Earlier this week, Keith Woods, coauthor of The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, appeared on the Newshour to discuss how the media has covered and talked about the issue of race in this year’s presidential race.
Woods appeared with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor of the Wall Street Journal. All three criticized the media’s penchant for focusing on controversy rather than context and for simplifying racial issues and categories to the detriment of sustaining a fruitful discussion of race.
Here is an excerpt from Keith Woods:
And I think when you look at the — such phrases as “soccer mom,” “NASCAR dad,” so many of the euphemisms that we have produced, to talk about people by race or class, we’re still hiding behind something other than what we’re actually saying.
And, journalistically, I think our responsibility is not to reflect the society on those things, but to reflect the values of journalism, which suggests precision over euphemism, for example, and accuracy vs. obfuscation.
And I think we have been guilty more of imprecision and obfuscation than we have of accuracy on this front. When you look at the conversation around those euphemisms, one of the consequences is that we have reduced people, in many ways, to those categories, and allowed the public, essentially, to draw what I would imagine will always be a race-based conclusion about the group we’re talking about.
So, when we talk about the white working-class voter who does not vote for Barack Obama, guess what conclusion the other folks in this country are going to make about those voters? Now, we’re going to conclude that they are bigots. If — when we talk about black voters without distinguishing between one and the other, then we have a bunch of sheep running behind the black candidate because they’re black, and they’re not thinking, and they have no sophistication whatsoever.
That’s what the media allows. In fact, that’s what it abets when it talks about that race — race that way. And the fact of the matter is that we, as a country, talk about it that way, too. Journalism has to be better.