Skip to main content

Random Thoughts On Race & Journalism

I am currently reading The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it, it basically discusses the role journalism played in the civil rights movement.

* Objectivity. One of the themes running through the book is the role northern journalism (ie The New York Times, The Washington Post, and broadcast TV) played in the fight. They basically went from disinterest in the story as a southern regional thing to what was viewed by segregationists as an advocacy role.

I think about our modern arguments about the role of news organizations to remain journalistically "neutral" and you realize that to have been neutral in this time period would be to have effectively been pro-segregation. There's not a moral "other side" to the issue, is there? Nowadays we don't allow our journalistic institutions to go to the Klan for their perspective but in the '50s the Council Of Concerned Citizens was a legitimized political outfit pushing a pro-segregation point of view. It was up to the media to rule that group out of bounds at some point.

Reading this book has reinforced my thinking that the only way journalism can recapture its soul is to tear down the church of "objectivity" and to take a point of view - and I mean a point of view from the left, right, and beyond. Contrary to what even I espouse regularly, liberalism does not have all the answers. We should have news outlets that are unabashed about their points of view. What we shouldn't have is idealogical news outfits that bend the truth and pretend to be neutral. And by that I mean Fox News. Heh.

* The South. I'm a history buff and I go through these phases with what time periods I'm into (particularly U.S. history). Previously and ongoing I'm way into WWII (this is the part where I point out that people who try to argue that Hitler was on the left and use the evidence that the Nazi party was the National Socialist party have clearly never actually read a history book and should be laughed at and not taken seriously, especially since one of Hitler's first acts was to round up leftists) but recently I've moved towards both the Civil War and the Civil Rights era.

The South in America is seriously screwed up. Its as if the entire region insists on being the lagging indicator for where American civilization is going. I've never pretended to not be the Yankee I am (though geographically I was actually born south of the Mason-Dixon but the part of Maryland I'm from and where I live has a Yankee heart), but things about the south continually shock me. I mean, really, you're going to support Confederate "heritage"? You look back at American history and the group of people you think are worthy of praise are criminals who so loved their free slave labor they enaged in the worst sort of national insurrection. REALLY?

It isn't lost on me that this is the base of the modern Republican party and conservative politics.

* Judicial philosophy. As I read the book with the impending announcement of a supreme court justice, the "activist" attack seems even more ludicrous. The courts were very much the avenue through which America broke the shackles of segregation. From cases like Brown to local cases involving ballot access. The idea that a judge should be this robot that pretends like its still 1776 and not a living breathing human that sees quite plainly that technically legal obstructions pushed by racists violate the spirit of the constitution is sort of a tough pill to swallow.

* Next. I'm thinking of reading Taylor Branch's books on the Civil Rights movement. Can anyone recommend some books about the Civil War that aren't in the style of "here's a detailed and boring account of a battle followed by thirty-five more of the same"? I hear Confederates In The Attic is good. Or any other history/journalism books you think are good. I still haven't gotten around to reading Grapes Of Wrath or The Jungle yet. They're on my bookshelf glowering at me.