We’ve been reminded yet again this week about the power of video and social media to expose crimes and cruelties that would otherwise have been swept under the rug by the perpetrators and their official protectors.
The latest were the white Minneapolis police officers responsible on Monday for the needless death of a black man picked up outside the store where he allegedly passed a fake twenty-dollar bill. Witnesses who could have refuted the officers’ false report would have been too easily discounted without the weight of video.
The morning of that same day, in New York’s Central Park, a white woman urgently told 911 that her life was being threatened by a black man. The man’s cellphone video told the truth — an entirely different story about a decidedly non-threatening bird watcher merely asking that her dog be leashed.
And it wasn’t until May, after video was released, that three white men in Georgia were arrested in the Feb. 23 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was guilty of jogging while black.
A list of examples could go on and on, and not just involving police and not only blacks. Our society has a long way to go to control, let alone extinguish, the fear and hate that are the backbones of racism.
What is the role of the news media in helping to change the culture? That question was addressed during the taping of The Media Project, a weekly show on local public radio WAMC, 90.3 FM. It airs at 6 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Monday, and is accessible after Sunday anytime on wamc.org. This week’s panelists are myself (a University at Albany journalism teacher and former executive editor of The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record; Times Union Editor at Large Rex Smith; Alan Chartock, president and CEO of WAMC; and Judy Patrick, formerly editor of the Gazette and now with the New York Press Association.
How can the media report on our communities in ways that do not stoke mistrust and animosity, but rather move toward greater empathy, respect and understanding for others?
We discussed the question but could not satisfactorily answer it. I’d be interested in what you think.
A longstanding shortcoming in the media, regardless of good intentions, is the overwhelming whiteness of its decision-makers, as well as a tendency to tip the scales of trust to people in positions of authority. Getting at the “truth” can be elusive and obtaining official records, including video, in controversial cases is not easy – but worth the effort.
“Videos paint a story inside of a culture where a lot of the public has been trained and encouraged to not believe black people,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice organization Color of Change, in the New York Times.
The unvarnished truth of videos — whether recorded by victims, police, bystanders, journalists, or security cameras – and the ability to spread them over the internet are game-changers. We need them not only to bring individual cases to light, but to bring about long-term, cultural change.