Recap of Race & The Fourth Estate on the Open Mind

Recap of Race & The Fourth Estate on the Open Mind

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Alexander Heffner interviews Eric Deggans, TV Critic for National Public Radio (NPR) and author of Race Baiter. From Hurricane Katrina to Travyon Martin to the racist comments made by Donald Sterling, Deggans covers the intersection of race and media in the hot topics of today. Deggans tackles race in the media in his book, Race Baiter. Race baiting, is defined as “once the practice of unfairly targeted racism against minorities has become recast impute those those who unfairly raise discussions of racism in the public square” (Deggans, 2014, 1:30). Deggans also discusses how the media continues to unfairly perpetuate stereotypes seen in “Birth of a Nation”.


The first question that Heffner asks Deggans is why the media perpetuates stereotypes and why the audiences have permitted racism. Deggans (2014) starts by discussing Fox News. Deggans states that Fox News doesn’t explicitly say “we are a white channel”, but if you explore how they address race based discussions, you will see that the primarily reflect the ideas of the white, middle American Republican. Deggans says that when one observes how Fox News reported on the Donald Sterling issue or Trayvon Martin case, one will see that Fox News not only reflects certain ideals, but they also pass along damaging stereotypes One example of this is how Glenn Beck stated on his show that Barack Obama is racist.


Heffner asks Deggans if this example represents Fox News as displaying racism, bigoted perspective, prejudice or bias. Deggans (2014) states that there is an inaccurate idea that institutional racism no longer exists. He cites several different incidences on Fox News of racism. The two that Deggans specifically mentioned include, on Glenn Beck’s Fox and Friends show, he said that Barack Obama is racist. Secondly, Eric Bowling, co-host of Fox News Channel’s early evening talk show The Five, criticized a black female legislator by calling her Whitney Houston with a crack pipe. Deggans states that these are both examples of racism, as they are race-based prejudices. Deggans also says that racism is the practice of putting the one race over another and pretending you aren’t doing it


Deggans (2014) also states that the working class and middle class white people are being trained to turn a blind eye to issues that affect them too. For example, white people are told the untrue story that affirmative action only affects African Americans. When evaluating who is benefitting from these Affirmative Action programs, one will see that Military Veterans of all races, women/mothers and people of color all benefit, in that order. The view that affirmative action only affects minority races is pretentious and distracts them from institutional racism.


Roger Ailes is the president of Fox News Channel, and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group. To evaluate why Fox News has the bias that they have, one should look at the history of the man Roger Ailes. Ailes consulted with Nixon in the 1960s and worked with Bush. Roger Ailes learned to talk about things that politicians talked about in television. Nixon used a “southern strategy”, which is the strategy that Nixon used with southerners. Southerners were upset with civil rights act and laws, so Nixon went on television and said that he was in support of their viewpoint. Roger Ailes learned from that lesson and talked about race and prejudice in a way that made white people feel good. Ailes built this into the marrow of Fox News. The ultimate goal of Fox News is to reflect goals of their viewer. Deegans evaluated the Fox News audience and found that the average age for their viewer is in their late 60s and half their viewers are over 70. Their viewers are politically conservative, male and white. When it comes to race, Fox News wants to reinforce the tory that people want something for nothing, and they want to tell their viewers “you are having a hard time too and you are just as likely to be discriminated against….this is proof of how this is true.” (2014, 7:45).


Deggans (2014) studied both unscripted and scripted television. Look at the conflict between MSNBC and Fox News. This is an example of two news outlets pitted against each other and ask and you have to ask which one can you trust. You can to evaluate how race works in each of their contexts. But the most important thing to keep in mind is 90 percent of what happens in media is about how someone makes money or loses money (2014, 9:44). Deggans says that we must understand our media and understand ourselves. When Glenn Beck says Obama is racist, we must understand the economic imperative.


Heffner (2014) states that Fox News states that they are experiencing reverse racism. Deggans (2014) states that this is a common tactic, as Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh all say that they have a movement against them.


Deggans (2014) says that to put an end to contemporary race baiting, it will require us to have media literacy. Deggans says that social media takes the power from gatekeeper and gives power to the front line. If you see something on television you don’t like, you can go on Twitter, make a hashtag and it can become so big that the television industry can’t ignore it.


Deggans (2014) speaks about an instance in which this occurred with him, when he was watching Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Deggans tweeted a question, “I love CBS This Morning , but couldn’t you end a segment on Mandela’s funeral with real African music instead of Toto’s Africa.” (Twitter, Dec, 10, 2013). By the end of the day, both Huffington Post and Slate wrote about it. Toto then released a statement saying they wish they chose a different song. Deggans states that it’s all about putting an idea out there that’s an offhanded comment, then next thing you know the world gets a hold of it and CBS can’t ignore it.


