The multiple sides of media

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. America has seen their names on protest signs and their faces flash across TV platforms and social media.

Tragedy is tragedy. So why have stories about police brutality only surfaced within the last couple of years — really in the last six months? Could it be that systemic racism is a recent issue? Nothing could be further from the truth.  Different voices in the media tend to focus on one side of the story, whether Fox pulls for the right wing or CNN for the left.  These voices swoop down on shocking stories and carve them to fit the mold of the current hot-button topic. With that, people who tell stories on various platforms — journalists, reporters, and writers — have a deep responsibility to narrate what is fair, not what is fashionable.

Today’s buzzwords may disappear tomorrow, but true conversations about justice cannot only exist for a moment.”

An important example of media framing a situation is that of 9/11. This month, we remembered the precious lives who were lost on Sept. 11, 2001; the deep injustice of that day is indelible. When we say, “Never forget,” we need to mean it, but we also need to be cognizant of the hatred and prejudice that rained down on the Muslim-American community after that tragedy. The effects of unpardonable hate crimes, marginalization, and explicit bias towards them linger to this day. Bryan Stevenson, a notable social justice activist, once said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” If this statement is true for the individual, it necessarily follows that it is true for a group of individuals, too. One must not attribute the deplorable actions of an extremist few to that whole community. Much of the media’s reporting contributed to Islamophobia and a toxic perspective that still runs deep almost 20 years later.

The same goes for the controversies we face in 2020. It is imperative to stop making blanket statements, regardless of the target group. Today’s buzzwords may disappear tomorrow, but true conversations about justice cannot only exist for a moment. One day, Ahmaud, Breonna, and George won’t be household names; their stories will go into the archives of history, along with Emmett Till’s and Marion King’s. It is up to us — citizens, readers, humans — to vow that, once the media turns its attention away, we will still remember. 

Let the newsmakers of this generation respect the lives of those who experienced personal tragedy and inequity. We can display this respect by leaving their stories intact. We don’t conform their experiences to our personal agendas. The reporters and journalists in this culture have a mandate to not necessarily endorse, but deeply respect all viewers and all sides of their stories.