SPOTLIGHT: TV SHOW PUSHES BLACK STEREOTYPES

Read our Executive Director’s two letters to the management at WABC TV regarding the bias of its African-American morning show “Here and Now”. 

February 24, 2013

Dear Dave Davis:

We wish to register our concern and continuing objection to what we regard as bias in covering race and black community issues on your revamped “LIKE IT IS” show, now titled HERE AND NOW. Indeed,we discern very little difference between the political and ideological diatribes that made LIKE IT IS so notable and objectionable (by way of biased coverage and racial rhetoric) and your current show, HERE AND NOW.

Today’s (Sunday, February 24, 2013) HERE AND NOW was another example of WABC-TV proselytizing in favor of skin color deification and so-called racial/cultural differences in a format supposedly about policies and community issues facing African Americans. HERE AND NOW repeatedly, it seems to us, through the actions of its producers and programmers, presents a one dimensional viewpoint–the stereotypical “black perspective” (which, I take, is the opinion of the producers) about controversial questions and public policy matters of particular interest to blacks. On today’s show, HERE AND NOW, once again, invited three panelists with the same point of view about historically black colleges. No consideration or invitation was extended to anyone with an opposing point of view–and no opposing point of view was offered. Rather, three “coordinators” of the New York City Omega Black College Tour were “interviewed” (actually cheered on) by your host, Ms. Sandra Bookman who, also, during the broadcast, encouraged viewer support for what she regarded as a worthy cause, by way of fund support for historically black colleges and the “important” work of the New York City Omega Black College Tour program. The guests also encouraged fund support–but that was to be expected; it was not my idea of legitimate public affairs programming for the host of the show--who represents management and WABC TV–to particpate in the fund raising drive on behalf of the Omega Black College Tour, thereby encouraging and steering black students to the historically black colleges and universities.

Whether there ought to be or whether black students should be encouraged to attend racially identifiable colleges–an important policy question for the 21st century–was an issue never posed much less considered in the programming decision to have three advocates of historically black colleges who on their own, and with the support of WABC TV’s Bookman, sought broad support for the idea of black colleges during the show. Your show and its producers, and the host of the show, simply presumed there is no other point of view within the black community or larger society worthy of consideration–such as whether black colleges are indeed outmoded and serve as relics of a discredited past in America, an era when colleges were organized around race and when blacks were excluded from the mainstream colleges and universities. Indeed, I do not recall Sandra Bookman even asking how many black students–a considerable minority of them–that the historically black colleges serve nowadays. The overwhelming majority of black students, one would never know from watching your show, avoid racially-identifiable historically black colleges–for their own and compelling reasons, especially in a society where we supposedly value diversity and interaction of students with persons from different economic and cultural backgrounds. Your Ms. Bookman–as is usual–tilted the conversation away from hard and sophisticated policy questions into proselytizing on behalf of societal, community and fund support for these racially-identifiable institutions of higher education.

It is shameful how this media bias shapes and perpetuates misconceptions about the so-called black community and misses the diversity of opinion within the black community; HERE AND NOW constantly presents a one-dimensional view and propagates race-consciousness as a value of and for blacks to emulate and propagate. WABC-TV’s role in siding with racial idiocy and ideology will not escape scrutiny much less criticism and dissent for much longer.

I do not get the sense that there is any adult supervision when it comes to the producing of HERE AND NOW–indeed, when it comes to race matters and race-oriented programming on your station. It appears that when it comes to exacting standards of objective journalism or even critical inquiry on important questions and issues, your station’s minority affairs programming–such as HERE AND NOW–reinforces stereotypes and misinformation about the black community in the guise of offering the “black perspective.”

I encourage your personal intervention to ensure broader representation on the show of all sides of controversial subjects such as this one; if the ordinary standards of journalism and critical inquiry do not apply to HERE AND NOW, and its host, I’d like to know why not, from you, the management of WABC TV. I do not regard it as relevant or satisfactory the disclaimer at the end of the show that the show may or may not reflect the views of WABC TV’s management. It seems to us that the show does indeed reflect a point of view–a bias, from the standpoint of programming decisions that exclude points of view dissimilar to the producers’ on such subjects as this–i.e. the efficacy or archaic nature of racially-identifiable colleges and universities in 21st century America.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Meyers
Executive Director

***

April 1, 2012

Dear Dave Davis:

I was disappointed and appalled, quite frankly, by the one-sided viewpoint of this week’s “Here & Now” (April 1) show.

It had been my sincere hope that the transition from “Like It Is”–which was itself notorious for biased “reporting” and coverage of news events impacting the African American community–to “Here & Now” would result in a more balanced, professional, and rational news talk and cultural affairs program. That did not happen; indeed, there seems (judging by this and prior weeks’ shows) to have been a programming decision for the new show to be the echo chamber of race activists (mostly hotheads) with their “no justice-no peace” agenda and strident racial rhetoric. In this connection, this week’s “Here & Now” was an affront to common sense, good judgment, and journalistic standards.