Another example of how race is changing in the media is in the scripted television arena. Both ABC and Fox cast their shows with black women for this fall’s season. There are three shows created, run and scripted by black woman. Two of them star a black woman as the lead. Shonda Rhymes is an African-American screenwriter who wrote. Scandel. Before Scandel, there was not a show that starred a black woman in 30 years. Scripted television has helped television producers realize that they can make more money if they put shows on that reflect America.


Media literacy is important so the audience uses their power to demand that these changes happen. People should use new media to ensure race relations are fair.


When Heffner asks about the concept of citizen journalist, Deggans (2014) an responds that race and prejudice aren’t topics for a citizen journalist, as one has to know how to navigate these topics. A citizen journalist not the best to pursue these issues, as they can’t sift through this stuff to make a difference.


Deggans (2014) also feels that the news should talk about race every day. Just as they mention the DOW everyday, whether it’s good or bad, they always talk about it. They should talk about race and poverty when there isn’t an issue. They should do this without a calamity. For example, with the Travyon Martin case, there is too much charge to discuss this situation fairly. Many feel that black kids aren’t safe when minding their own business walking in public. Deggans says that when we’re thinking about that, too hard not to be biased. We can’t have a dialogue when we’re worried about issues, like Trayvon Martin, as it’s too polarizing.


Deggans (2014) also says that we shouldn’t reinforce these tropes about black criminality or the spicy Latina. It’s easy to put up something that people automatically recognize when its shorthand, but when you do that, you encourage these stereotypes. It’s also discouraging when you look at cable news, such as Fox News, as you don’t see anchors of color. If more people of color, women and LGBT individuals were represented when story comes up, the audience may experience it in a different way. We need a diversity of people representing these issues.


Deggans (2014) says that we need to develop a wide spectrum of trusted sources. We need to understand how everyone is covering them. Deggans is a self-defined NPR geek, as he says they try hard to get diversity right. He also feels that BBC does a good job. Deggans uses Twitter as clearing house for news sources. He also feels that Huffington Post, Black Voices do a good job exploring those issues, but no one get it right on first blush, even a respected reporter.


One example that Deggans (2014) gives is of Jill Abramsom, executive editor of Times. When she was fired, many speculated it was perhaps because she spoke up about a pay disparity. This brought up the question, can women express themselves in the workplace? However, after many sources reported, it became clear that pay disparity was just a side issue. One should consult a wide variety of sources to make full picture.


To get a full picture ask what other people saying about the topic. What are others reporting? Is New York Times reporting on the issue? What are facts? Richard Prince, a journalist who works out of D.C., writes for a platform called Journal-isms, does a lot of work on journalism, race and social issues in America media. This is one of Deggans trusted sources. Over time you develop a list of trusted sources.


Deggans states that having only one source is an old school thought. He also uses the Spiderman phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility, “Media outlets track what they are watching and the chatter. We have a lot of power, now we need to exercise responsibility.


When evaluating why the media reports on issues, we must harken back to the bottom line. Companies look at the bottom line. They ask where is future going. They also ask if what is being reported will affect finances of the company. It’s always been about how one can affect money making of the entity. If one can make the outlet hurt financially, then they can see results..


An example of this is when Glenn Beck called Obama racist. This statement caused viewers to go after his advertisers. It was successful enough to hurt the show. In conjunction with the loss of sponsors, Fox News had conflict over how Beck fit into their overall strategy and brand and how much autonomy he was allowed to have as a brand. Viewers were successful in taking this show off the air because they were able to affect his sponsors AND cause question over how Beck fit into their brand. Glenn Beck went off to find his own studio.


I am also posting a video to recap the three key points of this video. The three most important thoughts include:

  1. 90 percent of what happens in media is about how someone makes money or loses money (2014, 9:44).
  2. To put an end to contemporary race baiting, it will require us to have media literacy.
  3. Develop a wide spectrum of trusted sources, as having only one source is an old school thought.


Look for your discussion questions in a separate post.



Eric Deggans [Interviewee] & Heffner, A. [Interviewer]. (2014, July 26). Race & The Fourth Estate. [PBS Video] The Open Mind. Retrieved from

Deggans, E. [Eric Deggans at NPR]. (2013, Dec. 10) [Tweet] Retrieved from






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