Media Misses the Mark When Covering Black Electorate

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[On The Media]

When Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain recently remarked that Black voters “have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a conservative point of view,” the mainstream media never challenged his characterization that 42 million African Americans are monolithic in their political views.

News outlets such as CNN, NPR, USA Today and the New York Daily News simply reported Cain’s reflections on the African-American electorate as if it were fact and without consulting experts who would counter his outrageous accusation.

This deficient media coverage is a grave disservice to African-Americans.  It belies the reality which is that Black voters are casting ballots for candidates that they believe best represent their interests and will improve their quality of life.  And, in most cases, that turns out to be Democrats. If Republicans supported more polices and initiatives that are popular in the Black community, there would likely be a significant increase in support from Blacks for their candidates.

Over time, there has been a pattern of gross generalizations about Black voters. When California passed a same-sex marriage ban in 2008, Black voters were largely held responsible, with widely circulated news reports indicating that Blacks overwhelmingly favored the ban. A subsequent analysis of voting data showed that to be untrue. Just like other voters, Blacks were almost evenly divided on the issue.

Moreover, in the 2008 presidential campaign Blacks were accused of rallying behind Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, only because of his skin color.  This shamefully ignores that Blacks perceived the polices promoted by Obama to be far better for their families and their communities than the ones presented by the Republican ticket of Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin.

Such episodes exemplify why Black voters deserve more comprehensive media coverage. One solution is for the media to vastly expand its mix of news sources by interviewing Blacks of all political persuasions and making more visits to minority communities, where they can interview a people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.  

Danielle Belton, who covers politics on her blog, The Black Snob, and is a regular guest on the NPR show ,“Tell Me More,” says that producers of news programs can show the diversity of the Black vote by not featuring the same pundits over and over again. Donna Brazile has become the go-to Black pundit representing Democrats, while Amy Holmes and Michael Steele fill the role for Republicans, Belton says.

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