A State legislative audit released earlier this year offered some options for strengthening the State’s four councils of color that advocate for Blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. Unfortunately, recent published reports and editorials in both Twin Cities daily newspapers focused narrowly on these groups’ alleged shortcomings and questioned whether they should continue to exist rather than clarifying the auditor’s actual intent, as the MSR’s reporting has disclosed.
Especially targeted by media criticism was the Council on Black Minnesotans (COBM). Newspaper articles hinting at financial mismanagement by its leadership questioned the point of continuing its State funding. Over the past two weeks, the COBM’s director has offered a passionate defense of the organization in the MSR not provided in other media outlets so quick to attack.
MSR Contributing Writer Isaac Peterson’s four-part series correctly reported the auditor’s actual findings and recommendations, which offered options not simply to eliminate the voices of these communities but to strengthen them and make them better — an intent that received little or no emphasis in other published reports. The auditor also made clear that much of the problem lies with the legislature itself and the governor’s office, which have often “crippled” the effectiveness of the councils.
Organizing Apprenticeship Project Interim Executive Director Vina Kay, in a March 30 commentary, strongly criticized a previous Strib editorial. Kay pointed out that the Minneapolis newspaper “perpetuates a misguided analysis” on both the auditor report and the four councils. She added that rather than challenging the councils’ existence, the newspaper should have demanded that the groups receive “consistent commitment and support from the [State] Legislature.”
The MSR agrees with Kay. We also believe that the hostile, mean-spirited reader comments on Kay’s views are encouraged and inflamed by the biased media coverage of this issue.
The Strib’s reporting fits a historical pattern in its coverage of Black-run organizations that seems eager to point out flaws and hint that those in charge are not capable of handling finances. A couple of years ago, the newspaper reported on a local charter school being investigated for alleged misuse of State funds. However, when it was later found that the school had been cleared of any financial mismanagement, and in fact State officials were held responsible for the problem, those findings did not receive the prominent headlines of the original reports that unfairly heightened community suspicions.
Do Strib and Pi Press reporters, their editors or both expect Black organizations and State-appointed councils of color to fail? Does their reporting have an overt or covert agenda that includes planting seeds of doubt in unsuspecting readers’ minds? Published reader comments on these stories clearly do not come from people well informed on the issues, but rather from those whose minds appear to be already made up and are simply reinforced by biased coverage.
“It’s important to know who is calling the shots, because that affects news coverage. These are the people [who] set the news agenda,” noted National Association of Black Journalists President Bob Butler, then the group’s vice-president, in a 2011 MSR article on biased news coverage. We believe this bias continues to pervade major media news coverage throughout Minnesota and is a significant factor in the persistence of racial disparities in our communities.
Whenever local mainstream print and electronic media focus heavily on a Black organization’s real or perceived dysfunction, and even go so far as to suggest eliminating the group in question, they need to be very sure they have made every possible effort to report the positive as well as the negative to avoid reinforcing the biased perceptions already all-too-prevalent among their readers.
Does the COBM have problems? Do the other three councils? No entity is perfect, and if they do have defects that need correcting, shouldn’t this be made public by reporting? Certainly, but organizations working on behalf of Blacks and other communities of color are also doing much good, and that deserves equal attention.
All media coverage of communities of color issues should be fairly reported whether positive or negative without any hidden agendas. When media outlets persistently choose to accentuate the negative, such coverage serves no one but the bigots out there.