“Media reports have the potential to be useful historical records for historians, but they are not always objective accounts of events. How have recent historians used other kinds of historical sources to unpack the bias within media coverage of the Black Panther Party?”
The development of the Black Panther Party caused controversy from the 1960’s onwards throughout America due to the negative behaviours with which the Party were most commonly associated with. The Party have previously been recorded throughout history as violent gangs working against Government agencies such as the Federal Investigations unit and the Central Intelligence Association. While to some extent there are truthful aspects to this depiction, such a critique is largely the result of the media and the way in which they chose to report on events at the time. However as society has developed, the range of sources available to historians now allows a different idea of the Party to be formed, along with an understanding of the many positive attributions to American culture which the Party attributed to.
During the 1960's-80's, when the Black Panther Party were most prominent throughout American states, the impression they made on the on the public was largely shaped by the way in which the media reported on the events which transpired and the operation of the Party as a whole. Examples of this at the time included publications, primarily newspaper articles, which reported on and manipulated the actions of the Party. When considering the way in which the media portrayed the Party it is important to also be aware of the geographical location of where a piece was written. The significance of this is the way in which societies regarded the black community as a whole and how this would have then influenced potential bias throughout the media. For example in the South, where racial inequality and therefore the Civil Rights Movement was most predominant, many white Americans would have already viewed the black community as "a gang of ghetto thugs". If members of the community already had negative expectations of a minority group it would not be hard for official Government branches to convince men, women and of course the media as a whole, of the Party's supposed wrongdoing. The media then encouraged this idea by simply reaffirming what many people already thought.
While historians could have considered alternative sources into their investigations of the Party, the media, in its many forms, was their primary avenue of exploration when attempting to piece together the history of this association. According to author and academic, Jules Boykoff, "the mass media are a vital venue where discourse is constructed and reproduced. Media accounts prime the public to think in certain ways, implicitly encouraging us to accept some ideas, opinions, and individuals as legitimate and to reject others as illegitimate". This, along with the moral and ethical views within the context of this period, gave historians a fairly limited, "otherwise one-dimensional", view of their history.
As society and technology has continued to develop over time, so too has access to recourses which provide a much more circular and sometimes contrasting view of history. The limited scope of documents available to historians during the Party's most influential and controversial period has since continued to broaden, so too has with the depth of accessible information. The acceptance and also the availability of oral histories in recent times has provided a wealth of information to be explored. In regards to the Black Panther, oral testimonies, in the forms of videos and voice recordings allow historians to interview and hear personal, firsthand accounts of events from members of the Party and family members of those involved. According to Alistair Thomson, Professor of History, " oral history can help individuals and societies remember and make better sense of traumatic pasts". An...
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