Newspaper coverage of African-Americans has too often lurched
from neglect to sensationalism, says one of America's most
Tom Wicker, in his new book, Tragic Failure: Racial Integration
in America, proposes a new political party for
African-Americans because he says Republicans and Democrats have
abandoned integration as a national goal.
At the same time, Wicker says that the news media must bear
some responsibility for the nation's failure to integrate the
Wicker has a rare perspective on race relations.
For his first 34 years, he grew up in the segregated South,
where he had his first newspaper jobs. News about
African-Americans was segregated in those days, too.
For his next 35 years, Wicker lived in the Northeast. He
retired in 1991 as a columnist for The New York Times.
He defines integration this way: "A situation in which blacks
and whites live together in amity, respecting each other's
rights and culture, in a society in which neither can or needs
to look down on faces permanently at the bottom of the well, a
society in which neither race is threatened by the other nor has
to claim preferential treatment in order to thrive
As he defines it, then, laws aren't the answer; changes in
human hearts are.
That led me to call him at his Rochester, Vt. home. I sought to
explore the role of the news media in fostering racial progress.
In his book, Wicker mentions several shortcomings of the
newspapers, many of them inter-related. Though the following
tendencies apply to all news coverage, they take on special
significance in coverage of race:
1. The tendency to simplify often distorts.
A typical example would be relying on a racial stereotype that
can't possibly be true for all members of a race.
2. Failure to cover minority communities on a routine basis.
This leaves black readers feeling separated and white readers
with an inadequate understanding of the black community. Too
often, coverage involves only crime or high-profile celebrities.
3. The press pays no attention to problems until there is a
dramatic spokesmen or a conflict.
"I always thought that newspapers ought to be more pro-active
in covering news," Wicker said.
4. Failure to hire and promote minorities.
Though strides have been made in newsrooms, they often come
painfully and slowly. …