Sunday, November 15, 2015

Growing Distrust in the Media As Shown Through the History of Social Movements

David Haddad

The Missouri University community has been rocked by a series of race-related incidents and the subsequent backlash. After a laundry list of usurpations directed against African-American students occurred this year, including the Student Government President being called the “n-word” from a moving pickup truck and another student drawing a swastika on a resident hall bathroom in his own feces, a series of student protests have broken out. The response has been swift. One student went on a very public hunger strike until the President of the university stepped down. The football team refused to play until the same goal was reached. Tension seems to be coming to a head in Mizzou.
On Monday, November 9, the student group Concerned Student 1950 held a protest on campus that drew large crowds. When a student journalist on an assignment for ESPN went to take pictures of the protestor’s tents, he was met with heavy resistance from the protestors, who physically restrained him from taking pictures. The video of this altercation went viral, as the assistant professor of mass media at Missouri, Melissa Click, was plainly seen in the video asking for help moving the photographer. She issued an apology recently in response to the backlash.

An interesting question arises from this situation: when did huge social movements begin spurning the media? Don’t these movements need media coverage to get their message out and raise awareness? This Missouri situation brings to mind Birmingham campaign of the Civil Rights movement when, on May 3, 1963, city Safety Commissioner Bull Connor unleashed the police dogs and the fire hoses on protestors. It was the openly welcomed media coverage of the event that drew significant public attention to the poor treatment of southern Blacks and the cause of the Civil Rights Movement. This event and its subsequent media coverage are cited as important catalysts in the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The media has a long record of helping the proliferation of a civil rights cause. Why, then, would the Concerned Student 1950 reject the media in the way they have, putting up signs that say “No Media: Safe Space”?  
Have we perhaps reached the point where the media has lost the trust of the African-American community? Said Catherine Squires in a New York Times article; “It is hard to trust an institution that ignores your history save for one month out of the year. It is hard to trust an institution that seems to give you two choices: thug or saint... Given these patterns and incidents, why would young black people want to trust the mainstream news media with stories about their lives?”

Squires brings up a valid point. In 1963, the media wasn’t necessarily very favorable toward the people of color in general, but they also weren’t expected to be. In 2015, the media is expected to be very sensitive and sympathetic toward the plight of minority groups to the point where it is noticed when they are not. That is why Concerned Student 1950 was not too welcoming of the press.

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