Farai’s second paragraph in her book’s first chapter begins:
It may be one of the best-kept secrets in America: the “liberal media” is not terribly liberal. American journalism is often misleading, myopic, and unreliable when it comes to detailing the lives of African-Americans.
“Don’t Believe The Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African-Americans”, Farai Chideya, pg 3
First printing of this book is documented as February 1995. Given that, it can be assumed that many damn statistics contained within it will be inaccurate in 2017 when I am writing this. However, Farai gives us a set of guidelines that work as principles much like how I discuss Black Media Trust.
In her first chapter, she outlines in a very accessible manner five ideas that should sit somewhere near our frontal cortex when parsing media depictions of US Blacks. Entitled,”When Is A Fact Not The Truth?”, she prefaces this list with a precise definition of how she uses this term “media”:
What is the media, anyway? … “media” doesn’t just mean newspapers, magazines, and the television news. Advertisements, television shows, and politicians’ statements are equally powerful ways that Americans learn facts–and stereotypes–about African-Americans.
ibid., pg 6
I would also add religious texts, video games, music, and a litany of other screen-based mass communication mediums that did not exist when Farai was writing this. That aside, I think her abstraction here is necessary and healthy. I call it necessary and healthy because too often I discuss media with individuals who have a very limited scope of what can be included under that label. It helps to understand that what influences us– and many others– is more than just a small set of mediums. If it can communicate, it can influence someone.
Farai proceeds to list her 5 principles of Black Media Trust:
Top Five Reasons Why The Perception Does Not Equal The Reality
- Journalism is one of the most segregated professions in America.
In the broadcast industry, only six percent of management jobs are held by African-Americans.
- Journalists and others in the media are human–they work from what they know
When it comes to doing “real people” articles–like a photo essay on a day in the park or a story on buying a new car–many reporters go to communities that they are familiar with.
- It’s easy to get stories from the ghetto.
The adage goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” When it comes to stories of deviance and degradation, white reporters go more easily to black neighborhoods because, among other reasons, they aren’t likely to feel personally conflicted about the people they’re portraying in a negative light. Although the vast majority of drug users are white, it’s easier to focus on inner-city crack use than it is to examine middle-class cocaine and heroin addicts.
- White journalists are presumed to be objective; black journalists, quite often, are presumed not to be objective about racial issues.
Therefore white journalists often have more latitude to freely express their views on race.
- Once something becomes “conventional wisdom,” even if it’s misleading, it gets repeated over and over again.
Language can also become “conventional wisdom”. Words like “gang” are consistently used to describe group of young Black men–even when they have absolutely no gang affiliation.
ibid., pg 6-9
Once again, similar to how exploding a concept like “media” to a more wider application, viewing “words” as conduits of myth is beneficial. Ultimately, there is a need to realize that those who tell us our “truths” are just people telling us something. This “something” needs to be weighed by same criteria we would use to measure credibility of a local gossip or someone known to talk about others a lot. There is a danger when we invest authority into personalities simply due to institutions they are attached to, pedigree, or simply because they have what Adolph Reed, Jr calls a “televisual presence”.
Farai addresses this last concern when she closes this chapter with:
Media outlets are supposed to be authorities, so in order to question their judgment, critics have to gather authoritative facts…
Can something be a fact and still not be true? When “truth” means giving a clear picture of a situation, what seem like solid statistics and hard numbers can often be interpreted to give totally different impressions.
ibid., pg 9
Facts, like numbers, may not have an ability to communicate, but those communicating with them can interpret them in ways that can be misleading.