Racialized Coverage of Congress: The News in Black and White

By Campbell, Kenneth | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Racialized Coverage of Congress: The News in Black and White


Campbell, Kenneth, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Racialized Coverage of Congress: The News in Black and White. Jeremy Zilber and David Niven. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. 160 pp. $57.50 hbk.

Editors and reporters who read Racialized Coverage of Congress: The News in Black and White-and all of them should-- will undoubtedly come away thinking, "damned if we do, damned if we don't." For too long the news media ignored news in the African-American community, but now that such news finds its way into the nation's newspapers, and some papers appear to bend over backwards to accommodate such news, the authors of Racialized Coverage of Congress are "steadfastly convinced that many standard media practices-- particularly those relating to covering African-American public officials- are contributing to a state of perpetual racial disharmony in American politics" (p.3).

Professors and students-and they, too, should make this book a must read-may come away more unsure than ever about race and the news media issues. For the book goes beyond the oft-repeated warning against the use of race in crime and other inherently negative stories and raises serious questions on the use of race in positive stories about African-American politicians, specifically stories about representatives in Congress.

Racialized Coverage of Congress wreaks chaos, if you will, with settled practice. What we thought was good coverage of African-- American representatives is, in fact, very damaging, we are told, and what we thought were issues of the past with regard to the use, or nonuse, of racial designations, are indeed questions of the future.

Nevertheless, this is all good news. It shows the depth of the book's argument and the convincing nature of its evidence. Racialized Coverage of Congress is challenging, provocative, and alarming. All who are interested in a fair and responsible news media should give it the utmost attention.

The authors conducted a content analysis of the coverage in selected major newspapers and wire services given to selected African-American members of Congress in the six years ending in 1999. That coverage was compared to coverage given to twenty white, male members of Congress who were roughly representative of whites in Congress, mostly Republican and mostly conservative. The authors interviewed selected press secretaries to congressional representatives to determine how the representatives intended to "sell" themselves to the public.

The study found that when articles were about African-American representatives, their race was generally mentioned as was the racial composition of their district- even if the story had nothing to do with race, and even if the goal of the African-American representatives, according to their press secretaries and an analysis of their Web sites, was to present themselves as concerned about issues other than race.

An example of journalists inserting race into stories where race was not a factor was the Clinton impeachment coverage, according to the book. …

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