Criticism of Baltimore Media Coverage

Published: 5 May 2015

Country: US

CNN_Coverage_of_Baltimore_ProtestsSome media coverage of the Baltimore protests after 25-year-old Freddy Gray died in police custody in April was described by many as racist, biased and dehumanizing. The US President Obama, actor Morgan Freeman, and TV host John Oliver are just some of the many who criticized the way media reported on the events in Baltimore. The fact that, not so long ago, most of the US media were characterized as racist for their coverage of the protests in Ferguson following the death of another unarmed black man at the hands of the police, illustrates how deep and systematic the problem is. It is not only that some of the US media reflect racism in American society, especially in some areas and urban communities, but as suggested by the New Yorker in its May issue, the problem could be traced back to an even deeper and wider cause – to segregation, inequality, poverty and education.

Media could have been a solution offering more accurate, unbiased and non-stereotypical reporting. But some of the leading mainstream media repeated the pattern of accusations and stigmatisation of African-Americans instead.

Al Jazeera reported that “it would be difficult to find a more vivid example of disconnect between journalism and the American mainstream media, and the citizens they supposed to cover and inform”. On the day the protests in Baltimore erupted, all major TV networks covered the White House Correspondents’ gala dinner. The CNN network provided a live coverage while in the city of Baltimore there were unrest unfolding. “The fact that CNN decided to stay and focus on people laughing and telling jokes, speaks the volume of the state of the media in this country,” says The Intercept reporter Juan Thompson for AJ Listening Post. But Frank Sesno from the George Washington University disagrees. He thinks that media outlets shouldn’t be judged by the second-to-second coverage, but by the overall reporting. “In this particular case, CNN and other networks spent days and hours and hours covering Baltimore hearing from the residents and other sources.  I don’t think that CNN or any cable news organisation should be judged on second-to-second coverage put together. They need to be judged by overall totality and diversity of points of view they are bringing to the story.”

One of the problems in CNN’s and other American media’s coverage was sensationalism and their focusing on violence on the streets of Baltimore. In her post for AJ website the author and journalist Rachel Shabi explores ‘media tyranny of non-violence’ saying that “the violence never starts with protesters on the streets – that’s just the moment the cameras decide to start filming”.

“From the streets of England during its riots of 2011, or back to the anti-capitalists protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1999; the IMF in Prague and the G8 summit in Genoa; from the protests engulfing marginalised French suburbs, to Ferguson in the US, right across to the Palestinian struggle to be free from occupation – all these movements against inequality and injustice are bound by the media depiction of protest as suddenly, senselessly ‘violent’,” says Shabi.

There were more than few direct encounters between the journalists and TV anchors covering the events in Baltimore and protesters. In one of them, a young protestor, Danielle Williams, replied to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts: “My question to you is, when we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”

But is America finally listening? That is the real question for the online magazine the Root: “And we need a media landscape that presents fair, humanizing coverage of black people. Because despite what your favorite 24-hour news network might say, what we are witnessing is history in the making across this nation: Oppressed communities of color from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore are demanding that their voices be heard.”