Media

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The most stunning indictment of the media’s portrayal of black America came when someone pointed out the bias in reporting during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Associated Press published two photos. One showed a group of white people, wading through the water and pushing some items that they’d taken from a store. The other photo showed a group of black people, wading through the water and pushing some items that they’d from a store. The white people were described as “finding food”. The black people were described as “looting”.

To me, the second most stunning indictment of the media’s portrayal of black America came when “The Cosby Show” reached its peak of popularity. The news media loudly protested that there couldn’t possibly be that many black families with two professionals at their head. The media refused to notice that there were plenty of black graduates from law, medical, and other professional school long before the 70’s.

The public’s exaggerated association of race and poverty not only reflects and perpetuates negative racial stereotypes but it also increase white Americans’ opposition to welfare. Whites who think the poor are mostly black are more likely to blame welfare recipients for their situation and less likely to support welfare than are those with more accurate perceptions of poverty.

The portrayal of poverty by the American news media has never been systematically studied. There have, however, been a number of studies of minorities in the news that have some relevance to the current project. The most common such studies have examined the proportion of ethnic or racial minorities appearing in news coverage and have consistently found that blacks are underrepresented in the American news media, whether it be television (Baran 1973), newspapers (Chaudhary 1980), or newsmagazines (Lester and Smith 1990; Stempel 1971). The underrepresentation of African Americans has decreased over time, however. Lester and Smith (1990) , for...
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