Despite the disclaimer at the end of the show, following the credits, that opinions expressed on the “Here & now” show are those of the individuals and not of WABC or its management–it is clear enough that the opinion of WABC is indeed being expressed on these African American-oriented news and cultural events through decision making about guests and talkers on the show. All the talking heads on this week’s show had a singular point of view on the Trayvon Martin killing–that he was racially-profiled”, and his death is a consequence of America still being a “racist” country that favors and lets go “white men” with guns who kill black youths. In fact, two of the guests used the emotionally charged accusation–without any evidence– that George Zimmerman had “murdered” Trayvon Martin.

The guest line up included a single law enforcement expert–Noel Leader, a spokesman for and co-founder of 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care;” Daniel Maree, the organizer of the self-described “Million Hoodie March, in solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s outfit; and two African American women, the founder of B-WARE (BLACK WOMEN AGAINST RACISM EMPOWERED, and a mother of three African American children, one of whom, her 15-year-old son, Wykeem, was also a guest on the “Here & Now” show. The spokesman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement questioned and assailed the Sanford, Florida police investigation and assailed the failure to arrest George Zimmerman as not good policing; the other guests–all blacks–included the mother, who asserted that Trayvon Martin was “murdered.” That’s the word she used without any challenge from your host, Sandra Bookman. Indeed, the role of the two African American women on the program was, it was abundantly clear, to express concern for the safety of their African American sons and other African American males who are “racially profiled” by cops and civilians–indeed, one of them, Dr. Ali of B-WARE, was positing strategies for black males’ survival in our “racist” culture, a culture that, according to her, makes them “different” from other youths.

All the talking heads, it seemed to me, blamed white racism for Trayvon Martin’s death–for his “murder”, and faulted “racial profiling” and stereotyping as the proximate cause of Trayvon Martin’s killing. When the African American mother of the 15-year-old guest, charged “murder”, Sandra Bookman did not flinch much less interject that that is a “fact” not in evidence. Neither did Sandra Bookman challenge the woman’s comparison of Trayvon Martin’s death to the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 Mississippi. Moreover, Sandra Bookman’s interview of the black teen on the show was extraordinary bad form for a journalist; she in effect put words in the boy’s mouth. The show isn’t a court of law but leading the witness in such a flagrantly biased way should be a no-no for journalists.

Such racial rhetoric as “murder” and the need to “capture” George Zimmerman–as if he is on the run from the law, and has escaped the authorities, went unchallenged by your Ms. Bookman. The fact is no criminal charges have been brought against him as yet by state authorities. Why would anyone therefore be advocating Zimmerman’s “capture”? And one of the talking heads on this week’sHere & Now also advocated, aimlessly, a “boycott” of companies–companies unconnected with the tragedy and not responsible for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Again, Sandra Bookman just let her prate on without challenge or any serious questioning.

We were also troubled by the biased news clip that introduced the show’s topic–which showed an ABC News Legal Analyst concluding that the videotape of the handcuffed George Zimmerman being brought into the Sanford, Florida police station contradicted, in his opinion, Zimmerman’s claims of injuries to his face and head and undermined as well the Zimmerman version of self-defense. From start to finish WABC seemed to be pushing a point of view; WABC seemed to have an agenda to inflame, rather than to inform.

What was evident to me and I suppose to other viewers was that all of the talking heads on the show had firm opinions about what happened on February 26 without themselves having been there–without themselves having been eye witnesses; all of them nevertheless have rushed to judgment and are accusing someone of criminal culpability–indeed of “murder” even before the state’s independent investigation has been completed and before the grand jury has even been convened. I do not regard this as responsible journalism; nor is it especially responsible of WABC not to invite guests to discuss the importance of the rule of law, the importance of due process–which takes time–and the need to lower the racial rhetoric and escalating demands which now include calls for unfocused boycotts of innocent third parties.

We all want to know what happened in Sanford, Florida that fateful night. And we all want justice to be served; but justice does not entail either a rush to judgment or a demand for the “capture” of a person not under arrest or charged with any crime; and it doesn’t allow much less embrace the outrageous comparison of Trayvon Martin’s tragic killing with the intentional and brutal murder of Emmett Till. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, was abducted by two white men who took offense at Emmett Till’s whistling at a white woman in 1955 Mississippi; they smashed Emmett Till’s face;, gouged out one of his eyes; and one of his assailants put a bullet into his skull. That was 1955, not 2012.

I think WABC owes its viewers better–a more professional, sophisticated, and balanced presentation and broadcast–than what you gave us on this week’s “Here & Now.”

With best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,

Michael Meyers
Executive Director

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