L.A. Times Coverage of Korean Americans before, after 1992 Riots

By Ban, Hyun; Adams, R. C. | Newspaper Research Journal, Summer-Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

L.A. Times Coverage of Korean Americans before, after 1992 Riots


Ban, Hyun, Adams, R. C., Newspaper Research Journal


Though Times' efforts to cover more varied aspects of the Korean American community more frequently were successful, Korean Americans' image in the newspaper did not significantly improve after the riots.

After the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who had brutally beaten motorist Rodney King, "Los Angeles exploded into violence that claimed 58 lives, caused nearly a billion dollars worth of damage, and led to more than 14,000 arrests."(1) In other words, during the three days of the riots, from Wednesday, April 29, through Friday, May 1, 1992, America experienced its worst modern race riots.

Although many ethnic groups suffered losses in the riots, one group was hit far out of proportion to its numbers in the general population. Korean Americans saw more than 2,000 of their businesses looted or burned, "about half the approximately $770 million in estimated material losses incurred during the Los Angeles upheavals."(2)

American society, called a melting pot, has been slowly cracked by both serious and trivial conflicts among different ethnic groups with different backgrounds and cultures. News coverage of ethnic minorities has been criticized for its biased reports from "the standpoint of a white man's world."(3)

From this perspective, the situation of Korean Americans, as one ethnic minority group in American society, is not an exception. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the image of Korean Americans reflected in the mainstream news media beforeand after the 1992 Los Angeles riots for the purpose of understanding the conceptual issues involving how U.S. newspapers cover minorities in society.

Research issues

Many scholars have argued that news coverage either ignores or stereotypes ethnic minorities. For example, after comparing portrayals of minorities in news and entertainment media, Clint Wilson and Felix Gutierrez argued that news coverage of minorities might be more significant in influencing audiences because, although audiences consider the entertainment make-believe, they see the news as real.(4) Also, "because news reflects what is really important to a society, minority coverage in mainstream news reporting provides insight into the [social] status of minorities."(5)

During the three days of the Los Angeles riots, certain news media, such as the Los Angeles Times, Ted Koppel and the producers of ABC-TV's Nightline, and KCAL-TV (ABC affiliate in Los Angeles), were targets of criticism by Asian groups. For instance, Dean Takahashi criticized the Times for not reporting statistical data on Asian American attitudes when it reported attitudes of whites, Hispanics, and African Americans, although Asians constituted 10.8 percent of the population of Los Angeles County.(6) Nightline anchor Koppel and his producers were also denounced for their unbalanced reporting: they interviewed several African American, but no Korean American community leaders, even though many Korean merchants were the victims most harmed by the riots.(7) Similarly, KCAL-TV was accused of having presented "unbalanced commentary and interviews that allegedly attributed the street violence to the idea that Korean merchants had been disrespectful to their African American customers and profited from them without returning anything to the community."(8)

Background

Although numerous studies have dealt with the minorities-and-news media issue, most of them were published following the 1968 national Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) investigation of the causes of the 1960s' urban violence. The commission reported to President Johnson that news media had ignored racial issues and added to an atmosphere of racial strife that had led to the Watts riots.(9) Furthermore, the commission recommended that the media become more diverse themselves so that they could better cover minority communities.(10)

Edward Pease examined the news content on minorities in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch during 1965 - three years before the Kerner Commission Report - and during 1987. …

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