By: Solomon Comissiong
The American mainstream (corporate) media is a paragon selective omission, and inaccuracy. The US corporate media is also one of the most anti-democratic forces rarely discussed. And when it comes to the depiction of black people, and their issues, the overwhelmingly white American corporate media ostensibly prides itself in stories with no context, inaccuracy, and stereotypical imagery.
It is necessary to expose ridiculous non-contextual corporate media creations such as the recent CNN special “Black in America II” (which I will a bit later). Corporate media in America is so bad that it is virtually impossible for most people to find a point of reference when it comes to comparing and contrasting “good” media from “bad” media. It has become an “art” to know exactly where to look in order to find solid, thought provoking, and independent media. However, once you find an actually solid and progressive media source it becomes rather easy to see how you have been duped for so many years.
It is utterly amazing how bad the US corporate media is despite the billions of dollars that are pumped into it each year. Beyond blatant inaccuracy and omission of key facts, the US media will often provide its audience with a wide array of fictitious stories, as well as racist & xenophobic imagery! However, at its core it is vastly anti-democratic. Plain and simple, one must have big money and big political clout (the two are inextricably connected in America) in order to control the airwaves you pay for. American taxpayer dollars go towards allowing the likes of the overtly white supremacist, and factually challenged, Fox News to operate. The fact that tax paying citizens of America own the radio and television airwaves makes this a fairly large swindle in “American” history. It’s not as big as when lazy criminal minded Europeans stole this country from its indigenous, but big nonetheless. Fact of the matter is; corporations have been co-opting the media since the advent of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934 even though its very inception was supposed to prevent the media from becoming entirely commercially based. And since big business is in bed with Capital Hill they are easily able to turn criminal acts into law and policy. This is, in essence, what commonly happens in Washington and is what happened, with regards to the media in 1996 with the Telecommunications Act. The Republican led congress and the Democratic white house (Bubba Clinton) ushered in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This paved the way for a significant decrease in radio ownership by so-called minorities and allowed large corporations to have unlimited access to various forms of media (e.g., radio stations). Local independent radio and television stations were killed off by the thousands. The telecommunications based capability for people of color to contextually report on stories that mattered to them, by way of radio & TV, significantly mitigated from community to community. The ability to use mediums, such as the radio, to accurately report and discuss significant issues that affect black people was drastically limited. As it stands now African-Americans own less than one percent of all full power TV stations and less than four percent of all radio stations. When you throw all people of color together they own less that five percent of TV stations and less than eight percent of radio stations. Those are pathetic and paltry numbers to say the least. Those are numbers that I am quite sure CNN’s “Black in America” will never report on in any kind of context. The reason why should be obvious. When people of color have little to no input on news and images that are relevant to their communities it is a perfect recipe for “disaster”. It, however, quite frankly, is a recipe that the white supremacist institutions in America love so very much. Reporting on black issues in a slanted, non-contextual and inaccurate light is one of the countless nefarious things American corporate media does best. This is precisely how there can be a CNN special entitled “Black in America”.
There are so many glaring issues with what now seems to be CNN’s annual series “Black in America” that I would like to discuss; I just don’t know where to begin. I guess I will begin with the fact that I actually watched it. I clearly was caught up in a masochistic moment. However, in my self-deprecating defense had it not been for this specific article I would not have wasted a few hours of my life watching that garbage. I sort of know how a movie critic must feel to sit through an awful B rate movie. Unfortunately for me I didn’t get paid to watch it. However, I guess I was drawn in by the same curiosity that sometimes kills the cat. Would CNN focus on the institutionally racist systems that have plagued African-Americans since being stolen and brought to this country by shiftless, murdering, thuggish Europeans? Would CNN focus on any blanketed solutions for the wretched conditions that most African-Americans subsist in? Do I really need to respond by saying no?
CNN’s “Black in America” was primarily sponsored by McDonalds, which happens to be indirectly responsible for the poor health and eventual death of scores of Americans, let alone African-Americans. Every other commercial break viewers were force fed a steady diet of Mickey D’s commercials showcasing adorable little black boys articulating to a cashier the numerous opportunities McDonalds will provide them. Not among those opportunities were high blood pressure, diabetes, and the consumption of fecal matter riddled ground “beef”. These commercials were laced with the slogan, “McDonalds is deeply rooted in the community”. If they meant deeply rooted with high cholesterol; then they were right. It was amazingly ironic that McDonalds was “Black in America’s” primary corporate sponsor given the fact that one segment focused on Jeffery Canada’s Harlem based School Zone and the steps they take to keep the youth that attend his school healthy. I guess when you are the American corporate media you can pretty much do whatever you want…the sheep will follow.
