The legendary counselor to power Walter Lippman once explained the role of the popular press in what he considered to be their essential function, the manufacturing of consent. He said that public opinions, “must be organized for the press… not by the press…” The mainstream press is not here to assist in the expansion of ideas or methods of interpretation, it is not here to offer challenges to popular or conventional wisdom. It is, as C. Wright Mills once said, here to assure that common sense be “more common than sense.” All of this came to mind again this week as we heard of more concern that in light of the pending Comcast merger with NBC that its standard-bearing flagship news program Meet the Press was still lagging woefully behind in the diversity of its on-air guest experts.
This development of a national common sense anchored by manufactured public opinion has always required a carefully manicured Black image that just as often meant an omission of Black thought – hence the name of The Roots front man. An absence of Black thought in mainstream media is nothing new and we also know that genuine diversity goes far beyond gender or skin color. True diversity is only found in ideology or politics. However, if Blackness is to be omitted in general than certainly Black progressive or radicalism stands no chance. But a focus on the mainstream alone is a bit too easy and lets off the hook entirely those who should be more of an ally to the causes of Black progressive politics. If the flagship of the mainstream suffers from an absence of diversity what of the flagship of those who sit ostensibly in critical adjacency to that dominant norm?
Democracy Now! is easily that progressive Left flagship multimedia daily news program. It, over the last decade, has solidified itself as the premier progressive alternative to the mainstream. But when we adjust our study for a focus on the presence of African American guest analyst experts we see that when it comes to diversity they too often parody the mainstream. The National Urban League 2006 study, Sunday Morning Apartheid, concluded that 74% of Meet the Press broadcasts contained no Black guests. From January 2009 to January 2010 Democracy Now! has aired 261 shows, that is, one show every week day. Of these shows 88% had no African American guests.* As it pertains to Black America the leading progressive news program is actually worse than the leading mainstream news program.
At least two points, however, must be included. One, of the Black guests invited to Democracy Now! versus Meet the Press there is a decidedly left-leaning and important difference. The politics represented by those invited to Democracy Now! would never manage their way on to Meet the Press or any other mainstream media outlet. Secondly, the overall diversity of Democracy Now!, their representation of other so-called “minorities” can easily be said to far out-pace that of all the mainstream. The broad range of worldly views incorporated into their programming is impressive and important. However, it remains, that even with far more broadcasts per week than the weekly shows considered by the Urban League report, the representation of Black perspectives is equally absent.
* The methodology employed here was simply visiting the online archives of Democracy Now! and counting Black guests. Of the 261 shows only 30 had Black American guests or 11.5%