*Not only did some media outlets jump the gun when wrongly reporting police had a suspect in custody in the Boston Marathon bombings that that left three people dead and hundreds injured, CNN reporter John King (pictured above) stirred up a racial hornet’s nest. In his reporting, he described the suspect as being a “dark skinned male.”
During his rush to get the story out, that was later proven to be false, King said, “I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.”
Eyebrows rose about the CNN newsman providing that bit of information. Respected veteran journalist, Gwen Ifill saw fit to post a somewhat scathing tweet about the matter. The moderator and managing editor of PBS’ “Washington Week” wrote- “Disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect only as “a dark-skinned individual.”
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) also showed its disdain for King’s choice of words. A statement from the organization of journalists, students and media-related professionals, read in part: “This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest’s identity.”
The NABJ made it clear it was not trying to put a muzzle on news departments.
“The NABJ in no way encourages censorship but does encourage news organizations to be responsible when reporting about race, to report on race only when relevant and a vital part of a story.” The group wrote in their statement. “Ultimately this helps to avoid mischaracterizations which might encourage potential bias or discrimination against a person or a group of people based on race or ethnicity.”
Also weighing in on the turn of events is columnist Richard Prince. He believes one reason for newsroom debacles concerning race is not enough people of color in newsrooms in key supervisory positions because of layoffs, among other things. But he also states the obvious.
“There’s a tendency to try to, from many media outlets, to go where the money is. The news business is first of all a business and you have to appeal to people who will appeal to advertisers who will spend the dollars to reach those folks. There’s a disproportionate number of people of color who are poor and who advertisers are not all that eager to reach. A lot of news organizations feel if they’re going to deploy people, they’re going to deploy people in the suburbs where high tone retailers are likely to advertise.”
Prince has been writing a column about the media, “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms,” on the website of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education for 11 years. He believes the faux pas by King can be a teachable moment.
“The whole issue of racial identification of suspects is a continuing one. I’ve been writing about this for many years. In Syracuse, New York, the managing editor there named Tim Bunn (retired from The Post-Standard) came out with some guidelines for his paper in which he said it’s not enough just to say Black because Black people come in all complexions. So, what he’s really saying he advocated talking about the skin tone and facial hair and much detail as you have if you must identify suspects.”
Prince, b y the way, was among six legendary journalists inducted into the 2013 NABJ Hall of Fame, the organization’s highest honor.
Reach Tene’ Croom at [email protected]