Media Matters has confirmed a disturbing tendency in late-night news broadcasts to disproportionately cover violent crime stories where the subjects are identified as black. Between August 18 and December 31 of last year, Media Matters tracked stories about murder, theft, and assault on four local news affiliates (WCBS, WNBC, WABC, and WNYW [Fox]), and found a huge discrepancy between the percentage of black suspects arrested for these crimes in New York City and the percentage of black suspects reported upon by the networks.
The race of the suspect is not always identified in news reports, but when it is, the suspect is usually black. ABC reports both the highest number of crime stories and the highest percentage of black suspects.
Media Matters’ findings are even more stark than they were between May and August of last year, the first time this study was conducted.
Media watchdogs are troubled by the results of the study. “I think one is safe in saying it is not a good thing for one to be over-represented in [the category of] committing more crimes than other races,” Media Matters’ VP of communications Zak Petkanas told Capital New York. Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color for Change, a civil rights organization that analyzed the data, told Capital that while he understands “on an individual level” why any particular story is deemed newsworthy, “but overall, are the decisions being made by the staff producing an accurate picture in our city? Is the news something we can trust in totality?” He called for a more accurate reflection in crime reporting, which doesn’t mean a more positive depiction of black suspects but an accurate depiction of the percentage of white suspects, who he says are underrepresented.
NBC, the only network to give a comment to Capital, asserted their “culture of inclusion” and “diversity” of their on-air and managerial staffs, which is akin to a white person defending themselves by saying they have black friends when called out on their racist behavior.
(Photo: Billie Ward)