Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement

By Murray, Michael D. | Journalism History, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement


Murray, Michael D., Journalism History


Bodraghkozy, Aniko. Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012. 265 pp. $50.

Viewing American television today, it might be a bit of a challenge for younger citizens to imagine a time when African Americans were prohibited from gaining access to media opportunities, including the chance to share important thoughts about the role of race in the evolution of American society. This major research contribution by a University of Virginia Associate Professor of Media Studies, Aniko Bodroghozy, represents one volume in the University of Illinois History of Communication series, which is edited by Robert McChesney and John Nerone. Bodroghozy, who previously authored: Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion, presents herself with an ambitious undertaking, but one which she is uniquely qualified to tackle. This thoughtful, provocative, and well-researched book is focused on the role of network television in the civil rights movement with special attention to coverage of key, related events. She addresses both news and entertainment programming from that era.

While offering insight into both television news and entertainment programming, she casts the book in a critical framework by examining the manner in which race was framed during that period of development in the opening chapter, "Propaganda Tool for Racial Progress," before offering an overview of network news in "The Chosen Instrument of the Revolution?" She does an excellent job of focusing on the televised record from those reporting first-hand on civil rights. The views of network news figures, such as Howard K. Smith, Bill Monroe, Robert Schakne, and Charles Collingwood, are noted within the introductory section, and key stories from public affairs' series, including See It Now and CBS Reports, are examined in detail. In a section from Chapter Two, "Televising the Crisis at Ole Miss," the author provides a copious, five and one-half-page accounting of network coverage, containing important context.

In addition to mainstream network coverage, the author also accounts for the role of independent cinema vérité documentary film makers, such as those of Robert Drew and Richard Leacock, and films such as "Walk in My Shoes" and "The Children Were Watching." This gives the book the feel of a comprehensive approach even if there are several important omissions, such as "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed," which surveyed media coverage of black issues from CBS' "Of Black America" documentary series. The book contains a wealth of information on CBS documentaries, such as "Who Speaks for Birmingham?" and some stifled attempts to editorialize. Coverage of events, such as the "March on Washington" and "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, are well documented. The author does an especially good job of identifying network sources, the work of news reporters on the scene, and providing insight with nuance in the explanation of what was taking place.

The second half of the book looks at fictional narrative treatment, "Civil Rights in Prime-Time Entertainment," and offers an overview of racial subjects from important series. …

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