The fundamental foundation of journalism has always centered on the primary principle of accuracy. But as the Omicron variant fuels the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many mainstream media outlets have been quick to erroneously assign carte blanche blame to the entire continent of Africa without doing their due diligence, according to a progressive civil rights advocacy group.
Yes, it is true that Omicron was discovered by scientists in South Africa. But that doesn’t mean that’s where the exponentially contagious yet much less mild variant is from, let alone the part of the world where it is raging the most.
On the contrary, it is unclear where exactly Omicron originated. However, it is abundantly clear where the variant has been proliferating. And it’s not in Africa.
That truth has not been properly reflected in the ensuing mainstream media coverage since the existence of Omicron was first announced late last month, Color Of Change says in its petition to bring an end to the slanted news reports.
Noting that “it has since been determined that Omicron had been in Europe weeks before it was detected in South Africa,” Color of Change says the media has nevertheless “dubbed the entire continent a ‘COVID hotspot’ and spread misinformation about the relationship between Black people and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The online petition draws parallels between the biased Omicron coverage and when the early days of the pandemic last year when media organizations followed President Donald Trump’s lead and vilified China for the coronavirus.
“Some media outlets have referred to the Omicron variant as the ‘South African variant,’ wrongfully indicating that it originated there; while others have failed to make any mention of the spike in Omicron variant cases across Europe (e.g., Britain, Denmark), opting to focus solely on the number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa,” Color of Change said before adding: “What we’re witnessing happened in the early days as COVID-19 was uncovered in China. The racism and xenophobia that emerged then are showing now.”
To be sure, the Omicron variant “was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, 2021 in Botswana and on November 14, 2021 in South Africa,” the CDC says. But nowhere on the CDC’s Omicron facts webpage does it say that Omicron was started in Africa. Somehow, between the CDC’s reporting and what mainstream media reported, that message got completely upended. That has resulted in the “anti-Black” narrative cited by Color of Change.
“The media should be ashamed of enabling racist narratives—it simply has to stop,” Color of Change said. “Tell the media that Black people are not public health threats!”
Color of Change’s petition includes a letter to media executives making the same plea.
At the heart of the issue is a clear and present lack of diversity in media, a persistent scourge in the nation’s news coverage.
From the New York Times admitting in February that its coverage has been rooted in white perspectives to CBS News being shamed for not assigning any Black reporters to cover the 2020 presidential election, it should not be a surprise that mainstream media coverage of the pandemic has skewed racist at times.
CBS, NBC And Mainstream Media's Never-ending Struggle With Race And Diversity
1. Jamil Smith, Rolling Stone
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Failing to hire black journalists is not some sort of benign omission. It isn’t about the lack of candidates or professional networks—or whatever excuse news executives make for their racism or their laziness. It is a choice, and networks and publications keep paying for it.— Jamil Smith جميل كريم (@JamilSmith) January 13, 2019
2. Wesley Lowery, The Washington Post2 of 10
3. Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour
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How dare you type “many black people have no interest in journalism.” Where is your evidence? Your conversation with yourself in your bubble of ignorance? Please get educated and realize @NABJ exists because black people are interested in and highly qualified at journalism. https://t.co/RP9fkHCkBG— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) January 14, 2019
4. Sarah Glover, NABJ president
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Will you be adding additional team members? https://t.co/jW92w2B7I2— Sarah Glover (@sarah4nabj) January 12, 2019
5. Marlon A. Walker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Obvious explanation? Do your research.— Marlon A. Walker (@marlonawalker) January 14, 2019
More than 20 percent of j-school graduates are people of color. Less than half of them find jobs in the field.
More than two-thirds of white j-school graduates find jobs. #MediaDiversity #DiversityMatters https://t.co/RvEDZoD9O5
6. Jamilah Lemieux, cultural critic
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Y’all are arguing about Black people and journalism with someone who probably calls us “niggers” daily, please stop— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) January 14, 2019
7. Tiffany Cross, The Beat DC
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Honestly, it's not just #CBS. People of color are frequently challenged in ALL news spaces. How many ordinary non-POC enjoy large platforms while EXTRAORDINARY POC fight for a seat at the table? From cable news outlets to newspaper bylines. It runs deep. https://t.co/yJS5jfmPkp pic.twitter.com/3mfkAZRBC2— @tiffanydcross (@TiffanyDCross) January 14, 2019
8. Soraya McDonald, The Undefeated8 of 10
9. Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker
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So... what you’re saying is that in a campaign in which voter suppression and racial attitudes are expected to play a huge role you will have zero black journalists covering it? https://t.co/6Sh2LQl2Xs— jelani cobb (@jelani9) January 13, 2019
10. Shanita Hubbard10 of 10
Mainstream Media Slammed For ‘Anti-Black’ Omicron News Coverage ‘Spreading Misinformation’ was originally published on newsone.com