency of other major news networks that have a token minority give the token opinion on Obama or black history. The show is quick to pick apart the post-racial discourse often seen in the news. They even picked up on something I did.

Another aspect of The Daily Show that sets it apart from other cable news broadcasts is the interviews. While the interviews on shows like Crossfire or The O’Reilly factor often descend into what Baym calls “verbal combat” interviews on The Daily Show are essentially “marketing devices” where the interviewee is trying to sell a product with civil conversation instead of a fierce shouting match. Baym argues that this encourages “deliberative democracy” which “understands the political system ideally to be comprised of individuals engaged in reasoned discussion.

By criticizing the mainstream media, and encouraging political discourse that is civil and productive, The Daily Show has proven its worth to 21st century journalism. However, what is most valuable about The Daily Show is it’s popularity in the 18-24 demographic. The program has proven that news, politics, and journalism are not the issues of an older generation, and as such has undoubtedly inspired a new wave of journalists.


A Real-Life Walt Kowalski

February 10, 2009

          On March 7, 2004, in Douglas, Arizona, five women and eleven men trying to cross the US border illegally were confronted by 64-year-old Roger Barnett, a real life Walt Kowalski. Barnett had, for ten years, made it his duty to find illegal immigrants and report them to the US Border Patrol. On this particular day he approached the group of 16 Mexicans with a shotgun and a dog. According to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who are currently representing the sixteen immigrants in a 32$ million dollar law suit, Barnett held the immigrants at “gunpoint, yelling obscenities at them and kicking one of the women.” The Washington Times picked up on the story and reported it.

            There have been numerous cases like this and the arguments made by these border vigilantes are similar to those in favor of border reform. Overwhelmingly, the opinion is that illegal immigrants aren’t Americans, thus, they shouldn’t have the same rights as Americans. Wait a second though; do all Americans have the same rights? Did Oscar Grant have the same rights as Roger Barnett?

            In his article, Reading Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability,  Henry Giroux uses Hurricane Katrina to explain a “new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are now considered disposable.”  The populations that are considered “disposable” are the poor and the marginalized. These people don’t have rights, they don’t belong, and the government has no responsibility to protect them. This idea of a disposable population is enacted by government policy, but it is also heavily supported by media imagery.

As the Washington Times article points out, Barnett appears to be a man who has been wronged by illegal immigrants. They leave his ranch “littered with trash 10 inches deep, including human waste, used toilet paper, soiled diapers, cigarette packs, clothes, backpacks, empty 1-gallon water bottles, chewing-gum wrappers and aluminum foil – which supposedly is used to pack the drugs the immigrant smugglers give their ‘clients’ to keep them running.” Dirty and wasteful drug users are walking all over Mr. Barnett’s land, and destroy his property by killing his calves. In his own words Barnett says, “This is my land. I’m the victim here.”

The story portrays the biopolitics of disposability in a few ways. Firstly, we see that the immigrants are disposable because they are dirty, leaving their “human waste” on his property. Secondly, the immigrants are made disposable because they are criminal. They are seen as drug smugglers and users. Furthermore, they destroy his property, his calves, which is his income. I can’t help but feel that this is emblematic of the way some Americans view immigrants, as people who steal jobs from citizens.

Finally, I can’t believe that all 12,000 immigrants that Barnett had handed over to the police were drug dealing, calve killing, immoral criminals. Illegal immigrants are seen as disposable for many reasons; the myth of their criminality and the idea that they are bad for the economy are just a few. These reasons however, are justified by an overall disengagement and lack of acknowledgement as to why so many people wish to cross the border. Until people are confronted with imagery and news coverage that explains why people try to enter the country illegally, and why the property damage done to American citizens’ homes could be avoided with different immigration policies, there will be plenty more Barnetts, Minutemen, and disposable people.

Man of Steele

February 2, 2009


The new face of the RNC

The new face of the RNC

This past Saturday the GOP elected it’s new RNC chairman, Michael Steele… and look, he’s black!  I wonder if Obama’s election had anything to do with this? Well, actually I don’t, I’m pretty sure it had everything to do with our new president.

Just as Sarah Palin was picked to run for the Vice Presidency in order to make the Republican party look more progressive, Steele is meant to be the GOPs answer to the criticism that it’s a dying and regional southern party. Similar to Palin, however, the party is quick to remind everyone that he is still conservative, so you can have your image of a model minority politician and keep your conservative policies too. Fox News pundit Sean Hannity showed this better than anyone when Steele went on his show.

Hannity is quick point out his close ties with the new chairman and states “I was supporting you for a lot of different reasons Michael, and not the least of which is you are a conservative.” Hannity is quickly reassuring the conservative viewers that this black man is not a radical socialist, contrary to what you might quickly believe. What is implicitly put forth is that Steele’s race defines his political beliefs. Obama dealt with numerous accusations of being a crazy left-wing liberal or a radical muslim, both of which he is not. These accusations were simply based on assumptions that race defines a political affiliation. Certainly, you could point out the fact that statistically African-Americans vote Democrat, but Steele has never been anything close to that. He’s still against abortion, pulling out of Iraq, and the stimulus plan that Obama proposed last week.

Perhaps what’s more disconcerting however is how Fox News is making a pretty clear comparison between Barack Obama and Michael Steele and the way the RNC chairman is framed. Take this clip for example:

It’s not hard to see the implications of a statement like “his easy-going camera-ready sound bites aside, Steele says his party has real image problems and warned those who might get in the way of change.” The comparison between Obama and Steele in regards to policy is sparse. What Fox is attempting to do is frame Steele in similarity with Obama because of their entertainment quality. The clip ends with the correspondent remakring the Steele is “good with applause lines.” It’s quotes like these that exemplify the type of framing that is pervasive of African-Americans on the news, that of the entertaining minority. Steele is framed as  a performer who uses funny colloquialisms like “Howd’ya like me now?” 

The same model minority rhetoric that followed Palin and Obama is certainly bound to follow Steele who mentions how he grew up in DC. One can be sure that Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal will soon be in the GOP limelight as another conservative minority. Steele’s election is a political move that appears to be post-racial, yet is highly racialized. Fox News’s coverage shows that the Republicans chose him for his image; that of the conservative, entertaining, and model minority.