A couple of the features did contain some elements of raw emotion and pride. It’s hard to not route for sincere and dedicated brothers and sisters busting their butts to improve structurally racist conditions within their communities. If you love black people as the writer does it is difficult to watch a program like that and not be engrossed with a range of emotions. However, CNN’s blatant disregard for black people in America and the very root causes of the systematic oppression that they live under was infuriating. Even when it came to black South Africans they showed no regard for the racially unequal conditions they still live under, more than a decade after the end of Apartheid. When CNN’s cameras and their black person “expert” reporter, Soledad O’Brien followed a group of kids from Brooklyn to South Africa to do humanitarian work, they stayed as far away from the topic of the structurally white supremacist conditions they still live under. Soledad O’Brien stayed as far away from approaching any kind of dialogue, with the kids from Brooklyn, as to why their South African brothers and sisters were still living like that. She surely didn’t focus her camera crews on the very different neighborhoods of white South Africans or even discuss the fact that over 80 percent of South Africa’s arable land is still controlled by whites. Interestingly white South Africans make up about 10 percent of the overall population. You see, Soledad O’Brien and her CNN cronies would prefer to empress upon the black kids from Brooklyn that compared to black South Africans their living conditions weren’t half bad. The brilliance of this slick move is that it clearly moves deep contextual discussions of racial inequality and white supremacy as far away from their lens, and the viewers, as possible. Throughout their piece, the critical eye, could not help but notice how CNN was parading these kids around like pawns on a chessboard to display some white liberal illusion of a post racial society where one’s lack of ‘success’ is more predicated on individual effort than it is on any socially based institution of inequality. For instance, during her piece on Jeffery Canada’s Children’s Zone, she actually said that it was proof that poverty should be no barrier to success. We clearly know that black people in America have overcome some tremendous odds in the face of chattel slavery and continued white supremacy, however that does not mean that we should ever accept institutional racism. Black people do not need CNN to validate that we can overcome various barriers caused by racism or white supremacy. Black people need real justice and equality! African-Americans have produced tremendous scholars, among so many other things, in spite of institutional racism. However, knowing that we can overcome various institutionally based instances of racism does not ever mean that we should stop our fight against it until it is eviscerated. If African-Americans are to collectively overcome institutional inequality then racism and white supremacy, as institutions, need to be destroyed!
Accepting these institutions (racism & white supremacy) is exactly the inference that O’Brien’s statement, and the entire CNN special reeked of. Once again, there was no focus at all on the fact that those kids in Brooklyn and Harlem have incredibly disparate public school opportunities in contrast to their white counterparts at public schools. Even when CNN focused its camera’s on all of the fried food venues throughout black communities in NYC they never posed the question, why? Asking why those communities do not have more organic and healthy food venues/alternatives was purposely as far away from their limited radar as possible. However, we should all know that CNN would not dare place a serious focus on institutional racism because that would inadvertently shine a very bright light on their media outlet, as well as much of America. They are in fact, a part of the institution, whether some would like to admit it or not. I could go on and on about how repugnant CNN’s “Black in America” was (at least to me), but I wont. I would rather close on a much different note. However, it is very important for us to have a deep contextual understanding as to how America’s media system works. It is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous, duplicitous, and manipulative instruments the “empire” has at its disposal. Having a strong understanding of this system puts us at a much better advantage of further developing and sustaining our own media outlets.
Black people, and all people of color, must continue to place a serious, well organized effort toward creating more cooperative media institutions that we independently control ourselves. We can never rely on the corporate media to tell our stories and our issues within their proper context. Whether it is Fox News, CNN, MSNBC or any other corporate media outlets, they will always look out for their own interests as well as their corporate sponsors’ interests, before ours. This is something fundamental that we must understand. As Malcolm X said, “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Praising CNN and their piece “Black in America” is doing just that. CNN’s “Black in America” series was superficial, at best. It was, and is, a piece that white neo-liberals (and conservatives) loved and accepted because it fits within their mainstream ideals of what is acceptable when it comes to addressing their oppressive system.
American born Africans must try to build off of the examples and legacy of progressive black mediums such as David Walker’s Appeal, John Russwurm and Sam Cornish’s Freedom’s Journal, just to name a couple. There are so many powerful examples of strong progressive black media of the past and of the present. Black Agenda Report is an example of a contemporary one. Vox Union Media, The Final Call Newspaper, and the Uhurunews.com are a few others. Support media outlets that support your community. Support media that is holistically invested in your community and not just trying to get you to buy their corporate sponsor’s products. If one critically watches CNN’s “Black in America” it is easy to truly see who they are beholden to. There is much truth in the commercials that were riddled throughout the airing of that program. They clearly contradicted the very essence of some of the themes featured within that series. CNN very well understands that Black America’s tenuous ‘buying power’ is a more than 700 billion dollar a year “carrot” (much on credit) that they, and their corporate partners, would love to devour. Black America must continue to build, support and sustain strong and progressive media outlets that support the interests of our communities.
Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, public speaker and the host of the Your World News radio program (www.blogtalkradio.com/Your-World-News). He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.