Was it Bill Clinton who first coined the concept, “a government that looks like the American people?” Google claims it doesn’t know, but you can bet it was some Democrat, since that’s the party that courts participation by racial and ethnic minorities and women, while the Republicans have almost always been the party of governments that look like the membership at American country clubs.
I’ve liked the conceit because I believe that American governments govern best when they do represent the most elements of our uniquely diverse society. The more elemental voices at the table, the more likely, I believe, the discussion will reflect our collective national interests, and the policies will spread benefits most widely across our population.
At some level, I’ll admit, this is hooey…what I like to call “face-ism,” the assumption that the beauty of a person’s face or physical bearing or the color of their skin or their gender is a better indicator of worth than less visible ambition, integrity or character. Presenting a perfect image of Blackness or Whiteness, manliness or femininity is no guarantee of personal authenticity, much less of governing capability.
But writ large, these surface signs do provide deep insights. The White maleness of the Trump Administration is certainly reflected in its policies. It looks and acts like the short-term and self-interest-obsessed CEOs and Boards of Directors of America’s most rapacious corporations. Would it govern better with a few Black people more attuned to that community’s needs than Dr. Ben Carson? Could it stand a few more women whose experiences better mirror those of most women than the billionaire heiress and fundamentalist religious fanatic Betsy DeVos? How about an Attorney General whose brain and social circle are less constricted than Jeff Sessions’, who doesn’t know one “good person” who smokes marijuana?
But even more than government, an institution that functions best when it most resembles the people to whom and on whom it reports is the news media. America’s newsrooms, I believe, should look like America.
My profession is making progress. It certainly better reflects both the ethnic and gender make-up of the population at large than it did when I first joined the trade in 1959, but only a little. Over those close to 60 years in which the percentage of America’s racial, ethnic and national minorities has grown dramatically, the news business, particularly the broadcast news business, has not kept up.
Bob Papper is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at Hofstra University. He retired from full time work at Hofstra in 2013. He’s also Professor Emeritus at Ball State University, from which he retired in 2007.
For 23 years, including the upcoming 2016-2017 survey period, Papper has overseen the RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey on the state of local radio and television news, and he continues to do that — even in semi-retirement. He also conducts Future of News studies for the RTDNF; he originated the Middletown Media Studies (which morphed into the Video Consumer Mapping Study funded by The Nielsen Company), and is co-editor of Electronic News, the official journal of the Electronic News Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
Papper’s Broadcast News & Writing Stylebook is going into its 6th edition with Routledge/Taylor & Francis, and he’s won more than a hundred state, regional and national awards, including four regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and a DuPont-Columbia for “Excellence in Broadcast Journalism.”
He’s worked at television stations in Minneapolis, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Columbus, OH.