News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The right says media is biased -- and I agree

The U.S. right is adamant in claiming a leftward bias in the mainstream media. But if you examine the racial presumptions inherent in much of the old media’s reporting, you’ll find a bias that more closely matches the nativist leanings of the far right.

A recent article from that bastion of the mainstream media the New York Times illustrates my point.

“Among Nation’s Youngest, Analysis Finds Fewer Whites” examines elementary and pre-school enrollments by racial category and concludes that “white” children are now less than a majority of students.  

Inherent is this report is the assumption that the United States is divided into four races: White, Black, Asian and Hispanic. But when we examine each of these categories, their absurdity becomes obvious.

White: People with similar phenotypes with origins from a vast number of countries speaking different languages

Hispanic: People with a vast variety of phenotypes with origins from Spanish-speaking countries 

Asian: People with similar phenotypes from nations speaking different languages  -- except for those from India who have completely different phenotypes but are still included as Asian.

Black: Anyone who has a single ancestor of Sub-Saharan African descent, regardless of any other ancestry -- except when the ancestor is from a Spanish-speaking nation, which then makes them Hispanic.

Reporting based on these racial assumptions is not only inaccurate, it also stirs irrational fears. And it is inherently racist.

At one time, Jews, Irish, Italians and even Germans were considered "non-white" in North America. Today, all these groups have lost their outsider status and have been transformed into "whites". Rather than report on scientific data which shows most racial differences are illusory social constructs, the mainstream media fuels commonly held misconceptions by dividing people into these arbitrary groups.

All of us fear change. Moreover, the idea of “race” evokes powerful feelings. When you consider that the mainstream media continually churns out reports like these, it’s little wonder the U.S. has seen a surge of nativism and supremacist hate groups. Support for the Tea Party and for divisive laws like Arizona’s controversial SB1070 is in large part fed by mainstream media reporting that is inherently racist.

Do I believe the editors and reporters at the New York Times are closet Nazis? I'll leave that kind of nuttiness to the birther wing of the GOP. However, I do believe the staffers at most mainstream media sources have a huge blind spot when it comes to reporting on race. They are steeped in a mindset that divides the nation into arbitrary groups with little basis in fact.

So when the right claims the mainstream media is biased, I must reluctantly agree. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez


Adrian said...


Thanks for this follow up to the NYT article. I wholeheartedly agree with your points. As we both know, having similar backgrounds in Advertising and Marketing, writing sells. These "journalists" are today just ad interns for the sales dept. Precious little of what, in our day, defined journalism can be found in news reporting.

Racial specialization is absurd and in our country lacks consistency even within a lifespan. On my birth certificate, as well as each of my children, race is listed as Caucasian. It was the same on my older siblings' certificates. Whatever.

In the end it doesn't matter. It probably does matter to some people who dwell on such things as race. And a specialist by interest on race would be called a racist. Now a journalistic specialist on race...

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...


Your comment brought to mind a phrase widely used in web circles: "content".

As the name implies, it is filler for the real objective of most websites, which is to sell you something.

As you point out, most reporting these days is essentially "content".

All the same, we need to call out the media for breeding misconceptions whether from ignorance, laziness or both.

julito77 said...

Hermano, it drives me crazy that the Times puts Hispanic as a race. We are a mixture of races. Simple as that. Great post.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Julio, this whole thing about putting people in boxes is something we will outgrow some day. Along with the Times, the AP is another culprit of treating Hispanic as a racial category.

I recommend THE HISTORY OF WHITE PEOPLE by Nell Painter, who is African American by the way. She illustrates how arbitrary the concept of using "white" as a racial category really is and how it has evolved over time.