Media’s Rush to Get It First Opens Door to Racial Profiling

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  • Dead air. It’s the bane of a broadcaster’s existence.

    Dead air is that pause that is too long, that allows listeners or viewers to change stations, that costs a station advertising and ratings points. Engineers, producers, news directors, reporters who allow dead air on their station or network are looking at termination.

    And so in the wake of a major disaster, like the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week, when the networks cut away from regularly scheduled programming to report the news in real time, there can be no dead air; it has to be filled up with information – even if it just speculation and even if that speculation is stereotypical.

    In this age of Twitter, texting, Instagram, Facetime and expanding public access to digital media, traditional reporters find themselves competing with people who are not trained to stop and think about the (mis)information they are spreading. Sometimes, the reporters contribute to it, too.

    Various media outlets provided a diverse group of suspect profiles in the attack from Muslims to disaffected white right-wingers to two young men perhaps tainted by the strife of their native Chechnya where, it turned out, they never actually lived.

    At first, officials shied away from calling the bombings terrorist attacks because terror and terrorism automatically trigger an image of “radical Muslim extremists” from the Middle East, an image born of the indelible imprint that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks embedded in the American psyche.

    Then President Obama declared that any seemingly random attack that targeted innocent civilians and created havoc, death and injury was, indeed, an act of terrorism.

    At that point, we didn’t know who did it, but it didn’t stop the news media from speculating and many of the rest of us from playing super-sleuth, taking photos, comparing them against police descriptions of possible suspects and, in the case of the New York Post, identifying the wrong people as suspects.

    CNN’s John King erroneously reported that authorities had arrested a suspect who would be brought in to federal court for arraignment. The only description provided, King said, was that the suspect was “a dark-skinned male.”

    Instructors in even the most basic, introductory news reporting classes in journalism school tell their students that such vague descriptions open the door to racial profiling. I had a field day last week talking to my students at Morgan State University about confirming information before passing it on. Many sources in these kinds of cases ask for anonymity because they are talking to reporters without clearance from their superiors, but it is important, I told my students, to always ask how the sources know this information.

    “[King] and several others who disseminated bad information throughout the day, broke clear rules by repeating information from a single source that lacked a second confirmation. They eventually came up with other sources, but only eventually,” PBS Washington Week in Review anchor Gwen Ifill wrote about the incident, without naming King specifically.

    “My friend’s error was compounded when he added useless detail. Having dark skin is not a useful descriptor in a multiracial society. It only stirs fear and free-floating suspicion unless yoked to something more specific — like hair color or clothing or other more telling detail.”

    But wait! There’s more.

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    9 thoughts on “Media’s Rush to Get It First Opens Door to Racial Profiling

    1. til I looked at the draft ov $6697, I didn’t believe …that…my brother truley bringing home money part-time from there pretty old laptop.. there neighbor has been doing this 4 less than ten months and resently paid the mortgage on their appartment and got themselves a Peugeot 205 GTi. read more at, FAB33.COM_only

    2. truth of the matter, news media is ALWAYS in a constant hurry to tell the news before the news happen, including BAW.

      “Various media outlets provided a diverse group of suspect profiles in the attack from Muslims to disaffected white right-wingers to two young men perhaps tainted by the strife of their native Chechnya where, it turned out, they never actually lived.”

      This is false, both brothers were born & raised in Chechnya, Russia with the youngest brother spending his first 10 years there. They later moved to the US which is where the oldest brother developed into a radical Muslim.

    3. I think they need to start racial profiling white america. They always want to racial profile minorities, but if you notice the majority of the mass killings are done by white men.

      • I agree with you 100% start profiling white people and then they will see how it feel. And for CNN John King to get on tv and say that the bomber was a dark skin male, and then to look at them two guy they look more like white people than anything but then they want to say race don’t matter but it did when they thought they where black.

      • you’re missing the point. In light of all the carnage, “ONE” reporter will not start a riot. And most people didn’t catch John King’s comment because most people were considering something a little more important, people dying.

    4. Boy, and let’s not forget about those seriously injured and killed in this bombing. I watched this entire episode unfold on the news thru-out the week and not one time did I here a news reporter bring up race. In fact, I know of any other form of mass communication or the internet even remotely talk about race except BAW.

      • Cnn talked about race when they said that the guy they were looking for was a dark skin guy, so da creature wake up and realize that cnn and yourself is so racist and when you all stop thinking about race all the time this will be a better place to live, and then take a look at the Tsarnaev brothers they look more like white people than black people and then to say they listen to hip hop so what. I bet the young Man that went to the school and killed those babies in Newtown listen to rock an roll but nothing was said about that, so race do matter you might not believe it or not but it does.

    5. As I said when they first pictured the Tsarnaev brothers, “Is one of the guys the dark-skinned individual they were talking about?”-Yeah right.

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