Local journalists of color on race, Obama and the media


Has race played a factor in media coverage of President Barack Obama? Three local journalists of color recently were asked their opinions.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press hasn’t “done that much focusing on the president’s race – he’s the president who happens to be Black,” claimed Political Editor Maria Reeve. “At first, I think the mainstream media gave him a little bit of a pass. Now, I really believe that reporting has just become, ‘O.K. you’re just the president and we are going to treat you like we treat everybody,’ which is to go hard at [Obama’s] policies.

President Obama “is just another guy in office,” and the excitement of having the first Black president in the White House has worn off, continued Reeve.

“I think his programs and policies are ambitious, but they also are open to lots of criticism. I think now the gloves are off.”

However, Reeve believes that people are taking more liberties in reacting to President Obama’s policies, “or acting in ways that they might not have done before,” she added.

Such “open disrespect” at times of the president has convinced her that the U.S. is not in a ‘post-racial’ period, said Star Tribune Political Editor Patricia Lopez.

“I don’t think the coverage is more slanted or the comments are more pointed because [Obama] is Black,” Star Tribune Operations Managing Editor Duchesne Drew noted.

Reeve, Lopez and Drew appeared as panelists at a February 10 discussion on politics and the media at the University of Minnesota.

Despite Obama’s election, meaningful discussion on race in this country still hasn’t occurred, the local journalists continued. “I have been impressed and saddened by how his election hasn’t moved the discussion of race that much forward,” said Reeve. “On the issue of race, I don’t think we’re post-racial, especially in Minnesota.”

“Anyone who thought that would change because of Obama’s presidency is probably being a little over-optimistic,” Lopez said. “A lot I see in Washington and here [locally] is the same sort of subterranean conversations about race there always have been and always have occured.”

Also, the panelists discussed the present state of political coverage by the media.

“There’s the policy aspect of politics, and there’s [the] politics of theater.

Both of them have their place,” explained Lopez. She believes that the public mostly sees present-day political coverage as “soap opera [and] reality show.

It’s this big clash of emotion and drama. People followed that [2008] presidential race and the [Minnesota U.S.] senate race like it was their favorite TV show. They saw characters developed and story lines unfolding, and they loved it.”

Whether locally or nationally, “The biggest difference again and again I see in politics is that what is getting rewarded is the passion, the overheated rhetoric and extreme positions,” notes Lopez. “We are going to report on all the stuff that [U.S. Rep.] Michele Bachmann, [U.S. Sen.] Al Franken, and [U.S. Rep.] Keith Ellison say, and you all are going to have to decide if this is dribble [or if] this is important.”

Added Reeve, “You have to [still] explain [the political rhetoric] and provide some content.”

A Black male student commented, “It seems that journalists have the license, if not the obligation, to present a fair and balanced portrayal of what is real and what is newsworthy.”

“You get your Pioneer Press version, your Star Tribune version and your Fox News version,” responded Drew. “There is that tension between doing what we think is [a] reasonable-doubt, professional job of connecting what people say and what the record is, and the way hundreds – if not thousands – of media outlets approach their jobs.”

Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, “They are more interested in scoring points than getting things done,” he said. “The Republicans particularly seems interested in stopping anything from happening without necessarily offering a concrete alternative to what Obama or the Democrats propose.”

This type of environment makes it hard for journalists, surmised Drew. “You can’t choose one side or another…but ultimately you want to give readers a sense [of what’s going on].”

Journalists shouldn’t speak on which party is good or bad, Lopez told the audience. In a later phone interview with the MSR, Lopez reaffirmed, “I don’t offer opinion about my own personal philosophy.”

However, Lopez admitted that when elected officials of one political party “block” legislation proposed by officials from another party, “They see that as their job.” Presently, it seems that the Republicans are doing the blocking, she noted.

Reeve concludes that how this will ultimately affect Obama’s first term in office still is unknown. “I will be interesting to see the next three years and how much [Obama] can get done.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.