Damaso Reyes, NY Amsterdam News - How can the American news media pay back for years of discrimination against African Americans?

Damaso Reyes, NY Amsterdam News
How can the American news media pay back for years of discrimination against African Americans?


The first continuously published newspaper in the United States of America, the Boston News-Letter, was also the first American paper involved in the slave trade.  Within a month of opening shop, publisher John Campbell was not only running ads for the sale of human beings, he was taking a regular cut for brokering the deals.

If that’s news to you — as it was to me — it’s time to ponder the American philosopher George Santayana’s warning: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Josephus Daniels, the mighty editor and publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer, the biggest newspaper in North Carolina was too late to be a flesh-peddler, but 35 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, in 1898, Daniels did promote a violent coup against the multi-racial government of the city of Wilmington. It’s the only successful use of force to overthrow a municipal government in American history.

Two important notes on Josephus Daniels: his white racism was rewarded. Years after the Wilmington coup, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson and Ambassador to Mexico by Franklin Roosevelt. And, he was considered to be a “progressive:” supporting public schools and public works, calling for more regulation of trusts and railroads. and supporting women’s suffrage,” as long as the vote was extended only to White women. Allowing Blacks to vote, he said was “the greatest folly and crime” in U.S. history.

Masters of the American media universe like Josephus Daniels earned this judgment from the Kerner Commission, set up after the 1968 riots set off by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King: that news Americans read, saw or listened to “reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.”

Finding it hard to recall what happened more than 50 years ago? Well, how about four years ago, when a study of the content of America’s big newschannels found bias and paternalism rampant. One example: when they ran stories of poverty, the chances were six out of 10, the focus would be on a Black family, when in fact, fewer than three in 10 of America’s poor families are African-American.  In this case condescending bias reinforces racist indifference.

If you won’t recognize the present, much less acknowledge its roots in the past, you project a future of continuing abuse.



Damaso Reyes is the founder of Clarify.Media and has been an independent journalist for more than 20 years.  He is the recipient of several awards and grants, including Arthur F. Burns and Holbrooke Fellowships from the International Center for Journalists; grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Solutions Journalism Network; and an Immigration Reporting Fellowship from the French American Foundation.

Reyes is a Media and Information Literacy expert as well as an independent journalist. He trains educators and journalists around the world to empower their students and audiences with the skills they need to be engaged digital citizens.

He has also been an independent storyteller for more than twenty years. He has worked for institutions and his work has appeared in publications including: The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Far Eastern Economic Review, New York magazine, Vanity Fair Germany, Der Spiegel and Time Asia. Previous assignments and projects have taken him to countries including Rwanda, Iraq, Indonesia, Tanzania and throughout the United States. His images are also featured in the monograph Black: A Celebration of a Culture and the book Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers go to War.







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