A Rich History of Ethnic Media: A Review of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

By Gonzalez, Inez | Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

A Rich History of Ethnic Media: A Review of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media


Gonzalez, Inez, Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy


A Rich History of Ethnic Media: A Review of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres

(Verso 2011)

White-owned media has disparaged, dehumanized, and defamed people of color for thousands of years. That is the premise of the recently released News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media by journalists and activists Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres. This book is a meticulously researched history of modern mass communication and is an essential read for those interested in media policy and race relations. The authors of this timely book state, "It is our contention that newspapers, radio, and television played a pivotal role in perpetuating racists' views among the general population. They did so by routinely portraying non-white minorities as threats to a white society and by reinforcing racial ignorance, group hatred, and discriminatory government policies."

The History of Hate Speech in Media

Hate speech in the U.S. media has existed since the inception of this country and, unfortunately, has endured to the present day, continuing to cause great harm to targeted groups. This is one of the many reasons why this book is relevant and worth reading. As the poet and philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The book narrates the early years of hate speech in media against Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexicans. Often, newspaper publishers would frame untrue narratives claiming that people of color routinely victimized innocent White citizens. According to Gonzalez and Torres, "Indian barbarism . . . was the overriding theme of numerous news accounts about Native Americans in our early media." According to the White-owned media, there was often justification for any White-led counter aggression.

Innovations in mass communications gave bigoted media an even larger audience. For instance, as detailed in the book, in 1833, the New York Sun launched the first penny newspaper, signaling the advent of the penny press. The penny press was revolutionary in that, for the first time, newspapers became accessible to the working class. Regrettably, according to Gonzalez and Torres, the penny press also "became a key instrument in the spread of racism among America's white working class." In the late 1840s, the Associated Press (AP) was created and the model of sensational news appeared. The AP made it easier for newspapers across the country to republish racist distortions. The authors claim that "the centralization of news delivery in late-nineteenth-century America represented a huge setback for the portrayal of race relations."

As explored in the book, when radio first appeared, it duplicated the newspapers' bigoted model. The high barriers of entry for this new industry made it substantially more difficult for ethnic media to enter the market and counter any negative portrayals. The authors state, "[R]adio programs in those early decades invariably disseminated a 'white' view of the world, and when they did portray non-whites, it was often though demeaning stereotypes." As the government agency responsible for overseeing the use of the public airwaves, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), the predecessor to today's Federal Communications Commission (FCC), could not find the courage to stand up against racism. In 1927, it granted a broadcast license to a firm openly associated with the Ku Klux Klan, the Fellowship Forum. The new radio station, with the call letters WTFF, was subsequently granted a jump in power from 50 to 10,000 watts, significantly increasing its geographic reach.

Eventually, as detailed in the book, media companies would publicly apologize for promoting racism and condoning violent acts against vulnerable groups. In 2006, after fifty years had passed, the Tallahassee Democrat published an apology for not covering the city's bus boycott following Rosa Parks's arrest.

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