If you thought media coverage of the Aug. 28 “Restoring Honor” rally hosted in Washington D.C. by Fox News host Glenn Beck seemed like just another attack on conservatives, you're not alone. As noted by the Daily Caller's Jim Treacher, much of the coverage had a common thread: describing the crowd as “overwhelmingly white.”
While the term was certainly used in coverage of Beck's rally, it's not a new label. “Overwhelmingly white” is a prime example of the media's groupthink on Beck, Tea Parties, and the conservative movement in general. Virtually every major “mainstream” media outlet has used the phrase in just the past year to describe conservative events.
But even as the media criticize Tea Party and other conservative rallies for an apparent lack of diversity, they struggle to bring minority voices into their own operations.
All three broadcast networks have described the Tea Parties as “overwhelmingly white.” So have CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the Agence France Presse, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, National Journal and US News & World Report. Many of those organizations are the very ones the news industry discusses as having failed to make diversity goals for staff.
Here are a few examples.
“The crowds turning out for the Tea Party Express rallies are overwhelmingly white.”
– Ed Lavandera, CNN “American Morning” March 31, 2010.
“The crowd is still overwhelmingly white.”
– Jessica Yellin, CNN's “Anderson Cooper 360” April 15, 2010.
“The crowd that greeted Palin did nothing to contradict the common description of Tea Party supporters as overwhelmingly white and mostly older.”
– Ina Jaffe, NPR “Weekend Edition Sunday” March 28, 2010.
“They are overwhelmingly white and Anglo …”
– USA Today July 2, 2010.
That doesn't take into account other ways to say the same thing. In coverage of Beck's rally, some outlets opted for the less aggressive “predominantly white” label, while others described the crowd as “nearly all-white.”
As Brad Wilmouth reported on NewsBusters, ABC's Tahman Bradley called the crowd “almost all white,” and suggested that presence of Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, Dr. Alveda King, as a speaker was “an obvious effort to try to show inclusion.”
The charge leveled at conservative demonstrators is especially ironic given the accusers. The media are notoriously “overwhelmingly white.” The American Society of Newspaper Editors reported in April 2010 that minorities total only 13.26 percent of newsroom staff, a decline from the previous year. The report found 465 newspapers have no minorities on their full-time staffs, a number that “has been growing since 2006.”
The organization launched a program in 1978 that “challenged the newspaper industry to achieve racial parity by 2000 or sooner.” It failed. That goal has since been moved to 2025 because, “Over three decades, the annual survey has shown that while there has been progress, the racial diversity of newsrooms does not come close to the fast-growing diversity in the U.S. population as a whole.”
Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander in March reported on internal criticism of the newspaper's diversity. “All told, journalists of color comprise about 24 percent of the newsroom, comfortably above the ASNE census average of roughly 13 percent in recent years.” However, he added, “Minorities are 43 percent of The Post's circulation area, and a large part of the region is edging toward 'majority minority' status.” So how has the diversity-challenge Post handled the Tea Party?
“But, [Tea Party rally attendee Jeff Link] says, looking at the crowd, which is overwhelmingly white and middle-aged, 'it saddens me not to see this gathering more diverse.'” - Feb. 6, 2010.
“The new poll offers a portrait of tea party supporters as overwhelmingly white, mostly conservative and generally disapproving of Obama.” - Feb. 11, 2010
“They are overwhelming white (94 percent) and conservative (73 percent).”- April 2, 2010
“Tea Party activists, like Perot voters, are overwhelmingly white.” - April 18, 2010
The New York Times reported in January that minority journalists appear to be suffering the most from newsroom cutbacks. But the report on journalism's diversity issues wasn't nearly as smug as a Feb. 16 report about Tea Parties:
“Gazing out at his overwhelmingly white audience, Mr. Mack felt the need to say, 'This meeting is not racist.'”
Newspapers aren't alone. The third annual Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census found that “persons of color” only make up 12.6 percent of staff in TV newsrooms. A 2007 survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association found that minorities make up 21.5 percent of the television news workforce – higher than print but still short of the 34.5 percent of the population. Only 10.2 percent of broadcast news directors are minorities.
But that didn't stop broadcast outlets from pointing the finger at conservatives.
“Do you have any concerns when you look out at the crowds and they're mostly, well, overwhelmingly white people?”
– Terry Moran, ABC “Nightline” Nov. 2, 2009.
“You know, one thing to keep in mind about the Tea Party is that it is an overwhelmingly white movement.”
– Ron Brownstein, NBC “Meet the Press” April 18, 2010.
The long-running discussion over how to include more minorities in the news media, from introspective articles to industry-insider analysis and advice, seems to have produced less-than-impressive results. Maybe members of the media should recall the old adage about glass houses.