Despite having the first African American in the White House, African Americans as a group did not draw much attention from the
press, according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center and
its Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). And what coverage there
was focused on events rather than issues about
In fact, the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates turned out to be the biggest race-related story during the
presidents' first year in office, claiming 19.4% of stories vs. 17.6% of stories about the first African American president,
though the president was also a player in the story about his friend Gates when he called the arrest "stupid" and ultimately
helped make peace through a White House "beer summit." A story about race had to have at least 25% of its content about race or
a specific racial group, according to Pew.
The study found that 9% of the coverage of President Obama had some racial element to it, primarily Rep. Joe Wilson calling the
president a liar and Senator Harry Reid apologizing for remarks about the president's skin color.
Cable and talk radio focused the most on race, with 2.5% and 2.4% of their stories, respectively, containing "significant
mention of African Americans."
Newsmakers rather than issues drove coverage of African Americans, including the death of Michael Jackson and the attempted
terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, which along with Gates and Obama accounted for almost half (46%) of all the
coverage with substantial mentions of African Americans.
tot he study, the mainstream press explored "substantial African
American angles" for only two issues, the economy and health care, but
that was less than 10% of the total African American-focused
The study looked at 67,000 news stories between February 2009 and February 2010. Only 1.9% of those related to African
Americans "in a significant way," though that was more than the 1.3% to Hispanics and .2% to Asian Americans.
findings also mean the media are becoming more color blind? "In some
cases, perhaps it does mean a less color blind media," says Amy
Mitchell, PEJ Deputy Director. "But one of the things we
see is that media seems shy to tackle the complex issues of race and
race relations, and that even when those issues emerge from events, the
media, to a large degree, tends to politicize it and focus
on individuals rather than taking a broader look."