The Whitest News You Know

© Lisa Larson-Walker

A far more profound conception of white supremacy and how the mainstream press has always been complicit in its upkeep

The Baffler
"Feints at racial integration and cultural reinvention wafted in and then out of the nation’s newsrooms over the past half-century."

... The Caucasian Broadcasting Circle

Lest anyone think of the nineteenth century press’s sorry record of flagrant racism and jingosim as strictly throwback fare, consigned to the grainy newsreels of our national memory, consider the track record of the mainstream press in the first years of the Trump era. Just weeks before the midterm balloting, the AP tweeted out to its Twitter followers a headline that described a “ragged, growing army of migrants” marching toward the southern border of the United States. Such language might as well have been cribbed from The Camp of the Saints, the fantastically racist novel about hordes of brown people storming Western civilization made famous by alt-right godfather Steve Bannon.

White supremacist content has proven out as a bona fide viral marketing strategy.

AP’s social media team quickly retracted the phrasing when a wave of protest followed, but examples of media organizations using white nationalist framing abound since 2016: NBC’s kid gloves interview with the head of Identity Evropa; a report in the Washington Post after the Pittsburgh massacre that let a prominent neo-Nazi lament the attack because the dead Jews weren’t wealthy enough; a normalizing profile of a neo-Nazi in the New York Times; a head-spinningly sympathetic piece in The Oregonian featuring a man who has repeatedly invited armed neo-Nazis to stomp around Portland; and so on.

These stories don’t always come in such obvious packaging—consider editors’ tendency to euphemize instances of overt racism as “racially charged/tinged”—or by characterizing overt shows of race-baiting rhetoric as “stumbles,” as the New York Times did in reference to the many racist provocations of Trumpist GOP nominee and newly elected Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Even though such pieces and headlines at least reliably spark a measure of popular outrage when they’re published, we still lack a rigorous analysis that explains why they keep showing up, again and again. Just what is it about the U.S. press that makes this kind of thing systemic?

The answer is depressingly clear to anyone delving into the history of the question: support for a white ethnostate has been the default worldview of the American press. The feints at racial integration and cultural reinvention that wafted in and then out of the nation’s newsrooms over the past half-century were too fleeting and anemic to mount any sort of meaningful challenge to the plague of white nationalist framing that mars today’s Trumpified press corps. More than 77 percent of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white, compared to 65 percent of U.S. workers overall; almost all the writers of the aforementioned stories were white.

Could bringing on more media professionals of color help the media rise to the challenge of white nationalism? To some extent, sure—but simple representation doesn’t address all the structural forces that make white supremacy such a profitable narrative frame in the first place. We lack studies that show how, or whether, media revenue drops off when content isn’t specifically geared for a white, middle-class audience.

For the largest media organizations, white nationalist framing is quickly becoming the path of least resistance—especially when it comes to reporting on borders and immigration. A global wave of neofascism is producing an entire class of professional “threat entrepreneurs” who can engineer and manipulate public perception of refugees for political gain, and so far the media is going along for the ride. (This is why, to cite another example, Axios political reporter Jonathan Swan erroneously touted Trump’s demented idea to issue an executive order to rescind the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship as a fait accompli—he was serving as the obsequious channel for another bid by the president to goose up white support for an anti-immigrant agenda ahead of the midterms) ...
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