A March 14 Media Matters story entitled How Chris Hayes’ Show Differs From Other Sunday Shows In One Chart offered this info-graphic to support their contention that Hayes’ weekend TV political magazine, Up, “has provided much-needed diversity“ of race and gender to television political programs.
Echoing this sentiment, Tanehisi Coates chimed in on March 18 with an article in The Atlantic, What Chris Hayes Means to the Debate, calling the Media Matters graphic “a really important illustration of Up With Chris Hayes contribution to ‘The Debate.'”
Now, I’m not trying to minimize the accomplishment indicated by the graph. In fact, some of those “diverse” people who appear on Up are friends of mine. But uncritically trumpeting these numbers is indicative of a problem with the media and how it addresses race that even shows like Up are often guilty of. Here’s what I mean.
The “diversity” Media Matters lauds is far from robust. For one thing, the people of color represented in this graph are, in the vast majority, black. That’s not a problem in and of itself until you consider how those who are not black are represented on Up.
ChangeLab pulled the transcripts of seven weekend political programs televised between January 1-June 30 of last year. The shows included Face the Nation, Meet the Press, State of the Union, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox News Sunday, Up with Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry.* Over this six-month period, these seven programs aired 169 episodes.
In those 169 episodes, Native Americans were never mentioned at all. They weren’t just left off guest lists. Words to describe them were never used. Now you might argue that the way these shows define “politics” is at issue here, and not a conscious bias against Native Americans, but the impact is the same. By leaving Native Americans off the agenda, we contribute to one of the most insidious means of conquest of Native America – making Native Americans disappear. We make native people disappear in many ways, not least by imposing blood quantum restrictions that lead to tribal termination, and by treating native people and their issues as if they are irrelevant to contemporary (non-native) American life.
This disappearing act was as evident on Up as on every other Sunday show, making Media Matters’ “diversity” virtually meaningless to Native Americans.
During this same six-months, only one episode among the 169 that aired included discussion of Asian Americans as as group. That wasn’t an episode of Up, but its still indicative of the trend.
The one show was the May 27, 2012 episode of Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP) on MSNBC, the program that follows Up. I critiqued that show in a past blog entry. You can follow that link or just take my word for it – it was a nice try, but a miss, inadvertently but nonetheless effectively promoting unfounded myths about Asian Americans that correspond to the model minority stereotype.
Since that six-month study, we took another look at how Asian Americans are talked about by examining the transcripts of those same seven shows over a period starting two-weeks before and ending two-weeks after the recent national elections. But things continue to look pretty bleak. For instance, before the election Asian Americans were mentioned in only 4 episodes, including one Up episode in which an Asian American was mentioned because he was a friend of the host who happened to be getting married.
Post-election, there was an uptick. Asian Americans were referenced on 34 episodes. The problem here is that the main storyline running through these episodes is surprise. The surprise was over the fact that more than 70 percent of Asian American voters chose President Obama over Mitt Romney.
Mr. Hayes hosted a segment typical of the lot. He begins by citing a Pew Research Center study widely and harshly criticized by Asian American academics, political analysts, and civic leaders as relying on faulty science and stereotyping. The report states that Asian American median family incomes are higher than that of other groups by race, and it was cited to make the argument that this should be an indication of more conservative voting patterns.
But recent studies of Asian American voters have indicated a strong trend toward liberalism. Our positions on health care, affirmative action, immigration, and social issues, along with the fact that we are most densely clustered in the deepest blue parts of deep blue states, and that we are also by race, least likely to identify as Christian, make us appear to be likely Democratic voters. Moreover, the median household income reported by Pew is deceptive. Asian Americans actually have lower per capita incomes than whites but more earners per household, another flag of likely liberalism. However, Hayes relied more on stereotypes than hard data to reach the conclusion that our support for the president should be greeted as a “surprise,” reinforcing a stereotype about Asian conservatism that has little basis in reality.
So we need to interrogate who is included when groups, even Media Matters, talk about “diversity.” And even when “diversity” includes us, we need to ask how, and then whether being included in that way is really a good thing.
*Melissa Harris-Perry aired for only part of the 6 month period studied.