Monday, December 04, 2006

Who's the head white guy?

That quote came from Jay Leno (at least, according to Joseph H. Brown in the Tampa Tribune) in his comic monologue in the aftermath of Michael Richards' recent racist outburst. Richards, it seems, sought out Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his effort to apologize to blacks in this country that were offended by his comments (and, presumably, to salvage some chance at a future career).

Why are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson the de facto "spokespeople" for the entire black community in America? As the Tampa Tribune points out, this presumed lack of diversity is "more racist" even than Richards' epithets.

And, Mark Byron adds an additional perspective on his blog (which got me thinking this direction in the first place)... evangelical Christians have such purported spokespeople, too, spokespeople that most of the evangelical Christians in my community could care less about. Why are Pat Robertson and (to a lesser degree) Jerry Falwell still quoted so consistently? I can understand James Dobson... he certainly is a massively influential leader. I can understand Rick Warren, too. But Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell?

I'm sure other groups of every political stripe have the same not-necessarily-representative spokespeople appointed for them in the media. It's an issue of convenience, I'm sure, and the need for quick turnaround and attention-grabbing soundbites, that drives the trend. But it's not benign by any means.

I would love to see news reporting that, even (or especially) in the early stages of a story, is focused on fact-gathering and confirmation of details, and minimizes the "opinions and reactions" angle. For example, consider the recent story of the six imams getting kicked off a US Airways flight. I still don't have a clear picture in my head of what happened, because the news reports rushed out without sufficient detail, or without confirming what they were told, and focused on opinions and reactions from various involved individuals or national advocacy groups. How can we evaluate those opinions without knowing what happened?

Were the six imams led off in handcuffs, or not? For quite a while I heard that they were, then more recently I heard that they were not. Did they cooperate with airline personnel with regard to their seating arrangements or not? Were they praying in the terminal or on the airplane, or both? Why exactly did the pilot determine that they were a risk to the safety of the flight? What is their explanation for getting seatbelt extenders that they didn't use?

And why were none of those questions answered (and most of them not even asked) in the news reports I read and heard? With so many witnesses on the plane and in the terminal, why did news organizations have such a hard time getting reliable eyewitness reports, correlated with other eyewitness reports, to determine what really happened, even within the first day after the event occurred? As far as I know, that didn't happen, and misinformation was propagated for days before much-belated corrections became available.

For a much worse, costly, even disastrous example of how such sensational, uncorroborated reporting can go awry, one need only look at the situation in the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I wish we as a society could learn to care more about questions of fact, more about the "what really happened", than about the sensationalism of the offended parties, the politically-motivated spin of the advocacy groups, or the staged debates on "news" programs between uninformed "experts" spouting opinions that are as controversial as possible in an effort to be sensational and get more viewers. They'll keep doing it as long as we're watching.



Kevin said...

Good question. I think Oprah's the head white guy. Confusing race and cultural or ideological cohesion is depressing. I'm somewhat curious to know the amount of "followers" of the respective community leaders. High fragmentation leads to the perception that the leader of a small group speaks for a larger group.

The PowerLine article you link asks poignant questions regarding the media. Once common news sources such as AP, Reuters, et al. places their stamp on an article, it suddenly has some aura of respectability and truthfulness. I agree with his call for a formal investigation.

Another theme I've been following concerns enemy propaganda and their infiltration into seemingly independent news agencies. The most recent event still under investigation is Jamil Hussein (also summarized here) who provides information to AP as an Iraqi Police Captain, but who is unknown to Centcom or the Iraqi government in such a role.

What can we do? You bring up not watching, but only those few who follow a story in depth, track who said what, and only far after the fact, would be able to determine that the initial reporting was inaccurate and/or biased, and then judge whether to abandon the news source altogether (which is often not feasible). News sources need to be held responsible for their reporting, but it is just too difficult for the population at large to make such determinations by themselves.

Sadly, like political candidates, it often behooves both sides of a story to be quiet, or state their own position broadly, thereby removing the most valuable information from public review. And those intent on propaganda or simply having more bias are more inclined to spread these flawed stories quicker.

As you mentioned in another thread, online news sources have the opportunity to track news and sources unlike any other medium, and such capabilities should be exploited. I'd like to see NPOV and version control with plenty of sources (somewhat similar to Wikipedia, but without being open to direct public editing). Even op-eds should be based upon facts and link to the news articles for their support.

On a brighter side, I recently read an interesting interview of Zombie, who is known for her reporting on protests and events ill represented by the MSM. I'm hoping intent bloggers and such "citizen journalism" will have a positive effect on the MSM.

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." -- Thomas Jefferson (found on the flopping aces blog)


steviepinhead said...

Well, I don't know about the "head white guy."
But there's a suspicious-looking character, dressed all in red (commie?), sporting a long white beard (dirty old man? hippie?), hopping from rooftop to rooftop in a very, um, improvised-appearing vehicle (terrorist?), surrounded by some kind of mutant cows or deer (eco/bio-terrorist?), and carrying all manner of miscellaneous packages (explosives?), who's been spotted with increaing frequency of late.
If YOU should see this individual, or any of his co-conspirators, be sure to immediately report him to your local office of Homeland Security!
Hey, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all of y'all. Stevie

Kevin said...


Whoa, let's not jump to conclusions. Maybe that's all part of his crazy religion and we all just have to learn to be a bit more tolerant of fat hippy commies with mutant cows on our rooftops. Pfft.

Then again, maybe he is a terrorist, but in related fake news, al-Zawahiri saw the light, so it all kinda evens out in the end.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my friends. :) Boy, how time flies.