Mayor Freeman R. Bosley Jr. is not happy with the local media. He says its coverage of city hall has been harsh, sensational and one-sided, especially during the last eight months. He says the reporting about his administration on both television and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is unbalanced, that it concentrates on the negative and overlooks the positive aspects of city government. He says the media seem to have their own agenda when it comes to his administration.
"There are many instances when we went to great lengths and spent a lot of time trying to get the media the facts," Bosley told The St. Louis Journalism Review. "But then they go back and run it as if we had never had a conversation with them."
Most mayors probably have had similar feelings about the media. But Bosley sees the situation from a slightly different perspective than most mayors - he is the first African-American to hold that position in St. Louis.
Bosley believes race plays an important role in how his administration is covered.
When asked if he thinks the mainstream media scrutinizes his administration more closely than they did that of the former, white mayor Vince Schoemehl, Bosley answers quickly: "Oh, definitely."
Like Bosley, many African-Americans in St. Louis see this supposed bias in the media almost as a given. They believe the bias is so deeply woven into the fabric of the white perspective that most whites don't even realize it.
"This has to be seen inside historical memory," says Donald Suggs, publisher of The St. Louis American, the largest black newspaper in the area. "Blacks' historic memory leads them to the conclusion that the power structure is racist. You don't have to be very old to remember that here in St. Louis there was a rigid racial separation in the city. It may be different now but a lot of people experienced the reality of not being able to sit in some restaurant or go to a certain school. There is still a lot of suspicion.
"Also, for blacks," he adds, "the black politician is more than a politician. He is the preeminent public figure. In the white community, there is Civic Progress, college presidents the judiciary, any number of symbols of power. But for African-Americans, their one shot is the black politician. After a long, long, long period of powerlessness, they will support any black politician, even tainted ones. They will give them the benefit of the doubt. They know the established order - including the media - is not comfortable with black politicians, particularly assertive ones."
Donn Johnson, veteran anchor on KTVI (Channel 2), agrees. When asked if he thinks Bosley's administration is covered differently than Schoemehl's administration, he answers: "Yes, yes, yes. I believe that with my whole heart and soul." (See Johnson interview, page 6.)
Johnson says he finds it strange that black administrators and officials who have worked at city hall for years under other, white mayors are suddenly being closely watched by the mainstream press.
"Every time I run across a story about a black politician that is negative," Johnson says, "I think of a scene out of D.W. Griffith's A Birth of a Nation where he has all these white guys in black-face with spittoons setting on top of their heads in Congress portraying the reconstruction era in the south as the Civil War. Sometimes I think of reporting now as the reconstruction era of the 1990s."
Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl, however, thinks this close scrutiny by the press is relative. He says the Post was too easy on Bosley for several years and when they decided to become more aggressive in their reporting on city hall it simply looked harsh by comparison to the soft reporting.
"I think a lot of people have been disappointed by the Bosley administration," Schoemehl says. "And the press is largely responsible for that. …