media

Should the Media Cover ‘Hate’ As Its Own Beat?

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With the advertising slide forcing media organizations to overhaul their news gathering operations (maybe you’ve heard? newspapers are closing), you’d have to be crazy to think newspapers and television networks are being told to invest in another costly reporting endeavor. But are you not crazy, and this is happening anyway. Someone had the bright idea to suggest the media create an entire beat out of … hate. Yup, hate, that thing that causes so much violence in the world. It could be its own newspaper section!

Charles Davis, who teaches at the University of Missouri’s journalism school and is executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, says ever since Barack Obama went to the White House, hate “is back with a vengeance.” As if it ever went anywhere!

But we hear what Davis is saying. If the past few weeks are any indication, Nazism and monkey jokes are reasonable punchlines these days. And Davis, as a j-school prof would suggest, thinks the whole phenomenon should be reasonably covered as its own meme.

As a near-absolutist First Amendment advocate, my prescription for hate speech is always more speech: Give the bigot a microphone as big as the hatred, I say, and watch as the marketplace of ideas works its magic.

Perhaps that’s why I worry, as I watch an emboldened mob grow more irresponsible with each passing day, that the mainstream media fails to give hate the coverage it deserves today.

My proposition is simple: Major news organizations need to cover hate the way they once did — as a standalone beat.

I was reminded of the way the news media once treated old-fashioned hate the other day while reading a PBS discussion of a fabulous book, “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation.” The Race Beat, co-authored by Hank Klibanoff and Gene Roberts, documents the coverage of the civil rights movement in the South and chronicles in chilling detail what we now recall was a watershed in the treatment of hate as, well, morally repugnant behavior that we as a nation just weren’t going to stand for.

This could be interesting. Particularly because the homos are lobbying their legislators to pass hate crimes legislation that protects include LGBTs. Particularly because anti-gay violence in schools is so. hot. right. now. Particularly because of Glenn Beck.

Now, are hate stories going to hit the New York Times front page and jump to, uh, section H13? Not in the near future. But we like this idea of news organizations paying attention to this destructive force. Cable nets like CNN and MSNBC have lots of programming hours to fill, and certainly some of them could be turned over to admonishing hate groups.

The only problem we see in all this? Most hate groups are also religious institutions. And the media do a pretty terrible job of covering that beat already.