Home Opinion Opinion: With Black Lives Matter coverage, civil rights transcend politics

Opinion: With Black Lives Matter coverage, civil rights transcend politics

6 min read

On July 7, a shooting disrupted a peaceful protest organized by Black Lives Matter in Dallas to oppose the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Five police officers died. As the media converged, journalists rehashed commentary on the group, but with great discrepancy.

The New York Times wrote that it was a “scattered and still-young civil rights movement” and that it was “supported by many liberals,” while Fox News ran a banner on-screen referring to the group as a “murder movement.”

When journalists write, they make thematic choices for word usage and story structure. The way they identify people and actions has an effect on the message conveyed and the reaction from readers. Every phrase and sentence has its own connotations. Eliminating subjectivity is impossible. So how does one approach Black Lives Matter?  

Audiences demand objectivity from journalists, especially in political reporting. One can argue that the most important role of journalism is to maintain a watchdog role in politics. In a world of corruption, high-stakes endorsements and constant political controversy, this role becomes more pronounced.

So where do reporters draw the line between remaining unbiased and providing a voice for the voiceless? Is it not ethical to support equality and justice when a journalist sees our current system threaten those American values? In the case of Black Lives Matter, I would argue that journalists can maintain credibility and objectivity while supporting a cause that, in its own words, is “collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people, and by extension all people.”

Claims that Black Lives Matter supports prejudice against other racial groups are untrue. The statement “xxx matters” does not equal “xyz doesn’t matter.” Reading the guiding principles of the organization proves its dedication to harmony, not violence. And while the media brands the movement as a liberal one, it’s still nonpartisan. On August 9, 2015, Black Lives Matter released a statement on its website that claims it does not endorse any political candidates or campaigns, and that it is not funded, driven or influenced by any politicians or political parties.

“As stated in our mission, #BlackLivesMatter is an ideological and political intervention; we are not controlled by the same political machine we are attempting to hold accountable. In the year leading up to the elections, we are committed to holding all candidates for Office accountable to the needs and dreams of Black people. We embrace a diversity of tactics,” the statement reads.

There is no realistic question about whether racism persists in our society. It does, and anyone who argues otherwise has yet to present valid evidence. Journalism is by nature meant to expose the truth, so why waste words on free press for bigots?

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which is widely considered to be a universal standard of reporting excellence, asks journalists to minimize harm and to treat members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. To say that Black Lives Matter is to validate black lives, something that Americans have never had to do for white ones.

Furthermore, the code asks journalists to consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. What use is the journalist who claims to work for the people, but refuses to identify racism? Whose agenda is being serving at that point, if not the entities that profit from vulnerable communities?

There are reasons why political journalists don’t endorse candidates or declare a party. The issues covered by one candidate or one party have too many sides that all deserve fair coverage, but racial justice isn’t one of them. Civil rights are not a question. They are a necessity. And every citizen has the responsibility to uphold them, journalist or not.


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One Comment

  1. Karen Drake

    July 27, 2016 at 3:34 PM

    Kat Tenbarge wrote another good artical..
    Karen Drake


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