Time and time again the public relies on media outlets and press coverage to inform us about the daily events of our nation and around the globe. With protests in all 50 states in the country as well as around the world in places such as New Zealand, Japan, France, and the U.K., the news has placed itself in an interesting position. The responsibility of the media has become twofold: one to report on the protests, but also to commentate on the matter. However, what we are witnessing on various news outlets on multiple political spectrums is a deflection from the message of the protestors.
The media is all-consuming. Information is presented from every direction at all times of the day. It’s easy to begin to feel like what’s shown on T.V., talked about on the radio and broadcasted across social media outlets is the only footage and action being taken. During the day, thousands of protestors line the streets of major cities like Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C. Dozens of cities have imposed national curfews in attempts to combat the looting, violence and aggression that has also arisen parallel to the protests.
Across all major news channels, national and local, the press has highlighted footage after footage of people breaking through stores, windows and burning down property. First, what’s essential to keep in mind is that what you see on T.V. or blasted across the front page of newspapers is not the focus. Whatever your opinion may be between looters and protestors, the message behind the civil unrest is clear. The nation is demanding change.
However, we have long seen the effect of the press’s ability to affect public perception through instances like yellow journalism and political propaganda. There is no doubt that the media is biased. Those who believe that they read only “objective and unbiased” media are sorely mistaken. Certainly, there are media outlets that are known to be factually credible and politically moderate as to provide as close to an “objective” overview as possible, but each media outlet inputs their own implicit bias. That is not the fault of the press. Media is composed of individuals, with their own biases, who cover stories and provide their commentary in what is essentially a collection of primary and secondary sources. It is unnatural to assume that any press is completely factual and unbiased.
This past week, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editor, Stan Wischnowski, resigned from his post after they published the phrase “Buildings Matter, Too” to criticize the damage done to the city. Public outcry flooded the inboxes of the Inquirer to criticize the news outlet’s attempt to derail and detract from the message of the protests.
In the newspaper’s apology letter, the senior editors’ wrote, “The headline offensively riffed on the Black Lives Matter movement and suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans. That is unacceptable.”
Social media has called out news outlets for broadcasting only the ugly side of events that were happening this week which many mayors were quick to say was only 10% of those out on the streets. In comparison to the riots after the Philadelphia Eagles won the SuperBowl or when college students storm downtowns after games, the media has often laughed at the burning and trashing of streets as “young people getting a little out of control.” Activists have been quick to call out this comparison as news anchors now criticize protestors as “anarchists,” “thugs” and “criminals.”
Many have called out those fixated on the property and material damage to reevaluate their priorities. As one viral post states, “You keep saying ‘It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.’ Try saying, ‘It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.’ You’re prioritizing the wrong part.”
Others have pointed out that many times, news outlets are steadfast to believe what the authorities and law enforcement officers say instead of those on the ground protesting. When they ask for quotes or broadcast statements, oftentimes they are getting their reports straight from the mouths of those seeking to quell the protests. Social media is now highlighting the many aggressions and intolerances of the police and the authorities. Two Buffalo police officers were charged with second-degree assault as a video surfaced of the two men pushing an elderly 75-year-old protester to the ground which prompted critical injuries. It’s fearful to think of what the nation wouldn’t see and wouldn’t know without the power of social media.
Another video went viral on social media showing police pillaging and destroying what was a medic tent to help protesters injured during the day by tear gas, rubber bullets, etc. They destroyed packaged water bottles and cleared the area by force as the medic reported in a recorded video. The nation was outraged when protesters and media footage showed White House Secret Service, National Park Police and Washington D.C. police using tear gas and other riot-control means to move what witnesses called “100% peaceful protests” back so that President Trump could have a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Protesters and activists are looking to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to showcase their own experiences instead of depending on the press to do it for them.
It’s important to understand that what you see on T.V., hear on the radio and read online must always be taken with a grain of salt. Not everything is purely fact or solely the correct way to do things. As many activists remind us on social media, “there is no right way to protest.” The media has a profound power to affect what the public consumes. When you focus solely on the wreckage you ignore the good and deflect from what’s most important—combatting the severely institutionalized racial injustice in our country.