How Media Makes Or Breaks

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(Columnist Samuel Vance).

Do you know who Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were? Do you recognize pictures of Whitney Young and Malcolm X? Chances are that you recognize Ralph Abernathy and Bobby Seale because you saw their pictures in the Mass Media.

Of course you may have seen them in other places, but these people have been mentioned many times in the media. The Mass Media told us about the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. They were leaders in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. In later years their families sued in Civil Court and won. 

The Mass Media told us about the evolution of Malcolm. We watched as he went from calling white people “blue eyed devils� to worshipping side by side with white people in Mecca. It was through the Mass Media that I learned about the papers that Malcolm gave Alex Haley for the future financial power of Black America. The Mass Media told us about Whitney Young’s courageous leadership of the Urban League as he helped to lead efforts to expand the black middle-class (there were times that I had the privilege of witnessing his struggle in person). 

The Mass Media gave us endless images of Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy as they led marches where people battled dogs and fire hoses. Apparently the people that opposed the agenda of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference weren’t always so Christian themselves. The Mass Media reported on Bobby Seale and the trial of the Chicago Seven. They made sure that we knew that the Black Panther leader had been bound and gagged in an American courtroom. 

During the 1960s and 1970s the Mass Media made sure that the American people were well informed. They told us about the Watergate break-in, the Pentagon papers, the Meilai massacre, and other major events. In the early 1980s President Ronald Wilson Reagan sent troops into Grenada to overthrow the government of Maurice Bishop. This was done supposedly, to protect American medical students from the communist government. The government hadn’t threatened students at any time, but our troops were sent in anyway. It was at this point that things began to change dramatically.

The Reagan administration seriously curtailed the Media coverage and basically forced the American Media to accept the official version of events or have no story at all.  The American Media complained but for the most part this was accepted. Later, the Bush administration did a similar Media clampdown with the invasion of Panama. At the same time that these events were happening the Media began to go more and more into sensationalized stories. The Media became fascinated with child-abuse stories like the McMartin witch hunt and the talk shows began to spring up like weeds as each one tried to outdo the other in shock appeal while they gave National Forums to an ever-growing number of publicity seeking neo-racists, fifteen minute stars and assorted weirdoes.

Since I had observed all of this while sitting in front of the tube I decided to talk to someone that had lived this from inside of the tube. I spoke to Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (F.A.I.R.). When Jeff told me that he had worked for Fox from 1997 to 2002 I said “that’s the belly of the beast� and he said “that’s what I tell people� – we clicked instantly. He said that the news now functions off of salaciousness, celebrity sex and crime. He said modern media loves fear because the public responds to it. He told me something very disturbing that had been discovered by the late Professor George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania. His studies found that the more television people saw the more likely they were to fear racial minorities. 

After Jeff Cohen left Fox he went to M.S.N.B.C. and as he walked into the M.S.N.B.C. corridor he saw a series of wall posters that read like a ‘Who’s Who’ in Fear Journalism. He saw posters that said “Death of J.F.K. Junior,� “Columbine Shootings,� “Funeral Of Princess Diana,� “Concorde Crash.� Jeff Cohen said if he had been doing the posters they would have said things like “War In Lebanon,� “Senator Trent Lott Praises Strom Thurman,� “Wages Of Workers Stagnate As Wages Of CEOs Skyrocket.� 

He said originally he and people like Jim Hightower (liberal talk-show commentator) had such high hopes for the news and possibilities of Cable T.V. The coverage of O.J. changed everything, he said. Now people in Cable News constantly say things like this story could be as big as O.J. It’s Michael Jackson or Jon Benet Ramsey or the runaway bride or Warren Jeff’s polygamy trial. He pointed out that all of the sensationalized Cable T.V. female murder or disappearing cases has involved blond haired white females.

The final part of his talk with me touched on his time, at M.S.N.B.C., on the Donahue show. It turns out that the people at M.S.N.B.C. had the nerve to tell him that each show, they had to book three right-winged guests for two liberal guests. When they brought on Michael Moore producer of Fahrenheit 911 they wanted Jeff Cohen to bring three conservatives against him for “balance�. The Donahue show was eventually cancelled by M.S.N.B.C. even though it was one of their most popular shows. It seems that he didn’t fit the picture that they were painting about the new war in Iraq. Maybe the letters M.S.N.B.C. should start standing for more serious news by citizens.

Columnist Samuel Justiss Vance is the C.E.O. of, which produces the syndicated radio segment -- A Positive Moment. He may be reached for public engagements, interviews and column syndication at 714-210-7337. You can Google “Talkinggreen� for past articles.

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