Racism and That Liberal Media

by Henry Farrell on December 4, 2006

Two interesting arguments about the press and the 1960’s backlash against civil rights.

First, David Greenberg in a book review in _The American Prospect._

If the civil-rights movement represented one of American journalism’s finest hours, it carried a cost. It’s a shame that Roberts and Klibanoff don’t explicitly state the conclusion that much of their evidence suggests: Today’s right-wing bogeyman of “the liberal media” originated in this struggle. Coverage of the movement convinced much of the white South that the networks, papers like the Times, and magazines like Time and Newsweek were hostile and biased interlopers that told only one side of the story. … Roberts and Klibanoff also detail more subtle ways in which hostility toward the national media was voiced. In one fascinating section, they relate a conspiracy hatched among white Southern editors who belonged to the Associated Press to try to force the wire service to write about crimes by blacks in the North as avidly as it spotlighted the violence of the white South. Ultimately, politicians — notably Alabama Governor George Wallace — capitalized on this resentment. Wallace cited journalists alongside pointy-headed intellectuals and the Supreme Court in his litany of elitist villains who were screwing the little guy. Richard Nixon, too, picked up the strategy, which he bequeathed to men like Roger Ailes and Karl Rove.

Second, “Rick Perlstein”:http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w061127&s=perlstein112906 (free reg required) in _TNR._

Since the late ’60s, however–not coincidentally, around the time Kevin Phillips rose to fame–a new, unspoken set of rules evolved. It happened in a moment of trauma. After the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, all the top news executives sent a wire to Mayor Richard J. Daley protesting the way their employees “were repeatedly singled out by policemen and deliberately beaten.” Such was their presumption of cultural authority they couldn’t imagine how anyone could disagree. Then Mayor Daley went on Walter Cronkite’s show and shocked the media establishment by refusing to apologize to the beaten reporters: “Many of them are hippies themselves. They’re part of this movement.” Polls revealed 60 percent of Americans agreed with Daley. For the press, it triggered a dark night of the soul. In an enormously influential column, the pundit Joseph Kraft, shaken, wrote, “Mayor Daley and his supporters have a point. Most of us in what is called the communication field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans–in Middle America.” That air of alienation–that helpless feeling that we have no idea what’s going on out there–has structured elite discourse about the rest of the country ever since. A set of constructs about what “the great mass of ordinary Americans” supposedly believes–much more conservative things than any media elitist would believe, basically–became reified. Pundits like Kraft–a social class that spends much of their time among people like themselves, inside the Beltway–learned to bend over backward to be fair, lest they advertise their own alienation from everyone else. On subjects that chafed them–say, the relevance of certain ugly folkways of the South in electoral politics–they just had to bend harder. Or ignore the matter altogether.

Now the historical origins of a set of institutions and practices don’t necessarily dictate their current content. Much of the discourse around social welfare in the 1930’s had an unpleasant racist edge. But there does seem to be some continuity between what Greenberg and Perlstein (both of whom are excellent historians who are intimately familiar with their source material) document, and the ways that journalists tiptoe around the political importance of racism in the South today. Comments?

Two fathers

by Eszter Hargittai on December 4, 2006

I don’t know anything about the Dutch show “Kinderen voor Kinderen”, but it seems like it could be fairly mainstream and have a sizeable audience. I also don’t know what, if any, reactions this video received, but it’s a good example of how you can socialize kids to be inclusive and understanding of diverse family arrangements. It’s interesting (and sad) to ponder how differently people would react in various places.